1. Dawn of the Dead (1978).
George A. Romero’s follow-up to his debut film, Night of the Living Dead, sees society collapsing under the weight of its own uncontrollable zombie population. A small group of survivors seek refuge in a shopping mall, and are eventually numbed to the dangers lurking outside as they become too attached to their new home and the comforts it provides. A sly critique of capitalism and consumerism, as well as a fully blown, comic book-esque gore-fest, Dawn of the Dead has the best of both zombie worlds. Special effects aficionado Tom Savini dreams up some brilliantly bloody (and humorous) carnage, whilst Ken Foree and Stephen Emge are a joy to watch. A must-see for anyone wanting to sink their teeth into the zombie genre.
Night of the Living Dead is the film which “started it all”. Before this black-and-white horror, zombies on screen had been the victims of mysterious voodoo curses. Having his dead rise from their graves in all their gruesome glory, Romero brought the flesh-eating “ghoul” to the forefront of American consciousness. Trapped in a farmhouse together, a group of confused and angry civilians must take up arms against the newly risen undead, whilst desperately searching for answers in television and radio news reports. Featuring one of the most famous lines in horror (“They’re coming to get you, Barbra”), and a great performance from Duane Jones, Night of the Living Dead may have a cheap feel to it, but is commendable for its exploration of human interaction in the face of fear and death.
An obscure and little-known Italian film starring Rupert Everett, Cemetery Man (Dellamorte Dellamore), from director Michele Soavi, is a surreal and comedic blend of sex and death. Francesco Dellamorte (Everett) is the caretaker of a cemetery in a small Italian town where the dead rise from their graves on a nightly basis. When not disposing of the creatures with the help of his assistant, Gnagi, Dellamorte spends his time solemnly musing on life and its many mysteries. One day a beautiful, young woman captures his attention, and what follows is twisted yet absorbing. With great, plant-themed zombie makeup (earthy roots grow out of heads and hands), this film’s wacky existentialism isn’t for everyone, but is a refreshing and memorable take on the undead.
Lucio Fulci’s unofficial Gates of Hell Trilogy is a favourite among Italian horror fans, and it’s the second of the films, The Beyond, which is by far the best. On paper the plot sounds simple, but a dream-like narrative style makes this more than just your average Italian zombie outing. Catriona MacColl (a Fulci regular) plays lead character Liza, who inherits an accursed hotel that just so happens to be one of the seven gateways to hell. After some zombie/ghost shenanigans, she enlists the help of local doctor John (David Warbeck), and the two begin to uncover some seriously surreal goings on. Fulci’s imagination and Sergio Salvati’s cinematography combine to create some visually stunning shots which haunt the mind long after the film’s close, and the zombies’ ability to appear and disappear like ghosts cleverly blurs the boundaries between the corporeal and the spiritual.
Who can deny the comic genius of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead? Call it a comedy with zombies, or a funny zombie movie, either way it is one of the best of its genre. Everything about this film screams mundane Britain, as its main characters Shaun and Edd (played by comic duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) display an overdependence on the pub as a place of decision making and socialising. Thrown into the midst of a zombie apocalypse in much the same way as the characters in Night of the Living Dead, these two slackers meet danger with a refreshingly carefree attitude, disposing of the undead with baseball bats and vinyl records. As much homage to classic zombie movies as it is a brilliant film in its own right, Shaun of the Dead is a top-notch comedy with bite.
A Spanish-Italian production shot in both England and Italy, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (a.k.a. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) blames industrialisation and new technology for its zombie uprising. George and Edna, two hippyish youths, attempt to stop a radioactive pest-killing machine from infecting the dead beneath the earth in rural England, but are met with the ignorance and aggression of the local police force. The film takes the time to reimagine elements of the zombie myth without twisting things too far: its zombies have red eyes, do not show up on camera, and can reanimate other dead bodies by touching them with the blood of the living. Small details such as these, along with the film’s ability to be both bitingly satirical and downright gory, make it an undeniable 70s classic.
Day of the Dead is the third and least liked film in Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy. Set sometime after the initial outbreak, the story centres on a few of the last surviving scientists and military personnel, who have hidden themselves away in a claustrophobic underground bunker where they strategise for survival. A nihilistic expose of humanity’s corruption and greed, the film utilises vulgar and dictatorial characters such as Captain Steven Rhodes to suggest that the zombies are not the only ones destroying life. Despite its sombre tone, the film is uplifted by buoyant performances from Terry Alexander, Richard Liberty and Sherman Howard, and is worth a watch if only to witness the latter’s brilliance in the role of everyone’s favourite intelligent zombie, Bub.
Based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, Stuart Gordon directs this mad-cap scientist splatter horror based around medical students Herbert West and Dan Cain reanimating the dead using a mysterious glow-in-the-dark serum. Riotously funny and unashamedly playful in its attitude to violence, Re-Animator is the pinnacle of 80s gore, and boasts some fantastically absurd set pieces (see: Dr Hill’s body carrying around his own severed head in a tray of blood). Jeffrey Combs steals the show as a deadpan West, going around blissfully experimenting on cats and dead bodies whilst those around him lose their marbles, and Barbara Crampton is at the top of her scream-queen game as Cain’s girlfriend, Megan.
The 80s saw a rise in teen zombie movies played for sick laughs rather than chilling scares, and this is one of the most fun. A punk rock-themed outing from Dan O’Bannon, the film sees a couple of employees from a medical supply warehouse accidentally unleash a mysterious gas which reanimates dead corpses. Unlike “in the movies”, these monsters cannot be destroyed (not even by “shooting ‘em in the head”!) and burning the body only unleashes more of the infectious gas. This catch-22 situation breeds a lot of amusing zombie action, including a scene which sees a couple of characters having a conversation with a half-decomposed, almost skeletal corpse… “Braaaaaains!”
Often labelled the bloodiest movie of all time, Peter Jackson’s Braindead (a.k.a. Dead Alive) pushes comic-book gore to its limits. The home of Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme) is plagued by a zombie outbreak after the bite of a hideous Sumatran Rat-Monkey infects his mother, Vera. Half love-story, half blood bath, Braindead’s comedy value stems from its mind-bogglingly extended scenes of zombie-killing carnage, where Lionel and his sweetheart Paquita rip, saw and hack the undead to pulpy pieces. Thriving off the outrageous, there are a countless number of viscerally shocking moments in the story which provoke sickness as well as chuckles (ear-eating, zombie sex, to name just a couple), meaning that this undead entry is definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Written by Cat Barnard