1. Dawn of The Dead (1978) dir. George A. Romero
Forget about the 2004 remake, George A. Romero’s 1978 tale of survivors held up in a Pennsylvanian shopping mall stands the test of time to take the accolade of ‘Best Ever Zombie Movie’. What’s so good about it? I’ll tell you. Romero’s social commentary (that we’re all creatures of habit, obsessed with materialistic consumption) is still valid and lends brains (sorry) to a genre that is often see as all gore, no substance.
Even without the social commentary, there’s enough here to make a brilliant film. The opening shows the last-ditch efforts of a police force attempting to cull the undead. The characters are thoroughly developed and complex, rather than muscular men with loads of guns. The special effects are old-school and disturbing. Green paint for dead skin and corn syrup blood don’t make for the most convincing zombies, but they do serve to remind us that we’re watching humans beneath the make-up, and this familiarity, the fact that zombies are re-animated human corpses, not aliens, vampire or werewolves, is what’s so very discomforting about the zombie genre. In this second film of his trilogy, Romero hit the nail on the head.
2. 28 Days Later (2002) dir. Danny Boyle
Danny Boyle’s haunting shots of early morningLondon, abandoned supermarkets and empty motorways capture the desolation of the zombie apocalypse better than any film before or since. It’s also a truly terrifying film, both in its eerie depictions of the ferocious undead, and in the questions it asks about human nature. The film also got rid of the shuffling hordes of Romero-style zombies and replaced them with running zombies, making for a faster, more feral adversary to Cillian Murphy and Naomie Harris’ human survivors. And yes, ‘rage-infected humans’ do count as zombies.
3. Shaun Of The Dead (2004) dir. Edgar Wright
The first of Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright’s ‘Three Flavour Cornetto Trilogy’, has so far been the best. It’s an everyman tale about the dull normalities of adult life (represented by zombies) standing in the way of Shaun’s relaxation down the pub. There are a handful of great scenes, including Pegg and Co. beating a zombie to death to the tune of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and the famous record throwing scene (“The Batman soundtrack?” “Throw it”). The cast is a stellar collection ofBritain’s best comedy actors (including a fantastic turn from Bill Nighy) but the jokes never over-power the plot, leaving just the right mixture of comedy and horror to take zombies mainstream.
4. Zombieland (2009) dir. Ruben Fleischer
Zombie movies often run the risk of lapsing into self-parody. Too many mega-breasted cheerleaders being eaten alive whilst on the toilet is never good. Thankfully, Zombieland manages to pay homage to the films that inspired it without overloading on cheese or comedic death scenes. Jesse Eisenberg’s character’s list of survival tips (limber up, cardio, avoid strip clubs) could have saved The Walking Dead’s Rick et al. a lot of time and trouble, whilst Bill Murray’s cameo could teach Danny Boyle a thing or two about how to lighten up.
5. 28 Weeks Later (2007) dir. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
Ok, so it’s nowhere near as good as 28 Days Later, but Fresnadillo’s tale of Uncle Sam coming in to rescue us is not without its merits. There are some fantastic scenes here, from the tense opening that sees Robert Carlyle fleeing as his wife is devoured, to the scene where hundreds of people fight to escape a locked room as one of the undead rampages amongst them. Fingers crossed that the rumoured Paris-based 28 Months Later finds its way into development.
6. Day of The Dead (1985) dir. George A. Romero
The second entry for Romero is the third film in his original zombie trilogy. The first film, Night of The Living Dead could just as easily have taken sixth place, but the expanded world of the third movie (abandoned towns, underground bunkers and solitary islands) means this is a story that showcases a helpless world, deep in the midst of a zombie uprising. The film is particularly notable for its mad-scientist character, a military doctor obsessed with finding out what drives the zombies, through his gruesome experiments. How could it possibly go wrong?
7. Dead Snow (2009) dir. Tommy Wirkola
As anyone who’s every played Return to Castle Wolfenstein, of Black Op’s ‘Kino Der Toten’ level can attest, Nazi zombies are a lot of fun. The premise of the film is a number of Norweigan students struggling to avoid the undead attacks in the mountains of Øksfjord. Where the film stands out from the plethora of ‘students getting sliced up’ horror movies, is in its gleeful willingness to embrace the ridiculous. Snowmobile-mounted machines guns, disembowelings and self-amputation are all rife. Dead Snow is a film with it’s blackened dead tongue firmly in its cheek.