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Monday, October 19, 2009

Best Zombie Films of All Time

Another day another list. This time, Entertainment Weekly lists their 25 Best Zombie Films of all Time. Groans and cheers filled the comments section and I, for one, find very little tastiness in what they offered. Here is the list they gave.

25 Planet Terror
24 Diary of the Dead
23 Land of the Dead
22 Zombie Flesh Eaters
21 Night Of the Living Dead (1990)
20 Resident Evil Extinction
19 Pontypool
18 Braindead
17 Homecoming
16 Dead Snow
15 I walked with a zombie
14 Undead
13 Serpent and the rainbow
12 Dead Set
11 Omega Man
10 Return of the Living Dead
9 Re-Animator
8 Day of the Dead
7 Cemetery Man
5 Night Of the Living Dead (1968)
4 Dawn of the Dead (1978)
3 Shaun of the Dead
2 28 Days Later
1 Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Despicable, isn’t it? Apparently, someone doesn’t understand what constitutes a zombie movie, let alone, a good one. Throughout the article the author states, “I know this is not technically a zombie film” and such but I have a simple reply, “Take it off the list.” For instance, The Omega Man is about vampires or at least apocalyptic viral vampirism. Dead Set is a television show, not a film. The gripes could go on and on. Now, I want to reorder that list, omitting and substituting some of the selections. I managed to do it in a list of only 15 with one honorable mention.

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The original is the best, not the remake. I’ll give it some props when I come to it, but as far as zombie films go, you have to tip the skull cap to Romero. The feeling of despair and dread of living in a world gone mad is only heightened by the fact that in the zombie genre, simple mistakes lead to catastrophe. A complete breakdown in society and civil infrastructure is a huge element to modern zombie films. Not just flesh eating dead people.

2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The predecessor to the modern day zombie movie can be summed up in one line, “They’re coming to get you Barbara.” Maybe it’s my proximity to the locations. I’ve been to Evans City Cemetery. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of being close to a big part of pop culture history. Whatever the reason, taking a group of people, trapping them in a small and easily penetrable shelter, and letting them turn on each other is great commentary on society.

3. Shaun of the Dead
Beyond the fact that it’s almost a spoof of the zombie genre right down to its title, SOTD deserves high marks for nailing the genre with its parallels of “Walking through life like a zombie” and making key decisions in bad situations and dealing with the consequences. Also, what to do when your mum becomes infected and doesn’t tell you. Not to mention it’s effing hysterical.

4. Thriller
WTF?!?!? (Internet Slang quota reached) You’re asking yourself, “Why is a music video on a list of films?” Well, I’ll tell you. Because, technically, it is a film, in short form. Also, it was eligible for an Academy Award. Now, I won’t say that it was eligible for a Best Picture Award because it was less than 40 minutes long. However, because it was featured with a special presentation of Fantasia, it was given eligibility by the MPAA for an Academy Award. That being said, you cannot argue that Thriller was not a great zombie film. Better than at least four of the ones on EW’s list. You have creepy corpses, rising from the grave. You have a damsel in distress. You have veteran horror film actor Vincent Price providing the “Thriller Rap.” Not to mention, you have a zombie dance number that was kick ass. Now, I’ve already been told that this isn’t a film by a trusted friend and while I respect their judgment and counsel, I maintain my position.

5. White Zombie
A classic starring Bela Lugosi. Though it did not earn a lot of street cred, or money, at the box office it stands as one of the original zombie movies, vodou not flesh eater.

6. Serpent and the Rainbow
True to the actual definition of the word zombie, SATR is not about flesh eating corpses but control, power, and vodou. While the author of the book for which the film was based on felt very displeased with the adaptation, the film still gives me shivers with its imagery and one specific scene involving a hammer, a spike and a naked man.

7. Planet Terror
If for anything else, Robert Rodriguez knows how to have fun with goo. Part of the Grindhouse double feature, Planet Terror boasts an all star cast including Bruce Willis, Josh Brolin, Rose McGowan with a machine gun for a leg, Michael Biehn, and Fergie…go figure. Gooey Zombies, bodily fluids, missing reels, and a really bad dog puppet that gets splattered on the road all provide the typical exploitive feel of a cheap drive in horror fest you’d find from the 70s. Taking those elements and using 21st century filming techniques compliments a rollicking good flick.

8. Day of the Dead
The film I consider the end of the Dead series started by Romero continues the story with scientists and military soldiers trying to coexist in a confined space. While one of the scientist domesticates a zombie called Bud, tensions ramp up as each group acts upon orders from the government which may or may not still be in control of the country as the zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of humanity. Like most zombie genre films, communication breakdowns lead to warring from within and ultimately destruction from the zombie at the door.

9. Return of the Living Dead
The Tar Man, Trash’s Cemetery Dance, the zombie who says, ”Send more cops” give the film that acknowledges NOTLD as a real event but not a prequel a great feel. Though somewhat of a comedic take on the zombie genre, ROTLD amps up the tension by changing the rules. Zombies crave brains, have intelligence and cannot be killed, again, by a shot to the head.

10. Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Remakes are always a touchy subject for me. There have been several bad remakes or unofficial sequels to Romero’s work including the original NOTLD which was made into a 3D version in 2006 and it was pretty, pretty awful. However, the 1990 version directed by Tom Savini is just as good as the original and offers a different take on the fates of certain characters. In this version Barbara is not catatonic and as useless as in the original and actually survives the night after fleeing the house. Ben, played by Tony Todd (Candyman, Final Destination) is shot and wounded by Henry Cooper and hides in the basement as did the original Ben, but instead of emerging unturned and being mistakenly shot by police, he does become a zombie and is killed. Henry Cooper, who was killed by his daughter in the original, manages to survive, abandoning the others and hiding in the attic after being shot by Ben. The next morning when Barbara returns to the house to look for Ben she finds Harry alive relieved that she “Came Back” for him. She shoots him for his cowardice and says, “Another one for the fire.” The final images of the film carry the message of how we have become a monster all our own and have begun torturing the undead for sport and pleasure. This is a theme not explored in the original.

11. Braindead
Before King Kong and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Peter Jackson made some pretty wicked horror films including this one which was re-titled Dead Alive in North America. The premise is simple. Man attempts to smuggle evil weird creature into civilization, creature bites someone’s mother who becomes a zombie, that someone’s family member refuses to dispatch them, more zombies, more death, including death by lawn mower. It’s a splatter fest that still tops lists as the goriest movie ever.

12. Resident Evil
Based on what is considered the best Zombie Survival Horror Video Game Series, Resident Evil is an adaptation that actually works on certain levels as a good adaptation and good zombie film. The good: The theme of the Umbrella company developing a virus that eventually gets released turning employees and the residents of Raccoon City into zombies.Using elements of the game such as the Red Queen, The Super Train, The Lickers, S.T.A.R.S.,Traps like the laser grid that slices up members of the team.Cool zombies with cool moves and kills. Zombie dogs like the gameThe bad:Not a lot of congruity between game and film.Too much difference in the locations vs. the gameNot enough zombie threat. Granted, the game only has zombies in the first part, after that it’s all Bio Engineered Animals/Plants/Insects and mutated zombies.

13. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Again, remakes and sequels have a tendency to be really bad. This one is not as good as the original but does earn some cred for including a cover of Down With the Sickness by Richard Cheese and Johnny Cash’s The Man Comes Around in the opening credits. The best parts of the movie are pure zombie genre goodies. Ana fleeing her husband who abandons his pursuit to attack a robe clad neighbor on his lawn.Aerial shot of Ana driving from town as mass hysteria ensues including a car crashing through an intersection into a gas station and exploding.The death and reanimation of Frank (Matt Frewer) is a classic archetype moment of despair and dread being experienced by his daughter.The A-Team Bus ShuttlesThe crash and dismemberment of half the team while escaping.

14. Re-Animator
Cult classic status aside, this is an adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s work “Herbert West-Reanimator.” The tale imagines zombies as a kind of Romero/Vodou hybrid. They are willing servants to a master but are violent and in some cases cannibalistic. The movie adaptation spawned two sequels which work to adapt some of the beginning and end of Lovecraft’s serialization. Jeffrey Combs is the main character but scream queen Barbara Crampton makes an appearance as the daughter of the dean of Myskatonic University who gets molested by a zombie.

15. Night of the Creeps
Tom Atkins, known, mainly in his native Pittsburgh, for his expert portrayal of Art Rooney in the stage production of “The Chief” is also known for his role in Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the horrible entry into the Halloween franchise. Here he is a cop trying to destroy slug like alien creatures that have infected and possessed humans, turning them into zombies. It’s campy, it’s 80s, it has one the funniest exchanges in dialogue, ever. “I got good news and bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here.” “What’s the bad news?” “They’re dead.”

Honorable Mention
Cemetary Man
aka Dellamorte Dellamore
This one has been making the rounds on Encore and other cable movie stations. At first I couldn't make heads or tails of what was going as my wife was sucked into this tale, but after watching again, I started to appreciate the commentary that the film follows. Rupert Everett is the titular character, dispatching zombies as they rise out of graveyard along with his mentally handicapped assistant, who begins a love affair with a reanimated head. Everett's Francesco Delleamorte carries out his job like so many of us in this world. "This is my business. They pay me for it." he laments as he blows away a resurrected biker who springs forth from the grave on his bike. The grim reaper also appears, as an over sized puppet, trying to recruit Dellamorte as a fellow reaper. It grows on you like only an Italian film can.


Diane T said...

Thanks for the list; Boy and I have been thinking we need to have a remedial Zombie film festival to catch up on the classics. We love the book World War Z, and I just wrote a piece on Danny Boyle, so I want to check out his take, too; plus, we want to go see "Zombieland." Your list gives us a good starting point.

Manz said...

hmmm... so you don't consider "28 Days Later" a zombie flick? That's a tricky call.

Dawn of the Dead (1978)is easily my favorite, although I did have a good laugh while watching Shaun of the Dead!!

One of the writers for GritFX wrote this piece "DEALING WITH THE DEAD: Zombie Basics for the Approaching Apocalypse". Check it out if the title interests you :)

Mongo said...

I hemmed and hawed over 28 Days Later because it is a very good movie, but I would classify it in the same vein as I Am Legend. They aren't technically zombies because they are still alive but serve no master nor eat any flesh.

And I highly recommend reading Max Brooks if anything for a great read of a handguide for nearly any apocalyptical situation. Thanks for the comments.

Mongo said...

Science to the rescue concerning the debate over including 28 Days Later as a "true" zombie movie.

Harvard Psychiatrist Explains Zombie Neurobiology

This is a great article suggested by a friend and the author discusses the neurobiology of a zombie. Check under the topic heading of The Cerebellum and the Basal Ganglia

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