Zombie films have a surprisingly enduring popularity. Just when you think the sub-genre has been done to death it comes back for another scare. The trouble is, there are so many zombie movies that it can be hard to find the good ones among all the rot. These five films are a selection of the best. Some are scary, some played for laughs, but they all have the makings of a good night in. Break out the popcorn and Skittles and make sure you have someone to cling to when things get too creepy.
Johnny (Russell Steiner) and Barbra (Judith O'Dea) are a brother and sister making their annual trip to visit their father's grave in rural Pennsylvania when Barbra is attacked by a strange man. She escapes and eventually takes refuge in a farmhouse where she becomes trapped with a handful of other strangers, including Ben (Duane Jones) all hiding from what appears to be corpses risen from the grave to attack the living. The group barricade the house and try to survive the night but begin to turn on each other.
The first of George A. Romero's Living Dead series, Night of the Living Dead is a classic of the genre. While the word "zombie" is never actually used in the film it basically introduced zombies as living dead, flesh eating monsters. The film was considered extremely gory at the time, but isn't so much by modern standards (compared with, for example, the Saw films). There has been much debate about the political and social themes of the film, but viewers can see in it whatever they like. Controversially for the time it features a person of colour, Duane Jones, as the hero, Ben, who remains relatively calm throughout the crisis.
There are six films in the Living Dead series, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead with a prequel story in production to be directed by Romero's son G. Cameron Romero.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun (Simon Pegg), a London electronics salesman, shares a flat with his best friend Ed (Nick Frost). His career is going nowhere and his relationship with his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield) is on the rocks. When Liz breaks up with him for forgetting their anniversary he and Ed drown their sorrows. During the night, zombies overwhelm London, but on Sunday morning the hungover Shaun fails to notice for some time.
This romantic comedy/horror (paving the way for later films like Warm Bodies) is probably the funniest zombie movie of all time. There is plenty of fun to be had watching so-bad-it's-good zombie flicks like Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1972), but this one has more intentional laughs. The highlight is the bar room fight with pool cues to the tune of Queen's Don't Stop Me Now.
The film is a who's who of British comedy, including Dylan Moran and Tamsin Grieg (Black Books), Jessica Stevenson (Pegg's co-star in Spaced), Matt Lucas (Little Britain), Peter Serafinowicz (Spaced, Black Books, The IT Crowd, Guardians of the Galaxy) and also Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit), Bill Nighy (Minder, Love Actually) and many cameos.
There is a fair bit of gore in this one, though it comes across as more gross and funny than scary.
Shaun of the Dead is a fun movie about friendship, survival and growing up. It's a great way to lighten the tone after watching something scarier.
28 Days Later (2002)
Well-meaning animal rights activists break into a medical research laboratory in Cambridge and release chimpanzees who have been infected with a virus that induces a state of rage and causes the infected creature to attack anyone around them. One of the activists is infected and attacks the others in the lab. 28 days later, Jim (Cillian Murphy of The Dark Knight and Peaky Blinders), a London bicycle courier wakes from a coma in a deserted hospital in central London. He encounters some of the infected, who chase him, and ends up hiding with Selena (Naomie Harris, of Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man's Chest and White Teeth) and Mark (Noah Huntley), who explain to him that the virus is so contagious that a single drop of blood can infect someone. They travel through London, meeting up with a cab driver, Frank (Brendan Gleeson) and his young daughter Hannah (Megan Burns) and eventually go on a journey in search of a cure for the infection.
28 Days later, directed by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland, is arguably not a zombie film since the infected are not actually dead, and because they are fast moving, unlike the shambling living dead of Romero's films. However, it shares so many other tropes of the zombie sub-genre that many fans include it.
It's a beautifully paced film, shifting between heart-pounding terror and moments of calm and peace. The cinematography is gorgeous and the performances are all top notch. Highlights include Selena's character defining moment with a meat cleaver, and the taxi ride through a dark tunnel.
There are themes in this one that would be upsetting to some viewers, in particular, the attitude of some of survivors towards women (seen merely as tools for repopulating the world), a common trope in post-apocalyptic films.
28 Days Later is a well-written, beautifully shot, exciting film which popularised 'fast zombies'.
There is a sequel, 28 Weeks Later (2007) and a series of comic books following the surviving characters.
Movie poster, fair use.
A reporter, Ángela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) are making a documentary in a Barcelona fire station when the firefighters are called to rescue an old woman who is trapped in her apartment. The news crew accompany the firefighters and witness the old woman attacking and biting one of the firefighters. The building is sealed off by the police and military and the crew and firefighters find themselves trapped inside along with the residents. They are told that the residents are infected with a contagious virus, similar to rabies. One by one the residents succumb to the virus and turn on one another.
REC is absolutely pants-wettingly-sleep-with-the-lights-on terrifying. It's a found footage film, in the style of The Blair Witch Project, made in Spanish, with English subtitles. The way it is set inside one building creates a sense of claustrophobia which only increases as the film goes on and the characters are forced to flee into smaller and smaller spaces. Viewing through a single camera that shows only a slice of the action further adds to this because you get a continual sense that there may be dangers behind or to the side that the characters can't see. The filmmakers do a lot with very little, and the overall effect is a feeling of terror.
There are several sequels; REC 2, REC 3:Genesis and REC 4 Apocalypse. There is also an English-language remake, Quarantine (2008), and its sequel Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011), but they lack the punch of the original.
A mutated strain of mad cow disease infects humans and turns them into zombies, which then overrun the United States. Two months later, a college student called Columbus (survivors in the film refer to each other by nicknames from their places of origin), played by Jesse Eisenberg meets up with violent zombie killer Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). The sisters are on a journey to an amusement park in Los Angeles, and Columbus follows them while Tallahassee continues his quest to find Twinkies.
While there is some gore and a few scary moments, Zombieland is primarily a comedy. There are pop up segments explaining Columbus' personal rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse, such as "cardio", "double tap", "beware of bathrooms" and "enjoy the little things". It also features Bill Murray, as himself.
Zombieland is a fun, light-hearted horror comedy, that might be good to watch after REC so you can take the zombies a little less seriously and maybe get some shut-eye.