My friend Robyn asked me for a list of good zombie movies, since anyone who knows anything about me knows that I adore all things zombie. What I gave her was less a list than an entire EPIC on favorite zombie movies, zombie movies that kind of sucked, zombie movies that I still needed to watch, etc. etc. And I figured, I might as well post it here, because if anything says geek blasphemy, it’s how I feel about the original Dawn of the Dead.
Read on if you approve of brain-munching:
*No spoilers for any zombie films, but my definition of zombie is pretty broad, just so you know. Feel free to comment on anything–I love hearing people dish on movies, obviously–but don’t comment just to tell me this or that isn’t a REAL zombie movie. I get it, but I felt like being inclusive.*
FAVORITE ZOMBIE MOVIE OF ALL TIME
28 Days Later directed by Danny Boyle (2002)
“No, no. No, see, this is a really shit idea. You know why? Because it’s really obviously a shit idea.”
I love this movie. If you people do not, well . . . I’m sure you’re all very nice people, but I just do not understand you. Cillian Murphy is Awesome with a Capital A. Brendan Gleeson, Naomie Harris, and Christopher Eccleston? All awesome. Eccleston is pretty much always spectacular, even in not-so-good guilty pleasures like the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds. Naomi Harris is perfect as super badass Selena—she’s pragmatic, violent, and can, you know, act (unlike other supposed “kick-ass” girls like, say, Jill Valentine in Resident Evil: Apocalypse). And Brendan Gleeson, damn. In lesser hands, the role of Frank could easily be some boring, preachy side character—you know, insert moral of the story here—but Gleeson makes him just so three-dimensional and real and perfect. He’s absolutely wonderful.
28 Days Later also has a great script, gorgeous cinematography, and an awesome score, particularly this one song, “In The House–In a Heartbeat” by John Murphy. (They use the same song in Kick Ass, and it is, for me, superlove.)
I should point out two things: one, these are not traditional zombies; they are psychologically infective rage zombies, and while that might sound strange, I think it works (also, the audio commentary on the concept is pretty cool to listen to); two, these are fast zombies.
Now, I tend to prefer fast zombies to slow zombies, probably because 28 Days Later was the first movie to really get me into the genre, but slow zombies certainly have their merits, and I’m totally okay with people who prefer slow zombies to fast zombies. However.
I sometimes get mightily irritated with people who absolutely refuse to watch movies with fast zombies. I mean, it could be the most amazing movie ever, but some people won’t see any of its wonderful attributes because zombies are supposed to be slow and that’s that. I find this somewhat aggravating. I really don’t get the people who are super scientific about it, you know, “It doesn’t make any sense for the zombies to be this fast; their musculature wouldn’t work like that—enter techno babble here—.” And I say, “It’s called FICTION, you guys.” I get that the current trend is towards scientific instead of magical brain-munchers, and that’s fine; I’m cool with that, but people who freak the hell out about the actual logistics of how fast dead people can run . . . well, I just don’t get them.
In conclusion: 28 Days Later ROCKS. Go watch it.
OTHER GOOD ZOMBIE MOVIES (not in any order at all):
1. Night of the Living Dead directed by George A. Romero (1968)
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”
Ah, the movie that either started, or at the very least, reinvented the genre. This is the first of George A. Romero’s series. It’s in black and white, both serious and cheesy, and easily my favorite of the Romero films I’ve seen. (Of the six, I’ve only seen Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Land of the Dead.)
Before this movie, zombies were pretty much magical, voodoo zombies: mindless work slaves, undead sex slaves, that kind of thing. This is the film where they started eating intestines and whatnot. It also features a couple notable characters: Ben, who is awesome, and Barbara, who is not (she is, in fact, the polar opposite of Selena from 28 Days Later.) I was so frustrated with Barbara, I wrote a prose poem about her. Well, it was about other stuff, too, but there was a lot of Barbara being a moron in there.
People have argued whether Night of The Living Dead is about racism or not, and I think there are decent cases to be made on either side, but one thing’s for sure: the social commentary is less in your face in this movie than in the sequels that followed. And this, my friends, is probably my favorite thing about it.
2. Dawn of the Dead directed by Zack Snyder (2004)
“You want . . . every . . . single . . . second.”
This remake is usually loved or hated—I don’t hear a lot of in between. If you hated it, you most likely loved the original, which is I know is widely regarded as Romero’s best work if not the best zombie movie of all time. I must say to those who loved the original: you must watch this remake independently of Romero’s work. They only called this one a remake because they had a story with zombies in a mall. That’s it. That’s about the only connection. Maybe one homage to a shopping scene, but otherwise different characters, plot, script, theme, message, ending, speed of zombie . . . the remake of Dawn of the Dead barely qualifies as a remake. However, it is a pretty damn good movie on its own.
I’m an unabashed Zack Snyder fan—suck it, haters—and Dawn of the Dead is a good looking movie, lot of great visuals, smart script, great cast, awesome soundtrack. For soundtrack, we have some good opening credits with Johnny Cash’s, “The Man Comes Around,” and then, later, we have the most awesomest usage ever of Richard Cheese’s, “Down With the Sickness.” Ensemble cast includes Sarah Polley and Jake Weber (both super great) as well Matt Frewer, Mehki Pfeiffer, Ty Burrell, and, of course, Ving Rhames playing the badass motherfucker Ving Rhames usually plays. Screenwriting: James Gunn wrote the script, and James Gunn is one funny SOB, let me tell you. Cinematography: there are a lot of good shots, but the scene with Sarah Polley in the bathroom has a real classic horror feel to it that got me interested from the get-go.
In fact, my only serious problem with Dawn of the Dead is the character of Nicole (played by Lindy Booth). She will compete with Barbara from Night of The Living Dead as Most Useless Female Ever. Otherwise, it’s a great movie and well worth a watch.
3. Zombieland directed by Ruben Fleischer (2009)
“Time to nut up or shut up.”
This movie is awesome and hilarious and awesome. The cast is great: Woody Harrelson is incredible in this movie; Abigail Breslin is one of the best young actresses out there; Emma Stone keeps her character from going to the whiny side of “the tough girl”; and Jesse Eisenberg is hysterical. A friend of mine argued that Michael Cera should have been in the movie, and I get the comparison, but I actually feel that Eisenberg was a better fit for the role. I think Michael Cera (much as I liked him as Scott Pilgrim) would have made the role a little too cutesy/charming.
I’m refusing to get into the argument of Zombieland versus Shaun of the Dead, because they’re both exceptionally well-made, funny movies, and I don’t feel the need to pick between them, but I will say that Zombieland does have an excellent appreciation of Twinkies and may have one of the best cameos of all time. (If you’ve seen this movie, you know the scene. I was laughing so hard in the theatre, I thought I was going to die.)
So, of course the next one has to be . . .
4. Shaun of the Dead directed by Edgar Wright (2004)
“You’ve got red on you.”
It’s hard to imagine a zombie enthusiast who hasn’t seen this movie, but if you’ve just been meaning to get around to it, stop meaning and do it. Of course, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost make an amazing team; we all know that, but Shaun of the Dead really is something special. Besides just being hysterically funny (the zombie walk, of course, is particularly awesome, and I love Shaun’s variations on the plan to get out alive and have a happy ending), it’s actually kind of heartbreaking at parts . . . . you think zombie parody, you don’t necessarily think smart and touching, but this movie really is.
Offhand, I can’t think of a single problem I have with this film.
5. Dance of the Dead directed by Gregg Bishop (2008)
“Where y’all going?”
“To the prom to kick some zombie ass.”
Continuing the zombie comedy train is Dance of the Dead. I’ll be honest—it’s been awhile since I’ve seen this one, so I don’t remember it enough to gush too profusely. I do know that my friends and I picked it out purely to mock it (as we do with many bad horror films) and ended up really enjoying the movie. It’s an independent movie with a mostly unknown cast and, from what I remember, is pretty damn funny. I mean, it’s a zombie-infested prom where the heroes and heroines are all the kids who couldn’t get dates. How can you go wrong with that? That’s geeklove through and through, that is.
6. Resident Evil directed by Paul W. S. Anderson (2002)
“You’re all going to die down here.”
Look, Resident Evil isn’t on par with movies like 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, but it’s a pretty decent zombie movie . . . the first one, anyway. Milla Jovovich has built herself a career around B movie action roles, and she’s perfectly serviceable as a bad ass (although there’s just something about her performance that stops short of being awesome and super hardcore like Naomie Harris in 28 Days Later—I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what it is, though). Michelle Rodriguez is enjoyable doing her usual tough-girl shtick, and James Purefoy is the epitome of total smirky hotness, so that’s nice. And while the movie doesn’t really follow the video games (Alice isn’t a character in any of them) they do bring in a good number of elements from the games, so that’s kind of cool.
The movie’s got flaws (there’s one pretty horrific editing scene where people who have split up are suddenly back together, like, whoops) and most of the cast is unable to hold an American accent (I think Caplan probably does the best job) but all in all, it’s a pretty fun popcorn zombie flick that doesn’t need to be anything else.
The sequels, on the other hand? Bah.
7. Re-Animator directed by Stuart Gordon
” . . . not anymore.”
Oh, Jeffrey Combs. I was first introduced to Jeffrey Combs in The Frighteners, and if Bruce Campbell is the King of B movies, Jeffrey Combs is like the Prince or maybe just the Eccentric but Weirdly Beloved Earl. Anyway, this is, yes, another horror-comedy movie, and it has probably the most disturbing sex scene of all time. (If you want to vote on that, go here: https://mygeekblasphemy.com/2010/08/27/the-random-movie-and-tv-movie-awards/#more-186.)
This is one weird movie, people. I like it. It’s funny, and it’s spawned a few sequels I haven’t watched yet, but good Lord, this one’s disturbing. Watch at your own risk.
8. and 9. The Evil Dead (1981) and The Evil Dead II (1987) directed by Sam Raimi
“You bastards! You dirty bastards! Give me back my hand! GIVE ME BACK MY HAND!” (picture and quote are both from Evil Dead 2.)
Speaking of Bruce Campbell and the other contender for Skeeviest Sex Scene, here are two more horror-comedies for your approval. Yes, I know I’m cheating by putting them together, and yes, I know this is really stretching the zombie versus demon possession argument. I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway.
Both movies are funny, although I like Evil Dead 2 better. It’s worth mentioning that there’s usually an argument whether Evil Dead 2 is actually a sequel or a remake, an argument I have no interest in getting involved in. They’re both campy, disturbing, and hilarious. Evil Dead has the, er, interesting scene alluded to above, and Evil Dead 2 has the infamous chainsaw. Groovy.
And, of course, they both lead to the absolutely BRILLIANT . . .
10. Army of Darkness directed by Sam Raimi (1992)
“Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun.”
Before he made Spiderman Angsts, Spiderman Angsts Some More, and Spiderman Does Bizarre Freakish Dancing (to be fair, I’ve never actually seen S3) Sam Raimi directed this gem, the third in the Evil Dead trilogy. The first two Evil Dead’s can at least be argued to have a certain sense of horror to them, but this movie is ALL camp, and it is beautiful. Again, unless you don’t like Bruce Campbell saying things like, “This is my boomstick,” or “Give me some sugar, baby,” or “Good. Bad. I’m the guy with the gun” (BEST MOTTO EVER) you should enjoy this.
Oh, but if you’re watching for the first time, beware the theatrical cut versus the director’s cut. Vastly different ending. I like the theatrical, myself, as do most people I’ve talked to. Ever noticed that the director’s cuts usually just kind of suck? I mean, I know it’s their movie and all, but . . . sometimes, I think the studios are right. That’s pretty blasphemous all on its own. Still, I’m serious. Have you guys watched the director’s cut for The Abyss? It’s only about 60 seconds extra, but that 60 seconds is full of preach. Carlie does not approve.
11. Pet Sematary directed by Mary Lambert (1989)
“Sometimes, dead is better.”
Once again, this isn’t a traditional zombie movie, but dead things do come back to life; they come back wrong, and there is some definite gnawing of flesh, so I’m throwing it in.
This is a pretty faithful adaptation of the book, probably because Stephen King wrote the script. It’s dark, sad, and pretty well-acted (other than Denise Crosby, sorry, Tasha Yar). It’s also directed by a woman, which is awesome.
Also: Gage is the cutest thing known to man.
If you’re interested in my full review of the movie, click here: https://mygeekblasphemy.com/2010/08/13/sometimes-dead-is-better/
12. Slither directed by James Gunn (2006)
“My easy going nature is getting sorely fucking tested.”
Yeah, they’re alien zombies, but who cares? This movie is incredible. Nathan Fillion and Gregg Henry, man. That’s all I’m saying. Also, once again I bow before the might of James Gunn, who wrote and directed this horror-comedy . . . okay, seriously, I never noticed before how many amazing zombie movies are comedies. The dramas need to step up their game. Anyway, this is a hilarious movie (I love the lyme disease and the squid bit) with good music, a great ending, and extras that actually look like they could live in a small town. The only problem I had with this movie was a matter of pacing, and that was only the first time I watched it. (The first twenty minutes seemed kind of slow to me. However, on later viewings, it didn’t bother me at all.)
Slither is epic win, people. Did I mention Nathan Fillion?
13. Planet Terror directed by Robert Rodriguez (2007)
“I never miss.”
The first half of the Rodriguez/Tarantino Grindhouse double feature, Planet Terror is great. Before this movie, I only knew Freddy Rodriguez from Six Feet Under, where I wanted to slap him . . . often. In this, though . . . my god, Freddy Rodriguez is HOT as badass El Wray. Rose McGowan’s fun; Jeff Fahey and Michael Biehn are perfect; Josh Brolin is growly and creepy, and Naveen Andrews is British! (Err, I mean good.) Plus, it’s super gory. Also, there’s a scene that I can’t spoil, but . . . I think it’s pretty damn ballsy. I like it a lot.
The only downside to this film is that it also has its own super disturbing scene, and while it’s not a sex scene, you are going to see more of Quentin Tarantino than you EVER needed to see. But I love it. And I kind of want to marry Freddy Rodriguez.
14. 28 Weeks Later directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo (2007)
“Welcome to London.”
I almost forgot this one. I went to see this with my friend Brook and, honestly, I expected to hate it, considering just how much I adored the first one and knowing that this sequel had a different director, different writers, different cast, and different characters.
But I must say: 28 Weeks Later is pretty good. Not as good as the first one but still, pretty damn awesome. Jeremy Renner seems to excel in the soldier role, and Robert Carlyle makes for a very convincing cowardly husband. And while I was wary about a story that had nothing to do with the characters I grew to love so much from the first film, I also didn’t have to worry about them recasting, killing, or otherwise fucking up those characters that I grew to love so much from the first film.
28 Weeks Later is smart, dark, and violent. There is one thing that I’m not crazy about—something I can’t mention without giving away spoilers, but it was an exceedingly obvious plot development/twist—but it didn’t ruin the movie for me or anything. All in all, a very good sequel to an amazing movie.
NOT-SO-GOOD ZOMBIE MOVIES:
1. Dawn of the Dead directed by George A. Romero (1978)
“When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.”
I know. Let the beatings commence.
I have only seen the original Dawn of the Dead once, and it’s the kind of movie I feel I need to give a second chance before I decide how much I like it. There have been (a few) other movies that I’ve hated on first viewing and ended up liking on a second try, though these usually have to do with being in a bad mood the first time around.
That being said, on the one viewing I’ve had . . . I didn’t like Dawn of the Dead. I found it slow. And before anyone whines at me about American youth today and ADD, may I remind you that 28 Days Later is my favorite zombie film, and one of the biggest criticisms of the film is how slow it is. So, I can deal with movies that take a while to build, and I do like some of my horror to be smart. But Dawn of the Dead didn’t strike me smart as much as it did preachy. Maybe the best horror out there is the stuff that talks about human nature, but everything here about commercialism and materialism and the general suckiness of humanity . . . it felt like it was shoved down my throat, and I like my Big Messages to be a touch more subtle than that. Dawn of the Dead is about as subtle as a fucking mack truck.
I will say that I like Peter a great deal and, of course, he has the best quote ever (so happy that he made a cameo in the remake with the same line). I think it’s an important film to watch if you’re interested in zombie film history, and one of these days I’ll get around to watching it again and seeing if the pacing and preachiness bother me as much as it did the first go around, but . . . yeah, this isn’t making my Top Five.
2. Land of the Dead directed by George A. Romero (2005)
“Good shooting, Charlie. No such thing as a nice shooting.”
This one isn’t quite as sacrilegious as Dawn of the Dead, because there were tons of Romero fans out there who didn’t like this movie or the direction that he decided to take the series in, but still, it’s Romero, and some people are crazy nuts about that guy (I kid. I understand his importance, even if I don’t like all his films.)
This one . . . I didn’t hate it, but there felt like a lot of missed opportunities. It seemed terribly uneven. I could deal with The Message (humanity is still a suckfest; also: classism) and Simon Baker is very pretty to look at, even if he never gets to use his awesome Australian accent. I like a lot of bits in it—there’s this great moment with Riley (Baker) saying that nothing bad has ever happened to him, and when someone calls him on the fact that his brother was killed, Riley snaps, “That happened to my brother. It didn’t happen to me.”
That being said, the moment goes NOWHERE. Most of this movie feels like that to me—interesting bits that go nowhere. I like the idea that Romero’s zombies go through this whole evolution deal throughout the course of his films, and it seems like it should be amazing and awesome and just, wow . . . but it’s not. I don’t know. Maybe everything just feels too forced? I get glimpses of potential—there is some awesome dialogue in this movie–but almost everything else falls flat. All idea and lousy execution.
3. Dead Alive (also known as Brain Dead) by Peter Jackson (1992)
“I kick ass for the Lord!”
It really saddens me to say this because this is a huge cult favorite, often quoted as one of the goriest movies EVER, and was made by Peter Freaking Jackson, but . . . I just was kind of bored. I barely remember what happened in the movie anymore. It was just kind of . . . eh . . for me. The only part that wasn’t (and to be fair, I was laughing so hard during this scene that my stomach hurt) was with this kick ass priest character, Father McGruder. I would easily have watched an entire movie about Father McGruder.
But otherwise . . . gore either has to shock you or make you laugh (if it can do both, then it’s really doing a fine job.) But here . . . I didn’t have enough of either reaction. I didn’t hate it. I just didn’t care.
4. and 5. Resident Evil 2: Apocalypse (2004) and Resident Evil 3: Extinction (2007) directed by Alexander Witt and Russell Mulcahy, respectively
“You won’t have to wait that long, boys. Because I’m coming for you. And I’m going to be bringing a few of my friends.”
(both picture and quote are from Resident Evil: Extinction)
My primary problem with these movies is what they do to Alice, their heroine. I’ve bitched about this before, but I dislike movies or television shows that start out with a cool female heroine that’s not magical or amazing or The Chosen One. She’s just seriously badass. And then, out of nowhere, a prophecy comes out in the second season, or they add a billion powers to her in the sequel, and it’s really a very cheap and very obvious plot device that I find extraordinarily vexing.
Plus, Sienna Guillory as Jill Valentine may cause blood vessels to burst in your brain. I think, if I had to pick, that Resident Evil 3 is slightly better than RE 2, if only because Sienna’s not anywhere in it . . . but it does have an extremely cringe-worthy beginning voiceover, and almost every character in it is entirely forgettable.
These movies are supposed to be B movies, just like the first one, but in my opinion, they’re more like C- ones.
6. White Zombie directed by Victor Halperin (1932)
“Surely, you don’t think she’s alive, in the hands of natives! Oh no! Better dead than that!”
Some schmuck had this movie as Number 2 on his Best Zombie Movie List, and this schmuck needs a brain transplant. Seriously. Okay, this is a hugely important movie, cause it’s pretty much the first zombie movie ever made, filmed back in the 1930’s with professional bad guy Bela Lugosi. This is back when zombies were voodoo zombies, and voodoo zombies are a truly creepy idea, and if we’re going to remake movies left and right, I would LOVE to see this one remade, cause it’s all interesting ideas and TERRIBLE execution. When I said that Land of the Dead had bad execution before, ha! That’s Oscar-worthy compared to this.
White Zombie was made back in that awkward stage when talkies were still new and weird and boy, does it show. The movie’s ridiculous. The characters do things that make no sense; the dialogue is terrible, and you can’t hear half of it. Even the hero is totally useless. If you want to laugh at it, or if you’re really serious about rounding out your zombie film history seminar, then by all means have at it. Otherwise . . . this is a BAD movie. Ignore people who tell you how amazing it is to make themselves sound smarter for having seen it. They’re wrong. Just because this is the first of something doesn’t mean that it’s actually good.
If you’re interested in my full review of this film, it’s here: https://mygeekblasphemy.com/2010/08/12/of-luv-and-zombies-and-useless-heroes/
ZOMBIE MOVIES I HAVEN’T SEEN YET THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IMPORTANT:
1. Zombi II directed by Lucio Fulci (1979)
Reasons I (and You) Need To Watch: Supposedly prime example of Italian splatter gore horror; unauthorized sequel to Night of The Living Dead; a fight (I shit you not) between a zombie and a tiger shark.
2. The Return of the Living Dead directed by Dan Bannon (1985)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: where we get the zombie cry, “Braaaaaains” from.
3. Dead Snow directed by Tommy Wirkola (2009)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: Nazi Zombies. ‘Nough said.
4. Black Sheep directed by Jonathan King (2006)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: Zombie sheep. ‘Nough said.
5. Zombie Strippers directed by Jay Lee (2008)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: Really?
6. Day of The Dead directed by George A. Romero (1985)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: Cause it’s Romero. Also, it’s an important step between Dawn and Land. (I’d already read all about what happens to the zombies before I saw Land, but if you skip from Movie 2 to Movie 4 without knowing that Romero’s made a few changes, well, you’re in for a surprise.)
7. Bio Zombie directed by Wilson Yip (1998)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: don’t know, other than it makes a lot of top 10 lists. Then again, so does White Zombie. Still, I read one review saying it’s Bill and Ted Meets Dawn of the Dead, so I guess that sounds interesting.
8. Versus directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (2000)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: again, I don’t know a lot, but it has something to do with zombies and samurai? I’m intrigued.
9. Fido directed by Andrew Currie (2006)
Reasons I (And You) Need To Watch: I heard a lot of bad reviews for this, all bad reviews, actually, and then suddenly a chunk of really good reviews. So I don’t know. But as far as I know, Fido is a comedy about zombies who are used as slaves/pets/people to work the jobs we don’t want to. Which could be interesting . . . . maybe.
There should probably be a tenth, but dammit, I’m tired. I think that’s quite epic enough, don’t you?