10. Dead Alive/Brain Dead
Long before he created a 9-hour nerdgasm that shook middle earth with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, sodomized King Kong and fed aliens catfood in District 9, Peter Jackson was just an aspiring, little-known filmmaker from New Zealand. How ironic that one of his greatest movies ever made would also be his first. This gem first appeared on my radar as a trailer before a Faces of Death or Death Faces, or one of those "clips of people really getting their shit ruined" movies that I rented back when the words VHS didn't elicit a blank stare from the girl at Blockbuster. It was the tagline "The goriest movie ever" or something to that effect that made me want to see it, so I picked it up when I returned the shit getting ruined movie and was treated to one of the goriest, weirdest and funniest zombie movies I've ever seen. There are 3 "funny" zombie movies in my top 10, and while this one might not have the "yuk" factor of the other 2, it more than makes up for it in the "yuck" factor. Here, watch this and you'll see what I mean: (note - It was released with two different titles, I'm assuming Brain Dead was the original title when it was shown overseas and Dead Alive was the title of the U.S. release)
Was that a lawnmower strapped to his chest in that last scene? Yes, yes it was, and what follows is one of the most buckets of blood over the top wholesale zombie slaughter scenes ever put to celluloid. Frodo is shitting his pants right now, little Hobbit pellets.
9. 28 Days/Weeks Later
I chose both of these movies because even though I actually enjoyed the second one more than the first, the first one is pretty good and it's sort of sacrilegious to rank a sequel over the original, unless you're talking about Aliens or Star Trek 2... or Superman 2... or The Empire Strikes Back... well, anyway, you get my point. 28 Days/Weeks Later is about "fast, virus zombies". Allow me to explain that. See, there are templates that nearly every zombie movie follows. In basically every zombie movie, the zombies are either "undead zombies" - i.e. zombies that rose from the grave, aren't living and cannot be killed by conventional means. Typically they must be shot in the head, thus destroying the brain, or similarly burned or reduced to nothing before they "die" - or they are "virus zombies" - people turned into "zombies" due to a virus, toxin or some other external, usually man-made agent. These zombies can be killed the same way a normal person can because they're technically still living, and in the case of the 28 Days/Weeks series, they can even starve to death. The second, base formula to every zombie movie is mobility. Are they "fast" zombies - zombies who run at full speed after their prey, or are they "slow" zombies - zombies who shamble along, slow and steady wins the race, after their terrified, stumble-prone quarry? George Romero is the king of "slow" zombie movies, but "fast" zombies are definitely a lot scarier, because they'll fuck up a fat dude like me. I can lose a slow zombie, but I ain't outrunning no lean ass sprintin' zombie.
At any rate, the zombies in 28 Days/Weeks are "fast virus" zombies, they run after their victims and can be killed by any conventional method. What sets these movies apart from the rest is good direction by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting) and the gritty cinematography that lends a raw, bleak atmosphere that definitely enhances the mood of the films. Trailers are posted below this sentence:
REC is a Spanish film that was remade in the U.S. as Quarantine. While Quarantine is a good film and I definitely enjoyed it, REC is just a lot better. It's the original, and it's hard for U.S. remakes of foreign films to do the source material justice. Also, as a Spanish film, the movie is in Spanish as well. There's probably an English-dubbed version out there, but I hate English-dubbed films almost without exception, so I only recommend the original con subtitulados.
Basically, this movie follows the "fast virus" zombie template, but it's unique in that it's shot entirely in the first person with one camera. Not unlike subsequent films such as "Cloverfield" and the not-quite-good-enough-to-make-my-list "Diary of the Dead" and "Zombie Diaries". The latter two definitely borrowing from REC in their concept, though nowhere near as well. REC revolves around a reporter who covers the night shift at a local fire station with her trusty cameraman. The station gets a call about a sick woman in an apartment building, the reporter tags along, and once inside the building all hell breaks loose. The unique and genuinely creepy mood that the single-camera, first person perspective puts you in is what makes this movie great. You hear things that you can't see and are held at the whim of the cameraman the entire time, which makes for some good jump in your seat moments. A great and original take on the familiar theme.
Even the trailer is creepy!
7. The Evil Dead
It would be downright sacrilege to make a top 10 zombie movie list without including Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead. The movie that introduced the world to Bruce Campbell's indomitable Ashley "Ash" J. Williams and combined Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" with "Friday the 13th" with a side of Satan and a big glass of "WTF!?" to wash it down with. This movie is over the top gory, intentionally and unintentionally hilarious and basically perfect drive-in fare. I guess technically this makes 4 funny zombie movies in my top 10 list, but whatever, like you're even paying attention. There are so many instant-classic moments in this movie, it's a must-see for any true fan of the zombie genre. The zombies in The Evil Dead are "slow undead" zombies, summoned from the grave through dark magic, although not as difficult to kill outright as Romero's "The brain must be destroyed" zombies are. If you like campy horror, technicolor geysers of bodily fluids and sexual assault at the hands of animated forestation, this movie is for you.
6. Return of the Living Dead
This movie is a total guilty pleasure film for me. It's campy as all hell, the acting is laughably bad and the main characters are so dumb that in any other zombie movie they would be the first ones killed before the opening credits even rolled. However, there is tons of gore, some gratuitous nudity thanks to "scream queen" Linnea Quigley, and most importantly, this is the movie that coined the phrase "BRAAAIIINNNS!" Yes, while the zombies in RotLD are the traiditional "undead" variety (speed ranging from slow to fast depending on stage of decomposition), they have a particular yen for human brains. As we learn from a dismembered upper-torso zombie in the movie, eating brains makes the "pain of being dead" go away for the zombies, and thus they are compelled to feast on brains. Unlike Romero zombies, destroying their brains alone isn't enough to kill them. In fact, even chopping them up doesn't do the trick, as we discover during a wacky chase scene involving a dismembered hand. The only way to permanently kill these zombies is by completely destroying them, but even that doesn't end their threat... (!!!) Best quote in the movie: "If you loved me, you'd let me eat your brains!".
"How do you kill something that's already dead!?"
"That's not a bad question, Burt!"
5. Shaun of the Dead
The movie that introduced us to Simon Pegg, and the concept of a "Romantic comedy, with zombies", Shaun of the Dead is well-written, smart, funny and an instant classic "funny zombie" movie. This is the movie that immortalized the team of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as sort of a warped, modern day Laurel and Hardy or The Odd Couple on weed. So, the zombies in SotD are "slow undead", which is exploited for maximum comic effect. However, what makes SotD really shine is the fact that there are moments of genuine seriousness and emotion, especially towards the climax of the film, that contrast well with the light hearted comedy and interplay between Pegg and Frost. Look at me, I sound like some pretentious film critic douchebag! Seriously though, it's the mix of slapstick comedy and well-done horror that makes Shaun of the Dead a perennial favorite on other top 10 zombie movie lists, and mine is no exception.
4. Night of the Living Dead
George A. Romero's 1968 masterpiece, and the film that laid the foundation for the entire zombie genre as we know it today. It was shot in black and white due to budget constraints, but Romero used the medium to his advantage and the film is actually scarier, darker and tangibly creepier as a result. It gives the movie a very gothic, classic feel that still holds up. L:ike all of Romero's movies, NotLD takes place in Pennsylvania, starting at a cemetery and quickly moving to a farmhouse, where the rest of the film plays out as the handful of survivors take refuge inside and try to defend themselves from the growing horde of undead outside, while attempting to find out what's going on through fragmented radio broadcasts. This movie is the blueprint for the "slow undead" zombie film that would be Romero's trademark in all his subsequent offerings. Despite being filmed in black and white, this is still a pretty gory movie. Romero took advantage of the limitations of B&W film by using things like chocolate sauce for blood, and clever camera angles to compensate for lack of special effects. The result is a perfect double-feature horror show matineé movie with real spine-tingling moments, tons of suspense and all the "zombies eating body parts that are really chicken and roasted ham but who cares cuz it's still awesome" that you can handle. NotLD was remade in 1990, and while it wasn't a bad film really, the original is just so perfect that it didn't need to be redone.
Even the trailer is classic.
"Nut up or shut up." Pretty much says it all. Yes, I have ranked this movie higher on my list than Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead and even Shaun of the Dead, but that's because this is a really great movie. Like all great movies, it was made on a limited budget, and that means the acting and writing has to compensate for lack of "studio magic" and over the top CGI bullshit (I'm looking at you, Michael Bay...). Not that there isn't some good special effects and makeup work in this movie, but what really makes it a stand out and my number 3 pick is the script and the performances by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin and ESPECIALLY Bill Fucking Murray (I know that's not his middle name).
This movie sets the bar for all "funny zombie" movies from here on out. It's so well written, perfectly paced and legitimately hilarious. However, it's also gory as hell, action packed and a great zombie horror movie. The little details added throughout the film - like Eisenberg's list of rules that would appear on screen after an example was shown, or the zombies dressed as movie characters on Hollywood Blvd. Even the clown zombie's nose honking at the end when Jesse smashes him in the face with the "test your strength" mallet - Hell, just the opening credits let you know you're in for a treat. This movie delivers on all levels, and that's why it's my number 3 pick. Oh, did I mention Bill Murray?
2. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Remember what I said about the 1990 remake of "Night of the Living Dead?" Well, that doesn't apply to Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. This movie kicks fucking ass! What sets it apart from other unnecessary remakes is that it doesn't simply reshoot the original film with updated special effects and new actors. It pays just enough homage to the original - setting the film in a shopping mall, using a cop as one of the main protagonists and just sort of dropping a mostly-unexplained zombie apocalypse on the characters - but that's pretty much where the similarities end. Unlike the "slow undead" zombies in Romero's original masterpiece, these zombies are "fast undead", which adds a whole new level of scary action to the film. Additionally, there is a lot more interpersonal conflict between the substantially larger group of survivors in the mall than in the original. Plus, the entire film is shot in a grainy and high-contrast treatment, which evokes that same raw, gritty feel that "28 Days/Weeks Later" does, while also making the gore even gorier. Not sticking to the original script and instead making a great tribute to the greatest zombie film of all time, rather than a lazy rehashing, is what makes this "remake" an incredible stand alone zombie film, and my number 2 favorite zombie movie of all time.
Fuck Youtube for not letting me post the longer, and better version of this trailer!
Big surprise what my number 1 pick is...
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
The greatest zombie movie of all time. In fact, this is my favorite movie of all time, period. I love this movie. It's perfect. It's gory as hell, creepy as fuck, scary as shit and just everything a good zombie movie should be. It's George Romero's crowning achievement in his zombie series. Like "Night of the Living Dead", DotD begins in one location, quickly moves to another "secure" spot where the heroes take refuge, and stays there until the end of the film. Also like NotLD, the zombies are the Romero trademark "slow undead". This film takes all the dark creepiness of NotLD and adds in the buckets of gore and makeup effects that budget contraints prevented in the first film. Continuing from where the original left off, this movie begins in a world where zombies are starting to overrun the land, and in particular the cities, and the apocalypse is in full swing. The heroes are a couple of SWAT officers who, along with 2 news reporters, escape the city by helicopter and take refuge in a shopping mall on the outskirts of town. All of Romero's zombie movies are made as a reflection of society, and in Dawn of the Dead, he takes aim at the consumption behavior arising from the Carter-era inflation boom. The "zombies" in the mall are a thinly-veiled reflection of his view of mindless consumers and the inevitable consequences of a society driven by materialism and greed. Also, it's a fucking OVER THE TOP GOREFEST! Tom Savini's makeup work shines in this film, from the exploding head in the opening scene, to brutal disembowling and dismemberment of the biker gang he cameos as the leader of, this movie is a bloody masterpiece from start to finish. I cannot recommend this movie higly enough. I bought the "Ultimate Collection" 5-disk DVD a few years ago and I've watched every version at least 3 dozen times since then. I mean, for shit's sakes, my first tattoo was the bloody zombie head from the movie poster. I love this movie, I fucking LOVE this movie.
Now, go rent these fuckers, get a whole thing of popcorn, and have the greatest zombie movie marathon ever!