‘Dead’ ringers: The zombie files
Every generation gets the zombie movie it deserves. When George A. Romero first sunk his teeth into the genre 40 years ago, at the height of the civil rights era, with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, it radically featured an African-American hero (Duane Jones). In 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, Romero’s lumbering ghouls took a bite out of mindless ”Me Generation” consumerism by feeding at a shopping mall. And so on. With his latest — and fifth — zombie opus, Diary of the Dead, Romero is lining up the camcording narcissists of the YouTube Generation for the body count. ”All the world is a camera now,” says Romero. ”Kids today live their entire lives on camera and that’s just dangerous.” Just how dangerous? You’ll have to see Diary of the Dead to find out. But in the meantime, feel free to look back at the other zombie flicks that have had the good fortune to be one of the Dead family. — Chris Nashawaty
Night of the Living Dead
Zombie guide: ”Night of the Living Dead”
DIRECTOR George A. Romero, master of the zombie genre
CALL IT… The One That Started It All
PREMISE A NASA satellite returning to Earth from Venus contains a high level of radiation, so the government decides to blow it up…but the fallout starts resurrecting the dead (pictured), hungry for human flesh. Oops. Seven strangers take shelter in an abandoned farmhouse and try to survive the night.
BEST ZOMBIE Karen (Kyra Schhon), a girl who turns into a zombie in the farmhouse basement and then feasts on her parents.
GORIEST DEATH Karen kills her mom (Marilyn Eastman) by repeatedly stabbing her with a trowel.
WHAT EW SAID The low-budget Night, which made Entertainment Weekly’s list of the scariest movies of all time, was ”the Blair Witch Project of its day.”
Dawn of the Dead
Zombie guide: ”Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
CALL IT… The One in the Mall
PREMISE A news producer and three other survivors of a zombie apocalypse hole up in a shopping mall. Their little utopia turns to hell, though, when a renegade motorcycle gang shows up, reopening the mall to zombies (pictured).
BEST ZOMBIE The Hare Krishna zombie, simply because it raises the question: What would a Hare Krishna be doing in a mall in suburban Pittsburgh?
GORIEST DEATH One biker, insisting that his blood pressure be checked even though zombies are running amok inside the mall, gets his arm ripped off.
WHAT EW SAID The magazine named Dawn No. 27 on its list of top 50 cult movies: ”Admittedly, the undead lumbering down department-store aisles ain’t the most subtle swipe at brain-dead American consumerism. Still, watching these pasty-faced ghouls get their snack on as Muzak tinkles in the background is a nice touch.”
Return of the Living Dead
Zombie guide: ”Return of the Living Dead”
DIRECTOR Dan O’Bannon, the screenwriter of Alien
CALL IT… The One That Rewrites the Rules (in this non-Romero Dead flick, zombies can’t be killed with shots to the head)
PREMISE A medical-supply company inadvertently receives some canisters of a chemical called 245 Trioxin, which brings the dead back to life. The bumbling idiots who work there accidentally break one open, causing the fumes to seep into the conveniently located cemetery next door.
BEST ZOMBIE Freddy (Thom Matthews) whose transformation from living to dead is as painful as his sprinting (pictured above) after his girlfriend’s brains.
GORIEST DEATH It’s just wrong to see paramedics’ brains being eaten.
Day of the Dead
Zombie guide: ”Day of the Dead”
CALL IT… The One With Bub (more on him below)
PREMISE A small group of scientists and nasty military folk hole themselves up in an underground bunker with zombies and attempt to explore their neurology, in order to control and live with them.
BEST ZOMBIE Bub (Sherman Howard, pictured), the star zombie, who not only knows how to use a tape player but also shoots the egomaniacal military leader.
GORIEST DEATH Communications engineer McDermott (Jarlath Conroy) splits a zombie’s head in half with a shovel.
Return of the Living Dead Part II
Zombie guide: ”Return of the Living Dead Part II”
DIRECTOR Ken Wiederhorn, who also helmed Meatballs Part II
CALL IT… The One Starring a Kid
PREMISE Jesse (Michael Kenworthy, right, protected from a zombie by Dana Ashbrook, left) is the shy boy in a new housing development. The local bullies there stumble across, and subsequently open, a canister of 245 Trioxin that fell off a military vehicle and settled in a tunnel…near a cemetery, of course.
BEST ZOMBIE The goofy one at the end of the movie who’s styled exactly like Michael Jackson in the ”Thriller” video. (Other silly moments: A severed hand shooting a bird, the decapitated head of a woman demanding that a screwdriver be removed from her brain….)
GORIEST DEATH More fun with screwdrivers! Jesse sticks one through his nemesis, Billy (Thor Van Lingen).
WHAT EW SAID ”Part II, described by its director as a ‘horror comedy,’ sadly comes up wanting in both genres.” EW Video Grade: C- (Read the review)
Return of the Living Dead 3
Zombie guide: ”Return of the Living Dead 3”
DIRECTOR Brian Yuzna, director of such schlocky horror flicks as The Dentist and Silent Night, Deadly Night 4
CALL IT… The One With Julie Cooper
PREMISE Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend — The O.C.‘s Melinda Clarke (pictured), also named Julie here — are so in love that when she flies off his motorcycle into a utility pole, he decides to reanimate her. How? As luck would have it, Curt’s dad is in charge of a military program that’s using 245 Trioxin to bring back the dead as bioweapons.
BEST ZOMBIE Not only is Julie naked most of the time, but she has metal nails sprouting out of her fingers. Ouch!
GORIEST DEATH Well, arm-biting doesn’t count as ”gory,” and zombies that look more like people dressed in bad Spencer’s Halloween costumes can’t do much damage. Plus, this one gets mushy: The zombified Julie never eats Curt.
WHAT EW SAID It’s ”like the other loopy Living Deads… but it’s that touch of amore that makes this one so special.” EW Video Grade: B+ (Read the review)
Dawn of the Dead
Zombie guide: ”Dawn of the Dead” (2004)
DIRECTOR Zack Snyder, who’s slated to direct 2006’s Day of the Dead remake
CALL IT… The Hip Update of the One in the Mall
PREMISE The same as the 1978 film, only this time the mall is in Wisconsin, there are more people holed up inside (including, from left, Jake Weber, Sarah Polley, Mekhi Phifer, and Inna Korobkina), and the motorcycle gang is MIA
BEST ZOMBIE The newborn baby. Fangs included.
GORIEST DEATH A survivor inadvertently splits another survivor in half with a chainsaw, in a speeding mall minibus no less.
WHAT EW SAID ”Snyder, making a killer feature debut, trades homemade cheesiness for knowing style, revels in the sophistication of modern special effects, and stomps off with the best remake — er, ‘re-envisioning’ — of a horror classic in memory.” EW Movie Grade: A (Read the review)
Shaun of the Dead
Zombie guide: ”Shaun of the Dead”
DIRECTOR Edgar Wright
CALL IT… The Spoof-tacular British One
PREMISE Shaun (Simon Pegg, center) is a loser chap who works in an electronics store in London, lives with his best mate Ed (Nick Frost, right), and spends copious amounts of time at his favorite pub, the Winchester. After the dead come back to life, he holes himself up with Ed, his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield, left), and a few others at the pub.
BEST ZOMBIE The zombie who responds by grunting at just the right moments to complete Shaun and Ed’s singing of ”White Lines” outside of the pub.
GORIEST DEATH How about most absurd death? Shaun and friends killing the zombified pub owner to the tune of Queen’s ”Don’t Stop Me Now.”
WHAT EW SAID ”The filmmakers, clearly fans of the genre, have got the ‘zom’ and the ‘com’ parts down cold.” EW Movie Grade: B+ (Read the review)
Land of the Dead
Zombie guide: ”Land of the Dead”
CALL IT… The One That Might Be Romero’s Last
PREMISE Smart zombies are on a mission to take down Fiddler’s Green, a luxury apartment building in one of the last cities standing.
BEST ZOMBIE Big Daddy (Eugene Clark, center), who not only leads the dead, but teaches them how to reason.
GORIEST DEATH An army guy blows himself up, falling on a grenade after his hand is sliced off by a zombie.
WHAT EW SAID ”Listless and uninspired,” Land of the Dead sends the zombie genre ”back into rigor mortis.” Movie Grade: C- (Read the review)
”Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis” and ”Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave”
Zombie guide: ”Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis” and ”Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave”
DIRECTOR Ellory Elkayem, who also shot and wrote 2002’s Eight Legged Freaks
CALL THEM… The Ones That Aired on SciFi
PREMISE Necropolis focuses on the damage done by Hybra-Tech, a company that was not only on the front lines of the Chernobyl clean-up but also makes snack foods (!), first-person-shooter videogames, and bioweapons out of the dead (sound familiar?). In Rave to the Grave, a canister of the 245 Trioxin is used to make Z, a type of ecstasy. It’s called Z because when you’re tripping on it, you just stand there like a zombie — and eventually you turn into one. (Neither movie had a major release in theaters; they both aired on TV’s SciFi network.)
BEST ZOMBIE From Necropolis: The futuristic female cyborg who has a circular saw for a hand and PVC tubing as hair.
GORIEST DEATH From Rave to the Grave: the zombie frat boy who gets drumsticks through his eyes.