The first week of October this year is majorly significant. For me, it marks the official announcement of the return of the Nashville Zombie Walk (more about that later). But, in a much broader sense is marks the 50th anniversary of George A. Romero and John Russo’s Night of the Living Dead. This low budget independent film became the gold standard of grueling gore and terror in the late 60’s-early 70’s and created and entire movement within horror and pop culture that refuses to die. As such, we’re celebrating the start of the haunting season with a list of some of the greatest zombie flicks known to mankind.
13) Dead Alive (Braindead), 1992
This early 90’s splatterfest from New Zealand is full of memorable one liners, gruesome practical effects, and amazing zombie comedy as a mama’s boy falls in love with a gypsy girl and, unwittingly, unleashes a plague of the undead in his community. If you’ve never watched this grisly horror-comedy then you’re missing out on some truly stomach churning kills and gut busting laughs.
Dead Alive, 1992
12) 28 Days Later, 2002
Director Danny Boyle still argues that he never made a “zombie movie” but, as a connoisseur of the subgenre I can tell you that’s a load of crap. From “rage infected” monkeys to stark raving mad militants including a pre-Doctor Who Christopher Eccleston, the movie brings us a fresh take on the classic, flesh eating murder machines with dark, brooding cinematography, phenomenal characters and acting, as well as a compelling story.
11) Resident Evil, 2002
This is the only installment in this series I can stomach. The popular video game adapted to film holds up well for gamers and horror fans alike with nonstop action, cool monsters, and plenty of tension and suspense. The murderous little girl AI trying to contain the T-Virus and the monsters inside only adds to the creep factor. The sequels all become lackluster action shoot-em-ups with no real plot or direction, but the original is an entertaining and fun zombie flick.
10) Doghouse, 2009
This British zombie comedy is a bit misogynistic, I’ll admit, but that’s what you get when you cross Bachelor Party with 28 Days Later. Gore, violence, suspense, and a combination of sight gags and slapstick that takes the classic battle of the sexes to a whole new, terrifying level.
9) Zombie, 1979
In my opinion, Fulci’s Zombie is an excellent companion to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and could even be viewed as a prequel depending on how you watch it. The film has some of the most memorable scenes of zombie gore and horror from the 70’s and 80’s and is a beautifully written and shot masterpiece of gore and suspense.
8) Dawn of the Dead, 1978
And since we’re talking about Dawn, let’s add it to the list. The second in Romero’s original Living Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day) furthers the social commentary began with Night of the Living Dead and adds chilling warnings about the consumerist culture that would dominate the 80’s. It also featured some inexplicably blue tinted zombies and the classic tagline “When there’s no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth.”
7) Night of the Living Dead, 1990
The Tom Savini remake of Night features Tony Todd (Candyman) as Ben and is one of the rare occasions where I actually enjoy a remake. The film features so much of the original night in writing and portrayal while modernizing the story. It also does what Romero wasn’t able to do with the original by changing Barbara (Patricia Tallman) from a catatonic damsel in distress to a badass zombie killer who happens to be the only person in barricaded in the farmhouse with any measure of common sense.
6) Zombieland, 2009
Woody Harrelson portrays a badass redneck zombie killing machine. That alone should make this movie an instant classic for a zombie fan but the narrative style of the story, the characterizations by Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin make this equal parts hilarious and suspenseful. Shot in a time not long ago when smartphones hadn’t already turned us into mindless zombies, it’s still a painfully topical and visceral reminder of the impermanence and hollow nature of society. The epic quest for Twinkies is just a bonus, as is the equally epic Bill Murray cameo.
5) Reanimator, 1985
The film adaptation and modernization of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic short story is gruesome, brutal, sensual, and hilarious all at once. An arrogant genius portrayed by the cinematic treasure that is Jeffrey Combs discovers the holy grail of super science: reanimating the dead. But regardless how they were in life, the newly resurrected specimens are homicidally insane and almost unstoppable. There are some delightfully ludicrous moments in this film that make it an instant classic.
4) Night of the Creeps, 1986
A zombie movie that involves space slugs and naked aliens wielding proton packs is always going to rank high on my list of favorite films. Add some snappy one liners, a demented axe murderer, and a gaggle of sorority girls in a campy 80’s horror-comedy and you’ve got magic in the making. The story is solid and fun while the special effects are professional enough for the time while still keeping in line with the B movie credentials that the film has rightfully earned.
3) Shaun of the Dead, 2004
First in the Cornetto Trilogy, this movie is the best romzomcom in film history. The pairing of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is always guaranteed to bring laughs and some truly touching buddy comedy moments as that friendship is sorely tested by the most bizarre and outlandish horror happenings. As a pair of slackers who have never really been good at anything much in their lives, the end of the world offers Shaun and Ed a chance to be the heroes they never knew they could be complete with gore and tributes to some of the greatest zombie flicks ever.
2) Return of the Living Dead, 1985
Do you want to party?! This memorable low budget zombie horror-comedy offers us some truly gruesome and deviant scenes complete with 80’s punk flair and a killer soundtrack. It also introduces us to the vocal, brain craving zombie of pop culture. With memorable monsters like the Tarman craving live human brains to satiate their appetites and sooth the pain of being dead, the movie is hugely pop culture image of the zombie that persisted until The Walking Dead began its run on AMC.
Night of the Living Dead, 1968
1) Night of the Living Dead , 1968
This is where it all started. In a farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania this independent, low budget labor of love would redefine horror cinema and tackle issues of race, social upheaval, and Cold War paranoia at the height of the Vietnam Era. Suddenly, the monsters were cadaverous Eastern European ghouls or nuclear spacemen, but our neighbors, friends, and family. Volumes of critical analysis exist that are no doubt more profound and insightful than anything I could ever write but this is the movie. If you watch no other horror film this week, take the time to watch this classic in its original black and white and appreciate the ways in which an independent filmmaker turned cinema on its head.
Some other great zombie films of note to mention are Night of the Comet, Land of the Dead, Undead, Dead Snow, and Dance of the Dead. We’ve got more zombies where this came from, though, so be sure to follow us on social media (@52weeksofhorror) and right here where we’re making that scary all the time.
Dan is an author, editorialist, podcaster, and horror culture & lifestyle correspondent from the Southeast. You can find Dan's stories at Danno of the Dead Blog and through PDI Press.