Ten Zombie Flicks You Need to See
So what constitutes a zombie film? Every horror fan has their own concept when it comes to flesh-eaters. However, for this list, we went with the straight (traditional) zombie horror and “infection” films, which includes a great zombie comedy.
Our Criteria is based on a conventional zombie uprising: viral outbreak, transmission by air, blood or saliva, and flesh-eating. This top ten list does not allow alien style infections/parasites (Slither / Days Of Darkness), mutated species; human or otherwise (Black Sheep / Nightmare City), no gates of hell opening (Versus / The Beyond) and no scientific re-animation/extended life (Outpost / Re-Animator).
So here are the Top 10 Must See Zombie Films presented from last to first:
10. Night of the Living Dead The Remake (1990, USA, Director: Tom Savini).
Make-up effects magician Tom Savini’s color remake of George Romero’s 1968 classic follows the original closely, but with a few distinctive changes. The original film lacked a strong female character and there was less action, relying more on mood and cinematic styling to deliver a film that for over a decade set the standard for the zombie genre. Romero would again surpass himself and set a new standard with his 1979 film Dawn of the Dead.
For this endeavor, Romero remolded his revised screenplay with a heroine played by Patricia Tallman (Babylon 5, Army of Darkness) and pumped up the action.
This remake also has crucial characters that meet a different fate and scenes that have been swapped, so it constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat. The result is not a better film, but rather an updated version that is nonetheless a solid and entertaining zombie flick.
This is the daddy of all horror films adapted from a video game (Biohazard) and brought to the big screen. The Resident Evil franchise has been an overwhelming commercial and critical success, but has been cannon fodder for many gamers and trolls bashing Anderson because they feel it is noisy, unintelligent, and having none of the main characters from the game.
True at times the film is loud and stupid, and yes, the main characters are not found in the survival horror game, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that this is a superlative contemporary action-thriller filled with flesh-eaters, mean ass-looking zombie dogs with their skin turned inside out, and some nice eye candy (Jovovich & Rodriguez) who do some serious zombie ass kicking.
Deep under Raccoon City there is a secret genetic research laboratory, known as The Hive, run by the evil Umbrella Corporation. One day a thief steals samples of the T-Virus, a genetically mutating virus, and in order to cover his tracks he releases one of the vials causing the artificial intelligence supercomputer, The Red Queen, to activate the facility’s automated decontamination system, sealing and killing everyone inside.
Alice (Milla Jovovich) awakens in a deserted mansion, in the hills outside Raccoon City, with amnesia. As a group of commandos break into the mansion a police officer, Matt (Eric Mabius), attempts to rescue her but they are both seized and taken to an underground train station beneath the house. Inside the train, the group discovers Spence (James Purefoy), also suffering from amnesia. The head of the commandos, “One” (Colin Salmon), explains to Alice that the mansion above is an emergency entrance to The Hive and that she and Spence are security operatives placed there to protect the entrance, and that The Red Queen released a nerve gas in the mansion that caused their amnesia. He further explains that his team has been sent in to shut down the Red Queen. Though One does not know why it went homicidal, he does tell them that “outside interference” is a probability.
But getting to the core is not an easy task. The computer is equipped with a self-preservation system in the form of a laser defense system. Finally making into the main chamber—after losing part of the team including One—the AI manifests itself as the holographic representation of the chief programmer’s daughter and informs them that shutting the computer down will cause the loss of primary power, and if they do so they will all die. Ignoring the warning, they shutdown the mainframe which causes all the laboratory doors to open. They quickly discover that the workers are not really dead, and there are other creatures to contend with, including some nasty looking dogs with their flesh turned inside out. Now they must fight their way out of The Hive before the fail safe protocol activates and they are permanently sealed inside the facility.
Slick editing, some great visual effects, a lot of action, and a score collaboration by Marco Beltrami and Marilyn Manson makes this action-horror entertaining and well worth seeing.
8. 28 Days Later (2002, UK, Director: Danny Boyle).
This horror survival film was written and directed by British filmmaker Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, Slum Dog Millionaire). Boyle stated his film was not a zombie movie; frequently calling it a post apocalypse and horror film, even though there are specific references to George A. Romero’s Dead trilogy.
The film starts with animal liberation activists breaking into a laboratory at Cambridge where they free some chimpanzees being used for research. Little do they know that the primates are infected with a highly contagious virus known as “Rage,” until a female activist is bitten and immediately becomes infected and turns on her fellow activists and a security guard.
Twenty eight days later bicycle courier Jim (Cillian Murphy), awakes from a coma in an abandoned hospital (perhaps a nod to The Day of the Triffids) and stumbles his way onto the ruinously abandoned streets of London. He is quickly discovered and pursued by psychotic people through the streets, until being rescued by two survivors, Selena (Naomie Harris) and Mark (Noah Huntley). The remainder of the film deals with the everyday struggles of survival and an attempt to make it to a military base, where a broadcast claims that there is an “answer to the infection.” But as our intrepid survivors will find out, you don’t need a virus to bring out the worst in humanity.
Purists will likely argue against this movie on the technicality that the “zombies” are not really the living dead, but rather virus-plagued monsters. We say it qualifies for the first zombie sub-genre, the Infected, and for the simple fact that 28 Days Later had a huge influence on the evolution of the zombie film genre and on the nature of zombie films that followed. 28 Days Later has not only popularized the fast-running zombies, but also proved that zombies don’t have to be of the undead type to be scary as hell.
Considered by many zombie film aficionados to be the ultimate zombie-horror-comedy, this British made zombedy, or zomcom, is loaded with humorous sight gags, deadpan comedic timing, and sharp, witty dialog.
Shaun is a 29-year-old with no real ambition in life, much to the dismay of his few friends, family, and his girlfriend Liz. With a dead-end job at an electronics store where his employees don’t take him serious as their temporary boss, a strained relationship with his mum, a tenuous relationship with his stepfather, and a flat mate that can barely tolerate him, all Shaun has going for him is the loyalty of his best mate Edgar and the Winchester Pub where he spends most of his free time drinking.
Forgetting to book a dinner reservation to celebrate his and Liz’s anniversary, she dumps him, and he and Ed go off to the Winchester to drown his sorrows. The next morning Shaun decides to turn his life around and win back his ex-girlfriend, not realizing that zombies have overrun the town, mainly because he is too hung over to notice. Finally grasping that he is in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, Shaun rises from the couch to prove to everyone he is worthy. With a cricket bat and his royal friend Edgar by his side, he sets off to rescue his ex, her flat mates, his mum, and his stepfather in an endeavor that is hilarious as well as harrowing.
6. Land of the Dead (2005, USA, Director: George A. Romero).
George Romero’s return after a twenty-year absence from the genre gives us a film where not only the zombies are the predominate species in the world; they are also starting to show signs of intelligence.
The fourth film tells of the human survivors, who are divided into two classes: the upper class that lives in luxury and a lower class that scavenges for the upper class. The rich live in a luxury tower, while the poor live in shantytowns under its shadow.
The refuge of Fiddler’s Green is run by a wealthy dictator-like man named Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper) that has financed the building of an armored vehicle, called “Dead Reckoning,” which is used by a commando style team for scavenging critical food and medical supplies that the citizens can no longer acquire safely themselves.
Meanwhile, zombies are now evolving: learning, adapting, and even communicating with primitive moans and grunts. They are led by “Big Daddy” (Eugene Clark) an undead gas station attendant, who teaches his fellow zombies to use firearms and overcome human defenses.
Zombie purists would have baulked at evolving zombies if it had been any other director, but Romero has always had a soft spot for his undead and in this film they are the most sympathetic characters but not necessarily the most evil.
Before Peter Jackson was known for filming the remake of King Kong or Lord of the Rings that became one of the top ten most profitable films in the history of cinema, he helmed what many consider to be the grossest zombie movie ever made.
Lionel Cosgrove (Timothy Balme), an overly meek man who is trying to break away from his overbearing mother after meeting the lovely Paquita (Diana Peñalver), is forced to care for her after she slowly turns into a ravenous zombie from a bite she received by a Sumatran rat-monkey at the zoo. This farcical comedy which evokes thoughts of Fawlty Towers and Monty Python, sometimes falters with its corny humor, but never with it’s over the top violence and brilliant prosthetics.
4. Day of the Dead (USA, Director George A. Romero).
The third film in his “Dead Series,” zombies have finally caused the total collapse of civilization. A small group of scientists, soldiers and civilians are held up in an underground military base, working on solving the zombie problem by experimenting on the undead. The stress finally takes its toll and all hell breaks loose when the base commander discovers the lead scientist, who truly believes that zombies can be made docile, has been feeding his favorite test subject with the corpses of soldiers that have been stored in a freezer.
Often times dark and nihilistic, this is the weakest and most depressing film George Romero has created. However, this film is worth watching for the fact that effects maestro Tom Savini is at his best with the intestine ripping, eye gouging and amputation scenes. But the true highlight of this film is the pinnacle of all zombie characters. He is Bub, masterfully played by Sherman Howard, who loves to listen to Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” and goes on a shooting rampage after finding the corpse of his caretaker, Dr. Logan.
A horror comedy based on the novel of the same name by Night of the Living Dead co-writer John Russo. Originally slated to be directed by Tobe Hopper, who bowed out to direct Lifeforce, Dan O’Bannon accepted the director’s seat on the condition he could rewrite the film drastically so as to differentiate it from Romero’s films. Where Romero set the standard for many living dead films for years to come, O’Bannon rewrote the handbook, changing the rules on what zombies can do. This in no way tarnishes Romero’s legacy, but strikes out in a new direction that many other filmmakers would bring into play.
The film begins with incompetent medical warehouse supply employees accidentally opening military drums that accidentally wound up in the basement of the building, which then causes all the nearby dead to rise as zombies. With the second most memorable zombie character of all time, Tarman delivers the film’s—and the genre’s—most iconic line, “BRAINS. Live Brains.” This is a must see.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968, Director: George A. Romero).
Director/screenwriter George A. Romero’s 1968 classic tells of a group of humans that retreat to a farmhouse and try to survive a zombie onslaught. Writhe with socio-political subtexts and ideal casting, this low-budget black & white zombie film set the standard for many film makers to come, as well as inspired a plethora of homage and attempted copies.
The story begins in the cemetery with Johnny (Russell Streiner) and his sister Barbara (Judith O’Dea) visiting their father’s grave on bequest of their mother. Ben starts to torment his sister by telling her the creepy man wandering between the tombstones has come to get her. Little does he know it is true.
Narrowly making her escape, Barbara flees to a nearby farmhouse where she encounters not only menacing walking corpses, but also Ben (Duane Jones). They take refuge inside the home unaware that the farmhouse has a cellar, where teenage couple Tom (Keith Wayne) and Judy (Judith Ridley) and an angry married couple Harry (Karl Hardman) and Helen Cooper (Marilyn Eastman) and their sick daughter Karen (Kyra Schon) have sought refuge.
The remainder of the story concerns the group dynamics between the survivors as they fight and bicker with one another while contending with the dead that are relentless in their attempts to tear down the makeshift barricades. Eventually, the remaining survivors must take refuge in the basement. The basement is also where one of the most creepiest scenes takes place, when Helen finds her reanimated daughter Karen eating Harry. Helen, paralyzed by shock, falls as Karen stabs her to death with a masonry trowel.
From the opening scene in the cemetery where a brother torments his sister until the climatic sequences in the basement of the farmhouse, this is a very scary film.
In this sequel to his seminal 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead, the tale follows two Philadelphia SWAT team members (played by David Emgee & Ken Foree), a traffic reporter (Scott H. Reiniger), and his television-executive girlfriend (Gaylen Ross), who are seeking refuge as they flee from a zombie apocalypse that has devastated the US. Landing their helicopter on the top of a shopping mall, they hold up inside with a few other survivors. Equipped with everything they could need for a prolonged stay, they proceed to clear out the undead and make the mall their home. But it is not long before the hordes of gathering undead outside and a raiding motorcycle gang threatens their existence.
For those of you who love this film as much as I, there is an extended fan edit version called Dawn of the Dead: The Extended Mall Hours Cut, which is the longest known English language version. It runs 155 minutes.