It is time again to celebrate the scary season with some top ten lists of favorite spooky things. Last year I did my 10 Favorite Horror Movies and this year I am going to narrow the focus down a bit and list my favorite zombie movies. Now before we get into this, some guidelines for the list and some caveats.
I generated this list from a master of over 30 movies I have seen and liked enough to mention. This is not a list of objective best Zombie movies. This is a list of my favorites. I chose based on some loose personal criteria such as how often I rewatch them, the initial impact they had on me, how much fun they are and just how generally cool I think they are. Rarely does the criteria include anything like ‘scariest.’ People have strong opinions on zombie movies and this list shouldn’t be looked at as a definitive list of the best zombie movies ever. These are just my favorites and I will tell you why in the descriptions. When you inevitably disagree, that is cool. Share your lists in the comments so we can have a fun discussion about zombie movies. What isn’t cool is being a shithead or making personal attacks because we disagree about zombie movies so don’t do that. Also, as always, my opinion on zombie movies does not inform my sexual orientation or the number of times that I have had sex nor the number of partners. So now that I have brought down the mood lets get to the list. I have included posters and trailers when available.
10. Dead and Buried (1981)
Written by Dan O’Bannon and Robert Shusett, writers of Alien, Dead and Buried is a little known thriller about a coastal town whose residents don’t stay dead. It isn’t a typical zombie movie but it has impressive effects for the time and a creepy story that has a bit of Lovecraftian flavor thrown in. I saw this a couple of years ago for the first time in a local horror festival and in a festival of mostly cheesy B-horror movies, Dead and Buried was impressive.
9. Serpent and the Rainbow (1989)
Another non-traditional zombie movie, Wes Craven’s Serpent and the Rainbow is a creepy film about an anthropologist (Bill Pullman) who goes to Haiti to investigate claims of a drug that is apparently turning people into zombies. Against the backdrop of voodoo and revolution, Pullman’s character finds himself in a surreal adventure that doesn’t turn out very well. I saw this as a kid and it left a real impression on me. It isn’t exactly a horror movie but it is very creepy and sticks with you long after you see it.
8. Dead Snow(2009)
A bunch of friends on a ski trip who run afoul of unfrozen Nazi zombies? Yes please. This Norwegian zombie film is as much comedy as it is horror movie and it is just about as funny as it is gory and graphic. The kills are always creative and the action is over the top and ridiculous which puts the tone right where it should be. This isn’t for everyone’s taste but given I am a fan of mixing horror and comedy, this is right up my alley. Also: Nazi zombies.
7. My Boyfriend’s Back (1993)
Speaking of comedy, My Boyfriend’s Back is one of my favorites about a high school student (Andrew Lowery) who is killed saving the girl he loves (Traci Lind) during a convenience store robbery. Thinking he is dying, she tells him he can take her to prom which provides powerful incentive to come back as a zombie. Directed by Christopher Guest staple Bob Balaban, this movie is incredibly off kilter and has great dialogue and delivery. When Johnny shows back up to his house after rising from the grave his parents take it in stride in the most matter of fact sort of way. An early and awesome performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman is a highlight and leads to my favorite lines in the movie ‘Your son killed and ate my boy today. I’d like to have a word with him.’ The comedy here is dry and matter of fact and I love it top to bottom. Also check out an early performance by Matthew Fox. Sadly, I could not find a trailer but you can watch the whole movie on youtube…
6. Dead Alive (Braindead) (1992)
There are a lot of comedy heavy movies on this list and Dead Alive is no exception. Directed and Co-written by Peter Jackson, Dead Alive is a fairly insane zombie movie about a guy whose mom turns into a zombie after being bitten by a rat monkey. Dead Alive redefines over the top with incredible gore effects, amazing kills and a kung fu priest who completely ruins zombie shit. ‘I kick ass in the name of the Lord’ is pretty hard to beat. It isn’t all played for laughs though and Dead Alive also features some genuinely disturbing moments that will make your skin crawl. This is a complete package that makes me wish that Peter Jackson still made movies like this.
5. Planet Terror(2007)
Robert Rodriguez’s contribution to the Grindhouse double feature, Planet Terror crams a ridiculous amount of material into its 105 minute running time and all of it is awesome. The cast is incredible, the effects are awesome, the action is absolutely ridiculous in the best way possible, the gore is insane and Rose McGowan has a machine gun leg. Like most of the films on the list, there is a lot of comedy here but there is also a fair amount of horrifying and disturbing material. This is one of the more complete packages on the list but it might be too silly or too fucked up for some audiences. If you are a fan of Robert Rodriguez there is almost no question you will dig this movie.
Another zombie comedy, Zombieland is a fairly simple story of survivors travelling across country to try to find somewhere safe. There is some real drama here but mostly it is an excuse to watch Woody Harrelson be a complete and hilarious badass. Directed with exceptional (and deceptive if his follow ups are an indication) skill by Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland is a movie I can watch over and over again and I just don’t get tired of it. As mentioned, there are some genuine and tender moments here but the comedy is the star of the show and it is very funny.
3. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Yeah, okay I know this is sacrilege to put this on the list and not Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later but I dug this one more and think it is more fun than the excellent but excessively bleak original. This a more frantic and driving film as the characters have very little time to slow down as they are being doggedly pursued and the early twist of the supposed protagonist being quickly turned into the antagonist really threw me for a loop and upped the stakes quite a bit. Again, this is to say that I don’t love the first film but I was surprised by how effective this one is and it tends to be thrown aside as nothing more than a cash grab. A great performance by Robert Carlyle grounds the film and excellent support by Rose Byrne, Jeremy Renner, Harold Perrineau and Idris Elba rounds it out. Truly a great follow up that delivers excellent action, gore and more than a little drama.
2.Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Another potentially controversial pick is the James Gunn written and Zack Snyder directed remake of George Romero’s classic indictment of consumerism. I am not saying that this is necessarily the better version of this movie but it is the one I prefer. I wasn’t really sold on the change from slow to fast zombies and it gets away from the social commentary of the original but pound for pound in terms of horror, gore and straight disturbing shit, the remake is the one I like best. This has become my go-to zombie movie when I am in the mood and I think it does an amazing job. Pretty much all the elements are solid here from the great cast to the dramatic story beats, real tension and the incredible soundtrack this movie is probably the best argument available that Zack Snyder is a talented director even if most of the credit tends to go to James Gunn for the script. Hate if you want but Dawn of the Dead is a rare remake that improves on the original.
1. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Probably the best zombie comedy ever, Shaun of the Dead pulls off something really cool which is that it casts a romantic comedy into a zombie onslaught and pulls it off. One of the reasons this works, aside from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wight being goddamn brilliant, is because the zombie material is played pretty straight and all the comedy stems from the romantic aspects of the film or the moments when characters can’t get over their own petty bullshit even in the face of certain undeath. There is a liberal helping of social commentary in this one too and it manages some pretty impressive effects that one might not expect for a comedy. There are even some brutally emotional moments to be found here intercut between more flashes of comedy. Shaun of the Dead truly has it all and there is never a time when I am not in the mood for this one.
Alright so there it is. I know there are some much loved classics left off and rest assured I love them too but these are my favorites. Once again if you want to debate, do so in the comments below and share your list of your favorite zombie movies just please try to stay classy guys.