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Eli Roth’s Deep Cuts — Zombie Films Through the Ages

Ready for a deep dive into horror? Each week, acclaimed director, writer and producer Eli Roth compiles a curated list of films that best exemplify horror’s various sub-genres. Whether you’re a new horror fan or a die-hard expert, “Eli Roth’s Deep Cuts” has a recommendation ready for you.

Zombies are a cinematic staple, stalking our screens since the early 20th century. In the first installment of “Deep Cuts,” Eli Roth highlights some gems from the zombie genre you might have missed below. For a more advanced dive, check out these even “deeper cuts” and then dive into these truly terrifying zombie movies at your own risk.

I Walked with a Zombie (1943, dir. Jacques Tourneur)
Hired to care for a plantation owner’s catatonic wife, Betsy moves to Haiti from her native Canada to be with her patient. With modern medicine failing her and at the urging of a housemaid named Alma, Betsy steals away in the night with her ward to try one more thing… a voodoo ritual! I Walked with a Zombie was the second producer credit for Val Lewton, who had just been appointed head of horror films at RKO. Lewton’s movies usually started as titles handed to him by the RKO executives for their marketability. The film is notable for its progressive (for the time) look at race relations. The film is also rich with mood and an eerie melancholy unique to Lewton and Tourneur’s collaborations.

City of the Living Dead (1980, dir. Lucio Fulci)
In this demonic take on the zombie subgenre, a priest’s suicide by hanging opens the gates of hell and resurrects the corpses interred at the local cemetery, leaving the reanimated cadavers to prey upon the living. Fulci lives up to his moniker, “The Godfather of Gore,” in this film, which includes zombies whose faces look like they’ve been run through a wood chipper, a woman who literally cries tears of blood before vomiting out her own intestines (an effect which apparently involved the actress spitting out a mouthful of real pig intestines), and a gross-out scene that ended with the actors in the film brushing hundreds of live maggots from their hair and off of their clothes.

The Beyond (1981, dir. Lucio Fulci)
The Beyond is another entry in Fulci’s “Gates of Hell” trilogy, following up City of the Living Dead. This time the lynching death of an artist opens a gateway to hell beneath a Louisiana hotel. As a result, literal hell breaks loose and unleashes a series of surreal and horrific experiences upon the characters of the film. Fulci holds nothing back in The Beyond, with faces melted off by acid, crucifixions, killer tarantulas, ravenous dogs, eyes ripped out, chain whippings and, of course, zombies. The film was simultaneously praised for its disjointed, dreamlike, rhapsodic quality and criticized for it. Its electronic score by Fabio Frizzi is one of the best.

Night of the Creeps (1986, dir. Fred Dekker)
Alien slugs take up residence in their human hosts, keeping them ambulatory even after death. These brain parasites turn their vessels into homicidal zombies. Packed with clichés and tropes, the film’s campy tone deliberately paid homage to classic B-movies. Tom Atkins proves once again why he is horror royalty as the salty Detective Ray Cameron, who always answers the phone with the words “Thrill me.” The poster for the film featured a classic line from the film: “The good news is your dates are here. The bad news is… they’re dead.”

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988, dir. Wes Craven)
Craven set his sights on the voodoo-zombie subgenre, which fell out of vogue after the popularity of Romero’s braining-eating zombies. The central themes of the film are spun out through horrifying imagery that chronicles the protagonist losing control of his own body and getting buried alive. Bill Pullman’s character in the film is loosely based on the real-world ethnobotanist Wade Davis, whose fieldwork had him investigating concoctions used by Haitian locals to create real world zombies!

Cemetery Man aka Dellamorte Dellamore (1994, dir. Michele Soavi)
Cemetery Man takes place in a world where the dead rising from the grave is a matter of routine for Rupert Everett’s character, Francesco Dellamorte. Dispatching of the undead is a lonely pursuit for Francesco. Sadly, he finds romance can be even deadlier than his job. As straightforward as that description may seem, the film largely defies explanation. Its most gleefully bizarre elements include the casting of one woman, Finnish actress Anna Falchi, to play all of Francesco’s love interests, a brief cameo by the grim reaper, and Francesco’s murderous rampage, wherein he goes around shooting people in the head in order to preempt them eventually becoming zombies.

[REC] (2007, dirs. Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza)
Packed with claustrophobic anxiety, this Spanish film brought the found footage and zombie subgenres together in an innovative way. [REC] follows a local news reporter as she goes for a ride-along with the local fire department. The outbreak of what appears to be a form of rabies results in the firemen, the reporter, and her cameraman getting quarantined inside of an apartment complex along with its zombie tenants. The film inspired one of the more competent, if unnecessary, American remakes: Quarantine (2008).

Grindhouse: Planet Terror (2007, dir. Robert Rodriguez)
The first half of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s love letter to Grindhouse cinema, Planet Terror is a no-holds-barred film about a group of survivors combating people afflicted by a biochemical agent, code-named “Planet Terror.” The universe of Planet Terror includes a villain who collects the testicles of his victims and a go-go dancer named Cherry who replaces her leg with a modified assault rifle after the zombies eat it. The film is notable for having been shot on digital and modified to look like it was on old film stock. Tarantino, a die-hard celluloid fan, shot his contribution to the project on real film.

Zombieland (2009, dir. Ruben Fleischer)
With an all-star cast, this horror/comedy follows a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse, each with different goals. One survivor, played by Woody Harrelson, wants nothing more than to eat Twinkies again, while Jesse Eisenberg’s character is dead set on travelling home to see if his parents have survived. Bill Murray appears as himself. Although the script had called for a celebrity to play himself all along, initial drafts of the script had called for Patrick Swayze to inhabit that role.

World War Z (2013, dir. Marc Forster)
Based on the Max Brooks novel of the same name (but using little of its contents), World War Z imagines how humanity would deal with a worldwide zombie pandemic. The film has the distinction of having the largest budget of any zombie movie, reflected in spectacular imagery and set pieces that put star Brad Pitt through the action hero wringer. Max Brooks calls the film “28 Days Later on crack.”

Train to Busan (2016, dir. Yeon Sang-ho)
A callow stock trader and his sweet little girl are trapped on a high-speed train during a zombie outbreak in South Korea. Bad things happen, made worse by the selfish behavior of the wealthiest people on the train. A terrifically entertaining, scary, fast-paced film that also serves as a not-so-veiled metaphor about class warfare. Even if you’re sick of zombie stories, you MUST check this out.

Click here to see all of Eli Roth’s Deep cuts.

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