With Easter and the season finale of ‘The Walking Dead’ both coming up on Sunday (you don’t think that’s a coincidence, do you?), we thought that today’s Roundtable would be a good opportunity to look at some of our favorite movies about the dead rising from the grave.
Stuart Gordon’s status as the patron saint of good H.P. Lovecraft film adaptations began with ‘Re-Animator‘, a brilliant and twisted take on the zombie genre. Instead of showing the world gone to chaos, ‘Re-Animator’ focuses on the fictional Miskatonic University, and the feud between the brilliant but brash Herbert West and the jaded but opportunistic Dr. Carl Hill. The picture has a dark sense of humor that – combined with some strong creature effects and one of the best nudie gross-out scenes ever – made the film a cult classic from the moment it was released. Looking back on it now, ‘Re-Animator’ is still a tight, funny flick that hasn’t diminished with age, and its focus on people, not zombies, makes it one of the best zombie films in the genre.
I’ve never been one for horror flicks, so a movie needs to be strong on story and (mostly) light on gore to catch my eye. That said, from the opening Johnny Cash number to the ambiguous ending, I loved Zach Snyder’s ‘Dawn of the Dead‘. It is, of course, a remake of George Romero’s 1978 classic (which many believe to be the definitive zombie film), but it’s no carbon copy. The zombies here are fast, furious and (for my money) a whole lot more fun.
Chris Boylan (Big Picture Big Sound)
I like my zombie movies with a side of humor, so of course ‘Shaun of the Dead’ is up high on my list. But I’d have to go with ‘Zombieland‘ as my favorite. The quick-hit informational survival tips (The “Double Tap,” “Cardio,” etc.) are priceless, and the interplay of the human characters is more interesting than we find in most straight-up zombie flicks (Woody Harrelson’s character and story being the most touching). It also offers plenty of gore with several creative zombie kills, as well as a few zombie feasts. (Someone forgot the double tap.) ‘Zombieland’ also features one of the best cameos ever, by a certain celebrity playing himself as a survivor with a tragic sense of humor.
Zombie movies are a favorite sub-genre of mine, but they tend to be uneven. This is why Lucio Fulci’s ‘Zombie‘ (aka ‘Zombi 2’ or ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters’) succeeds where many other classic and modern zombie movies fail. The story of a small party that travels from New York to the tropics to pursue the mysterious undead has near-perfect tempo, tone and zombie encounters. Rarely has the classic scene of a zombie trying to break through a door been better realized. Likewise, where even the best zombie movies tend to fall apart at the end, ‘Zombie’ delivers. Besides, what other movie can be taken seriously once a zombie goes head to head against a shark?
It wasn’t until I hit my 20s that I began to find the fun in horror films. Little by little, I was drawn to them one sub-genre at a time. George Romero’s zombie flicks were the first that caught my attention. While I enjoyed them, it was ‘28 Days Later‘ that made me a die-hard zombie fan. (I’ve heard the arguments that ’28 Days Later’ isn’t a “zombie” movie, but an “infected” movie. You can’t fool me.) I was completely mesmerized by the film. I watched it several times over the span of a week. Danny Boyle took a worn-out genre and made it absolutely fresh again. I believe that without it, the entertainment industry wouldn’t be going through a zombie feeding frenzy right now – not to mention that ‘The Walking Dead’ steals the hospital opening from ’28 Days Later’. Boyle revived the dormant beast by intensifying the action, having a solid screenplay, casting great actors, and making a convincingly realistic post-outbreak world. ’28 Days Later’ is an indie gem. It doesn’t follow the rules of studio films, but creates its own untrodden path. In my Boyle-loving opinion, it’s the best the sub-genre has to offer and will most likely never be dethroned.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Most of the flicks on my All-Time Favorite Gutmunchers List are kind of obvious choices, so I’ll use this Roundtable as an excuse to introduce you to something that snuck in under the radar. It doesn’t take more than three words to sum up the plot for 2008’s ‘Dance of the Dead‘: Zombies versus prom. More specifically, legions of the undead invade a high school prom, and the last hope for this sleepy little town are a bunch of outcasts who wouldn’t have been caught dead (zing!) at the big dance otherwise.
With a premise like that, you’d think the movie would pretty much write itself, overflowing with teen movie tropes, cardboard cut-outs in the place of characters, and all that. Nope! ‘Dance of the Dead’ is a blast, more fun and a whole lot smarter than it ought to be. The movie relentlessly subverts a bunch of the usual zombie clichés. Its characters are actually people I would’ve wanted to pal around with in high school. The movie screams ahead at a breakneck pace, and then you get all these really clever ideas like ghouls entranced by the power of heavy metal and the kids accidentally barricading themselves inside the worst possible place for a zombie apocalypse. Sharp wit, buckets of splatter, a terrific sense of humor, surprisingly endearing characters, some genuine scares and suspense. Love it, love it, love it.
M. Enois Duarte
While it’s difficult to pick just one zombie movie as my favorite, I like to give Danny Boyle’s ‘28 Days Later‘ a great deal of credit for bringing the walking dead back into the mainstream. Granted, he also introduced the idea of the fast, sprinting zombie into popular culture, but that was part of his effort to make the genre in his style and vision. What I enjoy best is that Boyle does precisely what a director should do when wanting to make a genre film: explore the inherent themes of that genre, which in the case of zombies are the collective fears of modernity and other errant social ills. In ’28 Days Later’, we see the devastating fears and irrational panic towards disease and life-threatening contagions in a post-9/11 world capable of man-made biochemicals. It’s an excellent film, and one of the very best of the 21st Century so far.
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”
This list of course wouldn’t be complete without paying homage to George Romero’s original 1968 ‘Night of the Living Dead‘, the progenitor of the modern zombie genre. Romero established the rules that (almost) every zombie picture to come would follow. Despite some obvious continuity problems, clunky dialogue and amateurish acting, the movie remains a surprisingly effective chiller.
Yet as far as I (and, to be fair, a whole lot of other people) am concerned, the real masterpiece of this genre is Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s ‘Shaun of the Dead‘, which simultaneously manages to be a spot-on parody of famous zombie movies, an insightful social satire, and just a genuinely good movie with endearing characters you want to spend some time with.
Tell us about your favorite zombie movies in the Comments.