In honor of the month of spooky, I thought I would write something about one of my favorite sub-genres of horror, the zombie. Now zombies have gone through a number of changes in recent years. Thanks to the late great Mr. Romero there was a drastic shift from the zombies of ancient lore to diseased, undead, cannibals. In more modern movies and other media “zombie” has become something much more all-encompassing. They aren’t always undead, the cause of the infections and the way they are spread has changed, as well as the debates over if many things still count as zombies. For me, I consider zombie more of a broad term that gives a large cover too many different types of these creatures. Some disagree (which is fine), but for purposes of my list, I am using the broadest terms.
Night of the Living Dead
When talking about zombies, I always feel that I have to start with a massive nod to this movie. Romero really created what we know in the modern zombie world with this flick. Before zombies were something that were risen from the dead and used as mindless slaves. Romero took it to an illness that caused cannibalistic urges with the infection spreading by bites. The movie also established a lot of the characters that we started to expect in zombie movies. The hero, a person the hero is for some reason protecting, an innocent, a jerk that turns on the hero ultimately to his own end, as well as a few others. If you watch Night, you will start to see how much this movie established the zombie sub-genre. Even how the movie plays out is, to an extent, what we expected from zombie movies for so long. Beyond just it influences it’s also a good movie. It’s suspenseful, gory, and entertaining. It has a few hiccups and hasn’t aged perfectly, but it’s just good.
Shaun of the Dead
While most classify this as just comedy, I say it’s horror comedy. Maybe a bit more on the comedy end, but honestly it’s got some damn intense moments. Setting that aside it’s still a great movie. It has great shots, interesting characters, and a lot of jokes for zombie fans (many of them easy to miss). Every time I watch this movie I find something new, and I always enjoy it. It also keeps me on my toes. I will be laughing one moment, have tears in my eyes the next, cringe at the gore, then right back to laughing. Despite jumping around so much it never feels like a misstep, it balances all it attempts to do perfectly.
I have a hard explaining why I love this movie so much because I also have so many problems with it. The entire premise is flawed. Who thinks it’s a good idea to turn on a bunch of flashing lights and noises in the middle of a zombie outbreak? The girls are slightly too stereotypical, the love story a bit too forced, and Columbus bordering on being unlikable. That’s a lot of bad for a favorite right? Well because somehow this movie manages to get beyond that and just be so much fun. Tallahassee is hilarious, his interplay with Little Rock is perfect. Wichita has a stupid idea, but it’s seeped in some real kindness. The action scenes are fun, and there is a lot of little seemingly dumb things thrown in that are in fact so good. This movie is fun and funny.
Train to Busan
Train to Busan wins the award for the horror movie to make me cry the most. This movie is a rough journey. Unlike a lot of other zombie movies the experience never really slows down once it gets started. It gets going and just goes, and along with that means a lot of scary parts, gory parts, and sad parts. I found myself predicting a lot of what would happen in the movie, and yet that never ruined the experience or made the impact any less when it turned out I was right. From start to finish I was drawn in. It is also interesting because as a Korean movie it features no guns. This adds something a little different to the experience regarding how combat and working around the zombies plays out. Also adding to that experience is that as the name would imply most of the movie takes place on a train. As far as being relatively defenseless in close quarters go you can’t really get much better than that. I cannot stress enough how much I love this movie. Watch it.
Re-animator is often overlooked as a “zombie” movie, and I can certainly understand. It exists somewhere between the traditional zombie and the modern zombie. Herbert West invents a drug that allows him to bring corpses back from the dead. How long they have been dead directly determines how “gone”, they are. So for instance someone dead for a long time is just a mindless killing machine. Someone brought back quickly would retain most of their thoughts and personality, but ultimately it would still be a bad thing. So the cannibalistic infection spreading aspect is gone, but the murderous need is not. This movie is weird. It’s goofy, cheesy, funny, and a bit too 80s at times, but still scary and enjoyable. It ends up being somewhere between so bad it’s good and actually good. It’s an odd mix and hard to describe, but it works so well. Also, Jeffrey Combs delivers one of my favorite horror movie performances ever.
Yes, I can already hear every gaming fan cursing my name. Remember this list is about zombie movies I like, not the “best” ones. If you are able to separate yourself from the fact that this is a pretty sub-par interpretation of the Resident Evil games, what you are left with is a solidly entertaining action flick with zombies. The story is weak, the acting leaves something to be desired, but the action sequences are solid, and some of the characters are truly worth caring about. It’s rarely scary and there is no suspense to be found at all, but it’s fun. I get why fans of the game series didn’t like it (though I argue it’s far from the worst video game movie out there), but sometimes fun is enough.
Dawn of the Dead
I am hard pressed to include two movies from the same franchise in one list, but I have this problem with the zombie movie, I don’t know which one to exclude. I want to give a special nod to Night for what it means to the modern zombie and because I also genuinely like it. Dawn deserves a lot of credit though; it does what a good sequel should. It takes what worked with the first and adds to it without losing anything. This movie is still suspenseful, but a little faster moving. Good gore, but much better action. It’s also a stand out for me in the horror movie world. Horror franchises follow a predictable pattern, they start at a high point and then start to go down (how rapidly depends on the franchise). Dawn is not a step down from Night. The rest of the franchise… leaves something to be desired, but these two movies stand out as equals and are compelling.
The Serpent and the Rainbow
I wanted to include this film largely because it follows the idea of a “traditional” zombie. If follows the story of Dennis Alan and his search for the “zombie drug” in Haiti. It is a drug that can apparently bring someone back to life, but at the expense of their free will. The movie is in a word, crazy. It has a lot of jumps and twists to it, some more successful than others. I can’t honestly say that this is one of my favorite movies. However, it is a stand out to me in the zombie sub-genre simply because it returns to the roots of what zombies were. I give the late Wes Craven a lot of credit for this film and find it interesting and solid, if not weird and not exactly reaching greatness.
So now that I have shared some of my personal favorites what zombie movies do you love?