Being a zombie is about more than donning a creepy costume. Whether you want to be an extra on The Walking Dead, impress everyone at the Halloween party, or just scare the shit out of your best friend, you’re going to need some serious undead acting skills.
What’s that you say? You’ve seen every zombie movie and TV show in existence (even the awful ones)? You eat, sleep, and breathe zombies? You have a poster of Tom Savini on the wall of your bedroom?
Ah yes, but have you actually put any thought into the mannerisms of an effective zombie? If not, you don’t have a prayer at being a great walker, no matter how obsessed you are with all things zombie. Without solid zombie acting technique, even the best costume won’t prevent you from coming across as… lame.
The key to zombie behavior lies in this quote from the legendary Night of the Living Dead:
Sheriff McClelland: Yeah, they’re dead. They’re all messed up.
Zombies are slow, uncoordinated, mindless, and often seriously injured – in short, “all messed up.” With all that going on – or shall we say, going wrong – pretending to be a walker isn’t as easy as it might seem at first glance. Read on for tips on how to walk, talk, and act like a real live zombie.
Zombies come in a lot of different forms and flavors, but some traits apply almost across the board. Here are some tips to help you be the best zombie you can be:
1. Keep it loosey goosey. Try to relax and allow your body to get a little sloppy. The more you tense up, the less you look like a walking corpse.
2. Stagger like a drunk person. The closest you can come to observing a zombie in the real world is by visiting a bar a closing time. Being severely impaired and off-balance, zombies bear a strong resemblance to people staggering home after a long night of drinking.3. Slump your shoulders. Zombies have notoriously bad posture. Apparently being dead makes you forget everything your mother told you about standing up straight.
4. Don’t blink. Obviously, you can’t avoid blinking for long periods of time. But for short performances, try to keep your eyes open. It makes you look intense, scary, eerie, inhuman – all traits of a good zombie.
5. React slowly. Zombies are in a daze most of the time, and generally only snap out of it when they lock onto prey. When reacting to stimuli (noises, visuals, etc.), try to put yourself on a slight delay. Slowly work your way into a frenzy as you get close to a kill.
6. Don’t use all your limbs. Due to injuries, decay, and a deterioration of motor skills, your zombie body may not be fully functional. The classic (cliche?) example is the zombie with one foot dragging. You could also try clenching up one arm or letting it dangle.
7. No tongue! When talking, that is. Using your tongue requires fine motor control that zombies simply don’t have. That’s why most of them vocalize straight out of their throats.
8. Tilt your head. Again, zombies aren’t big on posture. Tilting your head will give you an off-putting appearance, while also making it harder for you to walk straight.
9. Pretend that you’re a starving animal. Here’s your motivation. Zombies have one purpose, and that’s to chomp down on some juicy flesh. Their desperation to feed on the living is the only thing that keeps them upright.
10. Work with your costume and props. Your zombie mannerisms should draw attention to what’s good and unique about your costume. For example, if you’ve spent a lot of time creating a gruesome neck wound, tilt your head to the other side so it’s exposed. Similarly, if you’ve got a phony brain or severed body part as a prop, be sure to work it into your act.
11. Be unique. Remember, zombies are people too (sort of). They may have lost their humanity, but there’s no reason why they can’t still be individuals with their own quirks. In other words, feel free to come up with your own zombie mannerisms – especially if they’re weird and creepy.
12. Study the pros. Now that your mind is focused on zombie mannerisms, it’s a good time to revisit some of those classic horror movies and observe how professional actors do it. You’ll probably learn a trick or two. You might also want to check out behind-the-scenes footage like this:
Got any tips of your own for acting like a zombie? Leave a comment below!