I’ve just finished watching thirty zombie movies in a thirty-day span of time, and that’s the key thing I’ve learned. Whether because of a voodoo curse or radiation from space, a man-made virus or an alien parasite, we are all zombies in waiting. That’s why zombie movies are so potent – their horror and their capacity for social commentary spring from this one, basic truth.
So why do I love these movies so much? In a lot of ways, it makes no sense. I’m a pretty picky movie-watcher, yet many of them are downright cheesy and relatively poorly made. The acting is usually bad, the direction is frequently shaky, the writing only rarely rises above the level of mediocre competency (if it even makes it there), and the plots tend to be relatively formulaic. Yet the vast majority of these movies were able to transcend their limitations, sometimes to brilliant effect. Not only did they deliver a genuine sense of horror, loneliness and hopelessness, many of them tackled big issues such as racism, class warfare, rampant greed and consumerism, segregation, alienation and even mother issues. Not to mention, they managed to do this while working in at least one disembowelment per film!
When I started my thirty-day endeavor, I liked zombie movies a lot. I guess that’s obvious, or I wouldn’t have been willing to try to watch one every day for an entire month. And after thirty movies in thirty days, I like them more – hell, I probably qualify as a full-blown fanatic now. I even watched an extra zombie movie on the thirtieth day because the last one didn’t live up to my expectations.
Other than my newly invigorated taste for the genre, I suffered no ill effects. I had a couple of weird zombie dreams, but I’ve been having recurring zombie dreams since I was an adolescent – which may be what drew me to the zombies so strongly in the first place. I didn’t suddenly hunger for human flesh, or start believing the people around me were the walking dead. I never once cried for my mommy.
I realize that not everyone will share my love of the walking dead, but if you're curious, here are a few tips on what to see, what to avoid -- and which zombie movies are just bat-shit insane.
Five Zombie Movies Everyone Should See George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978): This is a genuine classic, and the best of Romero’s original trilogy. It deals with heavy social issues with a relatively high degree of intelligence, plus features some really great, if somewhat unrealistic, gore scenes. George Romero’s Diary of the Dead (2007): I like this almost as much, possibly even more than Dawn. Blasphemy, I know. But it is a thought-provoking zombie movie for the post-9/11 information age society we live in, and a great start to what could be a new series of films. Dead Alive (1992): Before Peter Jackson made those hobbit movies, he made this bizarre, disturbing and funny as hell zombie gorefest comedy. It is the goriest movie I saw all month by a long shot. Several of the movies had gore that was more convincing and oogier, but this one took the cake with the sheer volume of gore it contained. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988): I didn’t actually watch this one this month, but it’s a classic that I’ve liked for a long time. It’s based on the true story of an anthropologist who goes to research voodoo rites, and it is one of the creepiest movies ever made. Shaun of the Dead (2004): Showing just how versatile the genre is, this movie blends a buddy pic, a romantic comedy and a straight-up zombie film into one delicious whole. It’s probably the easiest introduction to zombie cinema for the uninitiated and/or squeamish.
Five Zombie Movies to Avoid at All Cost Zombie Night (2003): There is no end to the problems this movie suffers. It was shot on video in a semi-abandoned office park, featured the worst “acting” I have ever seen (and that includes my daughter’s grade school plays), and made less than no sense. I wouldn’t watch this again unless someone paid me to – and they’d have to pay me quite a bit. Automaton Transfusion (2006): See above, but a notch better. But keep in mind that better than the worst thing I’ve ever seen is pretty fucking bad. It did have a sweet scene where a zombie punched into a woman’s uterus and pulled out her baby, but that in no way justified sitting through this turkey - maybe you can find that scene on YouTube. Dead and Deader (2006): I hated this movie with everything in my being. Dean Cain, a bunch of other actors you’ll vaguely recognize and the least coherent direction I’ve ever witnessed. Seriously, I think everyone involved with the direction and editing of this was lost within the depths of a months-long cough-syrup binge. The Plague (2006): This has several strikes against it. One, it is only nominally a zombie movie. Two, it has James Van Der Beek. Three, despite the obvious money spent making it, it is as bad as most of the direct-to-video trash shot by enthusiastic but brain-damaged amateurs. It almost killed me to sit through this entire turd. Outpost (2008): I feel almost bad putting this one here, since it was merely terrible, not horrifically painful. But it is still a piece of crap, so here it shall stay.
Bonus Points for Bat-Shit Insanity Stacy (2001): This was a weird Japanese movie about a plague that’s killing all the teenage girls of the world and resurrecting them as zombies. Incredibly strange and probably difficult for most to get through, but really good in many ways. The Dead Next Door (1988): A fine example of a zombie movie far greater than the sum of its parts. This is pure, grade-Z schlock, but on an epic scale. It chronicles the experience of an elite zombie killing unit. And it’s shot on super-8 film and features some of the most amazing mullets I have ever seen. It’s also made of awesome. Days of Darkness (2007): This one made my head spin. It succeeded by piling insanity upon insanity until it reached a plateau of … something. Not goodness, but something. It’s worth seeing if only for the experience of continually asking “How much weirder can this get?” -- only to have the question answered seconds later in a way far weirder than you could have imagined.
Here’s the list of movies I watched, organized in the order I watched them. The numbers beside them are a rough rank of how much I liked the movie, in comparison to the others on the list. -- Cory Casciato
Diary of the Dead 1 Shaun of the Dead 6 Outpost 27 Undead 19 The Quick and the Undead 25 Planet Terror 4 Zombie Night 31 Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane 12 Last Man on Earth 8 Zombies Anonymous 13 Dawn of the Dead (remake) 9 Dawn of the Dead (original) 2 I Am Omega 26 Automaton Transfusion 29 Undead or Alive 22 Night of the Dead: Leben Tod 20 The Plague 28 Return of the Living Dead 5 28 Weeks Later 24 Days of Darkness 18 Day of the Dead 15 Stacy 10 Boy Eats Girl 14 Dead Heist 23 Dead and Deader 30 Zombie 7 Slither 17 The Dead Next Door 11 I Zombie 21 Land of the Dead 16 Dead Alive 3
Image at top of post from the movie Zombie, by Lucio Fulci