Monday, June 21, 2010
My Top Ten Zombie Flicks
It suddenly occurred to me that you guys needed to know my opinions on this subject. I picked some movies because I really liked them, others because they were influential, although some are good and influential. Here goes:
1. White Zombie. As far as I know, this was the first zombie movie, and it's quite a wonderful early thirties horror film, all the more remarkable because it was an indie production, not made by Universal or Paramount, etc. The guys behind it were the Halperin brothers, and they turned out a very atmospheric product for no money to speak of,, notable for one of Lugosi's coolest characterizations, the zombie master Murder Legendre. The zombies here are pretty much the original tradition...zonked-out living dead slaves, no cannibalism, no headshots. Very different from contemporary portrayals.
2. The Invisible Invaders. This is a cheesy little 1950's black and white movie about corpses possessed by aliens....scared me when I was a kid...haven't seen it in years. Even so, when I saw Night of the Living Dead, it seemed to me that a bunch of it had been inspired by this thing....also by Last Man on Earth, the Italian Vincent price version of I Am Legend, which was about vampires rather than zombies, although Romero's zombies are kinda vampire-like in some respects.
3. Night of the Living Dead, and you all know why.
4. Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. This was made by Bob Clark on a shoestring before he started doing things like Porky's. First time I encountered it, I was just flipping channels, then settled in for no good reason. Was kinda bored at first, since the movie really takes its time getting to the zombies...there's a lot of strange characterization involving a bunch of hippies on a "cemetary island" off the coast of Florida. However, when the Manson-like head hippie finally raises the dead, the movie gets seriously scary. This may, in fact, be the scariest zombie movie. The overall cheapness and the shitty color and the caked-on crude makeup just make it worse. The scene where the zombies come up out of the graveyard is the best thing of its kind, period. Somebody said they look like they're being squeezed out of tubes, and it's true. I started wishing that I hadn't started watching it, it was that scary...I've never had that reaction before or since.
5. Shockwaves. Forget Dead Snow. This is the real Nazi zombie film. A bunch of dimwits find themselves trapped on an island in the Bahamas infested with waterlogged Nazis engineered to crew submarines that would never come up for air. Great, demented fun.
6. Zombie. More zombies on another damn island...islands should just be banned, dammit. However...this is Lucio Fulci's first and best living dead epic. His zombies may not be the scariest, but they are sure the deadest looking. In fact, they look like they were never alive to begin with, which is frequently how actual corpses appear. Amazing gross-outs...for my money, the scene where the girl gets the splinter in her eye in close-up in the most squirm-inducing scene ever.
7. The Return of the Living Dead. John Russo had the rights to do a Night of the Living Dead sequel, and he and Dan O'Bannnon cooked this thing up. Premise is that the story in Night of was partially true, and the zombies were actually resurrected by a chemical called 245 Trioxin, and that one corpses was shipped in a drum to a medical supply warehouse in Louisville KY...when asked if the drum will leak, the owner of the warehouse replies, "are you kidding? This was made by the Army Corps of Engineers," and kicks it, releasing a bunch of Trioxin gas, and freeing the Tar Man, my favorite zombie, a truly nightmarish creation. From that point on, it's one great bit of business after another, including living-dead butterflies and split dogs...the movie just plain abounds in wonderful ideas. I particularly like the undertaker who works across the street, who's apparently some sort of nazi, packs an p-38, and is named Ernie Kaltenbrunner, just like RSHA chief who succeeded Heydrich...
8. Dead Alive. A woman runs afoul of a Sumatran rat monkey, and well...zombies ensue. This isn't my favorite early Peter Jackson...I prefer Meet the Feebles. But Hell, this thing is gross, gross, gross. Romero's films seem positively tidy by comparison. There's a scene with a lawn mower that isn't merely the goriest scene committed to cellulose...it's probably gorier than every other gore scene ever, combined.
9. Bio-Zombie. Zombies Hong Kong style. If the prosthetic effects were better (they're crummy to adequate), this would be my pick for best zombie film. As it is, I think it's my favorite. Sam Lee and Jordan Chan play a couple of idiot low-level triads who find themselves caught in a tiny claustrophobic mall swarming with not-quite dead completely bonkers plague victims...it all has something to do with Saddam Hussain's bio-weapons program...I guess the WMD's wound up in Hong Kong! Anyway, the characterizations are very funny and smart, and the direction (by Wilson Yip) has no business being so good...it's almost as though you're watching a zombie comedy made by Martin Scorsese. Highly recommended. Saw this at an anime convention, went home and tried to buy the movie online, but couldn't...everybody from the screening had promptly gone home and bought every available copy.
10. Shaun of the Dead. Rather a similar vibe to Bio-zombie...better makeup effects. Very well done for the most part. Directed by Edgar Wright, the guy who created Spaced, and who made Hot Fuzz later on. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the obligatory dimwits confronting a zombie onslaught in London...I love the way that our heroes are completely oblivious even while the shit's hitting the fan. All of the characters are very nicely drawn...I love Bill Nighy as Shaun's stepfather, who you really expect to hate, but who turns out to be right sympathetic. My only gripe is with the climactic stuff...the zombies are just too stupid and incompetent. They're almost as bad as the vampires at the end of Dusk Till Dawn. But other than that, aces.