So great is the current preoccupation with a potential zombie infestation by the latest “adult” generation of Americans that the prestigious institution, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), actually issued a “Zombie Preparedness Guide.” While the CDC has its tongue firmly in cheek*, one wonders about the rest of the country.
At any rate, a love affair has certainly developed between the makers of zombie movies and the American movie-going public and the trend has only increased in the last few years. With those facts in mind, here is an abbreviated, yet creditable, list of the best ten great zombie movies of the last half century:
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
While some attempts were made by earlier filmmakers to make something of the “zombie” phenomenon, they all failed. Mr. Romero, in an admittedly haphazard manner, was really the first to completely conceptualize the idea of zombies. His archetypes include the shambling walk, that blood form the zombie would infect you and that you had to “shoot ‘em in the head or burn ‘em” to absolutely kill them. With or without knowing it, every zombie movie extant pays homage to this groundbreaking filmmaker.
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Mr. Romero takes a second stab at the genre and scores again with, quite possibly, the best zombie mvie of all time. Although there are a few blatant plot holes, the movie takes the ramifications of being a zombie to the next level. Don’t miss the scene where the baby zombie is born. In addition, his comments on American suburban life are hysterical. Especially memorable is the line a character says when asked why the zombies all come to the mall, “Some kind of instinct. Memory of what they used to do. This was an important place in their lives.” Too funny!
If you ever wondered how a shark would fare in a fight against a zombie, this is the movie for you. Similarly, Mr. Fulci revels in all the gore that flesh-eating, torso-ripping, intestine-chomping zombies can create including one incredibly memorable scene involving an eyeball. Don’t get too caught up in the plot though, as this movie can accurately be described as a “spaghetti” zombie movie. What is it with the disconnect that Italian director’s evince when they remake a movie that they obviously love? Undoubtedly, no one shook their head more than George Romero over this sad fact.
Day of the Dead (1985)
After another decade, Mr. Romero returns to finish his trilogy. This time, he chooses to focus on the zombies, themselves, and their victims are somewhat of a sidelight to this investigation. For this reason the movie was panned by critics and fans but a little hindsight - and repeated viewing - shows that the movie is actually quite compelling. The movie is full of great, if somewhat nauseating, scenes where all (and I mean all the characters) watch themselves torn apart by zombies. My only quibble is the ending where a freshly-killed Sarah wakes up to find that she is living on a tropical paradise free of any zombie infection. Lame!
Dead Alive (1992)
Known as Brain Dead in the rest of the English-speaking world, this movie is undoubtedly the goriest on the list – and that’s saying something - but it is also the funniest. Directed by future Lord of the Rings director, Peter Jackson, the movie has some especially nice cinematic effects. From the first scene where complacent monkeys are raped by plague-carrying rats to the end where a fully functional lawn mower is used against the zombies, the action is non-stop, over the top and completely self-consistent. In short, Dead Alive is an excellent effort from an excellent director.
28 Days Later (2002)
It took almost a decade after the release of our previous entry for a filmmaker to realize that “fast” zombies were far more interesting than the slower kind. Though the infected people are not technically zombies, the movie works quite well as a post-apocalyptic survival story. Don’t miss Christopher Eccleston of Doctor Who fame as the one guy who realizes that the world needs to be repopulated and plans to do his part with or without the consent of the women.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Since the turn of the century, SOTD is still the best effort at a zombie movie, serious or otherwise, by any filmmaker. IN addition, with the irrepressible duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, this movie has a decided comedic edge on any other attempts in the future. While an obvious, tongue-in-cheek look at the genre, the movie is also justifiably famous for its “real life” attempts by the survivors to fend off the zombie attacks. Just consider the hysterically funny but absolutely credible record-throwing scene. Also, the scene where the characters mimic the zombies has some important lessons for those who hope to escape the coming apocalypse.
Fido is set in an alternative universe where the “Zombie War” has already been fought and decisively won by humanity. Nevertheless, the precipitating event, a surfeit of radiation, still causes anyone who dies to transform into a zombie. Rather than just burn or decapitate these ready sources of labor, a private corporation, Zomcon, provides electronic collars that allow the humans to control the zombies in a manner just quite short of slavery. Billy Connolly, arguably, the funniest man on the planet, plays the title character with equal parts pathos, comedy and absolute practicality. For a change of pace from your usual zombie movie, this is a must see.
Planet Terror (2007)
Originally released as the second feature to Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof, this zombie movie is as over the top as it gets. Ostensibly an homage to the genre, Mr. Rodriguez does not seek to break any new ground but he does take every opportunity to push the existing envelope. The ending with the head chopping helicopter may have been somewhat formulaic but the machine gun leg of Rose McGowan’s crippled character was pure farce. Don’t even get me started on “Rapist #1" and "Rapist #2”.
*FYI – The Worst Zombie Joke of All Time ( even though we didn’t reference the movie that made the line famous)
Did you hear about the vegan zombie?
He shuffled around all day moaning, “Graaaaaaaains. I need graaaaaaains.”