The horror genre has many categories - vampires, slashers, creature feature, aliens, supernatural/ghosts, and so on. For this DVD Essential guide I will focus on zombies, my favorite category in my favorite genre!
The two undisputed masters of zombie films have also made films without the living dead. but their most famous work just happens to have many things in common. Lucio Fulci actually released his first zombie film as a sequel to Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Romero beat him to it with Dawn of the Dead. Still, Fulci's zombie movies have more gore and guts while Romero have more of a social commentary.
Arguably the best and most influential zombie movie Night of the Living Dead was filmed in 1968. At a time when "zombie" was not a household word, George A Romero took a bare bones budget and created a film that has spawned an entire genre of filmmaking. Night deals with racial issues, Dawn with consumerism and Day with military vs individualism.
In Italy Fulci was working on gory and he has created the most diseased looking zombies you can find. Even with today's advances in make up and special effects the zombies Fulci and his make up team came up with are truly disgusting. Italian horror films - especially Fulci's - are well known for their blood and guts approach.
Dead Meat - This one caught me by surprise when I watched this Irish zombie movie I was blown away by how scary it was. A mad cow like disease has not only killed people and livestock it has made them come back from the dead. What I found made this movie work was the low budget look and the lack of light in the night scenes. They are in the countryside so when it gets dark it is really dark. That feeling that you don't know what is out there, what could be right next to you.
Versus - Prison escapees have a showdown with gangsters in the middle of a forest - too bad the forest is a portal to hell and makes the dead come back to life. It does not help that it is also used by the gang as a dumping ground for their victims so there are plenty of zombies to go around. Martial arts and zombies, witty dialogue and lots of gore.
Who says zombies are unlovable or not capable of love? Sure their heart has stopped beating but that does not mean they can't feel! Ok, maybe it does, but these great zombie movies all have love at its central theme.
Stacy - For some reason girls ages 15-17 are dying, but before they do they get super happy (Near Death Happiness). The girls - called Satcys - come back as zombies and loved ones are responsible for disposing of the girls by cutting them up into 165 pieces - it is a science! The world is in chaos, the home shopping channel is selling Bruce Campbell brand chainsaws and in the center of it all is a girl in NDH and the boy who loves her - and promised to re-kill her when the time comes. Young Love!
Dellamorte Dellamore also known as Cemetery Man - Rupert Everrett stars as the caretaker of an old cemetery. Thing is the dead in this cemetery do not stay dead. So he has to kill them again - it's all just part of the job! One day he falls for a recently widowed woman who seems to share his non-chalance about his job. Too bad she is bitten by her dead husband. Will the Cemetery Man follow his heart or do his job? Nice effects and great acting while still being funny in a smart way.
Zombie Lake - The plot has something to do with Nazis, forbidden love, the death of said Nazis, the zombification of said Nazis and a beautiful (sniff, sniff) reunion between dead father and daughter. It has it all! But as lovely as the father-daughter reunion may sound the real reason to watch is for the sheer badness of this movie.
It was a lovely day in the French countryside. Picturesque little town full of odd little characters. Young volleyball players getting naked and swimming in the lake...The Lake of Ghosts!
The budget was so small - how small was it? - so small that they did not have enough money for wardrobe! Lovely girls just seem drawn to this nasty, green lake where they MUST swim naked. Do they not have swimsuits in France?
Dead and Breakfast - A group of friends going to a wedding stop at a small town to spend the night. At the local bed and breakfast things get weird - how could they not with David Carradine as the owner - and people die. So the group is stuck in town while the police investigate, thing is that the owner of the B&B had an artifact that one of the friends could not help but open. And so he released evil spirits that make the dead come to life. Hilarious barn dance face off between zombies and future zombies - hey I always root for the undead!
Spoofs, Homages and Just Plain Fun
Shaun of the Dead - Shaun is a guy who has a dead-end job, lives with his slacker/dope-dealing best friend and has a girlfriend who is on the brink of dumping him. So when the dead come back to life they are the least of his problems. Actually it becomes the ideal situation to be his girlfriend's hero and win her back. Shaun and his BFF Ed pick up his mom, stepdad, girlfriend and her best friends. The decide to wait out the zombie infestation and hide at their fave pub The Winchester. There are many references to zombie films throughout the movie - Shaun's mom is named Barbara and Ed pays homage to Night of the Living Dead's most memorable line "We're coming to get you Barbara!", one of Shaun's co-workers, who calls in sick, is named Ash. Like Bruce Campbell's character in the Evil Dead series
Bio Zombie - Bio Zombie is the story of two slackers who sell dvds in a small store at a mall. While driving to the mall they hit a man and decide they should take the guy with them. What they do not seem to notice is that the guy is infected with toxic soda - or something like it, have you ever seen a good zombie movie explain anything? The mall closes and our two heroes are trapped with their new zombie friend. Don't ask me where the other people came from but the zombie keeps finding people to snack on.
Army of Darkness - Bruce Campbell is the ultimate zombie butt kicker! he has several Evil Dead films under hhis belt and while the first one was a straight-ish horror movie the rest are more funny than gory. In this specific one he travels to medieval times with his trusty chainsaw where he must save the world - again.
Return of the Living Dead - It has all the best cliches. Kid on his first day of work at a creepy medical supply warehouse, supervisor trying to show him something cool takes him to the basement where there is a container with military writing on it and a corpse in it. Of course the container gets messed with and some sort of toxic gas gets released. Did I mention this warehouse is near a cemetery? Of course it is! Dark and stormy night - punk kids playing in the cemetery get acid-like rain on them and the dead come back hungry...and still able to place their orders. Brainsssss.
Wild Zero - Japanese rock 'n roll zombie classic! This has become a cult classic for many reasons - first, it is a zombie movie. Horror movies have a way of become cult if they are too smart/funny for their own good. Second, it features a rock band - a real rock band - as the main characters. God save Guitar Wolf! Third it is Japanese - which means American audiences did not get really behind it for fear of having to read subtitles. So smart and funny Japanese zombie movie = cult classic! Super cheesy - meant to be that way folks! - and kitschy, the script is smart, funny and silly all rolled into one. The acting is hilarious, the music is loud, the zombies are from outer space and ooze, not charm, what's that word again? Oh yes, gore!
All of the movies listed I highly recommend, I have watched them all and are essential to your zombie collection. While there are many more zombie movies they tend to be not worth the time or money, but they are what most people watch and assume all other zombie movies are just as bad. Zombie movies should be watched with a grain of salt. After all they are movies about dead people coming back and eating other people!