It might have been made partly as a cheap cash in on the success of George A. Romero’s films, particularly Dawn of the Dead to which this film pretended to be a direct sequel. Nevertheless, Zombie manages to stand on its own. I’m not going to tell you that Zombie is a perfect film, its far from it. Zombie has a good deal of problems and is certainly not for everyone. It’s a mixed bag which culminates to one of the best zombie film experiences. Many of the film’s problems work to its benefit for the discerning viewer. Some of the effects are quite bad, but some of the effects are incredible and even the weaker effects are presented in a way that makes them easy to overlook. The music is at once strange and unfitting, and yet somehow the most fitting score I could possibly imagine for the film. The movie is packed with wonderful and incredibly memorable moments from spoiler alert: (1) the zombie hosting boat drifting around the bay in the opening to (2) the ending zombie march on the city, and, (3) the scene where a zombie fights a shark. Zombie manages to be much greater than the sum of its parts and is a zombie classic.
Zombieland is a great horror comedy. None of the characters even have real names (except Bill Murray playing himself in one of the best cameos ever) yet they are all fully fleshed out and have clear motivations that drive the story. A search for a twinkie in a theme park sets the stage for what is essentially a road trip comedy set during a zombie apocalypse. The film is hilarious and endlessly entertaining.
The majority of remakes are bad, unnecessary and just all around bad ideas. There are a few that do it well and this is one of them. The Dawn of the Dead remake is a great zombie film. It basically takes the premise from the original where a group of people in a zombie apocalypse are held up in a shopping mall and other than that it is its own film. This is by far the best thing Zack Snyder has ever directed, he just got steadily worse as his filmography progressed. This is one remake that is definitely worth watching.
Robert Rodriguez’s half of the grindhouse double feature, Planet Terror is a batshit crazy zombie movie homage to old grindhouse cinema. This movie is insane and I love it. It is hilarious, wonderfully gory, and has great action. Where else can you see the following, spoiler alert, Michael Biehn playing a badass sheriff, Tom Savini revolver punching a zombie in the face, Bruce Willis stating he killed Osama Bin Laden, Quentin Tarantino’s nuts melting off, Rose McGowan flying through the air with rocket fire coming out of her machine gun leg, Michael Park firing 7 shots out of a six shooter, Freddy Rodriguez flipping off a wall and stabbing a zombie with two knives all in the same movie? Check this one out in the full Grindhouse double feature package.
The Return of the Living Dead is another sort of semi-sequel type deal to a Romero zombie movie. George A Romero and John A Russo created the Zombie genre as we know it with Night of the Living Dead in 1968. They co-wrote the initial film, then split, each wanting to continue the series on their own. The decision was reached that they would each carry out their own series with Romero having the “Dead” series and Russo having the “Living Dead” series - so this film is technically a sequel to Night of the Living Dead. Though Romero’s sequels are by far the more famous films, The Return of the Living Dead is f---king great. It moved away from the seriousness and adopted a comedic tone that made this movie ridiculously fun. The Return of the Living Dead is very funny and creative, has great characters, and some of my favorite quotes from any movie. Every single zombie in this film has personality in the way they are designed. With most of them, you can tell who they were before they died and even what they were doing when they died for some of them. The zombies also talk and this is the film started the notion that zombies only eat. The effects in this film are incredible, with some of my favorite special effects in all of cinema are found in this movie. This is one that isn’t as famous as some of the others on this list so definitely seek it out if you haven’t seen it.
George A Romero’s third entry into the “Dead” series is the last true quality entry. Land of the Dead isn’t bad at all but Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead? Forget about them. Day of the Dead is a thoughtful furthering of the ideas present in the previous installments. Day of the Dead examines zombies in a scientific way. It is fascinating to see characters evaluate the biology of a creature that doesn't actually exist. The gore and special effects in this movie are unfathomably good. Legendary effects and makeup artist Tom Savini has said that he is most proud of his work on this film. The majority of the effects come into play in the last act of the movie. I have to admit that the first time I saw Day of the Dead many years ago, I thought it was just okay. On a second watch, I absolutely loved it. The cast is a little mixed, the main girl isn’t very good, but Captain Rhodes is awesome and spoiler alert, he dies one of the best zombie deaths, ever.
The zombie comedy to end all. Shaun of the Dead is the first film in the Cornetto trilogy, the other two entries being Hot Fuzz and The World’s End. The entire trilogy is excellent. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are one of the all time greatest comedy duos - and them teaming up with Edgar Wright behind the camera is a perfect collaborative force. This film is hilarious and all of the drama is effective. The story is tight, the zombie effects are great and even the actual horror elements play well alongside the comedy. A sense of doom genuinely comes across amidst all the humor. Edgar Wright’s direction is stylish and perfect balances the many tones and homages within the film.
Okay, I know I said Shaun of the Dead was the zombie comedy to end all others, but Dead Alive is a zombie comedy that I had to place higher. The two films are extremely different when it comes to style and even the type of comedy. Much of Dead Alive’s humor comes from its absurdism and excess, and even some shock humor, which generally I detest, but here it works 'shock' ingly well. Dead Alive was made by Peter Jackson. While I can’t say that it’s his best film, I will say that it's my overall favorite work directed by him. Dead Alive is hilarious from start to finish and is a strong contender for the goriest film ever made. There are so many endlessly memorable scenes from the kung fu priest to the scene where our hero walks through a horde of zombies with a lawnmower.
With 28 Days Later, Danny Boyle and Alex Garland created a new breed of zombie (and yes, they aren’t technically zombies, they’re infected with rage, but that’s kind of dumb, they are zombies). 28 Days Later created the fast zombie, a simple change from the previous shambling type of zombie that made a big difference. The fast zombie was popular, and honestly, not many films beyond 28 Days Later did the 'fast zombie' well. 28 Days Later is the most intense zombie movie. I don’t know if any zombie movies are actually scary, but 28 Days Later comes the closest. The action is brutal, and the shitty digital video look of the film while objectively ugly looking, only adds to the film. The look works perfectly for the story being told. 28 Days Later has the most fully realized vision of the apocalypse in any zombie movie. In my opinion, the opening with Cillian Murphy’s character wandering around an empty London is a scene that will be remembered throughout film history.
And the best zombie film of all time is… Dawn of the Dead, the original one. Dawn of the Dead is hands down the best zombie film. The remake made this list too, as well as the sequel, and the fake sequel, and the alternate sequel. Dawn of the Dead is quite possibly the most important film in the evolution of Horror cinema. It was revolutionary in more ways than one, including the still incredible special effects pioneered by Tom Savini. The story is great and the characters are fantastic. Watching Dawn of the Dead is like getting to hang out with old friends again. Peter and Roger are so much fun, and spoiler alert, Roger’s death is extremely affecting. I was genuinely saddened. This is another film where the individual zombies are as memorable as the numerous kill scenes. I could talk about Dawn of the Dead all day, I really love this movie and its without a doubt my favorite zombie movie, and for my money, the best.