Zombies have been a cinematic staple since Bela Lugosi put audiences under his voodoo spell in 1932’s White Zombie. Since then, we’ve witnessed countless reinventions of the undead onscreen, from the Romero revolution to the birth of the ZomCom, producing some brilliant films along the way (along with many not-so-brilliant films…I’m looking at you, Weekend at Bernie’s II). Hence, today’s Zombie Question of the Day:
From the classic George Romero films to Plan 9 from Outer Space to Re-Animator to Dead Alive, zombie movies run the gamut from pure horror to gory humor to sheer, hilarious badness. Tell us about a few of your favorite zombie feature films, and why they’re so great.
Our panel of interpid zombie experts fired back with an eclectic array of movies, from classics to the completely obscure to the deeply, wonderfully weird. Come check out their responses below the fold, and vote for your favorite zombified film in the comments…
Bob Fingerman: Both versions of Dawn of the Dead are right up at the top, but right there with them is Charlie Brooker’s brilliant U.K. mini-series, Dead Set. It mixes topical satire with true horror and hard-R gore, setting his zombie pandemic squarely into the backdrop of the “reality” series Big Brother. To dip back further, the seedy low-rent classic Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Shaun of the Dead also mixes humor and horror brilliantly. The comedy is more dominant, but when things get horrific and emotional in the pub (no spoilers for the folks who haven’t seen it), it really socks you in the gut.
Sarah Langan: I love all early Romero, and Vincent Price’s turn as The Last Man on Earth, but was almost equally blown away by Will Smith in I Am Legend. What Matheson gets is loneliness. Consumerism divides us from the things that make us happy. Apocalypse is fantasy fulfillment—how fun, to have an event come along that pulls us out of routine, and tests our mettle? But the joy is less palpable a year out, in that scenario. What remains is isolation and madness in a world made of monsters. To me, that’s scary.
Steven Gould: I prefer the comedies. Shaun of the Dead. Fido. Zombieland. ‘Cause nothing says funny like an eyeball dropping into your highball.
Dave Palumbo: My all time favorite has to be Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2. Besides the classic zombie vs. shark scene, a phenomenal score by Fabrizio Frizzi, and some pretty shocking eye trauma, it has such a general atmosphere of doom. The texture of this movie just can’t be matched in my opinion.
Walter Greatshell: Well, you mentioned Romero’s films and Re-Animator, which I love. Evil Dead is great. I’m also fond of Return of the Living Dead, which introduced the idea of fast zombies. Also The Last Man on Earth, which looks crummy now but was the first adaptation of I Am Legend, as well as the inspiration for Night of the Living Dead.
Matt London: Twilight is my favorite film that actually creates zombies, but in terms of movies that feature the shambling dead, I’d have to go with Evil Dead II. Not so much for the movie itself. Check out the DVD commentary that features pretty much everyone involved in the making of the film. By the time the introductions get to Bruce Campbell, the star concedes that everything of value has already been said, so he spends the majority of the commentary providing internal monologue for his character. “I think I’m all right, just so long as that bucket doesn’t move anywhere…” You can probably guess what happens next.
But I’ve always said I think the medium of video games lends itself to zombie-themed stories better than movies. In a film, the zombie uprising lasts two hours max, and then it’s back to the real world. In a video game, fatigue can set in as you slog your way through level after level. Resident Evil, Dead Rising, House of the Dead—all have compelling stories and put you right in the middle of the action. Even non-zombie based games like Counterstrike, StarCraft, and Call of Duty have zombie modes that allow players to unload on walking corpses.
Paula R. Stiles: I’m going to run the gamut from Captain Obvious to “huh”? First, there’s the original Dawn of the Dead, for the brilliant central metaphor of zombies as mindless consumers and the whole idea of the mall as a complex and formidable (yet fatally flawed) castle against the zombies that also attracts them.
Then there’s Shaun of the Dead, which is wickedly and darkly funny in the way the Brits do so well and the rest of us can’t do at all. But it also has a heart and pathos with Shaun discovering the hard way what he really wants in life (and that his girlfriend is well worth fighting for—and with), even as he battles the undead.
Then there’s Lew Alton’s I Walked with a Zombie, which is a classy, old-school zombie flick, as well as one that zombified a classic (Jane Eyre) over half a century before the Jane Austen mash-ups.
And finally (yes, I know this isn’t a film), there’s the Supernatural episode, “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” because it has two very unusual types of zombies (a girl partially brought back by Ancient Greek necromancy and a young man brought back completely by an Old Testament demon’s deal) and it emphasizes something often ignored in modern zombies—that medieval stories of the undead sometimes mention sexual perversion. Here, there’s a death dance between a sweet young girl, who has come back as a sexually voracious monster, and her hunter, who is sexually obsessed with stalking and killing her again “in her gravebed.” I’m astonished it ever got past the censors. If you just keep your characters’ clothes on, TV censors can be really, really dumb.
Jamie Lackey: I love Return of the Living Dead 3. I like the romance aspect, and the image of the heroine (who’s a zombie) covered in piercings and kicking ass is just so perfect. Zombieland was a lot of fun. 28 Days Later is pretty awesome, too. I love the fact that pretty much every time the main character wanders around shouting “Hello!” he gets mobbed by zombies. You’d think he’d learn eventually.
Kim Paffenroth: It’ll always be the original Dawn of the Dead for me (though I’m not a purist who hated the remake just because it wasn’t sufficiently similar to the original). The combination of dread and hopelessness in the middle of the film, alternating with the exhilaration of the action sequences, still gives me the chills. I really can’t recommend the film enough—or caution aspiring zombie authors enough: if your plot is to have your protagonists barricaded in some building, then it doesn’t matter if it’s not a mall—you need to do more, because that’s already been done about as well as it can be.
S.G. Browne: I’m not much of a zombie purist, so my list is a bit eclectic…
Dawn of the Dead (2004). A horde of slow zombies is pretty scary, but there’s nothing like a tenacious, reanimated corpse bearing down on you with the speed of an Olympic sprinter to make you wish you’d worn Depends. Plus the first ten minutes followed by Johnny Cash singing “The Man Comes Around” over the opening credits is just gold.
Evil Dead 2: While not “technically” a zombie film, it’s still listed as such by some, so I’m counting it here. Reason? It has Bruce Campbell in it. That’s enough for me.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): The original is the benchmark of zombie films and still one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. But the more I watch it, the more I realize that Cooper was right.
Christopher Golden: So many. And of course it depends on your definition of zombie. The Frankenstein monster didn’t eat flesh, but, y’know, reanimated corpse. Also there are the great ghost-zombies from John Carpenter’s The Fog. The underwater Nazi zombies of Shock Waves. I prefer Romero’s Dawn of the Dead to Night of the Living Dead because it’s so much more fun. Honestly, though, I’d have to say Shaun of the Dead tops them all.
Sean Bieri: If I was stuck in a rowboat on a lake with a laptop and one zombie movie, it’d have to be Return of the Living Dead. It’s got it all: laughs, gore, ridiculous “punk” stereotypes, gleefully over-the-top acting, old-school rise-from-the-grave action, full frontal nudity, some truly gruesome situations and sight gags, the awesome Tar-Man and, to top it off, production design by the great cartoonist and illustrator William Stout.
Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant): My all-time favorite horror movie is, without question, James Gunn’s Slither. Have I mentioned that he needs to call me? It’s funny, touching, bloody, pulpy, and just absolutely unending fun. Shaun of the Dead is a close second, for reasons that any zombie fan can understand. Finally, Resident Evil: Apocalypse. Alice Abernathy can save my city from the T-virus any day!
Julia Sevin: There’s a place in my heart for Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. It’s a proto-zombie film from just a few years after Night of the Living Dead, when we were still shaping the concept of The Zombie. It’s rather classically spooky, all gothic sets and forests and dramatic lighting, and Alan Ormsby is delightfully weird.
Amelia Beamer: Oh, this is hard. Shaun of the Dead, because it plays so nicely with genre tropes. Fido, because it does the same thing, only with less comedy and more pain.
David Moody: The 1980’s were my formative horror years, and here in the UK pretty much every horror movie was classified as a ‘video nasty’ and banned. My first proper zombie experience was watching Romero’s original “Night of the Living Dead” on an imported Laserdisc (shows how old I am), in the middle of a massive thunderstorm. I’ve seen plenty of zombie films since, but none have had the same impact. At the moment I’d have to say my favourite zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead because it’s a classic, beautifully made zombie film that actually respects the genre. It’s only a comedy because its characters are idiots!
Catherine MacLeod: My favourite zombie movie is Shaun of the Dead. Even the opening credits crack me up—you can’t tell the difference between the zombies and the humans. And, disturbingly enough, there aren’t that many.
Carrie Ryan: I love the remake of Dawn of the Dead (which I realize may make me very unpopular) because it was the first zombie movie I ever saw and started my fascination with them. I love Night of the Living Dead because it’s the original and because it made me realize just how versatile zombies are for creating social commentary. And of course Shaun of the Dead just because that movie rocks—it combines humor and tragedy so perfectly!
Bridget McGovern hails from Pennsylvania, whose zombie-rich cemeteries and malls were first made famous by the great George Romero (but secretly, the Evil Dead movies will always be her favorites).