White Zombie (1932) Directed by Victor Halperin
The original undead invader of the American consciousness, White Zombie caused a feverish buzz in its heyday. Set firmly within the roots of Zombie mythology, it weaves the tale of Madeline (Madge Bellamy) and Neil (John Harron), a young couple due to be wed amidst the backdrop of a tumultuous American-occupied Haiti. A jealous plantation owner has designs on Madeline though and consorts with the evil sugar baron Murder Legende (played with characteristic wickedness by Bela Lugosi), scheming to use voodoo magic to turn the beautiful doe-eyed western woman into a willing Zombie slave. White Zombie isnt about flesh eaters, its not about the crumble of society and it isnt set in a dystopian present. Instead it comments on the erosion of free will, likening undead slavery to actual slavery and exploring how much of a person truly remains when denied their autonomy. With ghouls thatd sooner beat you up than eat your guts (providing that was the will of their Voodoo master), this movie is tame as a house-cat by todays standards. Its still essential viewing though, for any who wish to truly comprehend the rise of the dead in Cinema.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) Directed by George A. Romero
Up until now, the Zombie had been macabre sure, even bordering on creepy (if you were thirteen in 1940) but it had never been truly frightening, usually acting as slave to a higher antagonistic power a voodoo master, or alien invader - whatever the case may be. In Night of the Living Dead, Romero gives the ghoul back its free will and instils in it the sole desire to consume the flesh of the living. Suddenly, the Zombie poses a whole new level of conflict. After all if theres no overall antagonist to be defeated, how can they be stopped? Night of the Living Dead weaves the now done-to-death Zombie siege plot, with its characters fortifying a large house against a horde of re-animated corpses. What makes Romeros ghouls so much more terrifying than their predecessors is their unholy bite. Anyone perforated by a zombie in any way is doomed to die and re-animate themselves; every one of us that falls is one more undead assailant. With his masterful story, Romero made one of Cinemas most graceful comments on society; more specifically he indicts mindless consumerism and the dark side of human nature. With his tweaks to the ghoul, he changed the face of the sub-genre forever. One of, if not the most important film to advocate Zombie awesomeness ever.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie a.k.a The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974) Directed by Jorge GrauLet Sleeping Corpses Lie is a curious affair. Its a Spanish/Italian co-production set exclusively in the UK; a tensely slow building mystery set amidst the sleepy British country side. It was originally intended as a spiritual successor to Romeros Night of the Living Dead (almost the same outbreak overseas) but it quickly became its own beast. Instead of some punishment for the sins of humanity, the film prescribes a surprisingly non-supernatural cause for the outbreak: a machine that generates sonic radiation as a pesticide. Oh and it also causes the newly dead to rise and well, you know the drill. When a slew of gruesome murders plague the town of Windermere, a bigoted Inspector (Arthur Kennedy) suspects two outsiders (Ray Lovelock and Christine Galbo) of the deeds. And therein lies the beauty of this movie; its not centring on a Romero style outbreak, but instead a dramatic cat and mouse plot set to the backdrop of the stirring Zombie apocalypse. In fact, for its first two acts youd be forgiven for thinking Let Sleeping Corpses Lie was tame, but give it time and by the end I guarantee youll hit your gore quota. Its a subtly unique picture that values story above all else, thoroughly earning its place this side of the list.
Dawn of the Dead (1978) Directed by George A. Romero
Romeros follow up to Night of the Living Dead was arguably even more amazing. Night of the Living Dead was a hugely important statement undoubtedly, a fresh take on the Zombie that set a whole new stage for Romero (and other pioneers) to play on, but Dawn of the Dead takes that apocalyptic vision and lends it the sort of scale and realism that makes the Zombie holocaust seem like an inevitable future. Weaving a similar Zombie siege plot to Night, Dawn of the Dead pits its characters against an ever growing sea of undead marauders except this time the story takes place within one of Americas churches to consumerism: the shopping mall. Romeros growing discontent with American development gathers new speed, with Dawns characters becoming just as hungry to consume from the luxuries the mall has to offer as the undead flocking toward it are for their flesh. Romero certainly stepped it up a notch with Dawn of the Dead in terms of scale and story and it exists today as his second shining pinnacle of the sub-genre.
Zombie Flesh Eaters a.k.a Zombie (1979) Directed by Lucio Fulci
Zombie Flesh Eaters (also known as Zombi 2 an attempt to fool audiences into thinking it was some follow up to Romeros work) toys with the history of the undead with style and authority. It places the flesh eating ghoul right back where it began, on a relatively unknown tropical island where the locals are convinced that Voodoo is behind the rising of the dead. Theyre far from slaves to be controlled though and rip through the islands inhabitants as viciously as any American counterpart. Fulcis ghouls are no less bitey than Romeros despite their Haitian connection, and Zombie Flesh Eaters manages to deliver some of the most repulsive gore Ive ever seen (how does getting dragged through a wooden door, and having a huge splinter break off in your eyeball sound?). Its not making as profound a statement as previously mentioned movies on the list but then very few Zombie flicks do. What it does do is deliver a haunting, dream-like trip back through time to re-examine the Haitian Voodoo Zombie through Romero-tinted glasses.
Day of the Dead (1985) Directed by George A. Romero
Sadly this is the last of Romeros of the Dead saga that still retains some morsel of its predecessors brilliance. Doubling the urgency of the Zombie siege plot again, Day of the Dead follows one of the last bastions of the American government, a team of scientists and soldiers living in a military bunker. The story not only details their attempts to manufacture some sort of tangible solution for the outbreak, but also their vein attempts to retain their own humanity in the face of a world without accountability. Where Night of the Living Dead looked at consumerism on a domestic level and Dawn of the Dead on a commercial level, Day of the Dead examines the consumption of knowledge and the dark implications that scientific avarice could have on the human race. This is Romeros dystopian vision come to full fruition, with civilised society reduced to meagre pockets of human resistance against a literally endless sea of undead. With these three films forming the main canon saga for many years to come, Romero succeeds here in depicting a world in which our own greed as a species has turned to literally bite us in the ass.
Braindead a.k.a Dead Alive (1992) Directed by Peter Jackson
Before he was Lording the Rings, Peter Jackson was scratching out a name for himself as one of New Zealands primo purveyors of low budget, high-pedigree schlock-horror. Braindead is as corny as it gets, but its such a labour of love that its impossible not to get behind its horror/comedy sensibilities. After a diseased Sumatran rat-monkey bites his mother, Lionel (Timothy Cosgrove) is mortified to witness her die and then return from the dead, hungering for flesh. Despite keeping her locked away, its not long before the whole neighbourhood is also feeling under the weather, to which hilarious devastation ensues. Braindead is to my mind one of the goriest and most uncomfortably squeamish movies ever made; favouring a Raimi-style squishiness that never fails to draw shudders. And if you can sit through the infamous lawnmower assault at the third act climax without being left desensitized and numb, then I salute you.
28 Days Later (2002) Directed by Danny Boyle
Cue the usual: Hey man, these guys arent Zombies, theyre Rage victims. Let me just deconstruct this stance a little: if we hold Zombie purism as the reason these running undead arent Zombies, then Romeros slow-walkers cant be either. The ghoul has developed, leaving its roots behind in Haiti, passing through multiple incarnations before ever settling on human flesh as a motivator. And it's now evolving past even Romeros revolutionary vision. In place is the new fast Zombie prescribed in 28 Days Later: a more aggressive, destructive consumer that better analogises modern society. Boyle kicks Romeros original message up a gear, imbuing it with an updated connotation. One that draws inspiration from the societal causes of our current economic crisis: aggressive, destructive greed. Danny Boyles terrifying account of the Zombie/Rage holocaust achieves more from the sub-genre than most of its modern counterparts. With fantastic performances and some truly dizzying imagery depicting a post-apocalyptic Britain, 28 Days later was a breath of fresh undead air at a time when the Zombie genre had really started to fester.
Shaun of the Dead (2004) Directed by Edgar Wright
Zombieland (2009) Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Boasting one of the genres largest budgets ($23.6 Million whopping by supposed B-movie standards), Zombieland arguably owes its existence to the legwork of recent others. Those who were young, bright-eyed observers while Romero was doing his thing had come to fruition in the late nineties and early noughties, paving the way for a rejuvenation of the sub-genre that relaxed the suits enough to finally finance a Zombie movie of this scale. Zombieland abandons the traditional siege plot and opts instead for a Walking Dead style road story. It follows a group of survivors as they travel across a post Z-Day U.S, their only real aim to survive. Like most others of its creed, Zombieland never tries to deliver an insidious commentary on anything in particular (at least not one that hasn't been made time and time again) but it does manage to glean some geekishly zealous, sardonic fun from its subject matter. With a riotous performance from the great Woody Harrelson and a Bill Murray cameo thats so Meta that it almost disrupts time/space, Zombieland is as worthy of your time as any other on this list.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) Directed by Ed Wood
Directed by one of Hollywoods early hacks, Plan 9 from Outer Space has a questionable premise at its very core: an extra-terrestrial assault that uses the Zombie as its primary weapon. But it doesnt improve from there; it only gets worse, much worse. Its all wrong, from the incoherent plot, to the bogus production design all the way down to the mirth-inducing performances, which are as wooden as the sets. There are schools of thought that state that Plan 9 from Outer Space is the greatest bad movie ever made, but always pay close attention to the emphasis on the word bad.
Redneck Zombies (1989) Directed by Pericles Lewnes
Straight out of Tromaville, Redneck Zombies delivers little of the low budget charm that drove the Toxic Avenger. Sure it makes a few nice references, and earns a smile or two but overall its a ridiculously nonsensical, shot-on-video farce that sees the root of the Zombie outbreak as a hillbilly family who distil hooch from obviously radioactive material. With its dire performances, cheap visual effects and generally laborious story, Redneck Zombies would have been a better movie if they all just got cancer instead.
Night of the Living Dead (1990) Directed by Tom Savini
A direct remake of Romeros original, Savinis Night of the Living Dead manages to take as much of the original brilliance away as possible without it being a conscious effort. The effects seem infinitely cheesier, the roles are overacted and its just difficult to see any real artistic merit whatsoever in this needless rehash. Its all pretty much old hat here, but with added carnage that serves only to detract from the sources impact. The final insult is the realisation that the ending was changed, made more palatable for a 90s audience at the expense of one of Romeros most affecting statements.
House of the Dead (2003) Directed by Uwe Boll
House of the Dead is completely undeserving of its existence. Its made with such a limited understanding of film as an expressive medium that Im certain a child could make a movie with more heart, given the budget. Following a group of infuriating teen douche bags to an island rave, were victim to a plot so inane and predictable that we may as well be watching last weeks news. Its a poorly acted, terribly edited insult to Cinema that even goes so far as to drop footage from its video game namesake in sporadically, in a desperate attempt to remind us why were watching in the first place.
Zombie Night (2003) Directed by David J. Francis
It really doesnt get much worse than this; Zombie Night is a ridiculously low-budget shot-on-video feature from the Canadian horror scene that was of course shat strait onto DVD. Returning from an isolated camping retreat, a couple and their child learn that a nuclear holocaust has caused the dead to return to life, and immediately decide to rebuild society without so much as a second thought. Despite its clear nods to Romeros early work, Zombie Nightis horrendous in the strictest sense of the word. It chooses to paint its lack of cause and effect with as much cheap carnage as possible; as opposed to troubling itself with idle notions such as story and substance. Avoid this one like the Zombie plague.
Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave (2005) Directed by Ellory Elkayem
Gangs of the Dead a.k.a Last Rites (2006) Directed by Duane StinnettGangs of the Dead is completely devoid of filmic worth. Its seriously tough to get through, due to the fact that it has no discernable story. Two rival gangs experience a Zombie outbreak during an illegal deal and thenthats it. They gotta get out of a warehouse alive. Theres a distinct lack of any real emotional conflict; ok, so the gangs butt up against each other but its pretty much all just What you say motherfucker!?, and You know who I am, pendejo!? The main issue here is that this seems to be one hugely ill-conceived vanity project, the performers of which (the African American gang and the Latino gang) are quite happy to portray blatant racial caricatures of themselves who never actually develop into anything else.
Day of the Dead (2008) Directed by Steve Miner
Without bearing any resemblance to its namesake, 2008s Day of the Dead is a stinking brown cloud of a movie that deserves to be forgotten (but dont worry, it will be). At least James Gunns 2004 adaptation of Dawn of the Dead attempted to re-explore the originals core premise, despite straying wildly off course. Day of the Dead follows a questionably cast Mena Suvari as a soldier, intent on gathering survivors and escaping from a Z-infested city. Its a veritable smorgasbord of poor writing, misdirection and ridiculous concepts that defy even Zombie logic people die, re-animate and decompose into messy CGI rotters before our very eyes. Romero deserves a smacked wrist for letting this drivel get made.
Zombie Strippers (2008) Directed by Jay Lee
If you can sit through this movie for any other purpose than critique, then yours is either a special brand of dedication or a special brand of stupidity - or youre fifteen and you love bewbs! Itd be impossible to detail its flaws in the space I have; Zombie Strippers seems to have been made by a guy whos only experience in film is jerking off to Jenna Jameson (who plays the filmsI dont what the hell shes supposed to be) at least twice a day. Theres nothing cool or edgy about strippers becoming Zombies but retaining their urge to strip. Its just childish, nonsensical and absolutely the wrong type of weird.
Survival of the Dead (2009) Directed by George A. Romero
Romero fell off the undead radar after Day of the Dead but came back with a groan with 2005s Land of the Dead, the sagas next instalment. It had its moments (within a siege plot again, but this time a whole city) but ultimately didnt deliver the goods like its bigger brothers. Every movie since has gotten exponentially worse and Survival of the Dead is no exception. Set on a fortified island, where the inhabitants attempt to incorporate their reanimated loved ones into regular society, its thoroughly archetypal Army Guy characters do little to offset the absurdity of the plot. Romero is just reaching now and its really starting to tire. He had his day that much is certain, but it certainly wasnt a day in November 2009. So those are our picks for ten best and ten worst Zombie movies. Any others that shuffled off the list? Please, do make it known. WhatCulture's 31 Days of Horror 2, a month dedicated to the horror genre in the run-up to Halloween has begun. Check out our articles so far here; Top 10 Hammer Horror Films!After Dark: Tod Brownings FREAKS (1932) ReviewWIN: WAR GAMES On DVD, We Have 3 Copies To Give AwayMr Fears Games You Cant Play Alone #1: PROJECT ZERO II: CRIMSON BUTTERFLYSHARK NIGHT 3D Review: A Toothless Mess Of A Film12 Most Over-Used Horror Clichés