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The 14 Best Zombie Movies Every Horror Fan Should Watch

26 October 2014 | Features, Film Lists | by Daniel Miranda

dayofthedead

Deeply rooted in Haitian Folklore, zombies have become well-known horror creature spanning from literature, comic books, to cinema, and more recently T.V. Zombies have prevailed in popular culture due to our immense fascination with death. It comes from a ritual in Haitian Voodoo religion in which a corpse is reanimated and controlled by the bokor (a type of priest).

The word zombie first made it into The Oxford English Dictionary in 1819, the first literary incarnation was in The Magic Island by William Seabrook where the author tried to exploit the fear of zombies. Since then, many filmmakers have tried to adapt the folklore in many ways to evoke our primal fears, the most traditional ones are the mindless flesh-eating cannibals. Here are 14 essential films you need to watch.

 

14. White Zombie (1932)

White Zombie (1932)

Madeleine and Neil, a young couple madly in love, are convinced by a new acquaintance Monsieur Beaumont on his Haitian plantation in Port Prince. Beaumont will stop at nothing until he can make Madeleine his, with the help of the devious Legendre, who gives him a drug that will turn Madeleine into an obedient zombie.

Madeleine dies after the wedding, shortly she turns into a zombie. Convinced that Madeleine is still alive by a local missionary, Neil desperately wants to get the love of his life back, will true love prevail?

Considered as the first feature length zombie film and what may be the archetype and model for all the zombie films after, the film centers around the Haitian folklore in which a priest can take control of a person’s body and soul. The film is great with over-the-top performances from the cast, especially from Bela Lugosi who brilliantly plays Legendre. The film is in many ways ahead of its time, by dealing with a subject as controversial as an undead lover. It’s a great introduction into zombie folklore in film.

 

13. The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Ethnobotanist David Allen is sent to Haiti by a pharmaceutical corporation to investigate a powder drug used in Haitian voodoo rituals that turns people into zombies.

Allen embarks in a violent and at times surreal journey to gain access to the powders drug, but what he discovers will change his life forever. He gets mixed in a game where he is the pawn in the middle of voodoo priests, corrupt government officials and his own sanity. In the end, he must decipher what is science and what is black magic.

This film is Wes Craven’s first and only take on the voodoo zombie folklore, loosely based on the nonfiction book by the same name by ethnobotanist Wade Davis. It is beautifully directed and filled with surreal imagery. Bill Pullman carries the movie splendidly, convincing the audience of his hunger for knowledge and disbelief that slowly turns into despair and madness. The film could be categorized as a psychological thriller that leaves you on the edge of your seat.

 

12. Dead Snow (2009)

Dead Snow

A group of friends are on holiday to a secluded cabin in the middle of the wilderness, out of the blue their peace is interrupter by an old man. He warns them of a local curse and tells them a story about WWII during the Nazi occupation, when a group of revels drove the Nazis into the mountain and left them for dead. Soon after the group of friends will have to face the attacks of a zombie Nazi army led by the undead Commander Herzog.

Director Tommy Wirkola wants to portray a different take on the zombie genre. Trying to enhance the disgust and horror, he gave the zombies the Nazi element. Combing actual elements of history with the story, Wirkola delivers us one of the craziest and most controversial zombie films. Filled with great visuals and original zombie make-up and design, Dead Snow is one of the films out there that pays homage to the classic ones while reinventing the sub-genre.

 

11. Zombieland (2009)

billmurray-zombieland

In a post-apocalyptic world, we meet Columbus, who is afraid of everything and uses specific set of rules to keep him alive. He meets Tallahassee, a zombie-slaying badass. On the road their friendship will grow while they try to improve the zombie kill of the week. Columbus and Tallahassee are joined by Wichita and Little Rock, they will have to rely on each other to survive a zombie infected country.

One of the best horror comedies out there, Zombieland takes unique and fun perspectives on surviving a zombie apocalypse. The film has one of the creepiest clown-zombie on film. This is a comedy rather than a horror film, well edited and written. One of the nice things of the scripts is its well-crafted dark comedy, with one of the best cameos ever when Bill Murray appears in zombie makeup while donning a great homage to Ghostbusters and Murray’s “personal disappointment: Garfield.”

This is a great film with a fair amount of action while unraveling its characters’ backstory.

 

10. Zombie (1979)

zombie-flesh-eaters

A sailboat arrives in New York with only a zombie on board. Anne Bowles, daughter of the owner of the boat, is searching for her father who last sailed to an Island in the Antilles. Joined by Peter West, Brian Hill and Susan Barrett, they travel to the Matul Island. Once on the island they will realize the island is infected by flesh eating zombies. Fighting for survival against the increasing number of zombies, they might find answers once they meet Dr. Menard who is working on a possible cure.

Violent and full of  gore, the film is best known as Zombie 2, the producers and director tried to cash in with Romero`s financial success of Dawn of the Dead, even though the two films are not connected. The film is memorable for its use of gore and great special make-up effects. There are two memorable scenes in the film, the first one being a zombie piercing a woman’s eye with a wooden spike in a shocking fashion, and the second one is a zombie wrestling with a shark underwater.

 

9. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Employees at a medical supply facility accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, causing acid rain that re-animates the dead, now a group of survivors will find shelter in a mortuary and fight the hordes of re-animated corpses.

Filled with campiness, it has a slight nod to the events of Night of the Living Dead. This film somewhat re-defines the genre, the film changes the concept established before by making the zombies somewhat intelligent and being able to speak, instead of being flesh eating monsters. Now the zombies are out for brains, the zombies are much faster than the traditional slow-moving ones.

The film is filled with punk/rock music. It is very campy but has great makeup and special effects. It also touches on the zombie’s perspective and motifs, which is the constant pain and hunger.

 

 

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  • thegoddamnbatman

    A great article and a great list, with the small exception of World War Z. I don’t see at all why that movie made into this list. All the others are well crafted, cult movies of the genre, while WWZ is a mediocre and forgettable crap. imo. 🙂

  • Carlos Felipe Suárez Sánchez

    Great article, but in my opinion, Braindead deserves a 2nd place at least!

  • Hector Nuno

    Yeah I have it agree with The Goddamnbatman, World War Z has no place with these movies. As a zombie movie it’s dull and unimagnative, as an action movie it’s pretty generic and forgettable, and as an adaptation don’t get me startled. Honestly if you really needed a more modern zombie movie you should have gone with the remake of Dawn of the dead.

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  • badassbarada

    Goddam it, 28 Days Later is NOT a zombie film! The infected are not dead, merely infected by a ‘rage’ virus. Also, while the first half was great, once the reach the military bunker, it takes a turn that really sucks for the rest of the movie.

    Why oh why does every critic love Shaun of the Dead so much? Man, is that thing over rated. It was okay at best.

    While I think the omission of Dawn of the Dead (2004) is a major injustice, the following should have also been considered, many of which are better than half this list.

    Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
    [REC] (2007)
    Dead of Night (aka The Day Andy Came Home) (1972)
    Planet Terror (2008)

    • Joey Muñoz

      You shit on 28 Days, Shaun of the Dead and mention Planet Terror being better? Sorry, this is all about taste. Planet Terror had its strengths but got too goofy at toward the end. And I LOVE Rodriguez but he gets out of hand (probably hanging out with Tarantino too much).

      You’re really splitting fine hairs with the zombie vs. infected argument on 28 Days. Shaun of the Dead was great because it brought comedy into the zombie genre and did it well, really the first I can remember doing that.

      I totally agree with you on 2004’s DotD.

      I will also probably get shit for this but I thought Warm Bodies was a nice change of pace for the genre. I don’t see it as going mainstream or being teeny bopped but it took a new angle in that zombies still have a conscience and some how can make it back to normal.

      • Brian Lussier

        Braindead was bringing comedy to the zombie genre WAY before Shaun Of The Dead!

    • Ed Guidry

      Zombies don’t have to be dead. Original zombies weren’t. And in the Serpent and the Rainbow, they’re definitely not dead. People need to get over the ideas that zombie = dead.

    • Thomas Boshell

      DoD 2004 is a remake, the original is here in the list so the ideas are already included in the list. Naturally a remake will have better effects but that’s was pretty much it.
      Agree on Shaun of the Dead, it was more a modern critique on the people and not the zombies.
      [REC] is a great movie and the follow-ups, but a bit inconsistant….starts with a biology theme then moves into demonology

      To go out on a limb, I would say Evil Dead is a movie that every horror fan should know. Demons, zombies, gore, low-budget, cult status. I believe they also started the zombie contact lenses.

    • MrMordrid

      Just accept that they are considered by zonbie by the general public and move on. The movie has been out for over a decade and they dont if they are live humans infected by a rage virus.

    • I knew it there would be a nitpicking like this.

  • Brian Lussier

    Really badly written.

  • Ivan Kalashnikov

    World War Z? Please.

  • zeb

    Cemetery Man!

  • Daxton Norton

    World War Z the book was good. The film was awful. 28 Days is a zombie flick, and easily one of the best on the list.

  • Gines Velazquez

    Juan de los Muertos

  • Klaus Dannick

    What a wrong-headed list. I agree with the inclusion of SOME of these but not with their positions on the list (excepting the two top entries). And I am so sick of the zombie subgenre…

  • Agnezakrucifiksa Odpresveteimp

    Resident evil?

    • Matheus Valloti

      you’re joking right??

      • Agnezakrucifiksa Odpresveteimp

        no.

  • Really, no love for Rez Evil? The sound tack alone is awesome.

  • Sherry

    I LOVE World War Z!!!! One of Brad Pitts better movies!!!!

  • Alexandro Sifuentes Díaz

    I actually like more the 2004 “Dawn of the Dead” hehe

    • Joe Trudnak

      By far!

    • Jean Albernaz

      Never.

  • Kesson Dalef

    I would have also included “Diary of the Dead” from Romero, which for me is a pretty damn good movie, and “Day of the Dead” should be definitely N. 3.

    Great list though.

    • Veird Boznian Guy

      Diary was so booring!

  • Giedrius Starkus

    Planet Terror!

  • voidoids

    Cockneys Vs Zombies

  • Dragutin Sparavalo

    Where is Omegaman on this list?

  • Alex Nasaudean
  • Elad1977

    [REC], absolutely.

  • I’d even go that far and claim that Carpenter’s “Assault on Precinct 13” was a zombie film. Think about it.

  • Grzegorz Paprzycki

    World War Z

  • Erlend Palm

    “… that every horror fan has already watched” more like.