George A. Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968 and helped usher in the modern tropes of zombies (even though they were identified as “ghouls” in the picture). Modern cinema zombies eat flesh and can be killed by damage to the brain. It’s curious then that D&D zombies, introduced ten or so years later, are so very different.
The lack of similarity between the D&D zombie and the cinema zombie are likely the result of Gygax being less of a horror movie buff and more a fan of the printed word. Plus late night cable horror such as Elvira or MST3K didn’t come into their own until the ‘80s. But it’s still odd that 3e and even the revisionist 4e didn’t introduce more variant cannibal zombies.
The differences have been on my mind of late due to my involvement in a game of Dead Reign published by Palladium. While not my first choice of system to run, the campaign is a chance for me to get out from behind the screen and play. Given the sole purpose of Dead Reign (published in 2008) is to have a zombie-orientated game evoking modern zombie cinema, reading the rulebook I was surprised how many tropes were not covered. Bites did not impart zombieism. The zombies don’t eat brains or flesh. This is all in addition to the rule oddities such as headshots being an unmodified die roll despite the system having a called shot system.