Zombies are a great divider of opinion. Some say they should shuffle, some say they should run, some say they should only eat brains, others say they eat flesh. What is not in question, however, is that zombie films are brilliant! Usually combining terror and comedy in equal measures means they are the perfect choice for social film viewing. Having a few beers and watching the re-animated corpses of people’s families tear them apart is all you need for a great Saturday night!
With that in mind I felt I should weigh in with my 10 favourites. To be clear there will be no Evil Dead films on this list because the victims in those films are possessed by demons, not zombies. You may think that’s too picky, but I say where genre film is concerned you have to stick to the rules. Here we go:
10. 28 Days Later
Like a bolt out of the blue, 28 Days Later was one of those films that you didn’t see coming; particularly the empty London shots at the beginning, which had many of us scratching our heads – how did they do it? In any case this baron major city created such a great sense of terror, which Danny Boyle managed to maintain for the majority of the film. The action setups are great and it still feels fresh and unique to this day. For me the only let down comes at the latter end of the movie during the scenes with Christopher Eccleston’s army Major, which I felt changed the tone of the story in a way that kind of jarred. But aside from that it is a really excellent addition to the rosta of high quality zombie fare.
9. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
The film that launched Zack Snyder and an incredible visual feast. It’s a zombie film that reeks of cool. From the opening aerial shot that leads to a huge explosion to the large scale zombie destruction caused by weaponised trucks at the end, this film really stylised zombies and gave the genre a big budget overhaul. Like 28 Days Later it used the somewhat controversial ‘sprinting zombies’. Whilst this may be offensive to purists I can really get behind the idea. I don’t think of it as one way or the other, I just think that if I saw a horde of re-animated corpses running towards me I would quite literally poo myself. Also Ving Rhames…..
Zombie deserves a spot on this list for two very special reasons. The first is that it contains a zombie fighting a shark!!!! I kid you not that really is a thing. Also the fact that director Lucio Fulci made a real man in zombie make-up dive into a shark tank and actually wrestle a man eating shark earns him (and the actor) massive insanity points.
The second reason this film is here needs a bit of backstory. Both me and fellow Cultoid editor James W hate pointy objects going near people’s eyes. It is for this reason that Zombie contains, for us, one of the most spasm inducing moments in film history. Observe:
7. Night of the Living Dead
The one that started them all! Romero’s classic is what really wrote the rule book for every other zombie film since. Though it may have been surpassed (even by the man himself) it still stands up as one of the best over 40 years later. The sense of claustrophobia and tension in the house is palpable. It is the kind of film that makes you look around your own house and wonder what you would use to defend yourself and where you would hide should the zombie apocalypse ever become a reality. For this alone it is a winner!
Another very stylish zombie film, but also a very funny one. When Zombieland was first announced I remember thinking it would probably be a total rip-off of Shaun of the Dead. I was wrong. This is a very unique and very brilliant film which also houses one of the greatest cameos of all time (which I won’t spoil in case you haven’t seen it). I particularly love the opening sequence filmed in super slow motion which really amplifies the amount of gruesomeness involved in zombie killing. I still look at that shot of the woman being fired out of her car windscreen and find myself wincing in awe as she smashes into the tarmac, her face exploding in a mess of blood and flesh.
The lead characters also really elevate this film; particularly Woody Harrelson’s turn as Tallahassee, the socially maladjusted zombie killing machine whose epic rants and desire for a Twinky are only outmatched by his penchant for slaying the undead with various bizarre weapons (the banjo moment is the winner).
5. Planet Terror
Part of Rodriguez and Tarantino’s Grindhouse double feature, this film brought a level of authentic vintage grime as well as a full on exploitation homage. It is a lightning paced film that is cool, sexy, disgusting, hilarious and star studded. Its huge rosta of characters plays like a celebrity who’s who and the story, setups and kills are signature Rodriguez.
The dialogue is fun, the weapons are fun (See above pic), the story is fun, even Tarantino’s character’s melting genitals are pretty fun! This is just a really fun zombie flick that never takes itself seriously and therefore goes over the top in ways that are totally tongue in cheek and totally brilliant for the audience.
4. Return of the Living Dead
The quintessential 80s zombie film. With a soundtrack that boasts synth guitar and synth brass you know from the opening credits that you are going to be in for something special.
The zombies here are more intelligent than most. They can use police radios and even hold conversations. This leads to a great interrogation with a zombie puppet that looks like a burnt Jim Henson version of Geena Davis in the Beetlejuice seance scene. In fact the puppet work in general is incredible. The ‘split dog’ is a real standout and the above ‘tar zombie’ is a makeup/puppetry blend for the ages – he also represents the first time a zombie ever shouted “BRAAIIINNNSSS” and so goes down in history for being the character that added a phrase to the popular zeitgeist.
If you haven’t seen it I dare you to watch this trailer and then not buy it within 10 seconds:
3. Shaun of the Dead
It’s one of the funniest films of all time, and one of the greatest zombie films of all time. That’s really all you need to know (in case you don’t already). Edgar Wright’s first major film mixes satire, slapstick, horror, homage and some moments of genuine drama to create a film that wowed audiences in the cinemas, but which gets even better with age.
Simon Pegg’s Shaun has gone on to become a cult icon, spawning collectible figures, comics and inspiring artwork from some of the great movie artists working today (in particular the Mondo piece by Jock). This goes to show the great work by both Wright and Pegg in creating a character that carries serious cinematic weight, whilst also defining a slacker generation.
Somewhere in the middle of all this we are also given a zombie film that measures up against the all time greats. The makeup is fantastically gross and the kills veer between hilarious (Cricket bat/Vinyl chucking) and horrendous (washing line post through the stomach).
2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
I know what you’re thinking: Why isn’t this number one? I agree it probably should be but this is personal taste and I’m going to run the gauntlet.
This is probably THE defining zombie film. Not only did it raise the bar on horror, tension and effects for the genre, but it also provided a damning social commentary. Setting the film in a mall gave Romero the perfect metaphor to critique America’s obsession with capitalism and consumerism. The Zombie’s are drawn to the shopping centre because of “instinct…..this was an important place in their lives”. It’s very disturbing to make the comparison between the undead shufflers and the reality of a busy shopping mall; customers all trudging round in packs.
It also contains one of the greatest tag lines/lines of dialogue in all of zombie cinema: “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth”. This one simple phrase adds layers of terror as it again makes the whole outbreak feel like it’s our fault; we have become such an evil race of people that hell is now full! That’s pretty hard-core.
Probably the goriest film of all time. This film turns a pretty huge New Zealand house into a swimming pool of blood and entrails. This is Peter Jackson at his most fun, inventive and mischievous.
I’ve probably used the word disgusting a few times in this article, but this is truly the most disgusting film I’ve ever seen. The custard eating scene genuinely makes me feel sick to my stomach – I think I even wretched when I first watched it. But it is precisely this level of grossness that makes it so fantastic. It is committed to being horrendous and so delivers time after time with its unflinching moments of horror.
The practical effects work is simply mind-blowing. I still watch moments like the punch through the throat and the lightbulb in the face and wonder how the hell they even thought of it, let alone pulled it off. And that climactic lawnmower attack is the ultimate definition of a working class hero doing something you would never dream would need to be done to survive.
This is larger than life in every sense. It has over the top characters, a far fetched story and bodily dismemberment on a scale that has never been matched. It has a great cheesy score, some insane stop motion work (I’m looking at you Sumatran Rat Monkey) and is endlessly quotable.