Halloween is around the corner and that means it's the perfect time of year to savour your favourite horror movies. Or should we say... feast upon?
That's because we're chatting all things zombies, in celebration of both Halloween and riotous new horror-comedy Zombieland: Double Tap. Here are the essential zombie classics to get you in the ghoulish spirit.
1. George A. Romero's Dead trilogy (1968 to 1985)
Writer-director George A. Romero practically gave birth to the modern zombie movie, but his classic trilogy is no mere gore fest. Instead, Romero unearths chilling themes of racism, consumerism and paranoia across the course of the three movies, giving rise to the idea that it's the human survivors, rather than the hungry hordes, that pose the greatest threat.
Released in 1968, Night of the Living Dead is a low-budget chiller of rare intensity, which broke down Hollywood boundaries by depicting an African-American hero figure. In 1977, the satire was ramped up in Dawn of the Dead, as the zombies pursue the main characters through a shopping mall and are shown to bear superficial comparisons with the equally mindless consumerist humans. And the finale of the trilogy, 1985's Day of the Dead, capitalises on break-through techniques in make-up to deliver the grisliest entry in the series.
All zombie movies since have owed a considerable debt to Romero, and genre acolytes like Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright pay overt reference to his legacy (including the line, "We're coming to get you Barbara", a variation on a key line from Night).
2. Braindead (1992)
If you associate writer-director Peter Jackson primarily with the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, then you're in for a shock. The New Zealand Oscar-winner in fact began his career with DIY schlock: grisly movies made on ultra low budgets with his friends and family that appalled as much as they amused.
That said, Braindead is something of a step-up from the earlier likes of Bad Taste – well, in as much as Jackson had slightly more money to play with. Jackson gleefully tosses subtlety into the shredder as a rabid Sumatran rat-monkey unleashes a plague of zombies – prompting a climactic massacre by lawnmower that has to be seen to be believed. (At the time, this scene set the record for the most fake blood ever used in a movie, recently surpassed by IT CHAPTER TWO.)
3. 28 Days/28 Weeks Later (2002 and 2007)
Technically, the enemies in these terrifying post-apocalyptic thrillers aren't zombies. Rather, they're living, breathing human beings infected with a virus called 'rage', which turns them into animalistic, red-eyed psychos. Nevertheless, given the lack of humanity on display with the 'infected' (as they're known), they can easily be regarded as zombies. And their fleet-footed sense of menace has exerted plenty of influence on later films, including Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.
The series began in 2002 with Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later. The film's unforgettable opening sequence depicts Cillian Murphy wandering a deserted London – something that's possibly even more unsettling than the monsters themselves. In 2007, Juan Carlos Fresnadillo upped the stakes with the resurgent 'rage' virus that takes root in a family overseen by Robert Carlyle.
Mixing intelligent, provocative themes with visceral horror, these movies paint a horribly plausible picture of how the apocalypse may well go down.
4. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The rich history of zombie cinema is ripe for parody, but few have succeeded as well as the team of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Fresh from the success of their riotously funny TV show Spaced, the group set their sets high with their first feature film, directed by Wright, co-written by Wright and Pegg, and starring Pegg and Frost.
Spaced had laced its story of London slackers with plenty of devious pop culture references, and one episode was based around Tim (Pegg) believing he was in the world of a zombie video game. This formed the basis of Shaun of the Dead, which mines wonderful humour from the quintessentially British, deadpan response to an outbreak of flesh-hungry zombies.
Studded with overt and covert references to zombie pop culture, the movie really triumphs in its character development. The second half of the movie takes an impressively brave plunge into tragedy, a sign of how effectively Wright juggles the tonal contradictions of the story. Little wonder Quentin Tarantino names Shaun as one of his favourite films of all time.
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5. REC (2007)
There's a rich history of Gothic horror in Spanish cinema, which is attributed to the traumatic legacy of Franco and the Civil War. Only rarely, however, has the country explored zombie horror, making REC a thrilling exception. Using the found-footage approach (back when it was at its mid-noughties peak), the film is an immersively terrifying experience, following a news crew who are shadowing a fire department on a routine evening. However, they make the mistake of a lifetime when entering an apartment building to find something unpleasant inside...
Slowly unravelling the mysteries of its story (while also keeping many of them unanswered come the end), the film is a ruthlessly tense horror. No-one would want to have a close-up experience with a zombie, but REC allows us the vicarious thrill, and that climactic attic sequence is still a killer. The film was ineffectively remade in America with 2008's Quarantine, and spawned its own sequel in 2009.
6. Zombieland (2009)
Ahead of the release of Zombieland: Double Tap, it's just as well to revisit the film's hilarious 2009 predecessor. Very much in the manner of Shaun of the Dead, the movie mixes extreme undead gore with rib-tickling set-pieces and character-driven sentiment, as a group of losers form a surrogate family in the wake of the zombie apocalypse.
It's the chemistry between the brilliantly chosen cast that really sells this one. Jesse Eisenberg is amusing neurosis personified as Colombus, whose brilliantly inventive rules for dispatching the flesh-eaters punctuate the action at regular intervals. He's joined by a razor-sharp Woody Harrelson (having a ball) as gun-toting Talahassee, a pre-Oscar-win Emma Stone as Wichita and Abigail Breslin as Little Rock.
The movie is directed by Ruben Fleischer (later of Venom fame), and proved to be a critical and commercial success. The sequel's got a lot to live up to...
7. Train to Busan (2016)
South Korean cinema is among the richest and most diverse as far as horror is concerned. Spurred on by the success of Park Chan-Wook's 2004 revenge thriller Oldboy, South Korea has given rise to a number of notable genre film-makers, including Bong Joon-ho, director of The Host, Snowpiercer and upcoming release Parasite.
There's a peculiarly engrossing atmosphere to horror films from this part of the world – they often mix savage violence with farcical, satirical comedy in a way that's intended to keep audiences off-balance. The acclaimed Train to Busan is a classic case in point: directed by Yeon Sang-ho, the film is an absurdist zombie extravaganza as a group of train passengers must band together to fend off the undead.
The movie was unexpectedly successful, grossing $93 million worldwide to become one of the most successful South Korean films on record.
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