Time was, zombies got no respect: Vampires, werewolves, and even mummies got all the screen time while brain-eaters were relegated to the sidelines. Those days are long gone, thanks to AMC’s The Walking Dead. As if that weren’t enough, another member of the zombie renaissance. 28 Days Later, airs on AMC on Fri., Nov. 5 at 11:30PM | 10:30C as part of Fear Friday, AMC’s Friday night marathon of fright flicks. Afterwards, make it a zombie weekend by tuning into The Walking Dead on Sun., Nov. 7 at 10PM | 9C and earning a chance to win a walk-on role. In the meantime, see which zombie movies separate themselves from the pack.
10. White Zombie
Some modern viewers consider White Zombie slow, but don’t let them get in your way: the original zombie flick stands the test of time. White Zombie gave Bela Lugosi the kick-ass post-Count Dracula role of amoral plantation owner Murder Legendre, who’d rather make zombies than pay living workers. It also introduced the living dead to U.S. moviegoers and gave Rob Zombie a name for his band. Not too shabby, eh? You can even watch the original zombie flick in full online.
9. They Came Back
In the offbeat and quietly eerie French film, the dead return from their graves neither as slavering brain-craving monsters nor as the people they once were but more like shadows of their former selves. What do the living owe them? Jobs, housing, a place at the family table? They Came Back may be the only movie that treats zombies as a social-services problem, and that’s one thought-provoking perspective.
8. The Zombie Diaries
Videos made by a London-based news crew, the squabbling members of an ad hoc commune, and three travelers — a couple and an American hitchhiker they pick up just as the world goes to hell — combine to create an unnervingly personal chronicle of the end of the world as we know it. Much like They Came Back, The Zombie Diaries is completely unique, though in this case for its style rather than its message.
7. Shock Waves
Okay, here’s an image to haunt your dreams: bleach-blond zombies in jackboots and dark glasses rising slowly from the Florida surf — sorry, “from the depths of hell’s ocean.” Makes you wonder why there aren’t more Nazi-zombie movies out there, given that the Third Reich was all about weird science and rotted, skeletal figures are even more terrifying when decked out in insidious Nazi garb. Maybe equating zombies with Nazis is an insult to zombies.
6. 28 Days Later…
Quibblers find flaws with Danny Boyle’s feverish flick saying the infected aren’t zombies because they aren’t dead. But the Rage virus makes them look like zombies, act like zombies, and drool, moan, and bite like zombies, so, for all intents and purposes, they’re zombies. Feel free to sue me. The great thing about 28 Days Later…, aside from the fact that it’s damned scary, is that it single-handedly reintroduced the fast zombie to moviegoers. You can thank Boyle for fewer lumbering, stagnant zombies and more super-zombies — which are obviously cooler and more frightening.
Zombie was released in Europe as Zombi 2, the better to make it seem a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which opened in Italy as Zombi. But such sleazy sales tactics aside, Lucio Fulci’s picture is a true original, the first of a small tsunami of Italian movies that took Romero’s zombie lore to new heights (or depths, depending on your perspective) of visceral horror. Oh, and it features the nastiest bit of eyeball torture you’ll see on film. While definitely not for the squeamish, Zombie upped the stakes for zombie flicks in between Night of the Living Dead and 28 Days Later.
A pair of horny small-town outcasts find a smoking-hot gray-skinned living-dead girl bound to a gurney in the spooky abandoned mental hospital at the edge of town. Being hormonal boys, they do with her what hormonal boys would do. While not exactly Oscar bait, Deadgirl is truly original and truly disgusting. And be honest: if you’re watching zombie movies, you’re probably a fan of the disgusting. Be forewarned: Deadgirl is hands down one of the most disturbing horror movies I have ever seen, and you can’t un-see it.
3. Shaun of the Dead
How hard is it to be genuinely funny and scary in the same movie? Let’s just say that amateurs need not apply. But professional English smart-asses Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost pull it off in this witty, self-referential, and genuinely creepy variation on Night of the Living Dead. Remember, Shaun of the Dead is no flash-in-the-pan spoof — don’t compare it to the likes of Scary Movie or Dracula: Dead and Loving It. And don’t just take my word for it: the proof of the movie’s wit and fright factor comes from George A. Romero’s endorsement. He gave Wright and Pegg cameos in his Land of the Dead.
2. I Walked With a Zombie
Produced by Val Lewton — the juice behind such B-movie classics as Cat People — I Walked With a Zombie, a clever spin on Jane Eyre, may be the most visually stunning movie ever made about the living dead. The movie takes place on a Caribbean plantation and delves into the world of voodoo, which its main character, a Canadian nurse, is drawn to.
1. Night of the Living Dead
Duh. No other zombie movie comes close to George A. Romero’s Vietnam-haunted shocker in terms of influence or quality. Romero”s conscientious shout-outs to The Last Man on Earth notwithstanding, he’s the guy who truly divorced zombies from Haitian folklore and freed them to become the go-to metaphor for free-floating anxieties of every stripe, from man-made plague to the revolt of the underclasses. Without Night of the Living Dead not only would horror fans lack a standard to rally to as the best zombie flick of all time, but who knows what later zombie movies would’ve looked like?