by Steve Habrat
With director Marc Forster and Brad Pitt’s epic World War Z swarming the global box office, I thought it would be a good time to countdown the 15 best zombie movies of all time. Now, if there is one thing that I know in this world, it is zombies. I love ‘em. I cut my teeth on Night of the Living Dead when I was just a little sprout and I never looked back. I’ve dabbled in everything from the Italian splatterfests of the late 70s and 80s to all of Romero’s heady zombie romps. I’ve thrilled at the sprinting zombies and I’ve chuckled right along with the new string of “zom-coms.” Hell, I even religiously watch The Walking Dead when it is on AMC. So, without further ado, I give you my picks for the top 15 zombie movies of all time. I do hope you’re craving some brrrraaaaaaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnnssss!
15.) Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Director Jorge Grau’s surreal 1974 chiller doesn’t feature the undead in thick hordes like many of the films on this list. No, this film was made when the zombie subgenre was still suffering from some growing pains. However, it is still a massively chilling, impeccably acted, and brutal zombie movie made in the wake of the collapse of the counterculture. With an alien score that would have been perfect for any 50s science fiction flick and spine tingling wheezes creeping over the soundtrack, this go-green atomic freak out is an absolutely must for zombie fanatics and horror freaks, especially the final blood-soaked twenty minutes.
14.) Grindhouse-Planet Terror (2007)
In early 2007, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino unleashed this passion project into an America that frankly didn’t get what the duo was trying to do. Well, America, you missed out. This scratchy double feature kicks off with a gooey bang in the form of Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, a pus-filled tribute to zombie godfather George A. Romero and Italian goremaster Lucio Fulci. Brimming with tongue-in-cheek violence, melting penises, machine gun legs, and kerosene action, Planet Terror is a self-aware charmer that is guaranteed to churn your tummy. Keep an eye out for an extended cameo from Tom Savini, who did the make-up effects in Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.
13.) Shock Waves (1977)
Way before Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies took the world by storm, this little-known but unnervingly creepy tale about a troop of goggle-clad SS ghouls patrolling an abandoned island snuck into theaters and then was largely forgotten. Fueled by a ghostly atmosphere and flooded with horror icons (Peter Cushing! John Carradine! Brooke Adams!), this sun drenched chiller doesn’t feature the same old flesh-hungry ghouls ripping victims limb from limb. Nope, these guys march out of the water, sneak up on their victims, and then violently drown ‘em. Trust me, they are VERY cool. With a score guaranteed to give you goosebumps and an immensely satisfying last act, this is a low budget B-movie gem that deserves to be showered in attention. Track it down and show your friends!
12.) 28 Weeks Later (2007)
It seemed like an impossible task to try to do a sequel to Danny Boyle’s terrifying 2003 game changer 28 Days Later, but that didn’t stop Hollywood from giving it a try. Surprisingly, 28 Weeks Later, which was produced by Boyle and directed by Juan Carlos Fresnadillo, is an intimidating follow-up that goes bigger and louder than the previous film. Clearly crafted for a summer audience, 28 Weeks Later is an effects heavy blockbuster that finds much of London being reduced to ashes, but the acting is top notch, the smarts are in place, and the zombie…sorry, INFECTED mayhem will leave you breathless and shaking for days.
11.) Day of the Dead (1985)
The third installment in George A. Romero’s zombie series was a bomb when it was first released and unfairly dismissed by many critics including Roger Ebert. You should know that the shockingly dark and cynical Day of the Dead has many tricks up its sleeve. Perhaps the angriest zombie movie ever made, Day of the Dead is the work of a man who has completely lost his faith in humanity and our ability to work together. Did I mention that it also features an intelligent zombie? Yeah, wait until you meet Bub. While much of the zombie carnage is saved for the shadowy climax, Day of the Dead is still a film that spits fire. I’d even go so far to say that it is one of the most important films of the Regan Era.
10.) Return of the Living Dead (1985)
This punk rock “zom-com” from writer/director Dan O’Bannon passes itself off as an unofficial follow-up to Romero’s 1968 treasure Night of the Living Dead. The characters all openly acknowledge the events of that film, but they do it all in neon Mohawks while snarling rock n’ roll blares in the background. With plenty of gonzo action and a swarm of ghouls that howl for more “braaaaaaiiiiiinnnnnssss,” Return of the Living Dead is like a living, breathing cartoon. If that doesn’t convince you to attend this ghoul shindig, wait until you catch a glimpse of the tar zombie, one of the most visually striking zombies ever filmed. Rock on!
9.) The Dead (2011)
The newest film on this list is actually one of the most impressive throwbacks of recent memory. The Dead is basically a road movie smashed together with Lucio Fulci’s Zombie and a forgotten spaghetti western. It could also be the most beautiful zombie film on this list (aside from Dellamorte Dellamore). Taking place on the parched African landscape, The Dead will send shivers as its zombies slowly shuffle along in the background of nearly every single shot, making you wonder if our two silent protagonists will ever make it out of this situation alive. While the last act dips, The Dead never lets up on the intensity. Just watch for a scene where an injured mother hands her infant child off to Rob Freeman’s Lt. Murphy as zombies close in around her. Pleasant dreams!
8.) Re-Animator (1985)
It seems that 1985 was the year of the zombie. We were treated to gems like Return of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, and Stuart Gordon’s cheeky horror-comedy Re-Animator. A bit more restrained that some of the films on this list (but not by much), Re-Animator is a big glowing tribute to science fiction and horror films of years passed. It has a little something for everyone, all wrapped up in a big Sam Raimi-esque wink. Did I mention that it can also creep you out big time? Featuring a must-see performance from Jeffrey Combs and a zombie doctor carrying his own head, Re-Animator is a science-lab romp that will have you shrieking one second and giggling the next.
7.) Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder’s speedy remake of George A. Romero’s masterpiece was probably the most expensive zombie movie of all time until World War Z came crashing into theaters. It was also much better than it had any right to be. While it will never trump the heady original, Snyder makes an energetic gorefest that will make horror fans giddy with delight. The film has a stellar opening sequence that is followed by grainy news reports of a world going to Hell, all while Johnny Cash strums his guitar over bloody credits. From that point, Snyder lobs one gory gag after another at the audience, the most fun being a game of spot a zombie that looks like a celebrity and then turns its head into hamburger meat. Oh, and if the film didn’t have enough blood and guts already, wait until you see the chainsaw accident near the end of the film. It’s a doozy.
6.) Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man (1994)
From the late 70s through the mid 1990s, Italy had severe zombie fever. In the wake of George A. Romero’s massively successful Dawn of the Dead, the Italians cranked out more knockoffs than you can shake a severed arm and leg at. Many of them were cheapie exploitation movies that lacked artistic vision, but right before the craze died off, director Michele Soavi released Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man, a gothic zombie fantasy that truly is unlike anything you’ve seen before. Surreal, sexy, and episodic, Dellamorte Dellamore borders on arthouse horror and has earned fans as high profile as Martin Scorsese. The last act of the film is a mess and it seems like Soavi wasn’t exactly sure how to bring the film to a close, but this is certainly a zombie movie that you have to see to believe.
5.) Shaun of the Dead (2004)
In 2004, American audiences were introduced to British funnyguys Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Edgar Wright, and we were all the better for it. The first “romantic comedy with zombies,” Shaun of the Dead is a side-splittingly hilarious romp that can also be quite terrifying what it sets its mind to it. Loaded with nods to classic zombie movies (each time you watch it you will spot another tip of the hat), endlessly quotable jokes, and some eye-popping gross-out gags, Shaun of the Dead is a surprisingly sweet film with a core romance you can’t stop rooting for. Also, Romero has given it his approval, which automatically makes it a zombie classic.
4.) Zombie (1979)
Lucio Fulci’s 1979 grindhouse classic Zombie (aka Zombi 2) was the first Italian knockoff inspired by George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. It is also the best Italian zombie movie out there. Entitled Zombi 2 in Italy to trick audiences into thinking that the film was a sequel to Dawn, Zombie is a beast all its own. Without question the most violent and exploitative zombie film to emerge from the Italian zombie movement, Zombie is a tropical blast of excess that will have your jaw on the floor. Gasp as a zombie has an underwater battle with a shark (you read that correctly, in case you were wondering) and dry heave as a woman has her eye gouged out by a piece of splintered wood (shown in an extreme close up). And that is Fulci just getting warmed up! Approach this sucker with caution.
3.) 28 Days Later (2003)
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later is not technically a zombie movie. The red-eyed, blood-spewing maniacs that dash through the streets of devastated London are suffering from a virus known only as “RAGE.” Still, the ghouls are very zombie like as they sprint towards their victims like coked-out marathon runners. Gritty, grim, and absolutely terrifying, 28 Days Later is an impeccably acted and smartly directed apocalyptic thriller that astounds with each passing second. The climax has split viewers, but in my humble opinion, it is an unflinching glimpse of human beings at their absolute best and absolutely worst. This is an essential and influential modern-day classic.
2.) Night of the Living Dead (1968)
In 1968, George A. Romero crafted a film that would go on to lay the foundation for the zombie subgenre. Cramped, creaky, and infinitely creepy, Night of the Living Dead is a lo-fi horror classic that continues to sit securely on the short list of the most terrifying films ever made. Romero instantly throws the viewer into the chaos and flat-out refuses to give us any sort of explanation for why the dead-eyed cannibals outside are trying to pound their way into that boarded up farmhouse. All we know is that something is very wrong and the situation seems to be steadily getting worse. Brimming with Cold War anxiety and flashing images that would be right at home in a forgotten newsreel from the Vietnam War, Night of the Living Dead is a film that will stick with you the rest of your life. A true horror classic.
1.) Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Ten years after he shaped the subgenre, Romero returned to give audiences his ultimate apocalyptic vision. Often imitated but never duplicated, Dawn of the Dead is the king daddy of zombie movies. Set just a few short weeks after the events of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead begins with a flurry of blood and bullets ripping across your screen, assuring the viewer that once again, Romero is taking no prisoners. Once Romero decides to usher his four protagonists off to the Monroeville Mall, the satire kicks into high gear. Launching a full-scale attack on consumer culture, Romero dares to compare mall shoppers to his shuffling ghouls that wander the aisles of JC Penney. He also warns us that our inability to work together will be the death of us all. Featuring heavy character development, heart-pounding action sequences, and a devastating conclusion, Dawn of the Dead stands as a pulse-pounding masterpiece not only for Romero, but for the entire zombie subgenre.
So, do you agree? Disagree? Did I leave something off of the list? Feel free to leave me your picks! I’m dying to hear them!
by Steve Habrat
I must confess that I have never written a book review before. Sure, I’ve raved about certain books to friends and rolled my eyes in disgust at others as I flipped past the last page, but I’ve never attempted to give an in-depth review of one. Books have always acted as my escapist entertainment because of my fascination with film. However, a few months ago, I was asked by Raymond Esposito, the gentleman behind You and Me against the World (and who also contributed a wonderful Halloween feature post to Anti-Film School), about possibly reviewing the first book in his Creepers Saga. Honored that he valued my opinion, I quickly agreed to give it a read and I dove right in to his vision of the zombie apocalypse. I must say, as a massive zombie fan, I truly enjoyed and was consistently impressed with this non-stop thrill ride. As I dove deeper and deeper in, it became clear that Mr. Esposito was staying true to the formula that really makes the great zombie stories work. He was placing extremely likable characters in front of his hordes of undead and then unleashing the most terrifying monster of all on his protagonists–fellow man.
On his last day as an oncologist, Dr. Russell Thorn is barely moved by the overwhelming number of individuals showing up in the ER for severe flu-like symptoms. Shortly into his shift, Dr. Thorn is called in to observe a patient that is spewing black bile and suffering from hypothermia despite the boiling Florida heat outside. It doesn’t take long for the patient to pass away, but to the horror of the hospital staff, the patient doesn’t remain dead. It wakes up with an insatiable hunger for human flesh. With the hospital descending into chaos, Dr. Thorn and two young nurses, Susan and Rosa, make an escape from the panic only to be greeted by more cannibalistic terror out in the Florida sun. With nowhere to go and the streets crawling with undead ghouls, the small group makes their way to Dr. Thorn’s home to wait the situation out. After a few days of observing from an upstairs window, Dr. Thorn realizes that the roaming ghouls don’t particularly like the chilly evenings and that they appear to be showing hints of intelligence. To make things worse, it appears as if the zombies know that Dr. Thorn and the two nurses are hiding inside the home. After a very close encounter with a horde of ghouls, the small group is saved by a heavily armed band of young warriors led by the reluctant Devin. Running out of options, Dr. Thorn agrees to join the group and they begin plotting a way to distance themselves from the swarming infected, but as the group will soon learn, there are things lurking out there in the chaos that are worse than the undead.
I was told that You and Me against the World was very cinematic, and I have to agree with this description, but I would also say that Mr. Esposito’s scope is about as epic as it can be, analyzing the zombie apocalypse from nearly every single destructive angle. I’d go so far to say that he comes dangerously close to matching what Max Brooks achieved in his globe-trotting zombie epic World War Z (hell, you could probably make the books into a double feature of sorts). There are nuclear meltdowns, war, bombings, car crashes, and more all chillingly tucked in amongst Esposito’s beefy character development. He envisions a world that is charred, scarred, and crawling with galloping cannibals his character’s dub “creepers,” who charge their prey while drooling black bile and burrowing underground when the sun goes down to stay warm. Yet Mr. Esposito isn’t content with his virus simply infecting humans. Oh no, things really take a creepy and fun turn when we are introduced to zombie kitties and in a giddy tribute to George A. Romero’s classic zombie film Night of the Living Dead.
In addition to all of the action that Mr. Esposito infuses into his zombie epic, he also presents a staggering number of protagonists for the reader to root for. It is a pretty big group and at first I feared that there may be one hero too many in You and Me against the World, but this is where Mr. Esposito truly shines. He gives each character their own mini introduction and then as the story progresses, allows us to see how each of these characters is connected to the other. While it is up to the reader to pick their favorite among the massive group, my two personal favorites were the baseball bat-wielding Austin and the deadly blue-eyed mute Goldie. And while Mr. Esposito makes all of his protagonists likable, he doesn’t forget to add a handful of vile baddies to the bunch. I don’t want to spoil too much of the fun, but his crazed cult leader is just so much fun to hate, especially when he is threatening to feed a group of terrified children to a ravenous “creeper.”
For zombie fanatics, You and Me against the World is a must for your bookshelf. Make sure you place it between your Walking Dead comics and your copy of the Zombie Survival Guide. It features numerous nods to Romero’s original Dead trilogy (Night, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead) as well several little tips of the hat to Richard Matheson and his classic vampire tale I Am Legend. Overall, Mr. Esposito dreams up a tense, gory, and fresh spin on the zombie genre while barely stopping to take a breath. He puts the reader through the ringer with white-knuckle suspense and leaves us all wanting to see what comes next in the massive and wildly creative trilogy.
by Steve Habrat
After some of last year’s massive releases (The Hunger Games, The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, Prometheus, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit), you had to wonder if 2013 could even hold a candle to what blockbusters blasted their way through the local Regal Cinemas in 2012. It turns out that 2013 looks to be packing some seriously entertaining movies that will be luring us in droves to the theater throughout the year. So, without further ado, here are ten movies I just cannot wait to see this year. I’ll see ya at the theater.
10.) Monster’s University
Let’s be honest, in the past two years, Pixar has sort of been tanking. Absolutely no one but a rabid bunch of seven year olds was asking for a sequel to Cars and Brave had its heart in the right place but it fell short of being a true classic. Enter those lovable spooks Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc, who may just be able to shake Pixar out of their frustrating funk. If you haven’t seen the trailer for the movie, do make sure you check it out. It’s absolutely hilarious. Acting as a prequel to Monsters, Inc, Monster’s University shows us all how Mike and Sully met in college and how they formed their friendship. There is a lot riding on this, Pixar, so don’t screw it up.
9.) Pacific Rim
Since 2008, visionary director Guillermo del Toro has been busy playing the role of producer to some middle of the road horror movies and some lackluster animated features. This summer, the director of Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth returns to the director’s chair with Pacific Rim, an apocalyptic science-fiction epic about giant monsters emerging from a portal under the sea and ripping humans to shreds. Well, it just so happens that the humans have developed giant robots that are capable of kicking monster ass. The trailer looks like the coolest B-movie you will ever see and the action looks like it will shake down the walls of the theater. Count me in, Mr. del Toro. I’ll be there wearing a pair of 3D glasses and a smile from ear to ear.
8.) World War Z
Everywhere you look these days, it is all about zombies, which isn’t a bad thing. Naturally, Hollywood is taking notice (again) and bringing World War Z, the zombie epic from Max Brooks, to the big screen. Yes, the trailer isn’t a complete knockout and it is directed by Marc Foster, the director of the forgettable Bond movie Quantum of Solace, but it did appear to have some MASSIVE zombie action. If you’re looking for another plus, look no further than Brad Pitt, who is starring as a terrified family man in this epic adventure of the undead. While I don’t expect it to match the quality of the book, it has been a while since there has been a really great zombie movie in theaters. It’s about time we got another zombie fix!
7.) Evil Dead
Initially, I wasn’t sold on this spiffed up remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic but then I laid eyes on the gore-drenched trailer. My jaw was on the floor and I considered jumping onto Fandango to grab an advanced ticket right then and there. Produced by Raimi, original star Bruce Campbell, original producer Robert G. Tapert, and directed by Fede Alvarez, Evil Dead looks like it will be THE horror movie to see this year. The trailer has it all, the boomstick, arms being sawed off, showers of pus, firehose blasts of blood, tongues being cut in half, and, yes, those frisky trees. If you are a fan of horror or Raimi’s terrifying original, you’re probably already in line. I’m going to call it now and say this movie is going to rock.
6.) The Great Gatsby
Originally supposed to be in theaters on Christmas day 2012, this lavish interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic story looks like it is going to pack enough eye candy to fuel a dozen blockbusters. It’s directed by Baz Lurhmann (Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge), so you know it will be hip and stylish, and it stars none other than Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role, which automatically makes it a must see (Did you see him in Django Unchained?!). Certainly an odd release for summer 2013 (and in 3D?), it should be interesting to see how the film lands with critics, especially since it is never a good sign when a release date is tinkered with, and how the film stacks up against its superhero (Iron Man 3, The Wolverine, Man of Steel) and science fiction (Star Trek) competition.
5.) Kick Ass 2
I’m a superhero nut. If you haven’t figured it out by now then there may be something wrong with you. I absolutely LOVED 2010’s Kick Ass, a film that ended up making my ten best of that year. It was bizarre, controversial, funny, smart, exciting, and just plain unique. With director Jeff Wadlow (Cry Wolf, Never Back Down) taking over original director Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake), I fear the film may not hit you across the face like the first film did, but with Jim Carrey signing on as ex-mobster-turned-superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes and even more of Chloe Grace Mortez’s foul-mouthed Hit Girl, how could you not be intrigued?
4.) The Lone Ranger
Many people are already trashing Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger, labeling it a dud before it even hits theaters. Give it a chance, people! I understand that Cowboys vs. Aliens left a bad taste in your mouth but this should be infinitely more fun than that piece of trash. With the very talented Armie Hammer (The Social Network) behind that famous mask, Johnny Depp bringing heaping amounts of weird to Tonto, and plenty of smashing and crashing trains, this should be a big, loud, and rollicking adventure across the west. Plus, the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was really good and Rango proved that Verbinski is up-and-up on his westerns. So, can we stop judging this before we see it?
3.) Star Trek: Into Darkness
If you are one of the people who has yet to see J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie, you may want to just run out and pick up the Blu-ray now. It’s THAT good and I’m not even a Star Trek buff. After a lengthy wait, we FINALLY get a follow-up that looks like it will smash the first film to smithereens. Cities are leveled, Pine’s Captain Kirk looks like he has finally met his match, Zachary Quinto’s Spock looks like he is finally getting with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, and Benedict Cumberbatch looks like he is going to make your skin crawl as Khan. Who’s up for the midnight showing?
2.) Iron Man 3/Thor: The Dark World
A tie at number 2?! Come on, guys, we can kinda lump these two together. The Avengers kicked major ass and you know full well these two films will be working hard to both set up The Avengers sequel and sort of tie in with each other. Plus, the first Thor was a pleasant surprise and Iron Man 3 looks like it will have some rip-roaring action that will have you jumping back in line for seconds. I mean, did you SEE the Super Bowl trailer for Iron Man 3? I thought so. We have yet to see a trailer for Thor: The Dark World but I’m confident it will be just as impressive. Keep up the good work, Marvel. Don’t let us down now.
1.) Man of Steel
Being a massive DC comics fan (my favorite superhero is Batman), I’m always rooting for their movies but I think we can all agree that they have produced some major duds over the years. The last time we saw Superman, he was hovering around Metropolis in Superman Returns, sulking over Lois Lane, fighting Lex Luthor (again), and creepily watching a kid he believed to be his son. It was a huge disappointment and also the cure for insomnia. Thankfully, Brandon Routh and Bryan Singer are out and Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan are in for Man of Steel. Yes, I know Snyder has directed a few questionable films (300, Sucker Punch) but he did a bang up job with Watchmen (I’m sure many will disagree with me there), and Nolan managed to produce the greatest superhero trilogy of all time (The Dark Knight Trilogy). Together, it appears that they may have successfully reinvented Supes and made him exciting again. The two trailers we have seen so far have suggested a darker atmosphere and a brooding tone, but boy, does this movie look exciting. With an all-star cast in place and General Zod being the villain (excuse me while I nerd out for a minute), Man of Steel is shaping up to be the must-see film of the summer.
Didn’t see the movie you’re looking forward to on this list? Leave a comment and tell me which movie you can’t wait to see. I love hearing from you!