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Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Physically Corrupted

Ultimate Guide to Villains and Antagonists: Physically Corrupted

Zombies Vampires Frankenstein’s Monster These names bring to mind beings that were perhaps once human, yet were corrupted by science, magic, disease, or decay. Whether singly or in endless hordes, they can be truly terrifying (classic horror) antagonists. Return to main list

Physically Corrupted: The Origin

This sort of “physically corrupted” being has been around for thousands of years.
  • Norse mythology had the Draugr, reanimated warriors that live to fight and die a second death.
  • The ancient Chinese had the jiangshi, an early type of vampire or animated corpse that would hop around. Koreans, Vietnamese, Malaysians, and Japanese folklore all have their own versions of this monster.
  • It is believed the Haitian “zonbi” originated in West African folklore long before the Walking Dead ever made zombies popular.
Essentially, these creatures can be anything that was once human, but which have been corrupted in some way. Werewolves are humans bitten by wolves/werewolves. Vampires are humans bitten by bats/vampires. Zombies are humans transformed into monsters by a virus. Ghouls are shapeshifting demons that possess the corpses they consume. The one thing all of these monsters have in common is the fact that they were once human. A fascinating article on Psychology Today delved into what makes monsters like this so terrifying: “You have to start with the notion of pattern recognition. We humans (and all sorts of other creatures) start from a very early age to recognize and adhere to familiar shapes and scenarios. A two-year-old can tell you a dog is a dog because it looks like a dog, even if she is being shown a toy poodle and a mastiff. These are adaptive responses that help us to quickly size up a given situation and to draw conclusions around how best to proceed.” Now, put it into the context of seeing a zombie staggering up the street or someone you know turning into a werewolf. Basically, it doesn’t fit into your typical pattern. The pattern of behavior is unfamiliar, so your brain switches from autopilot to manual control. You start seeing more and more unfamiliar behavior:
  • People biting each other people and tearing them to shreds
  • Creatures feeling no pain at things that should hurt
  • People making unfamiliar sounds (groaning, roaring, etc.)
All of a sudden, the familiar (people you knew) are now not only unfamiliar, but they are actually dangerous. “Fear sprouts from the depths of your brain, your primitive cortex freaking the hell out and your frontal cortex madly searching the hippocampus for anything even remotely familiar.” These creatures may not be terrifying in themselves—the zombies in The Walking Dead, for example, are slow, easy to fool, and fairly easy to kill—but the fact that they are the familiar made unfamiliar is what makes them so horrifying. After all, it’s those scenes when a character you love is turned into a zombie that deliver the hardest emotional gut punches of all! Return to main list

In Stories

Physically corrupted characters are popular in literally every type of media:
  • Arthas, Paladin of Lordaeron in Warcraft III becomes physically corrupted (thanks to the sword Frostmourne) and is turned into the Lich King.
  • Frodo Baggins was physically corrupted by the sword of the Ringwraiths in The Lord of the Rings. Had Elrond not saved him, he would have become one of the Ringwraiths as well and Sauron would have reclaimed the One Ring.
  • One of the most emotional scenes in The Walking Dead is when (SPOILER!!!) Daryl Dixon has to kill a zombified version of his brother, Merle Dixon.