The last few years have seen a resurgence in the zombie genre, to the point where zombie film rarely stand on their own weight, instead acting as flavoring to other stories — be they documentaries (World War Z), romantic comedies (Zombieland) or historical dramas (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). Regardless of how they’re used, the shambling — and occasionally sprinting — undead are a powerful cinematic force, and these 14 films are some of the finest to bring mindlessly slaughtering zombies to our screens.
14. Zombi 2
Sometimes known as Zombi 2, but also available as Zombie, Island of the Living Dead, Zombie Island, Zombie Flesh Eaters and Woodoo, Zombi 2 is an Italian unauthorized sequel to Dawn of the Dead (aka Zombi in Italy) — well, it’s not even that, they just share naming numbers without even being related in the slightest, apart from having the undead. Extremely bloody and gory for 1979, it was heavily censored around the world, and was famous for a couple of scenes, including a zombie wrestling a live (though sedated) tiger shark, and an infamous scene where a woman gets her eye gouged out by a splintered piece of wood. Yeah, that last one got cut out pretty frequently.
13. Night of the Living Dead
The great grand-daddy. The original. The one and only. Night of the Living Dead was George A. Romero’s first zombie flick, and is the whole reason the genre even exists today. Available legally for free online in its entirety (you can even watch the whole thing in the player above), Night of the Living Dead is one of the most influential movies of a generation, to the extent that it was enshrined in National Film Registry. By modern standards, it’s not particularly violent nor scary, but in 1968 it definitely caused some consternation by moralists. It gave us so much we take for granted: the shambling apocalypse of an undead uprising, the mismatched bunch of survivors struggling to reach safety, the inevitable bad ending, the thinly veiled social commentary. We owe Romero so much for this.
12. Resident Evil
One of the few video game adaptations which isn’t completely and utterly horrible, Resident Evil is watchable mostly due to Milla Jovovich and Michelle Rodriguez both kicking ass and taking names like nobody’s business — though of course Rodriguez dies. I don’t think she’s ever survived the full course of a movie. Enjoyably schlocky, Resident Evil follows the spirit of the first video games, if not the fact. Evil corporation, zombie virus, eventually released into the general population. The only major difference is the characters in the movie can walk and shoot at the same time. Action filled and relentless, Resident Evil was a great mindlessly violent zombie movie.
11. Army of Darkness
Oh, how could we ever look past the incomparable magnificence that is Evil Dead 3: Army of Darkness? Bruce Campbell at his finest as Ash is thrust back into medieval England, once again having to fight the evils of the Deadites, and close the necronomicon. It’s remarkable how much England in the middle ages looks like California, what with the arid semi-desert and constantly cloudless skies. Man, who knew England was so dry? Endlessly hilarious and infinitely quotable, Army of Darkness is geek canon, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re a bad person. See if you can keep track of how many roles Ted Raimi plays, there are at least three.
Put out at the height of a pop culture zombie craze, Zombieland was what most of us imagined would happen if a zombie apocalypse did occur — those of us with an ounce of cunning or knowledge about how zombies work would use improvised methods to kill the critters. Zombieland never even gets near scary territory, with the zombies being objects of humor and annoyance, without ever really being a threat to the main characters. Instead, Zombieland plays up the comedy of the situations, and does so amazingly, especially once Bill Murray gets involved. A great cast in a perfectly timed film, Zombieland came out just when everyone was getting tired of zombies, and gave us a humorous look at the undead. Here’s hoping the sequel doesn’t blow.
9. Dead Snow
Lets face it, Nazis are just about the only really good villains left. We’re too friendly with Russia to use them anymore, Korea’s a little too scary, middle eastern terrorists smack of racism and are far too non-cohesive to be a nation of enemies. Nope, Nazis are still the gold standard. Evil, snappy dressers, funny accents, occasional dabblings in the mystical. You really can’t get better than Nazis for bad guys. Well, there’s one way you can…zombie Nazis! That’s right, undead SS, thawed from the snow in Norway. Irreverent, bloody, and almost nonsensical, it’s still tremendous fun, and there are enough explosions and bloody power tools to keep even the most jaded action hound happy.
8. Braindead/Dead Alive
Before Peter Jackson somehow lucked into being legit director, he was a notorious schlock meister, slinging gore and disgusting jokes with puppets in his native New Zealand. In his more famous films he reigned in his natural impulses to have everything constantly exploding in gore, but Braindead (called Dead Alive in the USA) was his masterpiece. Arguably the goriest flick of all time due to a memorable scene with a lawnmower and a house full of zombies, it’s over the top, constantly gross, hilarious, and more twisted than you could imagine. The climax scene with the mother zombie’s womb? Oh yeah, that was screwed up. Between the kung fu priest, zombie baby, and Sumatran rat-monkey, there’s so much wrong, yet very very right with this film.
An action/horror flick from 2000, this Japanese film slipped under the radar of most people, but deserves to be watched just based on its concept: yakuza versus zombies. It’s a crazy martial arts film that pits a group of highly trained yakuza assassins against a forest full of the undead — specifically everyone they ever killed. To my knowledge, it’s one of the few martial arts zombie films, so grab your popcorn, and watch some amazing fight scenes as as swords, guns, flying kicks and the undead all combine into a fight over the fate of the dead. If you can track it down, watch a cut of the film called Ultimate Versus, where they went back and added a lot more content.
One of the only even vaguely successful adaptations of a Lovecraft story, the gore/comedy Re-Animator brings Herbert West into the modern era, a brutally intelligent medical student who discovers how to bring the dead back to life using a special serum. Filmed for less than a million dollars, it still boasted some of the most amazing, gory special effects the screen had ever seen, an explosion of viscera that propelled into a cult classic in just about no time flat. The gruesome makeup and special effects for both the dead and recently dead are the stuff of legend, and Jeffrey Combs is at his creepy best as West.
5. Planet Terror
Part of the experimental Grindhouse double feature, Planet Terror was eventually released on its own in full length, a loving tribute to the B-Movie zombie flicks of yesteryear. The plot is completely unoriginal in every way: evil military experiments, deadly chemicals released that turns everyone into zombies, sadistic doctors, unnecessary violence and nudity. It’s a love letter to the real grindhouse flicks in every way, and obviously the crew had a blast making it. And you know, it’s Robert Rodriguez, his stuff is always so far past over the top, that it’s over the top’s top, and possibly over the top on top of that. And how can you look past Rose McGowan’s machine gun leg?
4. Cemetery Man
An Italian comedy horror, Cemetery Man is a zombie film where the zombies aren’t so much an apocalypse as a menace. The titular character is a cemetery caretaker who buries the dead of a small town, and makes sure they stay that way, despite their attempts to come back from the grave — all while searching for love. The film begins in a rather comedic vein, but eventually turns towards much darker, bittersweet and even surreal territory as the main character falls in love with a woman he has to kill, and then begins to fall into madness and murder. Dark, funny and blatantly odd, Rupert Everett is absolutely magnificent as the mad, sweet, and and dedicated main character.
3. Shaun of the Dead
Possibly the world’s first zomromcom — zombie romantic comedy — Shaun of the Dead introduced the world the amazing comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as Edgar Wright’s hilarious directing. Studiously embracing and undermining genre clichés, it gleefully avoided any explanation for why the zombies had risen, instead focusing on slapstick comedy, drunken tomfoolery, and an incredibly witty script that made it one of the most quotable movies in years. Thankfully Pegg and Frost seem happy to keep working together, and the dynamite comedic duo have put out a number of other films together, all of which are amazing.
2. Dawn of the Dead
I’m going to go ahead and call it. The original Dawn of the Dead was the best of the Romero zombie films. Of all of them, the social commentary was the poignant and pointed, the frights were the scariest, and the impact was the greatest. The concept of zombie movie as a vehicle for social commentary is something that Romero pioneered, and Dawn of the Dead was a scathing attack on consumerism, corporatism, and mall culture in America in the late 70s. It’s a potent enough symbol that the mall has since become something of a standard for zombie stories, notably the recent remake of this film, and the successful zombie video game, Dead Rising.
1. 28 Days Later
Danny Boyle’s 2002 zombie film was one of the driving forces behind the zombie revival, even if, strictly speaking, there weren’t real zombies. Instead of undead shamblers, these were disease infested sprinters, consumed by an unholy anger, who would sprint after you with terrifying speed. Incredibly scary because of their ability to run, the victims of “Rage” were just about the scariest thing imaginable. The scenes of deserted London were incredible and haunting for anyone who has ever visited the city. Zombie purists may not agree with this films greatness, as it doesn’t fit with the traditional definitions of the undead, but for most viewers it was a tense, exciting film with an excellent script, which captured the attention of pop culture fiends everywhere, and lead to a resurgence in the genre’s popularity. For my money, it’s the best zombie flick to be had.