For better or worse the zombie movie craze doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. At least some of this undead resurgence is due to the long-running AMC Studios serial drama The Walking Dead (which just finished its 10th season) and its spinoffs, and of course the rage-prone hordes got a solid shot in the arm in the early 2000s with Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later (2002) and the surprisingly well-done Zach Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004).
Of course horror fans already know that the true grandaddy of the undead is George Romero. His satirical horror films imagining the ultimate zombie apocalypse have influenced generations of filmmakers and fans starting with his 1968 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead.
“Zombies are blue collar monsters,” according to Romero, and who are we to disagree? This is also no doubt part of what makes them so enduring.
The list that follows spotlights 10 zombie films that may have been lost in the tidal wave of similarly themed genre titles, and make no mistake, these films are first-rate yet totally underrated cannot-miss-cultural-artifacts if you happen to be a fan of the living dead.
10. Cooties (2014)
Cooties is certainly no masterpiece, and zombie movies of any stripe are about a dime a dozen, and yet this ridiculous black comedy packs a ton of decent and very devilish laughs in its fast moving 94 minutes (thank Jeebus it isn’t any longer). Working from a terminally silly script from Ian Brennan (Glee) and Leigh Whannel (Upgrade, The Invisible Man), co-directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion get lots of wriggle room in this tale of teachers versus students at an elementary school amidst a zombie outbreak.
Wannabe horror writer/substitute teacher Clint Hadson (Elijah Wood) is subbing for a class of bratty fourth-graders at Fort Chicken Elementary, and if the poorly behaved brats weren’t bad enough, he’s also reunited with Lucy McCormick (Alison Pill), an ex he’s carrying a torch for, and she’s dating the jealous gym teacher (Rainn Wilson), and on top of it all, something in the cafeteria food is about to turn all the prepubescent twerps in the school into flesh-starved ghouls. If you buy into the premise, Cooties is a joyful horror-comedy that doesn’t reinvent the wheel so much as it rearranges some of the throw pillows while delivering good on the promise of cruel pranks, mean-spirited japes and some genuine grins.
9. Blood Quantum (2019)
Indigenous Canadian filmmaker Jeff Barnaby (Rhymes For Young Ghouls) has a new viscera-sprayed nightmare for audiences to endure with his boldly reimagined zombie apocalypse movie, Blood Quantum.
A shrewdly observed sociopolitcal commentary on colonialism and the genocide of Canadian natives, Blood Quantum – the very title of which is a reference to inherently racist American laws regarding Native identity by percentages of ancestry, just Google that shit and try not to grit your teeth – is set in Red Crow, an isolated Mi’gMaq reserve where the effects of an undead uprising seem somehow stymied. It seems that the folks at Red Crow are immune to the zombie plague owing to their indigenous heritage.
This fresh take on the zombie craze showcases Barnaby’s signature stylistic flourish and ultra-violent outbreaks, including short animated sequences and a uniformly strong cast of First Nations actors, including Forrest Goodluck, Michael Greyeyes, Gary Farmer, Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers and Devery Jacobs. Don’t miss it.
8. Cemetery Man (1994)
This existential zombie comedy from Michele Soavi, based off of Italian comic book author/novelist Tizian Scalavi’s 1991 novel “Dellamorte Dellamore”, is probably the best zombie populated, satirical, necrophilia-addled rom com you’ve never seen.
Rupert Everett is our put-upon hero Francesco, who works at a cemetery alongside his simpleton sidekick, Gnaghi (a perfectly cast François Hadji-Lazaro), just outside the sleepy Italian village of Buffalora. By day Francesco and Gnaghi busy themselves maintaining the cemetery so that the grieving can mourn their loved ones and find some semblance of peace amongst the manicured lawns, hedgerows and well-looked after tombstones and crypts. By night it’s a whole other story as Francesco and Gnaghi must battle said loved ones, who rise like clockwork the night of their burial as a shambling, shrieking zombie.
Fans of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films will appreciate the pitch-black humor of Cemetery Man, a film that jumps genres in a wink and a blink. A madcap zombie movie one minute, a sexy/silly romantic comedy the next. The end result is a delightfully weird and devilish detour that also features my favorite horse reaction shot toa terrible traffic collision that you’re likely to ever see.
7. Night of the Creeps (1986)
Writer-director Fred Dekker, who had already established a beachhead with smart horror comedy fans having written Steve Miner’s House (he was still a year away from his cult classic The Monster Squad), further endeared himself to genre adherents with his campy B-movie homage, the audacious Night of the Creeps.
With a main plot occupying itself with zombies on a college campus, heroic doses of alien invasion films and sadistic slashers also vie for room as a pair of nerdy fraternity pledges (Jason Lively, Steve Marshall) regrettably agree to pull an over-the-top prank involving a frozen cadaver. Not only does the plan malfunction, the hapless duo let loose slug-like creatures on the quad, amidst undulating co-eds, sexualy frustrated fratboys, and sorority soirées.
As ghoulishly goofy as Night of the Creeps is, it’s also a pretty genius artifact of 1980s pop lunacy. A wealth of one-liners also ups the pleasure factor here, and my favorite zinger has got to be the deadpan from Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) when he announces: “I’ve got good news and bad news, girls; the good news is your dates are here, the bad news is they’re dead.”
6. 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Every bit as good as Danny Boyle’s first film, and with double the budget and a bigger cast, this 28 Days Later follow-up from Juan Carlos Fresnadilo (Intacto) finds the Rage Virus still going strong as a NATO military force maintains as best it can a safe zone in London amidst the pandemic from hell.
Rose Byrne, Robert Carlyle, Idris Elba, Imogen Poots, and Jeremy Renner head the cast of survivors and it’s fair to say they spend the better part of the movie running, out of breath, and scared silly, and so will you, probably. The ballistically heart-pounding opening scene immediately cements 28 Weeks Later as not only a worthy sequel, but a stand-alone zombie classic.