Number one on our list of the best zombie movies you do not want to die without watching is 1985’s “The Return of the Living Dead.” “Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead creates the perfect concoction between funny and scary, solidifying its place in the genre’s history. Part gruesome, part scary, and raucously entertaining as a whole, Bannon’s film gives teenage stupidity a new meaning, as it follows a group of nihilistic punks who accidentally release a strange gas that turns corpses into flesh-eating zombies, unleashing them on a sleepy town that’s got no clue what’s coming their way,” adds Movie Web.
Why is it that when the safety of the world is in jeopardy, the weirdest group of people seem to be the only ones who can do something about it? Variety shares their opinion, “When a strange toxic gas is accidentally released in the basement of a medical supply building in Kentucky, a group of nihilistic punks, a jittery mortician, and a few dopey warehouse workers find themselves battling hundreds of zombies in director Dan O’Bannon’s deliciously gruesome horror comedy. Propelled by a killer soundtrack of hits from bands like The Flesh Eaters, The Cramps, 45 Grave, and The Damned, this eminently quotable zombie pic introduced the world to the idea that zombies’ favorite food is ‘brains!’ The film’s young cast is uniformly excellent, but it’s veteran character actors Clu Gulager, James Karen and Don Calfa who truly shine on screen.”
You wouldn’t believe this is Dan O’Bannon’s first time as a movie director because he created a classic. He hit every high point of the zombie genre. “These zombies can talk, run and reason, are not killed by brain damage, and eat only human brains,” says BFI. “And as they take on a gang of punks, and a pair of old ‘friends’ named Burt and Ernie, all to a raucous soundtrack including The Cramps, 45 Grave and The Damned, the end of the world is knowingly mirthful.”
Even if you have never watched it, “Night of the Living Dead” truthfully solidified the genre as a standalone subset of horror movies. “George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead was the first in a series of zombie movies he made that established him as a horror auteur. He’s widely considered the creator of the ‘Hollywood zombie,’ AKA the infected, flesh-craving monsters we’re used to. Romero’s zombies are technically derived from the original zombies of Haitian mythology, but the two are pretty different overall. Regardless, Romero’s movie is a classic and gave the world its first taste of zombie gore,” writes Buzzfeed.
Movie experts critique “Night of the Living Dead” like it was written by Shakespeare. Try not to laugh when you read how The Wrap describes this zombie film: “Few horror films can boast its influence, whether a superior blend of political commentary under genre makeup or the beginnings of zombie mythologies (then called ‘ghouls’). Judith O’Dea put aside her fears of horror movies to star alongside Black stage actor Duane Jones, a boldly progressive choice of on-screen hero in the 60s (heck, even still). Romero’s identification of the horror genre as a place where rules can be broken is alive and well in ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ a patient zero film that stands on its own unsettling merits beyond historical prestige.”
Slant writes, “Roger Ebert memorably described the effect George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead had on a group of Saturday matinee kids, writing that their accelerating awareness that the film wasn’t going to play nice—and was, in fact, going to plunge a garden trowel deep into Mommy’s chest cavity—drove them to hysterical tears. Perhaps they subconsciously recognized in the film’s political and social subtext the many ways adults were failing them, how upheavals were destroying all illusions of social stasis, how the arms race was pushing the doomsday clock toward midnight, how the nuclear family unit was on its deathbed. Or maybe Romero’s pitch-black, impressionistic, gory depiction of the living under siege by the dead simply was and remains among the scariest goddamned films ever made.”
It is interesting that the remake for the original 1978 “Dawn of the Dead’ ranks higher than the original, yet here we are. “Hot take: Were it called anything but Dawn of the Dead, Zack Snyder’s George A Romero riff would be beloved based on the corker of an opening scene alone. With the name in place, though, it seems like sacrilege: a commercial director tackling the most sacred of horror satires with only the barest thread of anti-consumerism commentary present. Yet somehow, Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead works as a kinetic zombie-action flick soaked with gore and sporting wholly likeable survivors, courtesy of screenwriter James Gunn,” writes Time Out.
According to reviewers, the premise of the 2004 remake is the same as the original with one less stressor. “The biggest difference is the absence of overt political commentary and the increased gore, if that’s even possible. But of course it is! You can never have too much blood in a zombie movie,” shares Buzzfeed.
Fans who believe zombie movies and gore are art will not be disappointed by this film. “The union of Zack Snyder’s vision and James Gunn’s screenwriting birthed the best zombie remake, without argument,” writes The Wrap. “‘Dawn of the Dead’ defines the ‘dark and gritty’ remake modes of the early 2000s, while going 100% harder in almost every conceivable aspect. Gunn’s nuttiness leads to ‘Mad Max’ style weapon-fitted vehicles, parents forced to confront their zombie babies, and bleak commentaries about the reprehensible nature of humanity when morality is no longer in style. It’s one of the earlier ‘runner’ zombie movies and becomes more frightfully impactful since walkers turn into sprinters with tremendous stamina, as Snyder exploits American megamall cultures of the modern era. All that, and the smooth lounge-singer crooning of Richard Cheese’s ‘Down With the Sickness’ rendition? ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is what we call a total package.”
Fourth on our list of the best zombie movies is “Shaun of the Dead.” Released the same year as the ever-popular 2004 remake of “Dawn of the Dead,” you would think that one would cancel the other out yet, audiences embraced both films. “When a breakup violently disrupts the complacent man-child bubble of its hero, zombies arrive to violently disrupt the whole world along with it, reframing one man’s personal efforts to grow and learn the value of responsibility as a more literal question of life and death,” writes Slant.
Some movie experts believe “Shaun of the Dead” is an asset to the horror genre. “Arguably one of the most influential zombie films of our times, Shaun of the Dead accentuates the point that a good filmmaker doesn’t rely on a big budget to get his point across,” says Movie Web. “Edgar Wright deploys every trick in the textbook of filmmaking, adding his own spin to it. From visual comedy, to audio cues, Wright’s filmmaking vocabulary compliments his taut and comic screenplay. A mix between a parody, thriller, zombie film, and comedy, Shaun of the Dead is essential viewing for everyone and anyone.”
Variety writes, “When a genre’s popularity wanes, spoofs and satires inevitably appear like vultures overhead, signaling that death is imminent. But director Edgar Wright’s hilarious and heartfelt zom-com about two loveable slackers fighting to save their friends and family from an undead apocalypse not only celebrated the zombie genre, it reinvigorated it. Co-written by Wright and lead actor Simon Pegg, the movie’s clever script is chock full of knowing references to George Romero’s frightening filmography, and the performances across the board are superb. Not since Mel Brooks’ immortal ‘Young Frankenstein’ has a horror comedy hit its mark this successfully.”
The most recent zombie movie that has earned a place among the greatest horror films is the 2016 film, “Train to Busan.” “Yeon Sang-ho’s standout K-horror entry ‘Train to Busan’ (2016) deftly balances unexpected, bloody bursts of comedy with a nail-shredding ‘Snowpiercer’-esque train ride through a zombie apocalypse. ‘The Age of Shadows’ star Gong Yoo plays Seok-woo, a workaholic who’s distracted by his job in finance, and estranged from his kid daughter and wife, who lives in Busan. For her birthday, Seok-Woo agrees to agrees to take her to her mother in Busan via train from Seoul to Busan. But a meant-to-be-simple father-daughter journey turns into the ride from hell, as a virus of unknown origin rapidly spreads on the train, transforming victims into zombies in swift and hideous ways,” shares Indie Wire.
Collider adds, “This is, ultimately, a story about sacrifice vs. selfishness and what it means to the characters in conflict. Would you risk your life to save a stranger? How much do you value your loved ones? Enough to sacrifice yourself?”
“Train to Busan” pushes us right into the midst of the worst-case zombie scenario. “It’s not just a zombie movie,” notes Slash Film. “It’s a ‘trapped in a confined space with zombies’ movie, which is infinitely more terrifying than your standard garden-variety setting. The traditional zombie film often involves some sort of temporarily safe space where our heroes can take refuge, barricading the doors and windows with lumber that always seems to be on hand. But where do you go on a train? Where can you hide? ‘Train to Busan’ is an intelligent horror film, willing and able to tackle social commentary in between its gruesome killings. Packed with engaging characters and plenty of action, ‘Train to Busan’ was a massive success both in its native South Korea and abroad.”
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