Zombies have been a staple of horror movies for over seventy years, and it’s not hard to see why. Dead people rising from the grave, coming to kill you and eat your brains — who wouldn’t be afraid of that? Plants, on the other hand, have never really been trendy as horror film monsters, but the times they’ve made an appearance have certainly been memorable.
Of course, plants and zombies meet and face off in the brilliantly fun Popcap game Plants vs. Zombies, which sees the player trying to protect his home, and consequently brains, from a zombie horde through the use of a wide array of plants with different powers. (If you haven’t yet played the game, you don’t know what you’re missing; be forewarned, though: it’s addicting.) The game, presumably unintentionally, raises an interesting geeky question as well: Which better serve to put the “horror” in horror movies, plants or zombies?
Quantity: The number of movies on particular topics is not always a valid point of comparison, but in this case it must be acknowledged because of the wild disparity: for every movie with deadly plants, there are dozens of movies with zombies of one form or another. Now, this could be due to a lack of creativity on the part of the movie makers, of course, since the original idea of zombies came from Voodoo beliefs, whereas few if any belief systems incorporate flesh-eating plants. It’s also a lot easier to make a zombie film, because putting makeup on actors has been, until the modern era of CGI, a lot easier than animating giant flesh-eating plants. But, whatever the reason, there’s no doubt that zombie movies utterly overwhelm evil plant movies. Advantage: Zombies.
Scariness: Zombies are, usually, reanimated dead people coming to kill you. They’re already dead, so stopping them can take a lot of effort. Even locking yourself in a mall is only effective until you run out of food and guns, at which point you’ll have to make the call. The idea of flesh-eating plants is pretty scary, too — we’re used to plants that are relatively friendly, or at least benign. The idea of a plant trying to kill and eat you is, therefore, inherently frightening. Plants do have an obvious disadvantage in a fight against humans, though: they are largely immobile. This has caused such movies as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes to invent ways for the plants to move, which one must admit does contribute to their scariness. In fact, one could argue that plants’ typical immobility could make them even scarier, because you would be completely surprised by a plant that could move. Sure, rotting corpses coming after your brains is scary, but it’s (sadly) not unusual for people to attack other people; it’s pretty unusual for plants to try to eat you. Advantage: Plants.
Quality: Obviously, zombies and plants have very little control over the quality of the films being made about them. Still, it can’t be denied that a good scary movie will contribute to the general social consciousness of the monster(s) involved. The best evil plant movies, probably, are Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the original Little Shop of Horrors. Some people like The Day of the Triffids, too. It must be pointed out that roughly half of the evil plant movies are parodies of conventional horror films (e.g., the Killer Tomatoes series). It must also be pointed out that some of the very best zombie movies are the ones that are also parodies of them: Shaun of the Dead and the Evil Dead series are, in a word, awesome. Advantage: Zombies.
Believability: Carnivorous plants do actually exist — they don’t eat humans, but it can’t be denied that they are real. Zombies, on the other hand, are (to the best of anyone’s knowledge) completely fictional. That doesn’t necessarily give plants the upper hand (so to speak) here, though: believability is not quite the same thing as plausibility when it comes to horror stories. Since people do actually kill other people on an all-too-regular basis, it’s not that hard to imagine that, if there really were undead people, they would want to kill living people. Since plants kill insects, but not people, in real life, it’s a bit hard to wrap your mind around the idea of a plant that would not only eat a human but be able to catch one first. And of course there’s the fact that plants are stupid; so are dead people, we suppose, but at least they used to have working brains. Advantage: Zombies.
We’re forced to conclude that, at least based on the evidence at hand, Zombies win this debate. Now, if someone wanted to make a movie with giant pea-shooters, watermelon catapults, and zombies with buckets and traffic cones on their heads, we at GeekDad would gladly defer judgment to such a film. Why has Roger Corman not secured the rights from Popcap? The geek world wants to know.