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In quite a few modern Zombie Apocalypse series (and occasionally works about other things that also incorporate Everything's Deader with Zombies), the creator (obviously) wants to have zombies, but would rather not explicitly invoke the supernatural by having them be actual reanimated corpses.

This generally happens because it's somewhat more scientifically plausible -- at least broadly speaking -- that a plague turning infected people into crazed, flesh-rotten cannibals (or slow, lumbering cannibals) could exist in reality than that the dead could rise, so it gets past skeptics' Willing Suspension of Disbelief more easily. Or, as with many works featuring fast zombies, it may be used to justify why they don't act like the classic image of moaning, slowly-shambling undead.

The virus responsible for zombification may be a mutated version of a real-life disease; rabies is popular because it already makes people and animals act, well, rabid, as is mad cow disease (and prion diseases as a whole) because one major avenue of transmission is by eating infected brain tissue.

Since they are living people instead of animate corpses, these zombies are almost always easier to kill than the undead kind. They may disregard nonfatal (or not-immediately-fatal) wounds, but anything that would kill a human will kill them. It does run into a bit of a problem if you want a true Zombie Apocalypse, since just like rabid animals they should die of starvation and/or dehydration fairly quickly; even more so if they're zombies that refuse to attack other zombies, refuse to eat dead meat, and will only attack and consume live humans, and aren't shown to seek out water sources. By the time a few weeks have passed, the original zombie infectees should be dead (in the permanent sense) as a lack of resources cause their bodies to fail. This trope is not recommended if you want Earth to be covered in zombies for longer than a month.

This is a subtrope of Our Zombies Are Different. It tends to appear alongside Not Using the Z Word, but they aren't completely inseparable; zombies-in-all-but-name are often legitimately undead, and Technically Living Zombies are often simply called "zombies". The combination of the two has been known to start arguments among zombie fans over whether they're really zombies or not. Which naturally overlooks the fact that the popular, Romero-esque zombies are very different from traditional zombies too, which were basically entranced slaves of voodoo priests, and often very much alive.

This trope overlaps with particularly extreme Hate Plagues, but only if the plague causes its victims to act mindless as well as homicidally insane. Usually are a type 3 on the Sliding Scale of Undead Regeneration.

Examples of Technically Living Zombie include:


Anime and Manga

  • In Barefoot Gen, after the bomb hits, many of the townspeople of Hiroshima that weren't vaporized became so badly burned (and probably disoriented), that they resembled melting zombies...except that they were still (barely) living.


Comics

  • A vampire version exists in the pages of Spider-Man. Morbius was a villain dubbed "the living vampire". At the time of his debut, vampires were forbidden due to the Comics Code Authority. Writers got around this issue by having Morbius turn into a vampire-esque superhuman due to a bat transfusion used to cure a rare blood disease.


Film

  • 28 Days Later (and its sequel, Twenty Eight Weeks Later) has the Infected, which are living people driven insane by the Rage Virus. The whole movie series is arguably the Trope Codifier.
    • Notably, the infected do die from starvation and dehydration in about a month, provided they're left alone.
    • While they do use biting as a method of attack, The Infected are never known to actually devour their victim. Their aim is purely to kill, hence why starvation eventually catches up with them.
  • The zombies of Zombieland are actually suffering from a mutated version of mad cow disease. In one scene they can be seen feeding from a trash can, demonstrating that they still need food to stay alive.
  • The Crazies has a nerve agent airborne virus that turns people into oddly calm psychotics. It eventually either kills them or makes them kill themselves, but preferentially makes them target non-infected they have a grudge on.
  • People exposed to the Scarecrow's fear toxin in Batman Begins basically act like this.
    • The Fear toxin alone is not enough to do that; the toxin induces panic and hallucinations, and the only reason people come across as zombies in the end is because the League of Shadows gassed an entire section of the city, after unleashing a small army of psychotic lunatics on said section and prmopting the police to send their own army of riot officers in and seal the area off. Even then, they mostly acted zombie-like because Batman was running around and, in their drug-induced state, a man-sized bat looks like a monster that calls for the torches and pitchforks. So they only act like zombies if the situation creates it.
  • The zombies of the 1932 Bela Lugosi film White Zombie seem to be this: drugged living people rather than reanimated corpses.
  • Quarantine directly references rabies. (The original REC looks like one of these as well, but ends up going a completely different direction.)
  • The infected of Warning Sign become gravely ill and seemingly die, but are actually only going into a short coma before returning as murderous psychopaths.
  • The zombies in Dead Air are infected by a chemical agent spread by terrorists.
  • The Grapes of Death (Les Raisins de la Mort) is similar to The Crazies, with farm chemicals as the cause.
  • I Drink Your Blood depicts an epidemic of rabies.
  • The infected in Carriers seem to act like zombies at various points. This is a strange breed because they only live a few weeks before the virus kills them and they maintain higher brain functions. When infected, many try to hide it and latch on to groups of survivors. They don't actively spread the disease, but do so through their infected breath. Most are interested only in themselves, but an infected doctor met near the beginning and a small infected child still have compassion for others (the girl for her immune father an the doctor for any survivors who manage to find him, he even goes as far to kill other infected that come to him).
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow uses the original, drugged-and-prematurely-buried voodoo (or at least Hollywood Voodoo) version.
  • In Night of the Comet, the "zombies" are humans brain-damaged and warped by partial exposure to the comet's radiations.
  • The "zombies" of Teenage Zombies are just poor slobs who have been exposed to a gas that makes them act hypnotized.


Literature

  • Referenced as a background detail in The Golden Compass. Apparently there's an African tribe which knows how to separate a human from their daemon (soul) without killing the human - just rendering them a mindless, corpse-seeming slave. And it's called a zombi. Much like in actual folklore. (This averts the "not supernatural" part of this trope, since this is supernatural from our point of view, and something like mad science in their universe. But, they're not biologically dead.)
    • A troop of them show up in a later book; they are still living, breathing, intelligent humans, but lack a will of their own. They're also immune to the soul-eating Specters.
  • Not sure if it technically counts or not (since the book calls them "vampires"), but the majority of infected people in I Am Legend are still alive. Some of the vampires are actually undead, but when they infect a person, it turns them into a vampire without killing them.
    • The film adaptation with Will Smith never uses the Z-word or the V-word, or even the word "undead". The infected are alive and is explicitly said to be by the protagonist, who is trying to find a cure for the plague. Apparently, it started with a cure for cancer based on the measles virus, but quickly mutated and became airborne.
  • The phoners in Cell, who've had all higher brain function blasted away by the Pulse, at least until some new programming kicks in.....


Live Action TV

  • All the unnamed Borg drones behave in this way, despite being a part of a very intelligent Hive Mind. Lacking free will or individual self-awareness, the drones' default goal is to assimilate everything they come across into the collective, though they'll ignore nonthreatening people walking around nearby if they have something more important to do. They're like zombies In Space!.
  • The Reavers in Firefly are like this, though they retain enough intelligence to operate spacecraft, if not very safely.
  • The Forged in the Farseer trilogy are a magic-based version of this, overlapping with The Soulless.
  • The Virus in the Epidemiology episode of Community gives people high fevers that make them act like zombies, complete with spreading via bites.
  • On Dollhouse, mind-control technology is used to turn millions of people into mindless killing machines in the Bad Future. (And no, this future is not prevented.)
  • Sliders had a zombie episode, when the people on a world being infected by mutated bacteria, originally designed to burn fat. Somehow, the infected also gained a sensititivy to light (they didn't burst into flames, but couldn't handle direct exposure to the sun). By the end of the episode, the protagonists manage to find a cure.


Music


Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer Fantasy has the Ghouls, who are cannibals from poor lands resorting to eating the corpses of the recently deceased because of their poverty. Whole packs of them gather around Strogi vampires, who resemble them in both appearance and feeding habits. This is reflected in their rules, where they are considered to be "technically alive" and thus not bound to the army-wide rules that other units have (which includes both perks and handicaps, like not falling apart if the chief necromancer dies, but not inducing fear). This has been later discarded in favor of streamlining the rules (them being susceptible to fear and lacking the ability to induce fear made them somewhat liable in the army, especially when zombies and skeletons are much better for this purpose).
    • Warhammer 40000 has the Pariahs, cybernetically modified humans put to use by the Necrons and their C'tan Masters. Like the Ghouls, they were unique in that they did not possess the Necron Rule. Unlike Ghouls, this was an liablity since it made them weaker than actual necrons (no regeneration) and would just plain disappear if the other necron units perished (meaning the enemy can completely ignore the Pariah, which wasn't hard to do since they were combat specialists with no movement modifiers). Less merciful than the Ghouls, they were completely retconned out of existence.
  • There are some variants of this sort in a few of the various worlds of All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Since zombies are there to be slaughtered in AFMBE, and these guys are technically human, the gamebooks including technically living zombies admit that some players might have an ethical problem with killing them, and suggest that the Zombie Master include ways to cure and save the zombies in this sort of situation.

Video Games

  • Fallout's ghouls are a somewhat different example from the usual strain, because (excluding the ferals, who act like typical zombies) they're basically regular people with a really bad skin condition and effective immortality. It's brought on by being exposed to a huge amount of radiation and not dying from it.
  • Left 4 Dead's Green Flu doesn't immediately kill its victims. According to promotional materials, it's a mutated strain of rabies. As its name suggests, in the game world it was designated a form of influenza by CEDA, though this was more of a cover-up than anything.
    • The disease does prove to be eventually fatal, judging by the fact that a few zombies will collapse on their own. It's also said that children simply die instantly from the disease to explain the absence of child zombies.
  • In STALKER, areas are defended by 'brain scorchers' which strip people of their higher brain functions, turning them into shambling zombies. (Yes, it actually calls them that.)
  • Lisa Garland in Silent Hill 1... sort of. She's revealed at the end to be the same as the zombie nurses you fight during the game, but unlike them, she's not decayed and still has her full reason. This may not count, though, because she's also Dead All Along.
    • This wouldn't really fit, though, because the nurses and doctors are not really zombies as much as they are mind-controlled puppets. Also, they may not even be dead-- Cybil is affected by the same parasites responsible for the nurses and doctors, and the process is not fatal to her.
    • For that matter, Lisa might not be dead at all. People merely assume this to be the case.
  • Darth Sion in Knights of the Old Republic. The only keeping him from death is the pain and hate within him, fueling the Dark Side of the force, and keeping his broken, scarred, decaying body from falling apart. He eventually lets go of the force and dies, after being defeated by the Exile.
  • Depending on whether the people taken over by the headcrabs are living Meat Puppets or corpses, the headcrab zombies from Half Life may or may not count. It's not made very clear, but evidence is in favor of them being alive; corpses probably wouldn't have the inclination to shout muffled but clearly agonized cries for help. Also, when you shoot them in the body, the body will fall down dead, but the headcrab will be perfectly fine, popping off to seek a new victim. Putting it all together does imply the body is still alive in some capacity, although how much intelligence or consciousness they have left is unknown. There's no known way to safely remove a headcrab without killing the body too.
  • The Ganados and Majini in the latest Resident Evil games count, as they're infected with a parasite that takes control of the still-living host. The zombies of earlier in the series were suggested to be this, but the graveyard areas in 3 and Code: Veronica show that the T-Virus does in fact kill and then reanimate.
  • Basic Redlight infectees ("Walkers") in Prototype are for all intents and purposes living zombies; except instead of being mindlessly driven by hunger, they are puppets for their "mother" Elizabeth Greene, or other advanced infectees ("Runners").
  • In Psi Ops the Mindgate Conspiracy Jov Leonov's mind-controlled Meat Puppets behave in a rather zombie-like manner, shambling mindlessly toward their enemies while ignoring injuries.
  • Red Dead Redemption's Undead Nightmare features both living and undead zombies. While the curse reanimated dead bodies, and being bitten by a zombie causes you to turn into one yourself, the process itself does not kill you. This becomes evident at the end of the game, when Marston breaks the curse and the infected zombies revert to their old selves, while the undead ones merely drop dead again.
  • In the final level of Deus Ex Human Revolution, you fight crazies which move and attack like zombies. The zombie-like behavior is caused by hallucinations from the vagus nerve being overstimulated by the biochips implanted in them.
  • The Zombies in Dead Island are the result of a mutated strain of Kuru (a real disease associated with cannibalism) and the game goes into fair detail about it. Unless you're one of the lucky few who's immune, getting scratched or bitten will infect and turn you within 72 hours.
    • What's interesting about the zombies (though game mechanics are partially to blame for it) is that they cannot crawl on the ground. They're instinctively driven to stand up before they attack you. They don't instantly die from a headshot (though humans still do), and even though their blood coagulates and allows them to live with half their chest ripped off, they can still die of blood loss, puke up their own guts in response to poison, and even drown to death in water.
    • Most people get turned into what are called "walkers", shambling zombies who are slow to respond to your presense. Some get turned into "Infected", who have no trouble sprinting towards you. The less fortunate are mutated with various degrees of Body Horror. "Suiciders" bloat up with explosively deadly gas. They're still aware of what they are, and moan "Help me" as they approach you, but they're instinctively designed to explode when they get too close to you.
    • The worst seem to be the aptly named Butchers. These people are driven into what appears to be a a chemically-induced rage, to the point that they've broke the bones in their own arms to fashion into shivs to carve into new victims.
  • Upcoming Naughty Dog game The Last of Us uses a mutated cordyceps fungus that takes over the brain. Notably, the developers have said that while the infected are a threat, the primary antagonists are other survivors.
  • Husks in Mass Effect, who are captured humans that were forcibly implanted with Reaper technology.
    • Mass Effect 3 features that the Reapers have created Banshees, Mauraders, Brutes and Ravagers out of huskified Asari, Turians, Krogan/Turian hybrids and Rachni respectively.

Web Comics

  • The zombies of Zombie Waffe are infected with a new form of rabies which results in fast plague-zombies.

Western Animation

  • In SpongeBob SquarePants many people who were bitten by Gary, though he had mad snail disease, and that it would turn them into zombies. But it turns out that the mad snail disease was just a myth, and they just thought they were zombies because of what Patrick said.
  • Smurfs bitten by the gnap fly turn purple and become mindless and aggressive. The condition can be spread to other smurfs by biting their tails.


Real Life

  • In Real Life, rabies can cause zombie-like behaviour because of the brain damage inflicted by the disease. However, it doesn't incubate quickly enough or spread readily enough to cause a Zombie Apocalypse, and the symptoms are somewhat different (most obviously, it doesn't cause the victim's flesh to rot). Also, humans rarely bite each other, even when brain damaged, so human-to-human transmission is largely unknown outside of a few cases of infected organ transplants.
  • One version of African zombie legends operates this way: living people can be turned into zombies (that is, made to enter a deathlike state in which they mindlessly obey the instructions of a master) with drugs; in the eighties the specific chemicals were claimed to be tetrodotoxin and some variety of dissociative drug, which wouldn't work because tetrodotoxin doesn't do that.
    • It wasn't the tetrodotoxin that was alleged to cause zombie-like behavior, it was brain damage from the oxygen deprivation suffered when the comatose poisoning victims got buried alive by unwitting relatives.
  • Parasitic fungi in the genus Cordyceps will alter the behavior of the host insect in order to facilitate its own spread. In ants, this behavior is so alarming that any individual exhibiting it is carried very far away from the colony and left to die.
    • Cordyceps isn't alone in nature, there are lots of parasites out there that are capable of modifying their hosts behavior. And it's not just limited to other animals, some studies have suggested that Toxoplasmosis can cause psychiatric changes in humans that are infected. Granted, it doesn't create zombie-like behavior, but it is certainly possible that there's an organism out there that can.
      • Namely, the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii - a parasite mainly found in cats and mice - has been observed in rats to make them seek out places that reek of cat urine, instead of avoiding it like a normal rat. Studies on humans have so far implied that humans infected with it have slower reaction times, and that it possibly can "be a causative or contributory factor in various psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia."
  • Rob Zombie is technically alive (and in a possible subversion to the standard cannibalistic tendencies, he is an ardent vegetarian).
    • Also, Mark Callaway, a.k.a. The Undertaker; in a case of Life Imitates Art, as he's aged and changed his style and exercise (not to mention injuries) he's gone from bulky and wearing makeup, to wiry and downright creepy looking. Sumbitch even said it in a recent promo spot: "I may look like the walking dead, but trust me, I am still very much alive!"

Notes

  1. every day they're shufflin', shufflin'
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