July 31, 2011

My Top Ten Zombie Films

This is the last top ten which I will be doing for a while because I'm beginning to bore myself with doing them. I don't want to become the person who creates "The Top Ten Toenail Clippings in Horror Films" even though I'm sure some of you would get a kick out of it.

I'm dedicating this to one of my most frequent commenters, Zombies Everywhere, whose blog, http://www.zombieseverywhere.org, you should all definitely check out if you love zombies.

Dawn of the Dead (Widescreen Unrated Director's Cut)1. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

"A nurse, a policeman, a young married couple, a salesman, and other survivors of a worldwide plague that is producing aggressive, flesh-eating zombies, take refuge in a mega Midwestern shopping mall."

One of the few occasions where I actually prefer the remake over the original although it is only by a hair's breadth. The contemporary setting and far more gruesome zombie make-up effects just make the film more aesthetically pleasing to me. The characters and plot, however, remain much the same with only a few minor differences here and there.

Dawn of the Dead (Ultimate Edition)2. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

"Following an ever-growing epidemic of zombies that have risen from the dead, two Philadelphia SWAT team members, a traffic reporter, and his television-executive girlfriend seek refuge in a secluded shopping mall."

This sequel to "Night of the Living Dead" is thought by many to be the best zombie movie around. Although very much in the same mould as a lot of other post-apocalyptic fables, the use of zombies as the "nemesis to human kind's Utopian ideals" elevates this way out of general low-brow horror/sci-fi. However, the deep and meaningful messages can soon be forgotten in all the action and excitement for those who don't want to think too much. The low-budget make-up effects are a bit ropey now but it doesn't spoil the film in the slightest.

I Walked with a Zombie / The Body Snatcher3. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

"A young Canadian nurse (Betsy) comes to the West Indies to care for Jessica, the wife of a plantation manager (Paul Holland). Jessica seems to be suffering from a kind of mental paralysis as a result of fever. When she falls in love with Paul, Betsy determines to cure Jessica even if she needs to use a voodoo ceremony, to give Paul what she thinks he wants."

This is the movie which sparked my obsession with the horror genre. Very tame by today's standards but what a great atmosphere and acting. I was lucky enough to find this as a double-feature with "The Body Snatcher" at Big Lots for $3. Jacques Tourneur also directed "Cat People" which is another of my favourite horror films from this era.

Night of the Living Dead4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)

"A group of people hide from bloodthirsty zombies in a farmhouse."

Once considered the greatest horror film of all time, George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" is now looking dated compared to modern gorefests. The low-budget production values, however, still add to a chilling, authentic feel which is not so apparent in the 1990 remake. A computer-coloured version is also available for those who you who don't like black and white... "They're coming to get you, Barbara!"

Re-Animator5. Re-Animator (1985)

"A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus."

Seriously gory and unpleasantly funny. This near masterpiece only loses out because it has been hacked about so much (no pun intended!) by censors on both sides of the Atlantic. What is left is also far from H.P. Lovecraft's original "Herbert West, Re-animator" short story but is nonetheless a classic piece of 1980s horror fare.

The Return of the Living Dead6. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

"When a bumbling pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapours cause the dead to re-animate as they go on a rampage through Louisville, Kentucky seeking their favourite food, brains."

Yet another horror movie which doesn't know whether to go for laughs or scares but delivers both willy-nilly. This is a great zombie movie with a great soundtrack including music by thrash punk band "The Cramps".

Dead Alive7. Braindead (1992)

"A young man's mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. She gets sick and dies, at which time she comes back to life, killing and eating dogs, nurses, friends, and neighbours."

Also known as "Dead Alive", this is a highly original and inventively gruesome New Zealand comedy. There are some great lines and probably the most disgustingly pus-filled scenes ever captured on film. Just when you thought the last scene was the most revolting thing you saw, the one you are watching becomes even nastier! All this is tied up in a '50s style setting with "Wallace and Gromit" style camerawork. But this is no cartoon, it's a live action over the top gorefest of blood and snake-like intestines with gruesome animatronic creatures being hacked to obliteration all over the place by our Norman Bates-like hero. This only misses out on the highest marks because it is a comedy. As charming as it may be, if it was a serious zombie-flick it would have rocked even more and probably would have been banned!

Return of the Living Dead 38. Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

"Colonel Reynolds and his group of government scientists continue their work on re-animating the dead for military use. His son Curt and his girlfriend Julie use Dad's security pass to sneak in and watch the proceedings. Later when father and son have a disagreement, Curt and Julie take off on a motorcycle and Julie is killed in an accident. Grief-stricken, Curt takes her body to the lab and brings her back to life. Curt must help Julie deal with her new existence as military agents and local gang members try to find them."

A really great storyline reminiscent of Wes Craven's "Deadly Friend" and Stuart Gordon's "Re-Animator" in that what is dead should stay dead. Sarah Douglas has to be the most beautiful zombie you've ever seen! Yes, I do like this film mainly because of her.

The Serpent and the Rainbow9. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

"An anthropologist goes to Haiti after hearing rumours about a drug used by black magic practitioners to turn people into zombies."

This was a very ambitious project for Wes Craven and he almost pulled it off. Lots of gratuitous horror for Wes Craven fans but little real investigation into the practice of voodoo almost turn this into yet another run-of-the-mill zombie movie. However, above par performances and a credible almost "Salvador"-style atmosphere make this one of the best zombie films instead.

The Vineyard10. The Vineyard (1989)

"Dr. Elson Po is one of the world's most famous wine grower. He has a magic potion which has kept him handsome and alive during the centuries. However, the magic which rejuvenates him seem to be less and less effective. As a side project he makes movies and invites a group of young, aspiring actors to his island for a party, believing that the young, handsome actress Jezebel can be his new source of life."

There should be enough horror in this film to satisfy anyone but Dr Po's murderous acts are brutish rather than horrific and the zombies are, unfortunately, not very scary. There are quite a few really unpleasant moments but being very much in the magical mould of "Big Trouble in Little China" tends to take the edge off the proceedings. Still, it's certainly different!

Of course, there are absolutely hundreds (if not thousands) of other zombie films—many of which are little more than glorified home videos made by beered-up friends in their back garden and given away for pennies to distributors of no-budget nasties.

Let me know your favourite zombie films below.

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