It seems that zombies can be found almost everywhere lately. From films and television to video games and flash mobs, they have staggered their way into every nook and cranny of our culture. Over the past few years, AMC has capitalized on the zombie phenomenon with its hit cable television show, The Walking Dead.
Meanwhile, major Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt have further popularized the genre with big-budget films like World War Z. While this horror subgenre can be dated back to at least the 1930s with classics like White Zombie, starring Béla Lugosi, the modern film portrayal of zombies was first brought to life by George Romero’s 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead.
Although the “walking dead” in Romero’s movie are never referred to as zombies, Night of the Living Dead provided the template for zombie behavior in many subsequent films in the genre. While some zombie flick aficionados might argue that the horror provoked by Night of the Living Dead will never be topped, here are five other zombie flicks that will keep you up at night.
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Dawn of the Dead is the first — and some would argue the best — of George Romero’s many follow-ups to his highly successful Night of the Living Dead. The film is set in a shopping mall where survivors of the spreading zombie plague have taken refuge as the world outside becomes increasingly chaotic. Unlike the low-budget black-and-white original that had few special effects and simple makeup, Dawn of the Dead featured impressive amounts of gore, courtesy of renowned special effects artist Tom Savini.
Much like he did in his original film, Romero used Dawn of the Dead as a vehicle for critiquing society’s contemporary problems. Many critics have interpreted the scenes featuring zombies staggering through a shopping mall as a not-so-subtle critique of mindless American consumerism. Although Romero would go on to create four more sequels, many zombie film buffs consider Dawn of the Dead the strongest of the series. The film recently gained a new generation of fans when Dawn of the Dead was remade by director Zack Snyder in 2004.
2. Zombie (1979)
Also known as Zombi 2, Zombie is Italian director Lucio Fulci’s graphic contribution to the zombie film genre. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy with the title of Zombi and in true B-movie fashion, Fulci tried to capitalize on the popularity of Romero’s movie by naming his 1979 film Zombi 2. Despite the attempt to piggyback on Romero’s work, Fulci’s movie bears little resemblance to any of Romero’s films.
In the film, an abandoned yacht with a zombie on board leads a group of people to visit an island where a doctor is studying a strange disease that causes the dead to come to life. Needless to say, the trip does not end well. Fulci’s film is characterized by extreme gore and some of the most bizarre zombie battles ever committed to film, including an infamous underwater zombie versus shark scene. Although Zombie is not nearly as well-known as many other zombie films, the movie has gained a strong cult following over the years.
3. 28 Days Later (2002)
Released in 2002, 28 Days Later puts a scientific spin on the classic zombie story by presenting zombies as victims of a viral outbreak. Unlike most other zombie flicks, 28 Days Later also featured fast and agile zombies in contrast to the typical slow and shuffling brain-munchers normally depicted onscreen.
In the film, a hospital patient named Jim wakes up from a coma to discover a virtually deserted London. After encountering some hostile and fast-moving zombies known as the “infected,” Jim eventually teams up with several other survivors, including a group of former soldiers. Like many other zombie films, 28 Days Later explores the theme of how a zombie outbreak brings out the worst and best traits in the survivors. The film was a commercial success and led to a sequel, 2007’s 28 Weeks Later.
4.I Am Legend (2007)
The 2007 film starring Will Smith is only the latest zombie flick to draw inspiration from Richard Matheson’s novel of the same name. The 1954 horror novel also inspired 1964’s The Last Man on Earth with Vincent Price, as well as 1971’s The Omega Man, starring Charlton Heston. George Romero also credited Matheson’s book as the inspiration behind Night of the Living Dead.
Like 28 Days Later, I Am Legend explores the idea that a zombie outbreak was caused by a virus. In the film, Smith plays a doctor who lives in a post-apocalyptic New York City, where it appears that everyone else has been transformed into zombie-like monsters. I Am Legend is imbued with an atmosphere of suspense as Smith’s character slowly begins to realize that he may not be alone.
5. Dead Snow (2009)
Although this 2009 Norwegian zombie film sometimes takes a turn into campy comedy territory, it also offers several original twists on the classic zombie horror story. In the film, a group of friends gather in a cabin to prepare for an enjoyable weekend of skiing. However, it’s not long before the friends are fighting for their lives as they battle a group of murderous Nazi zombies.
Unlike many other contemporary zombie films, Dead Snow portrays zombies as a supernatural problem. The film also adds an extra dimension of horror with the Nazi association. Although the film has many comedic elements, it features enough impressively gory special effects to keep any zombie film fan up at night. Fans of Dead Snow will also be glad to hear that a sequel, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, is due to arrive in theaters this month.