Zombies are one of the cheapest movie monsters to make, which means they’re featured in a lot of questionable content. Bad acting, worse writing, and shaky production values can be fun on a summer night with like-minded friends and several bottles of booze—but if you really want a quality time with your DVD player, it can be difficult to sort the gems from the trash.
Which is why I, your resident zombie expert, am here to lead you to the very best that the cinema has to offer in the way of blood-spattered entertainment. Presenting: Angie’s Top Ten Zombie Flicks.
10. Resident Evil. Before you give me the side-eye for including this in my list, hear me out. Okay, so this isn’t what the gamers were hoping for when they heard a movie was being made from their beloved series. But Resident Evil deserves more love than it gets for one simple reason: it’s a horror/action series that is helmed by powerful women. From Alice to Rain to Jill Valentine to Claire Redfield, every movie in this franchise is headlined by ladies who aren’t afraid to kick ass and blow things up. Considering how the horror genre is drenched in testosterone, this is a refreshing change for those gorehounds of the female persuasion.
9. Day of the Dead (1985)
This gets a place on my list because not only does it feature some rather spectacular kills courtesy of Tom Savini’s special effects, and not only because it has one of zombie cinema’s most memorable villains in Joe Pilato’s Captain Rhodes—but because this is also the movie that introduced the sympathetic zombie hero. Bub, brilliantly brought to “life” by Howard Sherman, is full of wonder, pathos, and righteous fury. This was the movie that paved the way for other undead heroes, and it therefore has a special place in my heart.
8. I Walked With A Zombie
This is essentially Jane Eyre, only set in the Caribbean instead of misty England. And instead of a mad wife in the attic, there’s a uniquely Voodoo-ish problem . . . A young nurse is summoned to the island plantation of Paul Holland to care for his wife, who has been zombified by unhappy workers. This is one of producer Val Lewton’s most beautiful films; the cinematography and lighting are atmospheric, and the silent zombie Carrefour is an impressive sight to behold.
7. Planet Terror
Robert Rodriguez’s half of the amazing Grindhouse double-feature; this showcases bio-hazard zombies that are very drippy, a mysterious man with a past and a penchant for firearms, and a sarcastic beauty with an unusual leg. The sort of movie you have to see to believe, it was made in the true Grindhouse spirit complete with cigarette burns, missing reels, and dialogue so hammy it could probably be classified as Spam. It’s fun, it’s gross, it’s action-packed, and Bruce Willis has a killer cameo.
6. Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead)
Not many people know that prior to the sumptuous Lord of the Rings, writer/director Peter Jackson dabbled in splatterstick. Dead Alive was the second movie dear old PJ ever made, and it is set in his native New Zealand. Mama’s boy Lionel runs into some trouble when his harpy of a mother is bitten by a Sumatran Rat Monkey, turns into a zombie, and begins eating the neighbors. Now the milquetoast young man has to rise to the challenge and stop the zombie horde before it destroys all of Wellington and his lady love Paquita. Morbidly hilarious—there’s a kung-fu priest and a zombie baby that runs amok in a sunny park—Dead Alive also holds the distinction of being the goriest movie ever made. The thirty-minute lawnmower finale makes sure of that.
A heartwarming boy-and-his-dog story—just substitute a zombie for Lassie. Young Timmy has problem making friends and a distant father. When his mother buys a zombie servant (played by Billy Connolly) to impress the rich new neighbors, Timmy finds a true friend for life. This movie is incredible in its skewering of the 1950s nostalgia, and it bucks the usual zombie trend by being brightly Technicolor and set mostly during the day. And, like Bub, Fido is an undead hero we can root for.
4. 28 Days Later
Purists can argue that the Infected aren’t really zombies, but that’s truly splitting hairs: the Rage virus is unwittingly unleashed upon England to apocalyptic effect, turning the populace into raving cannibals. Jim (the always impressive Cillian Murphy) wakes from an unrelated coma 28 days afterward and has to take stock of this terrible new world. A haunting, brutal, elegiac film full of powerful messages and performances, beautifully shot and directed by Danny Boyle (who later won a Best Director Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire).
What Jack Kerouac would have written if he’d had any flair for the supernatural, this is an On the Road for gorehounds. Neurotic Columbus and ballsy Tallahassee team up to cross the zombie-infested highways of an American dystopia, finding sisters Wichita and Little Rock along the way. This is easily one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, full of great quotes and greater character moments. The cast and effects are amazing—I’m especially fond of the Rules of Zombieland that pop up frequently. A solid little flick with a lot of heart to complement the gore. Crossing my fingers that the rumored sequel actually happens.
2. Shaun of the Dead
The first rom-com-zom—or romantic comedy with zombies—this little beauty is nothing but delightful. Full of knowing nods at other horror films (with references to Night of the Living Dead, John Landis, 28 Days Later, and The Evil Dead) as well as a spot-on video game mentality, this British import helped make Simon Pegg and Nick Frost comedy superstars. Incredibly quotable and with a surprising amount of heart.
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Night of the Living Dead may have changed the zombie genre forever, but for my top dollar Dawn is Romero’s masterpiece. Four survivors hole up in a mall, where they slowly sink into an apathy that turns them as mindless as the hordes outside. Thought-provoking wish-fulfillment that deftly showcases the dangers of consumerism, with a great black hero in Ken Foree’s Peter, and a wonderful bromance in Peter and Roger. This film also gave us the infamous “zombie walk”—one foot turned inwards for maximum shuffling awkwardness—thanks to David Emge’s inspired performance in the film’s climax.
Is there a movie you think I left off the list? Care to argue over my choices? Feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email—I’m always happy to debate with fellow zombophiles.
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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.