5. Night of the Comet (1984)
This neon-lit, tongue-in-cheek pastiche of Dawn of the Dead and The Omega Man is buttressed by two strong female protagonists and a ton of 80s sci-fi and horror tropes, in writer-director Thom Eberhardt’s influential post-apocalyptic party film, Night of the Comet.
Two headstrong teenage sisters, Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney), find themselves amongst a scant handful of survivors after a comet blows by the Earth, either reducing most of the populace to piles of dust or seriously effed up zombies. The two young women spend most of the movie either dodging or duelling the undead and some douchey scientists, and it all amounts to a surprising amount of fun.
Joss Whedon has proclaimed many times that Maroney’s 16-year-old Samantha was the basis for his vampire-killin’ creation Buffy Summers, so fans of that cosmology should take note and plan a sleepover with Night of the Comet, you’ll have a witty, imaginative, occasionally scary, and enjoyably silly time.
4. Nina Forever (2015)
Written and directed by brothers Ben and Chris Blaine, Nina Forever is an oft romantic, always amusing, occasionally erotic, and outright macabre debut that showcases pronounced visual savvy and a breakout performance from Abigail Hardingham.
Holly (Hardingham) is a young paramedic student who early on is wrongly labelled “a bit vanilla” from a wannabe Lothario. Such ideas of unembellished basic-ness are soon kicked to the curb when Holly falls for bad boy Rob (Cian Barry), who proves to be a thoughtful lover were it not for his ex-love, Nina (Fiona O’Shaughnessy). Nina died in a grisly road accident but her blood-splattered body has no problem cockblocking Rob and Holly’s passionate lovemaking at every unfortunate turn.
Lurid subject matter makes nice with horror genre tropes, coming-of-age sexual awakenings and more in this surprising, delightful, and seductive slab of fright cinema.
3. Deathgasm (2015)
New Zealand writer/director Jason Lei Howden (Guns Akimbo) hilariously resurrects the splatter comedy with Deathgasm. If combining the crude fanboy nobility of Bill and Ted with the stomach-churning carnage of The Evil Dead sounds delectable, then this indelicate and scatological midnight movie masterpiece is a sweet course for sure.
Brodie (Milo Cawthorne), a serious heavy metal fan, along with bad-boy bff Zakk (James Blake) front Deathgasm, a moody metal band who up their street cred and Satanic celebrity by incorporating demonic lyrics from an ancient text into their music. It turns out that doing so summons an assortment of teeth-gnashing nasties that only they can stand up to.
Deathgasm’s hyperbolic, fluid-spewing violence is a morbid revelry, what other film offers up a slow motion assault on demon zombies with an ebony dildo and a string of anal beads? and with rapid-fire quotable quips and put-downs that are laugh-out-loud funny, this is a film meant for repeat group viewings.
2. Black Sheep (2006)
Set in the bucolic and pastoral green of New Zealand’s Wellington region, writer-director Jonathan King’s comical horror splatter film Black Sheep feels like the most early-era Peter Jackson-y film ever not made by Peter Jackson, and we mean it as a huge compliment.
Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister) is a man in his mid-30s suffering from PTSD over the death of his father who died in a herding accident, and Henry has been horrified of sheep every day since. Well, it turns out his fear is healthy and well met as Henry’s bad seed brother Angus (Peter Feeney) is genetically experimenting with sheep via the family farm. And before you can bleat out “28 days later…” a group of well-meaning but inept animal rights activists accidentally (of course) unleash an experimental biohazardous lamb that infects the flock in no time.Angus’s new breed of sheep are mutating monsters with an appetite for human flesh!
The practical effects in Black Sheep are pretty awesome (kudos to the Weta Workshop, well known for their work on King Kong and the LotR films). There’s a bevy of animatronics, prosthetics, puppets and sick makeup effects, all ensuring the cult status that Black Sheep has slowly acquired over the years since its release. Don’t miss it.
1. Land of the Dead (2005)
It’s only fitting that the top spot on this list go to the granddaddy of ghouls himself, the “Father of the Zombie Film”, George Romero, and his (at the time) biggest budget production, Land of the Dead (itself a continuation from his previous Day of the Dead, which didn’t have the budget to go where this film fearlessly does).
“Finally someone was smart enough to realize that it was about time,” Guillermo del Toro said about Land of the Dead, “and gave George the tools. It should be a cause of celebration amongst all of us that Michelangelo has started another ceiling. It’s really a momentous occasion.”
Ostensibly the fourth of Romero’s six Living Dead films, Land of the Dead unfolds in the remains of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a feudal-like government exists. The wealthy live in luxury in the seemingly safe high-rise dubbed Fiddler’s Green, home to plutocratic ruler and all ‘round asshole Paul Kaufman (Dennis Hopper). This is a Romero film so of course the only thing more biting than the satire are the shambling masses of the undead.
Other characters include a blue-collar hero named Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) who has something of a blue-collar nemesis in Big Daddy (Eugene Clark), once an auto-mechanic, now a zombie who seems more and more capable of complex thinking and problem-solving, including manipulating other living dead to follow his lead and manipulate tools and weapons.
Also in the cast is a kick-ass Asia Argento, a macho John Leguizamo, and be sure to keep your peepers peeled for cameos from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright (who had endeared themselves to Romero after he saw their film Shaun of the Dead).
While fans may fuss over what film from this series is Romero’s best (it’s usually one of two camps; 1968’s Night of the Living Dead or 1978’s Dawn of the Dead), this is the film that did, as del Toro has pointed out, enable him to fully realize his vision with the budget to back it. So it’s certainly a zombie film that lays close to the heart of its creator. Recommended.
Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.