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One of the archetypal horror villains, the walking dead have endured in popular culture for over half a century, emerging and evolving in new forms, eating away at the collective consciousness. Team Empire presents a list of the greatest zombie movies — some mere mindless blood-splattered fun, some with brains as well as bursting innards, from scuzzy, sickening gonzo gore-fests, to genre-twisting hybrids, and even a family-friendly favourite.
Don your protective gear, tool up anyone got a cricket bat? Robert Rodriguez's trash-tastic exploitation homage is the splattier, squelchier half of the Grindhouse double-bill he cooked up with Quentin Tarantino — the story of a go-go dancer, a bioweapon gone awry, and Texan townsfolk turned into shuffling, pustulous monsters. Leaning heavily into its B-movie roots, with missing reels, scratchy edits and hammy overdubbed dialogue, Planet Terror has its exploding tongue firmly rooted in its rotting cheek.
Its over-cranked gore and oozing effects are downright disgusting, and it builds to a stupidly fun finale in which Rose McGowan's hero Cherry Darling has her severed leg replaced with a machine gun. All together now: "I'm gonna eat your brains and gain your knowledge! Helping popularise the notion of Nazi Zombies around the same time that it became a Call Of Duty staple, Tommy Wirkola's Norwegian comedy-horror combined cinema's two most enduring forms of villain.
When a group of students head off for an Easter holiday in a snowy Scandinavian cabin, they accidentally summon an undead horde of Nazis by meddling with a box of gold loot. It's a premise that plays on reported tales of the Nazis' obsession with the occult, while leaning gleefully into the potential of its unapologetically pulpy concept. The white stuff quickly turns red in a blast of campy shlock — especially once the survivors arm themselves with power tools.
Buy now on Amazon. A zombie movie — but, y'know, for kids! Fresh from traumatising a generation with Coraline, stop-motion animation studio Laika served up a family-friendly horror adventure. The titular Norman is an ostracised boy who can talk to the dead — which comes in handy when a witch's curse summons walking corpses from the town graveyard.
Spooky fun, and a rare zombie movie that due to its target audience isn't lavished in gore, instead relying on understanding and forgiveness to save the day. It takes a lot to make a truly fresh-feeling zombie film — but Colm McCarthy's adaptation of Mike Carey's novel is a smart and thoughtful reinvention, with genre thrills to boot. In this case the zombie condition is the result of a The Last Of Us-esque fungal pathogen which has turned most of the population into 'hungries'.
But that remains largely in the background of the story, which instead focuses on young girl Melanie, who's receiving an unusual education in a heavily-armed facility from Gemma Arterton's teacher Helen. As a 'second-generation' hungry, Melanie still wants to eat human flesh, but can think and feel too — and her mere existence could hold the key to the future. This second dose of panic-attack-inducing found-footage horror is largely as effective as the first film — one that revisits the outbreak-afflicted tower block from a new perspective, as a team of bodycam-wearing soldiers head in to retrieve a sample.
It makes for a more action-oriented follow-up, but one with ideas too — delivering a unique take on zombie lore, with the viral infection compounded by some religious occultism. It's especially impressive for managing to hop between perspectives without ruining the central first-person concept.
Imagined as a quasi-sequel to Dawn Of The Dead, Italian director Lucio Fulci's film, notorious for its truly sickening effects, took zombie mythology back to its black magic-inspired roots. Zombie Flesh Eaters — also known as Zombi 2, after Dawn Of The Dead was released as Zombi in Italy — depicts a zombie outbreak on the Caribbean island of Matul as the result of a voodoo curse, with its creaky undead shufflers pictured in various stages of decomposition, often covered in real maggots.
A famous scene involving some up-close eyeball damage got it caught up in the 'Video Nasty' scandal — and though a cult favourite, it's more beloved by hardcore zombie fans than critics. Bonus points for the stupidly dangerous zombie vs. It bears very little resemblance to its celebrated source novel, but World War Z stands as perhaps the only all-out zombie blockbuster. With Brad Pitt in the lead, a globe-trotting scope, and a considerable studio budget behind it, Marc Forster's film presents the zombie movie as a summer action spectacle with a worldwide outbreak threatening global collapse.
Where most zombie films are claustrophobic, this is the opposite, offering up inventive widescreen imagery of zombie swarms — crowds of the undead running en masse, scrambling over each other in insect-like mounds, able to scale walls through sheer force of will. As the zombie sub-genre ambled towards a cultural renaissance at the end of the s, Ruben Fleischer's irreverent zom-com arrived at just the right time. Jesse Eisenberg is cautious loner Columbus, doing his best to survive the undead apocalypse with a series of audience-winking rules 'check the back seat', 'double tap' your kills.
With a zippy sub minute runtime, madcap zombie murders death by falling piano, anyone? Remaking Romero's definitive masterpiece wasn't a task to be taken lightly. But, early in his career, Zack Snyder delivered a worthy reincarnation, working from a script by none other than James Gunn. Its biggest change is the controversial move to fast-zombies, offering frenetic survival sequences with a palpable sense of panic — and making for a gripping opening act as the outbreak spre and society rapidly crumbles.
It's appropriately nasty and gory, with early hints of Snyder's keen sense of cinematic style, and some impressively upsetting ideas — most notably, what happens when a pregnant woman is bitten? To say too much about Shin'ichiro Ueda's film would be to ruin its delicious, joyous surprises — but, suffice to say, if the opening minutes come off like a particularly ramshackle horror movie, that's entirely the point.
An out-of-his-depth director is attempting to make a zombie film of his own, when the production finds itself besieged by actual zombies. From there? Well, you'll have to see for yourself. But it's a film fizzing with invention, one that manages to turn the zombie movie on its head in all-new ways while displaying real heart. Destined to be a cult classic. Away from Romero's seriousness, Dan O'Bannon's comedy-horror delivered a more raucous take on the zombie flick, right down to its tagline: 'They're back from the grave and ready to party!
It played with what zombies could do, too — long before 28 Days Later, O'Bannon came up with the running dead, depicted zombies harbouring a specific hunger for brains, and gave them the ability to speak. Gooey and gory, buoyed along on a punk soundtrack featuring the likes of The Cramps and The Damned.
Based on a short story by H. Lovecraft, Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator presents a different spin on the undead. Here Jeffrey Combs' unhinged professor Herbert West invents a lime-green liquid capable of reanimating dead animal tissue — and which, before long, he starts applying to dead bodies some of which he's responsible for. Cue fellow scientists attempting to steal the 're-agent', a rising pile of zombified corpses, and, er, a severed head oral sex scene.
It's a swirling, pulpy blend of horror and comedy, and a bloody affair even by gore-soaked '80s standards. With a tight script and bravura approach, it remains sickeningly entertaining. If found-footage horror is a mixed bag, Spanish horror Rec used the shooting-style to maximum effect — getting up-close-and-personal at ground zero of a zombie outbreak in the claustrophobic confines of an apartment block. Scary as hell, with a set of smarter-than-average characters, and an all-timer final reel as the camera's night vision mode is activated.
Long before he went off to Middle-earth, Peter Jackson was painting the town red with his ludicrously bloody Kiwi zombie flick — sometimes hailed as the 'goriest movie ever made'. Equally inspired by Romero and Raimi, there's a real Evil Dead streak to the cartoonish splatstick on display.
Set inTimothy Balme plays Lionel Cosgrove, caught in a sticky place when his meddling mum is bitten by a 'Sumatran rat-monkey' when stalking her son on a date at the zoo. She dies. And then un-dies. And that's only the beginning.
Romero invented the modern zombie movie as we know it. An independent film shot in grainy black-and-white on a shoestring budget, Romero delivered a stark and subversive horror that established the most important facets of zombie lore bodies returning from the grave, destroying the brain to kill them for good and proved the director as a filmmaker adept at genre-infused social commentary.
As Ben, Barbra and more hide away from the rising corpses in a rural farmhouse, Romero reflects ideas of racism in the USA, the ongoing trauma of the Vietnam War, and the American public facing up to the realisation that their greatest enemy might actually be themselves. Four words: zombies on a train.
Korean director Yeon Sang-ho takes that elevator pitch and elevates it into a gripping, action-packed horror movie, using cramped interior space and moments in more wide-open environments to stage breathlessly tense sequences.
Train To Busan's zombies are mesmerising to watch — aggressive and animalistic, their limbs and spines contorting as they rise up to claim more victims. The result is stylishly-shot and pulse-pounding, with a host of memorable characters — particularly Ma Dong-seok's hulking hero Sang-hwa. For his feature debut proper, Edgar Wright drew from Romero and Richard Curtis for the definitive rom-zom-com.
Simon Pegg is the titular Shaun, a slacker entering his 30s who's forced to grow up, commit to his girlfriend Liz Kate Ashfieldsort things out with his step-dad, and relinquish his best friend Ed Nick Frost when a zombie apocalypse unfolds in London.
It doesn't hold back as a zombie film — with lashings of gore, well-executed jump-scares and emotional farewells — but indulges its British humour too, as Shaun attacks the undead with a cricket bat and hatches a plot to hole up at the local pub. Purists will tell you it's not a zombie movie. If they're technically right, they're also totally wrong — Danny Boyle's film about a deadly rage infection reinvented and redefined what a zombie film could be, taking the idea of running infected from Return Of The Living Dead and, er, running with it.
It's a gritty, gripping work with an iconic opening, as Cillian Murphy's hospitalised Londoner Jim awakens to find the capital city eerily deserted — until it becomes all-too-clear what's happened to everyone. If the rage infection wasn't perilous enough, Alex Garland's screenplay highlights how the surviving humans are just as deadly. The final part of Romero's landmark original Dead trilogy is a more meditative affair than the instalments — but it's a powerful piece, with an angry resonance that continues to reverberate. Set even further into the zombie apocalypse, Day finds the non-infected population dwindling, with surviving scientists and soldiers properly cracking up, and the undead themselves beginning to evolve.
Enter Bub, an actual zombie hero — reliving echoes of his past life, and with a cognitive function that suggests not all of the undead are mindless monsters. Taking place largely in the confines of an underground facility, Day is a claustrophobic and pessimistic affair, wrangling with meaty themes of hope, faith, and the futility of combat, as human in-fighting le to more carnage with tragic consequences.
If Night Of The Living Dead was the birth of the contemporary zombie flick, Dawn Of The Dead was its coming-of-age — bigger, bolder, more confident, and, this time, in colour. The eerie tone of its predecessor is swapped for a rising tide of chaos and panic as the unfolding apocalypse spre, and a group of survivors hunker down in the local mall. If it initially seems like an ideal place to wait out the downfall of society, rife with supplies, it proves anything but — the zombies instinctively drawn to the place they were programmed to devote their free time and money to back when they were alive.
It's another piece of potent satire, packed with playful imagery — though that never gets in the way of Romero telling a compelling, nightmarish tale, exploding with visceral effects from Tom Savini, drawing from the horrifying sights he witnessed as a Vietnam War photographer. Prev Next.
George Romero. Lucio Fulci. Danny Boyle.Must love zombies
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From Iceland — Must Love Zombies