|Zombie Movies from Hell
The Gothic eZine - Entertainment
1968 - NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
This is the first of George Romero's brilliant, influential zombie trilogy. Again, the set-up is simple: Zombies walk the earth, and a few survivors take refuge in a house in the woods. Night's zombies weren't anything too elaborate in terms of their design - their look, for the most part, was achieved by spreading oatmeal all over the actors' faces. What's most striking about the zombies isn't their so-so makeup job, but how unrelentingly focused they are.
The zombies move slowly, creeping in the shadows of the trees, achieving their intimidation just by their sheer mindlessness - and they just won't go away. The yard outside the house seems like the size of a closet. Rarely has a horror film created such an unrelenting sense of claustrophobia - the sight of these creatures swaying around outside the window, one step at a time, is more terrifying than any swarming attack en masse. Don't worry - there are plenty of those moments, too.
1978 - DAWN OF THE DEAD
This time around, Romero had more than ten times the budget of Night and Tom Savini's class-act makeup team at his disposal. He also shot in color, which meant it was time to get a little more detailed with the look of the zombies - and have a little more fun with them.
Dawn opens with an ultra-violent, extended battle sequence in an apartment complex overrun by what seems like hundreds of the undead. These zombies move faster and seem more ferocious and generally more pissed off than their predecessors of ten years earlier.
These zombies aren't necessarily any smarter, though, and Romero's sense of humor shines through on this. There is an extended sequence in the mall in which the zombies wander through the stores, go up and down the escalator, and generally just stumble around. Perhaps they're remembering their lives before their current state? Whatever the implications, it's a welcome element that balances out the unrelenting grimness of the story. Zombies can be funny, you see.
1985 - DAY OF THE DEAD
Romero and Savini really hit their stride with this one in terms of the zombie design. Savini continued to experiment with colors, this time going for a more blue and grey palette rather than the yellows and oranges of Dawn. The humor continued as well, with zombies being identified by the uniforms they wore when they were alive, resulting in appearances of ballerina zombies, biker zombies, chef zombies, and even a clown zombie.
Romero also took his creatures one step further up the evolutionary chain. The main plot of Day deals with a doctor's attempt to condition and ultimately "train" the undead to be more civil - and controllable. Indeed, the doctor's prize student, Bub, is soon able to semi-control his voracious appetite, respond to music, speak (sort of), and even remember his past as a human being. By making them more "human," Romero made them even scarier.
1985 - RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
This one is very much a precursor to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II in that it introduces a very aggressive, goofy sense of humor into the genre. While Romero's films can certainly be seen as satires, they definitely take themselves too seriously to be considered dark comedies. This one, however, is definitely out to make the audience laugh as much as scream. Two of the main characters are named Burt and Ernie, and there is a disclaimer at the beginning of the film that says all the events depicted are true.
This is also the first film to introduce some new elements into the zombie myth. These zombies are resurrected by a toxic gas, they move fast, and bullets don't hurt them. Like the vampire genre, there's a lot of stuff to play around with in terms of the "rules," and Return has fun bending and breaking them.
1992 - DEAD ALIVE
Before he became a household name with The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson specialized in strange, low-budget horror films, the most notable being this little gem. Besides introducing a whole new league of undead that could run, flip, make their severed body parts move on their own (including their lungs and intestines), and grow to ten times their original size, Jackson also introduced the zombie sex drive.
If you've seen the film, you know what we're talking about. For those of you who haven't seen the film, we'll let your imagination do the work for you until you go to your local video rental outlet (which we recommend doing as soon as possible).
2002 - RESIDENT EVIL
Here, the zombies are a little smarter. In one scene, Eric Mabius infiltrates one of the offices of the Umbrella Corporation and is confronted by his sister, a former employee who is now a zombie in a lab coat. He pleads with his sister to recognize him - and by the way she's standing, and by the way she's staring at him, she just might. She moves a little closer to him - a look of curiosity and perhaps recognition appears on her face. She moves even closer... and then, of course, attacks.
Apparently, the undead of RE are intelligent enough to play tricks like that. They're intelligent enough to know when a human (dinner) is trying to communicate with them, and they know what looks and gestures make the human a little more at ease - so it's easier to move in on the inevitable attack.
So, smart zombies. And zombie dogs, which RULE, especially when Milla Jovovich kicks them in the face.
2003 - 28 DAYS LATER
This isn't really a zombie movie, but it sure feels like one. Danny Boyle's "zombies" aren't the walking dead, but rather humans who have been infected with a virus that causes them to spontaneously - and ferociously - attack everything in sight. They don't eat anything, they just kill, but they're just as mindlessly focused as any zombie, ignore their wounds like a zombie would and end up looking like zombies quite quickly.
What's most startling about Boyle's creatures is just how fast they are. They run faster than humans, and they're considerably stronger, which leads to many sudden attacks that come out of nowhere. It's the first time we've seen speed used to such a brutal effect in this genre, and (at least according to the trailers) it looks like the zombies of the Dawn of the Dead remake are taking a page from Boyle's book.
2003 - HOUSE OF THE DEAD
Yes, director Uwe Boll incorporated footage from the video game into the film itself. Yes, when someone dies in the film, the camera spins around them and the screen goes red, just like in the game. Yes, Jurgen Prochnow and Clint Howard play a sea captain and his wacky first mate, respectively.
We mention House only because some genuine love and care went into the zombie work. These zombies move fast, just like in the game, and not one of them is recycled or repeated in terms of their design. Each zombie has his or her own unique look - which, we must admit, is something we haven't seen before. One zombie may just be an actor with some circles under his eyes, another may be so far in its decay that it's nothing but a skeleton with strands of flesh hanging here and there. Love the film or hate it, we have to give props to the makeup crew for doing a lot with so little.
2004 - RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE
The sequel to Resident Evil might be the purest game-to-film adaptation ever made, as the characters, story structure, shock tactics and sound design all seem to be exactly like the Resident Evil games themselves. Milla is back, joined by Sienna Guillory as Jill Valentine, as they do battle with mutant super-soldier Nemesis (who growls his trademark "STARSsssss" much to our pleasure). The action is much more large-scale this time around, as we get to see hundreds of the undead stumbling throughout Raccoon City. Sometimes they're fast, sometimes they're slow - it depends on what's convenient to the scene at hand. Their method of attack seems to vary depending on how cool the fight scene in question should be - sometimes they go right for your brain, sometimes they just grab your feet. Certainly, such inconsistency is maddening if you think about it too much, but just look at Milla - she rocks.
2004 - DAWN OF THE DEAD
This re-imagining of George Romero's original shocked the hell out of everyone by being, well, pretty damn good. The film opens as strongly as its 1978 counterpart, with zombie madness and chaos across what looks like the entire planet as Johnny Cash croons "When the Man Comes Around." The zombies in Dawn '04 move faster than a speeding bullet, which proved to be more unnerving than expected (and brought back memories of the super-fast infected in 28 Days Later. Director Zach Snyder did an excellent job maintaining the sense of unrelenting danger even during a few story lulls, and his film also deserves mention for introducing a zombie baby. True, Peter Jackson did it first in Dead Alive, but he played it for laughs - there was nothing funny about the undead youngster in this one.
2004 - SHAUN OF THE DEAD
This British comedy had a wildly uneven tone, shifting from slapstick to dark tragedy at a moment's notice, but isn't that simply a reflection of life itself, zombie attack or no zombie attack? The filmmakers are obviously zombie purists, as the undead walk slowly and act dumb throughout the proceedings. However, there are a few surprises, but to mention them here would spoil the experience for those of you who haven't seen it yet. Shaun follows the adventures of a handful of working stiffs as they hide out from the zombie apocalypse at their local pub - a refuge that makes perfect sense in some strange way. Comparisons to Monty Python are unfair - this is a new breed of British comedy, one that's a little more sad and tragic but ultimately punchier.
2005 - RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: NECROPOLIS
The year 2005 will be known as the most awesome year ever, because zombie movies began to lose their freakin' minds then. Necropolis, which stars Peter E.T. Coyote, is the first zombie in a long time to pay attention to the plight of the cyborg army zombie. Coyote, one of the brass at an evil military corporation crawling with security, is creating ZOMBIES WITH ROBOT PARTS AND MACHINE GUNS AND FLAMETHROWERS FOR HANDS. Not only is he evil enough to do that, but he's made them out of his own brother and his brother's wife, AND Coyote decided to raise his brother's orphaned son and treat him like dirt. If you haven't guessed it yet, this movie rules. Nothing can take down this evil, heavily armed corporate empire except for a group of dirt biking kids who do things like have sex with security guards to distract them. Watch this movie today.
2005 - RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 5: RAVE TO THE GRAVE
Continuing the adventures of the evil Peter Coyote, this sequel decided to put the number back in its title to clarify things, because this is the fourth sequel to Return of the Living Dead which itself was a sequel. Anyway, the story here is that the dirt biking kids from Necropolis, led by Coyote's orphaned nephew, find some of Coyote's zombie-creating chemicals and turn it into a rave drug that they distribute at an enormous outdoor Halloween party. Because they learned nothing. Now, this all sounds like typical zombie-crashing-a-rave movie faire, if not for the random Russian agents who disguise themselves as fat Valkyrie women and shoot college student zombies with bazookas. Or the zombie who hitchhikes with a sign pleading motorists to pick him up and take him to the rave. Yes, the zombie learned to write in order to go to the rave. That's all he wanted. It's a very sad story, actually.
2005 - HOUSE OF THE DEAD 2: DEAD AIM
The evolution of zombie abilities would speed up again for this sequel to a Uwe Boll film. Since its predecessor was by Uwe Boll, this movie of course could star Nazi dinosaurs dancing to the tunes of Pink Floyd and it would still be better than anything Boll's movie was going for. But this movie tries its best to match the insanity of Boll anyway. And by that, I am referring of course to the zombie football players who play a college match against Victoria Pratt and the villain from SCIFI Channel's Eureka. That and Sig Haig shows up to grin widely and kill people while saying smart aleck remarks. Which he also does at weddings, I'm sure. He's Sig Haig. But the zombie evolution is about to reach a pinnacle...
2005 - VENOM
You cannot outrun zombies any longer. That's because they drive trucks in this movie. Actually, let's back up. The zombie in this flick was just an ill-tempered mechanic, but he got bitten by evil snakes that he found in a suitcase (sure, why not), and thus became a zombie, doomed to drive the earth and look for cheap gas. And I have to say, he's the best driver in the entire film. He knows how to use Tom Tom better than the living people in this movie because he always outsmarts the living when it comes to finding people on the roads of Louisiana. In fact, he can drive one-handed and swing a chain to catch nearby teens with his free hand while planning how to lose the car that's trying to rescue the teenager. He'd murder NASCAR drivers, ending the Ballad of Ricky Bobby. And this is why we owe gratitude to zombies. Venom.
2007 - 28 WEEKS LATER
The sequel to 28 Days Later is coming out in May 2007. The plot will be Britain returning to London to repopulate after the events of the previous movie. A new zombie outbreak occurs when a woman comes in contact with the dormant virus and then all hell breaks loose.