By Jack Randall
I love zombie movies. The gore and scenes of slaughter are almost filler for me, because what I really love is the variety that you just don’t see done well with other monster clichés. Zombies truly lend themselves to a large range: comedy and slapstick, all-out gorefest, thriller (pun intended), and just about every exotic virus known or unknown to man. Apocalyptic in scope, or just one group trapped in a cabin in the woods, these plots can occur anywhere, in any context, at any time. So here is a wide range of some of the best.
Nothing is more isolated than narrating a zombie holocaust in small-town Ontario from the isolation of a morning show radio booth. In an interesting spin on the typical “Zombie Virus” scenario, the infection in Pontypool is spread through language, Tourette syndrome gone wild. Based on the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything, this one makes the list.
It’s more difficult to combine any other movie monster with comedy than the zombie. Gore, zombies, and humor lend themselves so well to the screen that it’s difficult to come up with a list of ten movies and not include five of these gems. In this one a reagent is used to reanimate bodies, but it all goes horribly awry. Think of Weird Science, but instead of some hot chick you can summon zombies. It’s just as exciting. This film has also made Jeffrey Combs a cult hit to all of us who thought we were too cool for Star Trek. (Just to clear things up… no, he did not die in 9-11.)
I Sell the Dead (2008)
This is a personal favorite of mine, and I would love to bump it up a few notches on the list but I know too many people would bitch. Grave robbers run into trouble with a competing grave robbing guild, Ron Perlman is a monk, an alien circus freak corpse is somehow central to the plot, and Angus Scrimm looks as creepy as ever. How can you go wrong? The answer is you can’t. Watch this movie.
The Seprent and the Rainbow (1988)
Wes Craven throws his hat into the zombie ring with this late-80’s release starring Bill Pullman as Dennis Alan, a Harvard anthropologist. Upon hearing of a voodoo drug used to zombify people in Haiti, word gets back to the U.S. and Alan is approached by a large pharmaceutical property more than interested in this discovery. This film is set apart from the others on the list in that an added layer of depth via political strife is crucial to the plot. Alan is harassed, tortured, and arrested by local Haitian warlords and yet still pursues this Voodoo drug. He is eventually kicked out of Haiti, but returns for a strange, yet satisfying, ending.
A.K.A. Zombi 2, Island of the Zombies, Zombie Island, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Hated by the Conservative British Parliament for its gore (not saying much—a crumpet with too much jelly might make them wheeze), this is among Fulci’s best. I always get asked, “Are you a Romero guy, or a Fulci guy?” I tend to lean Fulci. A zombie fighting a shark explains why. Anyway, the island of Matool is cursed and the dead come back to life. Obviously, the dead are zombies and a lot of people get killed. If you’ve never seen this movie, you will be as annoyed by Paola as I… but don’t worry. Fulci takes care of business.
Evil Dead (1981)
Honestly, I flipped a coin. It was this or Evil Dead 2. I consider Army of Darkness to be more in the period epic category than zombie film, belonging in the same league as Gladiator and Elizabeth: The Golden Age. At its core Evil Dead is a classic something-dark-in-the-woods horror flick. Made on a shoestring budget with minimal effects, the film still manages to have some great scares. Now lauded for its cult status now as a comedic hit, but I dare anyone to make a horror film on this type of budget and not laugh at the result.
Dellamorte Dellamore, or Cemetery Man (1994)
Something is wrong in the ground at Buffalora Cemetery in the Italian countryside. Within a week of burial, the dead awaken. Francesco Dellamorte comes from a long line of Dellamorte’s tasked with the duty of killing these poor saps as they emerge. Francesco, however, has big dreams and is not content with the family business after he discovers he possibly killed the love of his life. If you know someone who thinks Twilight is the ultimate Halloween love story, show them this film. You may just save a lost soul.
Dead Alive (1992)
Otherwise known as Braindead in New Zealand, this under-the-radar pre-LOTR Peter Jackson movie is perfect. A Sumatran Rat-Monkey is responsible for a zombie virus spread through biting, of course. When poor Lionel’s mum is bitten by the Rat-Monkey, Lionel takes it upon himself to see to it that she is cared for after she emerges from the grave. Naturally zombies get out of hand and Lionel can’t control all of them. Sedatives and zombies just don’t work that way. It all leads up to a finale that is worth the price of admission.
White Zombie (1932)
So this is “the film that started it all.” The original masters were lost until the 1960’s, and the film was all but forgotten. The modern “remaster” still suffers from terrible sound, but this is definitely worth watching. Béla Lugosi stars as Murder Legendre in this film, still on the cusp of “talkies” that the acting has the exaggerated, delayed reactions necessary to silent film. Adapted from a play, White Zombie depicts the origins of the zombie genre—Haitian voodoo—long forgotten in our era of viral zombies existing solely to prey on live humans.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Not “the film that started it all,” but so seminal to the genre that it absolutely must be included on any list. The raw, black and white footage adds to the silent atmosphere, generating a more frightening effect than most modern cameras and special effects could reproduce. (In numerous dreadful attempts, none have come close to reproducing this original.) Add to that a complex layer of social commentary in an era of civil rights and domestic unrest and the term “classic” still does little justice.