As a member of the living dead, I am constantly asked what my favorite zombie movies are as if that’s all a zombie’s allowed to watch. I mean sure, I watch mostly zombie movies, but I have other interests too, yet I’m never asked what my favorite superhero flick is or how many times I’ve seen the newest comedy. Nope, it’s always straight to the zombie flicks, so, in an attempt to preemptively answer this question, and simply because I like doing it, I’ve decided to make this list. Here are my top ten favorite zombie flicks. Understand, I’m not arguing best here, simply my favorites, so starting from number ten…
10. The Horde (2009)
This phenomenal French film finds a group of hardened drug deals being forced to team up with the cops that came to kill them when a zombie outbreak traps both sides in an apartment building. It namely makes its way onto my list thanks in large part to a last stand by one of the cops. After receiving a bite and knowing his time is nearly up, one of the cops decides to heroically sacrifice his life so that the others can make it to safety. This involves climbing on top of a car, shooting as many of the undead as he can, and then beating them to death when he runs out of bullets. He’s finally pulled down in the end, and I was sad to see a character I liked so much meet his final fate, but if you’re going to be taken out, might as well take as many of your enemies with you when you go. His death might have been sad, but it was glorious to the bitter end.
9. Dead Alive (1992)
Long before he became the hobbit allfather and turned one short book into three really long movies, Peter Jackson was famous for a couple of other flicks, 1987’s Bad Taste and 1992’s gorefest Braindead, also known as Dead Alive. When Lionel Cosgrove’s controlling mother Vera is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey, the woman expires only to reanimate as a ravenous member of the living dead. Lionel, unable to let his mother go, does his best to control her hunger and keep her from hurting too many people, but things quickly spiral out of control and Lionel is forced to choose between his mother and a new woman in his life. If there’s one thing Dead Alive specializes in, it’s absolute insanity mixed with a healthy dose of hilarity stirred into a heaping pot of blood. A Kung Fu preacher kicks zombie ass in the name of the lord, body parts refuse to quit working, and a lawn mower is used to clear out a room in one of my favorite gore filled sequences. Dead Alive isn’t a masterpiece of cinema, but it is one the craziest zombie movies I’ve had the pleasure to watch.
8. Deadheads (2011)
It wouldn’t be a list of mine if it didn’t have at least one romance driven film on it, and that’s where Deadheads comes into a play. This romantic comedy/buddy film finds two zombies making a trip across America so that one can find the fiancée he still loves, all while a team of security agents try to capture them. I’ve often mentioned my sappy weakness towards zombie love stories, but Deadheads stands above the rest not only because of the hilarious comedy and excellent characters (I dare you not to fall for lovelorn Mike, slightly insane Brent, and the dull-witted Cheese) but for the fact that the love story aspect of the film doesn’t overpower everything else. While the heart of the movie might be Mike’s quest to find the woman he loves, it isn’t the focus, that would be Mike and Brent dealing with their new status as members of the living dead and coming to understand how much they need each other.
7. Fido (2006)
A zombie movie starring Billy Connolly! What could be better? How about a zombie movie where Mr. Connolly is the main zombie? This comedic and heartfelt story finds a world where humans have quarantined themselves into idyllic 50’s era cites while the dead roam the wastelands outside. Zombies inside of the city are given control collars to function as servants and forced labor. Billy Connolly is one such zombie, and when he’s purchased by the Robinson family, young Timmy begins to grow close to the undead butler, setting into motion a chain of events that could change life in these cities forever. Fido is one of those flicks that I really thought more people had seen, but it’s sadly flown under the radar of many a horror fan. Connolly’s performance as a zombie is what makes this film the gem it is as he’s able to convey so much emotion without ever saying a word, just a few grunts here and there. The mix of an idyllic 50’s lifestyle as it’s been sold by Hollywood and the more grounded reality of paranoia and bigotry adds an interesting depth to this must see as well.
6. Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Okay, I know I’m going to get a lot of flak for including this remake in my top ten, especially as the original won’t be popping up anywhere on my list, not even when I give my honorable mentions I’ll have to put down because coming up with only ten movies was a next to impossible task. Don’t get me wrong, the original will always have my respect for what it did for the genre, turning what were generally hokey creatures into flesh eating monsters representing our fears as both a species and a society. George A. Romero’s 1968 masterpiece earned him the title of Zombie Godfather, but it’s the Tom Savini directed remake that earns a spot on my list. It’s not the better effects, more fleshed out story, or even improved camera work that does it for me, no, it’s the fact that instead of a constantly shrieking, completely useless Barbara, we get a much stronger female lead that’s fully capable of taking care of herself. Most people take this to mean I’m taking some kind of feminist stance or championing gender equality when the simple fact is that I’m just glad I can watch a version of Night of the Living Dead without the screaming.
You knew either this or Shaun of the Dead was going to be on the list. I actually went back and forth deciding which I liked better because truth be told, both of these flicks would have fit perfectly at the number five spot, but Woody Harrelson’s Tallahassee and the near nonstop, zombie slaying action won me out. This tale of four people fighting their way through the end of the world, often in creative ways, isn’t perfect, mainly thanks to Jesse Eisenberg playing the only character he knows how to play, Jesse Eisenberg, but with the imaginative kills, an extremely entertaining last stand, and a great cameo with a hilariously tragic ending make up for Eisenberg’s inclusion.
4. Day of the Dead (1985)
Not to be confused with the 2008 piece of garbage, the third film in Romero’s original “Dead” trilogy finds the world overrun by the undead. We follow a small group of scientist, soldiers, and civilians in an underground bunker that may contain the last living humans on Earth. The tension between the rival factions in the bunker is palpable as the group dynamic falls apart, turning from a partnership of necessity where everyone is aware of their place and what they bring to the table into an insane dictatorship where rule is enforced through power and the threat of violence. As the number of survivors dwindle, along with any hope of a future, Captain Rhodes, a crazed military leader who has just inherited command of the facility, fractures further and it’s only a matter of time before the last of the living disappear from the face of the Earth. This is not only number four in my list of top ten zombie films, it’s my favorite of Romero’s films as well. The story goes pretty deep into human psychology, the actors are intense, and the effects are not just some of the best for their time, but the best of any of Romero’s zombie films. With the addition of trained zombie Bub, and interesting character that was pretty original for the time, and a rather sad scene involving his trainer, Day of the Dead is the height of George A. Romero’s zombie films for me.
3. When Good Ghouls Go Bad (2001)
I bet you weren’t expecting a children’s movie to be on here, but hear me out. When Good Ghouls Go Bad stars Christopher Lloyd as Fred Walker, the former owner of a chocolate factory who became somewhat of a recluse after a tragedy involving a young artist named Curtis Danko. When his eldest son decides to reopen the factory, a series of events lead to the eccentric man, known by many in town as Uncle Fred, dying under an avalanche of pumpkins, but it takes more than death by America’s favorite fall spice to keep the man down. Fred comes back as a zombie, but it’s not just him, many of the town’s deceased residents begin reanimating as well, rounding up anyone still among the living at the behest of a now undead Danko, but as they aren’t using the living for food, the reasons behind their actions remain a mystery, one tied to the untimely death of Curtis. You won’t be seeing any gory action for this ABC Family flick, but you will see some good makeup work, an interesting story, and Christopher Lloyd putting on one of his most entertaining performances. It’s an incredibly cheesy kids movies that has very little in the way of horror, but it does have a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and a lot of social commentary, but I’m not going to argue for its value to the average movie goer. It earns the number three spot on my list because of the time in my life when it came out, a time when I was going through a nasty, abusive (both physical and mental) relationship, and I was at one of the lowest points in my existence. When Good Ghouls Go Bad didn’t solve my problems, nor did it give me any of the answers I needed, but it did provide a bright spot in what was an otherwise very dark time. While I do believe it’s a good movie regardless, this is one of my favorites for entirely personal reasons.
2. ParaNorman (2012)
I know, I know, I already had one children’s movie on here, how can I do another one, but this one’s animated so it’s different. If you haven’t yet seen this gem, ParaNorman is about a young boy named Norman. Norman loves zombies, zombie books, zombie movies, zombie toys, even zombie toiletries, if it has to do with zombies, Norman loves it. This weirds the rest of his family out, and the whole town think’s Norman is a little off, but that’s okay, because Norman has a lot of friends, it’s just that they’re all dead. He has the unique ability to talk to the dead who roam around the world as lonely ghosts that only he can interact with, and when real zombies rise from their graves and a witch threatens the town that’s shunned him, it’ll take this gift to save them all from oblivion. I know this was sold as mostly a kid’s movie, but ParaNorman has a few things aimed more for adults as well as a fairly deep story and well written characters, but none of that is why this one comes in so high on my list. No, the reason this is my second favorite zombie movie is because I was Norman when I was a kid, just without being able to commune with ghostly spirits. I’ve loved zombies since the age of seven when my uncle took me to a screening of Night of the Living Dead. I was lucky enough to have an extra twenty years of movies to seek out by the time I saw the seminal classic and soon after I sought out every zombie movie I could find. This made me quite the oddball with the rest of my religious family, the Christian school I was enrolled in, and the church I had to attend. Like Norman, my love of zombies made me an outsider, and while I wish I could say I was one of those kids who embraced my isolation, I found it rather lonely and sad. I never gave up my love of the undead though, and years later would find an amazing group of friends that have blessed my life, but back then, it wasn’t the greatest feeling to be the constant outsider. Watching ParaNorman and feeling a kindship with the titular character makes this number two in my list of ten favorite zombie movies.
1. Return of the Living Dead (1985) and Return of the Living Dead 2 (1988)
So I’m kind of cheating with my absolute favorite zombie flick of all time by including two films in a single entry. I’d try to come up with a good excuse to justify my doing this, but it’s easier to just be honest, I couldn’t decide which one of the first two Return of the Living Dead flicks I wanted to include. I’ve loved both since I was a kid, and must have watched them hundreds of times by now. Hell, these two movies have not only been tied as my favorite zombie flicks for ages, up until Deadpool came out, they were tied for my favorite two movies period. In case you haven’t seen them, and shame on you if that’s the case, the first one uses the original Night of the Living Dead as an attempt to cover up real events. In the universe of Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead was made to hide the very real incident that happened when the government lost control of a secret chemical called trioxin, one used to reanimate the dead. The hope was that if a movie was made, anyone who tried to bring up the actual incident would be laughed at as someone who watches too many movies. The chemicals used were stored in an old funeral home for decades until a new employee of the mortuary accidentally releases them, slowly turning everyone exposed and immediately reanimating the dead of a nearby graveyard. The sequel has a barrel of the trioxin falling off a military truck and being released into the graveyard near a newly built subdivision. Both movies are zombie classics for a reason, the perfectly crafted humor that never goes too over the top, Linnea Quigley doing a strip tease, amazing practical effects that are both gory and fun, Linnea Quigley doing a strip tease, hilarious characters, and horror icon Linnea Quigley even does a strip tease, not sure if I mentioned that one. Return of the Living Dead is also where we get the grey matter obsessed zombie and it’s battle cry of “Brrrraaaaaiiiiinnnnssssss!” If you want to know exactly why I love these movies so much, you’ll have to read my past reviews because there are way too many things to mention in a single paragraph that is already starting to go on a bit long. Suffice it to say that for me, there is no better when it comes to zombie cinema than Return of the Living Dead. “Send more paramedics.”
That’s my top ten, or eleven, favorite zombie films, and remember, I’m not arguing whether any of these are the best zombie flicks out there, though I definitely consider some of them to be among the greatest you can find, these are just my personal favorites. Fact is, there are so many zombie movies out there that everyone’s top ten list is bound to be just a little different, and that’s a good thing. One of the great things about zombies is the multitude of ways in which they can be used, leading to a plethora of completely different types of zombie films. Personally, this makes me happy. If they were all exactly the same, and let’s face it, many are, the genre would grow old quick. In fact, my original list had nearly fifty movies. It was a difficult task to whittle it down to just ten, so, because I’d hate to leave some of my favorites off of this list, here’s my honorable mentions.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
(Come on, you knew it was going to be on here at some point)
Wild Zero (1999)
(An insane Japanese flick that combines two of my favorite things, zombies and punk rock/rockabilly music)
(A gory, fun adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West: Re-Animator)
The Revenant (2009)
(An action packed take on a very old mythology)
Scooby Doo on Zombie Island (1998)
(Scooby and the gang up against real zombies instead of crooks in masks, what’s not to like)
Cemetery Man (1994)
(Trust me, just watch it)
(One of the better found footage movies out there)
George: A Zombie Intervention (2009)
(A great blend of heart and humor that takes an interesting look as zombieism)
Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead (2014)
(Sometimes sequels do surpass the originals)
I Sell the Dead (2008)
(A great mix of clever humor and engaging characters)
That’s it for this list. I guess now I’ll have to make a top ten worst list, except I already did that, so I guess I just have to write it up then. Have a favorite movie I missed or disagree with my selections? Let me know in the comments what you would have picked as some of your favorites.
The Undead Review