Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Top Ten Essential Zombie Movies

I saw a Top Ten Essential Movies list recently on a website far more popular than mine that will remain anonymous because their was asinine. What a weird idea for a list – we believe there are more than ten zombie movies that are essential, but we won’t tell you all of them, just these. But, good news: it inspired my own list of the Top Ten Essential Zombie Movies. Enjoy.

#1) The Night of the Living Dead. Made in 1968, it started the zombie craze. It did not invent zombies; they lurked in lore for centuries beforehand. It was not the first to employ all the tropes; even the vampires in Vincent Price’s Last Man on Earth (1964) were essentially zombies. But George Romero’s indy movie was the first essential one, exploding the zombie concept in popular consciousness. They were farm hands, house wives, businessmen, and even your brother. They were slow, nearly brainless, moved in groups, worked in day and night, and were out to eat us. They were the recent dead and, as revealed in a twist near the end, their condition might spread through bites. They overran our society and infiltrated public places, bringing Horror to Washington D.C and your porch. At first an individual, then a tense group, then two tense cooperating groups struggled to survive the onslaught, trapped in a place and then attempting escape. It is nearly every zombie movie ever made, done in ninety-six minutes.

Not #2) Return of the Living Dead. It added that zombies ate brains, directly responding to Night’s essence. It wasn’t essential for anything more than a running joke.

Not #3 & Not #4) 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) allowing zombies to run also did not change their essence. They responded to the essence, making the threat more imminent. All the essence of 28 Days Later is already in Night of the Living Dead; it innovates from there to be its own movie about the genre creature. Both of these are great zombie movies, quite suitable to a Ten Best list, but not suited to an Essential. These are the kinds of movies you see after the essentials and go, “Damn, things get better.”

It’s not #5, it’s actually #2) The next essential zombie to emerge was also a George Romero joint. His 1978 Dawn of the Dead took the zombie essence and added heavy social consciousness. Zombie + Satire. Night of the Living Dead had some cultural awareness, but it had nothing on Dawn. Dawn of the Dead waded into a mall, wielding montages of consumerism, and in the end arguing that the living were more brutal than the undead. When in Robert Kirkman’s superb comic, The Walking Dead, one character proclaims humans to be the monsters, he’s regurgitating Dawn’s essence. Romero firmly wedged himself into that kind of commentary, which pervaded all of his later zombie movies. He never added to the essence again.

Not #6) Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. It’s Not #6 because it’s both not essential and not a movie. I had to give it a shout out after the previous paragraph. It’s great, though, and the teasers for the AMC TV show look cracking. I have this space to waste because, really, there hasn’t been another essential zombie movie since Dawn of the Dead in 1978. Unless you count…

Not #7) Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 was the unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead. It was “unofficial” in a “How is this legal?” way. The European director ripped off Romero’s zombies and fed them to another continent of audiences in resplendent color and gore. It is beloved by Horror aficionados. It is also not essential because gore zombie cinema wasn’t new, gore in European cinema wasn’t new, and much to my chagrin, the Shark Vs. Zombie fight did not start a trend. It was a loving sequel to a movie, paying homage and extending elements that already existed. So again there hasn’t been another essential zombie movie since Dawn of the Dead in 1978. Unless you count…

It’s not #8, it’s actually #3) Shaun of the Dead. So Night of the Living Dead gave us nearly everything, and Dawn of the Dead gave us gore and the director’s opinions. But you know there’s something missing from that tally of the zombie essence: humor. That Shark Vs. Zombie fight from Zombi 2 is hilarious. The Return of the Dead movies also desperately tried to parody the zombie. But for a generation there was humor in the zombie zeitgeist that wasn’t reflected in film, that strain of humor that cooks up “zombie plans” and jokes about how easy it would be to outrun these things. They’re undead, they want to eat us, but at any moment you can snicker at how much less threatening these guys are than a wolfman. Shaun of the Dead crystallized that feeling. The semi-nerdy, semi-slacker backwash generation cast reflects the feeling of the modern zombie-loving audience. Zombies are mindless, but the survivors are morons – and morons you’d like to befriend. They have in-jokes, lead the zombies on distracting chases, and even when one of them gets infected, he’s chained up in a shack to be kept around for game night. It’s still easy to take zombies seriously, but there’s a ridiculous dimension to them as well. With these finally embedded in film you get hilarious things like Zombieland and Tokyo Zombie. Oh, what the Hell.

Not #9 & not # 10) Zombieland and Tokyo Zombie. They’re not essential, but they’re fun. They’re also America and Japan’s response to England’s Shaun of the Dead. Zombieland is obsessed with rules, while Tokyo Zombie is obsessed with jujitsu (and that knowing how to flip a guy makes you invulnerable to biting-based opponents). They are their own movies, just like 28 Days Later and Zombi 2. You may even like them better than the essentials. That doesn’t put them on some essential list, though. I enjoy the Spanish [REC] more than most of the essential zombie films and you don’t see it on this list. You won’t, either, because I’ve carelessly run out of slots.


  1. I love Zombieland, could watch it over and over. Your list was fun, John!

  2. Probably #2 and a 1/2: The Serpent and the Rainbow.

    Just sayin'.

  3. I'm glad "Shaun" is at number 3. I love that film!


  4. Great list, John! I have seen most of these. Shaun of the Dead is probably my favorite, just because it's so damn fun.

    There was a movie I saw when I was a kid called, Night of the Comet. I am not sure if it's actually a zombie movie, but I loved that movie.

    Again, great list!

  5. Zombi flesh eaters is a classic, not least because they repeatedly tell us about zombies all over 'muh tool', what not fulcis 'the beyond' or 'city of the living dead'? I guess no list will please everyone, but i will say that If you haven't already you should check out 'the living dead at Manchester morgue' and 'children shouldn't play with dead things'

  6. Good stuff. I love "Shaun of the Dead." I remember "Night of the Comet" too. It was a good movie.

    21 Days later, not bad.

    Laurel W. (Raven


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