From Atom to The Dead Next Door, Low-Budget Zombie Movies Kill!

Anyone can make a zombie movie. All you need is some buddies, a camera and a few gallons of fake blood. An idea or two helps, and a little talent can go a long way, but plenty of these low-to-no-budget backyard zombie epics get made without either. Sometimes — very rarely, if we're being honest — the movies are great. Mostly they're terrible (so, so terrible). But much like the zombies they depict, these DIY living dead flicks continue to shamble out in seemingly endless waves.

Partly, this is due to ease of making them. Got a bunch of friends, some of whom are willing to smear fake blood and maybe a little pancake makeup on their faces? Bingo, there's your cast. Are there some woods, maybe a dilapidated warehouse near you? There's your location! You don't even really need a script — I'm pretty certain at least a third of the homemade zombie movies I've seen were made by the director telling the cast, "Okay, you guys are the survivors, you're trapped here. You guys are the zombies, you try to get them. Go!" and filming the results.

What makes them interesting, though, is the passion behind them. When I say it’s “easy” to make one, I mean in comparison to, say, a nuanced thriller about a murder that takes place on a train. That's a hard movie to make; a bunch of guys trapped by a bunch of zombies is a much easier movie to make. But you still have to shoot the damn thing, and edit it and do the 10,000 other things that go into making a movie. You don’t do all that without a burning need to express yourself through the medium of the walking dead.

If passion were enough, all these films would be great — and that clearly isn’t the case. No, to set yourself apart from the hungry, tireless pack of undead films out there, you need those things I said weren’t required to make the movie — talent and ideas. Take that passion, some talent and a few sweet ideas, and you’re on your way to making something like The Dead Next Door, one of the original DIY dead guy epics. It’s got so many ideas and so much passion it made my original list of the ten best zombie movies ever, and it’s still going so strong after more than 25 years that it’s getting a Blu Ray release this fall.

Closer to home, you can see what a little talent and a lot of ideas and maybe way too much passion can make with Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer, which is getting its DVD release tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse. Filmmakers Richard Taylor and Zack Beins have created what is basically an homage to every Troma film ever. In other words, it’s dumb, crude, thoroughly offensive and cheap-looking throughout. It’s also undeniably entertaining, at least for fans of that bizarre, juvenile Troma sensibility. For everyone else, it’s probably just offensive and tiresome, but where else can you see a movie about a guy who kills zombies with a bowling ball?

The zombie genre wouldn’t be the same without the wealth of no-name, cheaply made zombie shlock that fills the bottom third or so (okay, maybe it’s more like half) of the barrel. It’s a testament to the passion felt for dead people who want to eat the living, and a fascinating document of the bad ideas, bad haircuts and horrible execution people pour into a film when they have no one to answer to but their own imagination and ambition. If you love zombies, or independent cinema, or just watching people sink their life savings into the worst thing you’ve ever seen, make sure you do your part by seeing a few of them, if not a few hundred. 

See Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer at 7 p.m. Thursday, September 17 at the Alamo Drafthouse. Tickets are $10.75. For tickets and additional info, visit the Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer DVD Release Party page.

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