Last Halloween I watched all the films featuring the horror legends of Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, I recorded their kill counts as well as doing a face off competition to decide who was the ultimate movie villain of the three legends with Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th Movies being the overall winner. You can see my blood-soaked venture here.
This year I went for a test of endurance, my plan was to watch as many Zombie movies consecutively until sleep deprivation turned me into something closely resembling a Zombie. I had 20 films lined up for the experiment and managed to get through 10 films over approximately 19 hours from 8pm to 3pm the following day. To add an obstacle to my challenge I did a full days work , waking up at 6am so in total I was awake for around a ridiculous 39 straight hours and I’m happy to say I succeeded in reaching a Zombie like quality that would have got me cast as a brain eating, blood thirsty walking dead in a Romero movie. I was at times imagining noises from the films I was watching were coming from outside my house and actually went to investigate on one occasion, I was talking in broken English and forgetting simple words when talking to my wife, who also took part for a respectable 7 hours of the challenge, and if I walked the streets towards the end I would no doubt have been dragging my feet and walking in a Zombie like fashion searching for meat (brains) and would have deservedly received a head shot from a shotgun from someone who has read the Zombie Survival guide and noticed the signs.
Despite the extreme tiredness and slightly delusional state I achieved, the experience was fantastic as I got to watch some very entertaining Zombie movies. Some were funny, some were action packed, some were incredibly insane but all were gloriously gore filled with the Zombie enemy a wonderfully utilized element of the same basic story, The Dead start coming back to life and survivors struggle to stay alive.
After watching the 10 films for this experiment and with a well experienced history of watching Zombie films, it’s clear to now say that Zombie movies are my favourite horror genre and my collection will now grow especially for some eye catching films I failed to see. However there is a danger that it’s becoming a saturated market, when doing my research into Zombie films you start to notice a lot of poorly made films with some tired story lines like Resident Evil or crappy remakes or quasi-sequels to Romero’s Zombie movies, but every now and again a new classic is born and that’s what keeps me watching. A thing I’m becoming a fan of is when a Zombie film completely ignores the origin of the virus and ploughs straight into the story letting you just accept it’s the problem and let the walking dead take centre stage.
There is no doubt that the Zombie monster has grown into a very popular product to market as it has spawned a very cool looking TV series called the Walking Dead which is based on the comic of same name, which is starting soon and has already gained excellent reviews. Developed by the brilliant Frank Darabont, who directed the stunning horror film ‘The Mist’ and wonderful Shawshank Redemption, it really does look a wonderful prospect. The trailer hints at something very traditional yet a modern take and extremely exciting, I cannot wait to get my Zombie fix in series form.
There are also a number of excellent Zombie video games to get your own fix for killing Zombies with the legendary Resident Evil games that produced some of the first video games scares in some genuinely terrifying moments (dogs through windows anyone?), there is also the stunning Left4Dead game on the PC which was a similar experience to taking part in the worlds of Dawn of the Dead remake or 28 days later where you fight swarms of Zombies, it’s a magnificent character to utilize and that’s because the Zombie is probably the most exhilarating when running at full pace.
Zombies have also infected the written word with some wonderful books on the shelves with my picks being World War Z (Screen rights with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment), The excellent Zombie Survival guide, Stephen King’s Cell, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Handling of the Undead which is by the writer of Let the Right One In and is brilliant. What ever format Zombies are in I’ll probably end up buying it.
Film No. 1 – Shaun of the Dead
Widely regarded as one of the best Zombie films ever made, Shaun of the Dead was definitely the standout movie in terms of storyline, strong characters, humour, gore and following the traditional Zombie rules. The story of Shaun trying to win back his girlfriend and get his life in order during the background story of a Zombie Apocalypse is perfect and wonderfully handled by director Edgar Wright and the excellent comedy duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.
What I love about Shaun of the Dead is the subtle hints of the Zombie rising going on around Shaun as he struggles with his life. The quick glimpses at news stories, the background characters showing signs of illness and the oblivious nature of Shaun and Ed’s friendship as the world is falling apart around them with a clear Zombie problem occurring is exceptional and very original in Zombie story telling. This is until a Zombie turns up in their garden which brings them into the reality of the situation and they enter into the world of removing the head or destroying the brain to stay alive. As they journey to their idea of a safe place, the Winchester pub, stopping off to save Shaun’s mum and his now ex girlfriend, they bring us some of the funniest Zombie moments put on screen with killing to the music of Queen, using a swing ball as a weapon, pretending to be a Zombie to get past them and killing them with the British weapon of choice, a cricket bat.
There are some emotional moments where friends and family get turned into Zombies and the dilemma of having to kill the ones you love to stay alive is handled very well and quite emotionally but are instantly followed up with a joke and it all comes together wonderfully. I never get bored of seeing Shaun of the Dead and every time I see it I notice something new, it’s a wonderful example of blending horror and comedy and its probably one of the best examples and one of the most fun you can have watching a Zombie film.
Film No. 2 – Return of the Living Dead
Return of the Living Dead is one of my oldest memories of watching Zombie films. The acting is at times appalling and the story is as generic as they come but there is something about it that endears itself to me and it continues to be one of my favourite ever Zombie movies. The reason I love it so much is partly down to the two main characters the story is evolved around called Frank and Freddy, played with the most comical idiocracy and over enthusiasm by the wonderful James Karen and Thron Mathews (who coincidentally brought Jason Voorhees back to life into as a supernatural killing machine Zombie in Friday 13th 6: Jason Lives).
Whilst working in a medical supply warehouse they accidentally open a government barrel containing mummified remains from a U.S. army experiment and release a gas that makes dead things come back to life, infecting themselves in the process and also releasing a Zombie who famously coined the word “BRAINS!” as the staple diet of Zombies.
As things start to come back to life Frank, Freddy and their boss Burt kill a reanimated corpse and incinerate it to destroy it but as the smoke reaches the clouds it starts to rain bringing the toxic substance back to earth and conveniently onto the local cemetery bringing the dead back to life. At the same time some punk gang are nearby and along with Frank, Freddy, Burt and a local mortician called Ernie (the brilliant Don Calfa) they spend the night trying to survive the Zombie invasion.
The thing that makes these Zombies different from the similar Zombie movies is their intelligence and pace. They run like maniacs doing rugby tackles on fleeing victims and also get on the police radio to say “Send more cops” to keep the food source coming, it’s ridiculous but very, very funny and works for the alternative Zombie film.
The film has nice references to Romero’s Night of Living Dead and is a wonderful partner to the classic 60’s movie. The characters never take things too seriously and the gore effects range from graphic to dated but either way it’s an entertaining ride with a brilliant ending. Return of the Living Dead was followed by a similar and equally enjoyable sequel staring the brilliant James Karen and Thron Mathews again in similar roles and a third part which was failed to deliver as many laughs but added more gore which was a bonus.
Two films down and things were are going very well.
Film No. 3 – La Horde
La Horde is a Zombie film from the French with a twist, it’s marketed as a Zombie Gangster movie with a tagline of Die Hard meets 28 days later. It offers something a little different from a majority of Zombie movies I’ve seen although it ends up being chaotic and cliched, it still offered a bit of fun and some decent action.
The film is about a group of cops who go out on a covert mission to get revenge on a gang of criminals who killed their partner. The gang have taken over a tower block and when the cops storm the block they eventually get captured and are all about to be executed. Things then start to take a nasty turn when one of their already executed colleagues comes back to life and kills a few bad guys before having his head blown off. Through all the confusion with the unexplained dead coming back to life the cops and criminals team up in an uneasy partnership and fight to stay alive in the claustrophobic and run down tower block.
The film has some decent characters, particularly the handlebar moustached Ouessem (Jean-Pierre Martins) who has the greatest scene in the film as he faces off against hundreds of Zombies in a fight to the death, it’s visually stunning and very well filmed giving a brilliant view of the legions of undead surrounding a car as Ouessem stands on top with guns and a big machete, it’s worth the price of the DVD alone.
There is also an elderly killing machine who eventually tags along with the survivors who picks up a huge machine gun along the way and proceeds to kill hundreds of Zombies which adds a fun side to the tension of the movie. The heart of the story though is the relationship between the cops and the criminals and as they struggle to stay alive the tension between the two groups starts to divide there own factions and right up to the pretty decent ending you are kept guessing if they can survive each other let alone the blood thirsty Zombies.
There was one moment I really liked when our survivors reach the top of the tower block and witness the change in the world from the one they entered the block in. The Paris landscape has changed with flames and destruction but that is all we see as they leave the area intent on surviving this ordeal first. La Horde has some strange moments as individual characters have random hand to hand fights with numerous Zombies, i wasn’t sure if it was fun or stupid as they punch kick and headbutt the bloodthirsty undead but it was original which can’t be bad and as it was getting late it was a much needed thrill to keep me alert for the coming early hours.
La Horde missed an opportunity to explore the friend and foe relationship under extreme stress of survival, characters had little emotional backstory and you don’t really distinguish between who are the good or bad guys from the start making caring for who lives or dies difficult. La Horde wasn’t brilliant but it is a great entry into the Zombie movie genre.
Film No. 4 – Braindead
Braindead is easily the most gory movie from the films I watched during the course of the challenge; with some of the greatest, most imaginative and graphic kills, Braindead stands top of the list of Zombie movies if you want to see some gore. The real positive to Braindead is that it’s not just a gory film, it has a wonderfully entertaining story and a brilliant sense of humour to go with the splattering blood.
Directed and written by team Peter Jackson, it shows early signs of what was to come from Jackson with use of miniature sets, false perspective shots and on a shoestring budget shot in New Zealand. It’s an absolute triumph from start to finish.
The story is about mothers boy Lionel Cosgrove who falls in love with local shop girl Paquita. During a date to the Zoo Lionel’s stalking mother is bitten by disease carrying Sumatran rat-monkey, she becomes ill and eventually dies and becomes a Zombie. This is where the film takes a different turn from the normal Zombie movie as Lionel tries to clear up the mess his mother leaves behind after she leaves her grave killing a nurse, a martial arts trained vicar and a rebellious gang member and turning them into Zombies. He takes them all back to his home and tries to keep them quiet so they don’t kill anyone else, he has them sitting round a table feeding them dinner, tries to stop Nurse McTavish and Father McGruder from making love and tries to stop Paquita and his Uncle Les from finding out his new secret of keeping Zombies in his basement.
Lionel’s uncle finds out he has his mother’s body in the basement and threatens to expose him unless he gives him his inheritance, Lionel agrees and Les celebrates by having a huge house party. Not long afterwards – the inevitable happens and the Zombies escape the basement to turn everyone into Zombies in some of the most brilliantly devised gory ways. It’s down to Lionel to rescue Paquita and to kill the Zombies, mainly with a lawnmower, and to then face his demonised mother. What a great film!
There are so many hilarious quotable lines and scenes from the film which is the reason why it’s so well regarded by so many, the picks being “Your Mother ate my dog”, “Well not all of it”, or when Lionel takes the fantastic Zombie offspring baby of the nurse and the vicar to the park and proceeds to fight with it aggressively before saying “Hyperactive child” to the other horrified onlooking parents. The fantastic script assists the film’s incredibly convincing special effects, created by a brilliant team that includes Richard Taylor who went onto do some stunning work in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
There can be only one absolute favourite moment from Braindead and it’s included in the below montage. Father McGruder gives the Zombies a lesson as he “Kicks arse for the Lord” showing some martial art skills to decapitate and dismember the Zombie attackers, it’s classic Braindead and one of my favourite scenes from this whole event.
Film No. 5 – Wild Zero
The Zombie movie that stole the night for me. Wild Zero is the most insane, Rock’n’Roll, visually incredible and loud Zombie film ever made, I have never seen or heard anything like it and probably wont for a long time to come.
The film is hard to fully explain, especially from someone who by the time of watching this had spent about 24 hours awake. From what I understand it was about a wannabe Rock star called Ace whose on his way to see his favourite (and now one of mine) band’s latest gig, the band is real life garage punk rock band Guitar Wolf. Ace gets caught up in a bloody dispute between Guitar Wolf and the manager of the club called ‘The Captain’ (the best character of the film) who loses two fingers in the hilarious argument and swears revenge.
For some reason I’m not quite sure of, Ace becomes blood brothers with lead singer Guitar Wolf and is given a whistle he can blow to call on Guitar Wolf and his band, Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf when in danger. It’s insane isn’t it? It gets better.
The next day Aliens invade Earth and start to turn people into Zombies whilst Ace is travelling to the next Guitar Wolf gig where on route he meets a girl called Tobio who he saves, falls in love with who then turns out to be a guy. The Captain is heading to the gig to get revenge for his missing fingers whilst Guitar Wolf are completely Rocking out. Other characters get involved in the story but I kind of lost track of who they all were but they are no less enjoyable with nakedness, comedy and complete insanity oozing from every one of them despite how bizarre they were.
The story plays out with Zombie fights, cheap but perfectly suiting special fx and a conclusion between Guitar Wolf and the Captain that is just incredible. Never have I seen anything like it as explosions, guitars, power chords and super powers start filling the screen to the awesome music (LOUD) from Guitar Wolf. You’re left in awe and you’re left completely dumbstruck by a truly original and completely bonkers film that is so unique it just has to be seen.
Wild Zero is a one of a kind Zombie film and will now always hold a place in my collection. The story is crazy but the way the cast deliver lines and perform against each other in an almost comic book fashion is an utter joy to watch.
Film No. 6 – Night of Living Dead
“They’re coming to get you Barbara”.
The classic Zombie film from Romero and the film that set the standard for every Zombie film to proceed it. Romero delivers a brilliant Zombie movie that is atmospheric, creepy and disturbing and, for a 1968 film, considered extremely explicit. It was one of the first horror films to feature graphic kills and realistic gore and it works wonderfully.
The film follows Ben (Duane Jones) as the lead character, Barbra (Judith O’Dea) who flees to a isolated house after being chased by a crazy man in a cemetery and five others initially hidden in the basement of the house. They attempt to survive the night while the house is being attacked by the mysterious Zombies. As with many of the best Zombie movies the story is strengthened by the excellent relationship that develops between the survivors rather than with giving cheap kills and scares by the hands of the walking dead. The characters fight and debate about the best place to stay alive and doubts grow about Ben’s motives and actions which bring the film to a horrible conclusion that never fails to shock.
There is something incredibly scary about the film and a lot of that comes down to the grainy black and white 35mm film, it adds a real sense of fear that mixes perfectly with the thought provoking situation. Duane Jones is a real standout as the lead character, his actions are never really that of a hero especially when he starts hitting Barbara or killing his fellow lodgers in acts of survival but nevertheless he is someone you can really get behind. His journey is a shocking one and has gone down in movie history as one of the most instantly recognizable.
The film is simple, cheaply made for just over $100,000 and superbly carried off by Romero. it’s a movie that I would call one of the most influential horror movies ever made and one that is just pure Zombie heaven.
Film No. 7 – Dawn of the Dead
As the zombie apocalypse continues to take over the world, a gang of survivors flee to a huge shopping mall, sealing the doors and creating a zombie free hideout. The group consists of a TV reporter Fran (Gaylen Ross), Stephen, her helicopter pilot boyfriend (David Emge) and two Zombie SWAT soldiers Peter (Ken Foree) and Roger (Scott Reiniger). They start to make themselves at home in the mall, shooting all the Zombies and making a self contained place to be safe. But the isolation and the realisation that despite having endless access to expensive clothes, money, furniture and food the novelty soon wears thin, as well as there being nothing on TV anymore as the last broadcasts soon disappear they decide it’s time to move on and focus on finding survivors.
George A. Romero’s seminal follow up to Night of the Living Dead is a brilliant biting consumer satire, the focus on the characters rather than the Zombies is an inspired choice as the Zombies are just a background hazard with their blue faces, slow movement and purpose to visit the mall out of habit being a fantastic addition to the storyline. The four survivors all have their own storyline with Fran and Stephen battling their relationship problems, a pregnancy and survival and the two Swat soldiers loving the freedom to kill the walking dead but also become bored of the routine of the Mall and when Roger gets bitten the knowing of what is to come haunts the pairs friendship as Peter will have to pull the trigger to kill his friend.
In the background of the film is the amateur produced TV Broadcasts they watch which debate about how to solve the crisis that dominates the world and the inability of the so called people in charge to do anything about it. It’s a brilliant way to show what is happening outside the Mall and contributes to the emotional downturn of our survivors. Overall Dawn of the Dead is a stunning Zombie movie that despite the dated effects and makeup offers so much in terms of story and satire that it holds up today as strongly as it did in 1978. Romero at his Zombie creating best.
The film delivers one of the best lines of the evening too as Peter tells his friends that ” When there’s no room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth”. It’s one of the most brilliant lines and for me the ultimate explanation of why Zombies walk the earth.
Film No. 8 – Dawn of the Dead (2004)
This is how you do a remake of a classic horror film. Dawn of the Dead by Romero is a classic horror film and Zack Snyder took the concept of the original and made his own movie that stands on its own as a brilliant Zombie movie. Adding bloody fast sprinting Zombies to the location of the mall adds tension and excitement and again the film deals with consumerism and survival with more of an emphasis on action this time round.
The film opens with a brilliant beginning as Nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) arrives home from a strangely busy night with subtle hints of a bigger problem occurring around her. She awakes with her husband to next door’s daughter standing in their room with blood coming from her mouth, the girl suddenly goes for her husband eating him and turning him into a Zombie. Ana flees in a car seeing the panic and destruction around her from a wonderful bird’s eye view tracking shot. She eventually teams up with cop Kenneth (Ving Rhames), and other survivors before heading to the Mall where a majority of the film takes place. Other survivors join the Mall’s safety and together they try to survive fighting off Zombies and taking full advantage of the Mall’s shops and luxuries.
After some of the survivors have to be killed off due to turning and relationships are formed between the nicer characters of the bunch they soon realise they can’t stay in the Mall and they create two armoured vehicles to escape to the docks and sail away to safety. This part of the film is where action takes over in typical Snyder fashion as swarms of Zombies chase the trucks and the crew strive to fight them off having to stop in a heart stopping sequence to save the other vehicle’s passengers amidst the chaos around them and it’s a great moment to pick up the pace from the slow building momentum from the mall.
There are some great moments here. Kenneth plays a game of shoot the famous look-a-like with Andy the gun shop owner from across the road, Kenneth picks a Zombie who looks like a celebrity (Jay Leno) and writes the name on a board and Andy has to find them among the mass of Zombies in the carpark and shoot their head with his sniper rifle. It is morbid and highly entertaining. Dawn of the Dead is definitely an enjoyable movie with a satisfying ending, it has a great mix of action, drama and scares and with a story that works with a strong female lead in Polley a tough male lead in Rhames and a great heroic character by Jake Weber as Michael who forms emotional link with Ana. The special effects are great with the gore very graphic with Zombies being hacked, heads exploded, run over, chainsawed and exploded in superbly realistic fashion.
Film No. 9 – Day of the Dead
I love the opening to Day of the Dead, it has one of my all time favourite movie openings as it merges a wonderful musical theme tune with the on screen action (which was sampled in the Gorillaz song M1A1). It’s the best opening to any of the films here and it always brings a smile to my face as it sets the scene wonderfully.
The world is overrun with Zombies and survivors are limited and it’s down to a group of scientists and soldiers to try and find a cure or to find a method to control them.
This, of course, doesn’t work out successfully as the confined space and tensions amongst each of the factions and the underestimating of the Zombies brings the horde into their secure base and inevitably to their downfall. The part that makes Day of the Dead standout is the ethics of the testing on the Zombies and in particular the iconic Zombie called Bub (played to perfection by Sherman Howard) where tests prove that they can be controlled. It’s an interesting idea that was never fully explored, mainly due to budgeting issues and a script that needed to be rewritten that was far more ambitious than the film delivered, which is a huge shame. Overall the Day of the Dead is one of my favourite Zombie films and one that has been poorly received after the stunning Night and Dawn of the dead films.
The special effects created by horror legend Tom Savini and his team are absolutely stunning and still look good today, using real animal organs to add realism to the zombie killings and the experiments, providing a level of gore you want from a zombie movie. The Zombie experiments are where the biggest impact is made with some wonderful scenes of headless bodies being reanimated and other gruesome autopsy scenes that just look incredible.
The thing lacking from the third installment of Romero’s Zombie movies is humour, or intentional humour. The whole film is very gloomy and claustrophobic set in the underground base with dimly lit corridors with hardly a comic relief character among the survivors, apart from the accidentally funny stereotypical Irish guy who says “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” numerous times with comical aplomb. The Bub scenes are amusing, mainly for its almost slapstick Zombie humour where he learns to use a walkman and enjoy music but apart from that it’s all death, shouting angry words at each other and the walking dead, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
Thoroughly enjoyable and my personal favourite Romero film of the original trilogy.
Film No. 10 – Rec
This was a big surprise Zombie film when it was released and was the scariest of the ten movies I watched by a mile despite my now shattered state.
The film is about a tv documentary crew filming a regular night with the fire department and when they get a call to a local apartment block things start to go very very wrong when the dead start to come back to life and the whole apartment gets quarantined by the police/army to prevent escape. Lucky then that the film crew capture all the events that take place despite being chased by blood thirsty Zombies.
The film is excellently paced with the tension slowly building as the problems grow firstly with the dead coming back to life into very fast running Zombie form and then the survivors having to cope with the quarantine imposed on them by the authorities that produces another source of danger with the shoot on site instructions preventing escape for the troubled group.
The way the Zombies chase the victims in the enclosed building is what adds the scares, the small stairways and narrow corridors of the rooms that are all darkly lit and filled with snarls and loud footsteps is terrifying , wonderfully atmospheric and provides some heart stopping moments which was a real joy to experience. The film reaches a really satisfying ending that explains the source of the problem and delivers one final moment of brown pant entertainment as the lone survivor has only their camera on nightmode and you witness only what they see which is visually one of the most scary horror movie moments i can remember, especially when feeling a bit crazy from sleep deprivation.
The film was sadly quickly remade for the American audience and it was crap, so if you get a chance to see the film make sure you go for Rec and not the remake called Quarantine.