Horror is often an arena shared by sex and death. With regards screen monsters, however, it has largely only been the vampire who has conflated sex and death (with a notable recent exception in Twilight with its asexual, non-threatening, non-biting, teen-friendly Cullen character). I won’t go into great details here but there has been a great deal of literature and analysis on the topic, from the birth of Dracula scholarship to the present: vampires are often sexy, refined, seductive characters despite, like zombies, having a hankering for your flesh and blood.
Ah, zombies. They’re everywhere – a real monster for our times. Changing from Carribean slave army to flesh eating ghoul to fast-running agents of contagion, there’s a zombie for every type of social commentary. Unlike vampires, though, they are rarely seen as sexualised. They’re hardly even seen as gendered – becoming instantaneously depersonalised and one of a stumbling mass blindly out to recruit you into their festering ranks. Or is this so? – Just for fun, I thought I’d dish up a few contradictions to this usual state of affairs. We are ever being treated to ‘sexiest vamps’ so I thought I’d create a tongue-in-cheek list of female zombs. Some screen zombies remain obviously female, and obviously attractive. Although they don’t deliberately manipulate their victims like vampires do, they still get up close and personal – some even get to behave a bit more licentiously than they did whilst alive…
So here goes.
1) Leslie (Antonella Antinori) (Burial Ground, dir. Andrea Bianchi)
The zombification of Lesley could be why women go to the toilet in pairs. After being attacked through a window, she accessorises her red and white outfit with the flesh and blood of poor, dazed Michael (Peter Bark). It’s still better than what a lot of people wore in the eighties.
2) Trash (Linnea Quigley) (Return of the Living Dead, dir. Dan O’Bannon)
No list of living dead ladies could be complete without a mention of the Return of the Living Dead franchise. Linnea Quigley’s ‘Trash’ is beloved of cult film and one of the best-liked characters of underground 80s horror. As an already familiar and recognisable genre – via Romero – developed and absorbed contemporary influences, we got us an enduringly popular undead punk girl.
3) Julie (Mindy Clarke) (Return of the Living Dead III, dir. Brian Yuzna)
Yuzna’s out-and-out gorefest manages to add a dash of genuine pathos in his depiction of Julie, girlfriend of the son of a Colonel working on some pretty nasty reanimation experiments (continuing the theme of zombies-as-biological-weapons which runs through all of the Return of the Living Dead films.) When Julie is killed in a bike accident her grieving boyfriend Curt reanimates her, and although Julie is still ‘herself’, as her body begins to degenerate she craves flesh and can only assuage her cravings by puncturing her skin. This gives us a fashionably-pierced (back in the early nineties, at least) beautiful zombie femme you can sympathise with – and is, I think, an underrated performance.
4) Alice (Jacqueline Pearce) (Plague of the Zombies, dir. John Gilling)
Admittedly, she’s only a zombie for about thirty seconds before Sir James knocks her head off with a shovel (how rude!) but Jacqueline Pearce deserves a mention for Plague of the Zombies. The prim doctor’s wife has been transformed. Hair unpinned, a wry smile, she remembers her husband – unlike the other worker zombies – and would have attacked the mesmerised Dr. Peter had the older man not intervened. As a pre-Night of the Living Dead film, I have to wonder whether Romero had Pearce’s character in mind when he styled the character of Karen in NOTLD.
Last but not least…
5) ‘She’ (Anna Falchi) (Dellamorte Dellamore, dir. Michele Soavi)
The incredibly beautiful Anna Falchi’s nameless character (known only as ‘she’ or ‘her’) appears three times during the film. In her first incarnation, the widow, she is bitten by her dead – and buried – husband while getting busy with Francis Dellamorte (played incredibly laconically by Rupert Everett) and she comes back from the grave as the sort of predator Dellamorte just can’t refuse. Talk about a role reversal: once she’s bitten the dust, it isn’t Dellamorte pursuing her anymore. Now She is the one with the appetite and Dellamorte who feels he’d rather demur, especially when she seems more than a little peckish…
Like the other characters on this list, ‘She’ walks a fine line between alluring animalism and monstrous other. It’s interesting to consider just how ‘normal’ and ‘intact’ these women have to be in order to still be considered appealing, or sympathetic, or even sexual characters, because unlike vampires, zombie gals are in a state of decay even if they do share that all-consuming appetite. The women I’ve listed here only have nominal injury; any bodily damage is minimal and even Julie’s self-inflicted puncture piercings are removed by the end of the film. Falchi herself is ‘reincarnated’ twice fully intact. But rather than get mired in critique – this is meant to be fun! – let’s end on a high note. Falchi wrapped in a shroud, her hair and skin tangled with thorns – this is an iconic image and this is a film which plain doesn’t deserve its obscure status. And is she still hot? Absolutely!