The following guest post from MC Frontalot is about zombies and, therefore, will eat your brain. If you do not know of our gentleman rapper friend’s nerdcore awesomeness, well, you should get on that. This video is a good place to start.
Because I (with Gm7) wrote and oversaw several productions of a rock musical called Young Zombies In Love between 1999 and 2004, I have long been considered an expert on zombie stuff. And since I slightly prefigured the big zombie boom of the last ten years, I’m obviously the person you should look to when it’s time to compile a list of the best zombie movies of all time.
I admit that I have not seen every zombie movie ever. There are some early 80s Italian classics and plenty of 2007-2012 American schlock that I’ve never found time for. But I am still the most awesome possible authority, so you should pay a lot of attention to me and immediately watch or re-watch everything in my Top Ten (Plus Five).
First, a technical concern: what is a zombie movie? Evil Dead II does not count, despite being full of reanimated corpses, since those corpses are animated by a supernatural/mystical force; zombieism must be a physical phenomenon. Jason is technically a zombie, but his Friday The 13th series falls square in the middle of the slasher genre; zombies must occur in outbreak form, and they must create new zombies when they kill.
Five that are absolutely worth watching:
- Planet Terror
2007, Robert Rodriguez
Part of the “Grind House” double feature, a tribute to cheap horror of the past, including faux missing scenes, print scratch, etc. Delightful.
2009, Ruben Fleisher
Another tribute, but one that asks what would happen if, just once, the protagonist in a zombie apocalypse were smart, logical, organized, and equipped.
- Resident Evil
2002, Paul W. S. Anderson
A big surprise coming out of a video game license, but this ends up being a very engaging and claustrophobic adventure.
2006, Andrew Currie
A social satire about suburban life, death, and pets.
- Night Of The Comet
1984, Thom. E. Eberhardt
Sort of a technical foul for this list since the zombified horde remains sentient, but a classic all the same.
And my Top Ten:
10. Dawn Of The Dead
2004, Zack Snyder
Snyder is a hack, and his idea of stripping the politics out of this story and turning it into an action romp was not a good idea. But somehow it absolutely worked. Maybe because Sarah Polley is the princess of my heart.
9. 28 Weeks Later
2007, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
At once a hilarious critique of American military policy and a sober narrative about teen rebellion and triumph. A frightening and worthy follow-up to 28 Days.
2007, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza
Best-ever execution of the “found footage” horror movie framework, a shocking and riveting experience from top to bottom. Followed by cleverly (technically) non-zombie sequels and dumb American remakes (“Quarantine”).
7. 28 Days Later
2002, Danny Boyle
Like many of these, a story much more about the inhumanity of survivors than about the terror of encroaching undead. But oh boy are these zombies scary.
6. Dawn Of The Dead
1978, George A. Romero
A scathing look at American consumerism that goes way deeper than “zombies in a mall, get it??”. The late seventies was a great time for public discourse on how nothing was ever going to be okay ever again, and this one really lets the dread percolate.
5. Shaun Of The Dead
2004, Edgar Wright
Another tribute to zombie cinema, this one shines in its perfection, absorbing and refashioning every trope and managing to be both hilarious and heart-pounding at once.
4. Cemetery Man (also known as Dellamorte Dellamorte)
1994, Michele Soavi
An abstract, arty movie about secrets, lies, whether the world has already ended, and Rupert Everett’s cock. Probably a technical foul since its zombie epidemic might be mystical in origin, but still one of the very best. Do not miss.
3. Return Of The Living Dead
1985, Dan O’Bannon
Marketed as a spiritual sequel to Romero’s trilogy, it carved out its own place as a genuine classic of horror comedy. I watched it so much in sixth grade that the VHS tape broke. Definitely a top inspiration for the number two entry…
2. Dead Alive (also known as Braindead)
1992, Peter Jackson
A flawless concoction of the gore-and-humor horror formula, and Jackson’s best film by a long shot. Sorry. Give me zombie family dinner hour over hiking to Mordor any day.
1. Night Of The Living Dead
1968, George A. Romero
I assume this is in the top spot every single time someone makes a list like this, and there are some good reasons to put it there. It is scary. It invented all the elements (zombieism as a spreading plague with impossible-to-pinpoint origin, zombies craving flesh, the siege house, the ragtag survivor crew at odds with themselves and their fate) that have been standard in this genre for 44 years. It proves itself, in its final moment, to be a deeply political piece. And it is a plain old good movie. Do yourself a favor and watch it, but make sure you don’t accidentally get one of the two remakes or three colorizations.
If you have any major issues with this list (like you think Snyder’s remake is better than Romero’s Dawn, or that I forgot something) then you are wrong. But not so wrong that you can’t comment and try to convince me that you’re right.
i watched Resident Evil last night for the first time. It was terrifying. (If by “it” you mean the acting.)
The poster for Dead Alive may be my most favoritest of all time.
I’m guessing your Return of The Living Dead videotape wore out and broke during a very specific scene featuring Linnea Quigley.
Romero’s Dawn of The Dead should be number 2 on this list, you madman. As for Snyder’s remake, it should be far, far away from this list. You point out its most obvious flaws, but also a flaw? It’s unceasing suckitude.
But otherwise, that’s a lot of fine zombie movies. Does They Came From Within, Cronenberg’s first movie, count? It features giant squirmy veneral disease monsters that get inside people and effectively turn them into zombies. I think it deserves a spot somewhere around here.
And Romero’s other sequels are always entertaining, if not great movies. Day of The Dead is interesting, and was the first zombie flick to feature the army installation and the chaining up and training of a zombie, two tropes used to death ever since.
Romero’s Land of The Dead is kinda cool, too. Diary Of The Dead, less so.
I will say that Synder’s remake is more fun then the original, it’s a helluva popcorn movie.
I liked Land otD, it had a funny Marxist bent. Haven’t seen Survival otD yet. I suspect that Romero let his daughter direct Book for him, planning to announce that it was her all along right after the movie became a big hit. Which, of course.
Never seen They Came From Within, but it doesn’t sound like it would count. Demonic/alien possession plots are only zombielike (see: Slither, The Faculty, any Pod Person movie).
The RotLD part that we always rewound and watched ten times in a row was Tarman (the barrel zombie) turning toward the basement stair and first saying “BRAAAAAINS!”
Good list. Although I dig the remake of NotLD more than the original, honestly.
I don’t like bring scared or grossed out, and I find zombies inherently scary and gross, so I’m a hard sell, but I do think night of the living dead is an amazing movie so it must be REALLY good I guess.
I have a qualm with the stipulation against mystical reanimations though – the idea of a zombie as a shambling automaton comes from voudoun (sp?), mixed with the (probably science-inflicted) pseudo-vampires from I am legend (the book). doesn’t that secure the legitimacy of mystic origins?
p.s. the answer may frighten me.
Yeah, the real-world origin of zombies is Voodoo, which cast itself as magic but was actually just religion. Zombies were a real thing. But apparently it was just a drugging that made workers very malleable. And the stories about them seeming to be dead, going through burial, and then getting dug up and put back to work are only maaaaaaybe based in fact. That’s my understanding of it, anyway. So: physical realm, even in its origins.
The I Am Legend / Omega Man / Last Man On Earth / etc movies have those sort-of-zombies-sort-of-vampires which I’m going to have to say are not entirely zombies and therefore don’t count. Frankenstein’s monster is a zombie, but he’s one of many who are the only zombie in the world within their stories, and therefore don’t fit my personal schema.
Basically, as soon as NotLD set the mold, anything (even an older thing like IAL) that wanders too far from that makes me worry that the authors are being TOO DAMN CREATIVE.
might i recommend that some of you would appreciate the Supreme Being’s recent double-feature post on soul sucking fiends? Or my interview with The Bay screenwriter Mike Wallach?
it has been scientifically proven that mc frontalot fans love Stand By For Mind Control. please make yourselves at home. there are beers in the fridge and you should just push the dog off the couch if she bothers you.
So, Mr. Frontalot, refuse to take my bait regarding the naked cemetery dance in Return of The Living Dead, will you? You are so damn gentlemanly.
Here’s my argument for They Came From Within: the thing changing the people into zombie-ish monsters is a disease, only instead of it being a very small virus, it’s a squiggly parasite thing. It’s like a big squirmy virus.
And as I mentioned in the above-linked double feature post on The Last Man On Earth and Night of The Living Dead, if you want to learn about actual zombies, the non-fiction book The Serpent And The Rainbow is very good. It’s all wrapped up in religion and what people expect to happen, along with the poison, particular ways of poisoning people, and all of the rituals surrounding zombie creation, which in part does include what amount to ‘fake’ burials and resurrections.
I’ve started watching more horror films in the past couple of years. Until then I’d only really seen the Evil Dead trilogy, Elm St pt1 and a few others. I really liked Cronos when I watched it a few months ago. I remember watching Ginger Snaps ages back and liking that too, I have the DVD lying around somewhere I think.
Watched Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead just two weeks ago, I thought it was a solid 3 star film. Will get Romero’s version soon to compare.
Some twitter people gave me hassles about [Rec] and both of the 28s not being about zombies.
Technically the zombies in the 28 movies are not zombies because they are alive (and infected with the “rage” virus). That is a valid critique of my list. But also it is nonsense and they are totally normal indefatigable non-hurting non-sleeping kill-crazy zombies, and if you ignore a very small amount of dialogue, you can pretend that the movie itself recognizes this obvious fact.
The neat thing about [Rec]2 is that it retcons the first [Rec] to make it about demonic possession instead of being about zombies, but as any comic book fan will tell you, a retcon is always a cheat move, and in the first [Rec], they are TOTALLY zombies.
One other thing! Curtis Armstrong, in like his 15th twitter post ever, mentioned reading this list, so rest easy knowing that Booger has totally been to your website.
I just tried to “Like” the reply stating that Booger paid a visit. I’m spending too much time on Facebook.
This makes me happy. I fucking love Curtis Armstrong.