Zombie Movie Gallery: 1932-2013

Ever since WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) introduced movie audiences to the classic image of the zombie (a mindless revived corpse, directed by a Voodoo houngan [priest]), the restless dead have been shambling across the silver screen in various shapes and sizes, eventually throwing off the shackles of their masters and developing strange new appetites (first for human flesh, then for brains). Here is a representative sample.
WHITE ZOMBIE: Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi, left) directs his mindless minions.
WHITE ZOMBIE (1932): Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi, left) directs his mindless minions. The corpses have no will of their own; the film’s true monster is their master.
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Revolt of the Zombies (1936) posits the idea of an unstoppable undead army in WWI.
REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES (1936): This week follow-up to WHITE ZOMBIE posits the idea of an unstoppable undead army in WWI – offering the first suggestion of zombies as a worldwide threat.
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The Ghost Breakers (1940): This is probably the first zombie film to mix horror and comedy. Although the zombie (Noble Johnson) is revealed to be a fake planted to scare away Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, his scenes are played for scares more than laughs.
THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940): This is probably the first zombie film to mix horror and comedy. Although the zombie (Noble Johnson) is revealed to be a fake planted to scare away Bob Hope and Paulette Goddard, his scenes are played for scares more than laughs.
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King of the Zombies (1941): Comic actor Mantan Moreland gets some laughs from his reaction to WWII era zombies, under the direction of a Nazi scientist.
KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941): Comic actor Mantan Moreland gets some laughs from his reaction to traditional-looking zombies, who turn out to be under the direction of a Nazi scientist.
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I Walked with a Zombie (1943): Darby Jones as the zombie Carrefour, in the classic produced by Val Lewton
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943): Darby Jones as the zombie Carrefour, in the classic produced by Val Lewton. The Voodoo element is strongly represented here. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, this is probably the greatest film every made using the traditional zombie theme.
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Zombies of Mora Tau (1957): This low-budget effort is memorably only for the novel concept of water-logged zombies guarding a sunken treasure.
ZOMBIES OF MORA TAU (1957): This low-budget effort is memorably only for the novel concept of water-logged zombies guarding a sunken treasure.
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Night of the Living Dead (1968): Though the word "zombie" is never mentioned, George A. Romero's film changed the genre forever, reinventing the walking dead as cannibal corpses, driven by instinct to consume the living.
NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968): Though the word “zombie” is never mentioned, George A. Romero’s film changed the genre forever, reinventing the walking dead as cannibal corpses, driven by instinct to consume the living. Romero wrote but did not direct the 1990 color remake – a worthwhile film, but not classic.
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Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971): Amando de Ossorio's film introduced the zombie-like Knights Templar, who would return in three sequels. Despite their desiccated appearance, the Templars were more of an undead cult than mindless corpses.
TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD (1971): Amando de Ossorio’s film introduced the zombie-like Knights Templar, who would return in three sequels. Despite their desiccated appearance, the Templars were more of an undead cult than mindless corpses.
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Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (a.k.a., The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue, 1974): This Spanish film, obviously inspired by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is the first to show zombie cannibal carnage in color.
LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE (a.k.a., THE LIVING DEAD AT MANCHESTER MORGUE, 1974): This Spanish film, obviously inspired by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, is the first to show zombie cannibal carnage in color.
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Dawn of the Dead (1978): George A. Romero's sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD offers cinema's first vision of the zombie apocalypse, which plays out in the microcosm of a shopping mall.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978): George A. Romero’s sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD offers cinema’s first vision of the zombie apocalypse, which plays out in the microcosm of a shopping mall. Tom Savini’s graphic makeup effects, including exploding heads and disemboweled intestines, set the standard for all zombie films to follow.
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Zombie (a.k.a., Zombie 2, 1979): Directed by Lucio Fulci, this Italian film the graphic splatter approach of DAWN OF THE DEAD with the zombies' more traditional roots in Voodoo. The result launched an army of Italian zombie gorefests.
ZOMBIE (a.k.a., ZOMBIE 2, 1979): Directed by Lucio Fulci, this Italian film combines the graphic splatter approach of DAWN OF THE DEAD with the zombies’ more traditional roots in Voodoo. The result, presented as an ersatz sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD (which was released as ZOMBIE in Europe) launched an army of Italian zombie gorefests.
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The Beyond (1981): Director Lucio Fulci offers two kinds of living dead: corporeal walking corpses and a more magical variety, able to appear and disappear at will
THE BEYOND (1981): Director Lucio Fulci offers two kinds of living dead: corporeal walking corpses and a more magical variety, able to appear and disappear at will.
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The Evil Dead (1981): Sam Raimi's sleeper hit features human bodies possessed and sometimes resurrected by evil spirits. The grim, low-budget intensity echoes THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.
THE EVIL DEAD (1981): Sam Raimi’s sleeper hit features human bodies possessed and sometimes resurrected by evil spirits. The grim, low-budget intensity echoes THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. The 2013 remake emphasized the possession angle, so that there were few if any walking corpses on screen.
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Return of the Living Dead (1985): Dan O'Bannon's black-comedy pseudo-sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD re-imagines zombies as unkillable brain-eaters.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985): Dan O’Bannon’s black-comedy pseudo-sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD re-imagines zombies as unkillable brain-eaters.
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Re-Animator (1985): Stuart Gordon's unrated gore film offered a more energetic species of living dead, resurrected by Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs)' formula.
RE-ANIMATOR (1985): Stuart Gordon’s unrated gore film offered a more energetic species of living dead, resurrected by Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs)’ formula.
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Diary of the Dead (1985): Romero's third living dead film presents us with the world's first "domesticated" zombie, Bub (Sherman Howard), capable of some primitive human thought.
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985): Romero’s third living dead film presents us with the world’s first “domesticated” zombie, Bub (Sherman Howard), capable of some primitive human thought. Romero would continue to explore the zombie apocalypse in LAND OF THE DEAD, DIARY OF THE DEAD, and SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD.
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Evil Dead 2 (1987): Sam Raimi's sequel to THE EVIL DEAD (1981) pushes the unrated gore to comic levels.
EVIL DEAD 2 (1987): Sam Raimi’s sequel to THE EVIL DEAD (1981) pushes the unrated gore to comic levels.
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The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988): Wes Craven's film, based on a non-fiction book, returned zombies to their West Indies roots, suggesting a realistic explanation: drugs to induce mindless catatonia.
THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1988): Wes Craven’s film, based on a non-fiction book, returned zombies to their West Indies roots, suggesting a realistic explanation: drugs to induce mindless catatonia.
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Braindead (a.k.a. "Dead Alive," 1992): A pre-Tolkein Peter Jackson tries to outdo Sam Raimi in the gleeful gore department, and almost succeeds.
BRAINDEAD (a.k.a. “Dead Alive,” 1992): A pre-Tolkein Peter Jackson tries to outdo Sam Raimi in the gleeful gore department, and almost succeeds.
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Resident Evil (2002): based on the popular game, writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson's film offered a videogame version of zombie violence.
RESIDENT EVIL (2002): based on the popular vidoegame, writer-director Paul W. S. Anderson’s film offered an amped-up version of zombie violence. Several sequels followed, the best being RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION (2012)
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28 Days Later (2002): Instead of traditional zombies, director Danny Boyle's film featured living people infected by a virus that drives them to mindless homicidal rage.
28 DAYS LATER (2002): Instead of traditional zombies, director Danny Boyle’s film featured living people infected by a virus that drives them to mindless homicidal rage – an idea used by George A. Romero way back in THE CRAZIES (1973). The sequel 28 WEEKS LATER expands upon and surpasses the original.
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Dawn of the Dead (2004): This remake of Romero's classic substitutes speedy zombies in place of the familiar shambling walkers. It's entertaining in a slick professional way, with some good characterization, but it lacks the social satire of the original.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004): This remake of Romero’s classic substitutes speedy zombies in place of the familiar shambling walkers. It’s entertaining in a slick professional way, with some good characterization, but it lacks the social satire of the original.
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Shaun of the Dead (2004): Riffing off Romero's films, this comedy combines the zombie apocalypse with a love story; the end offers another glimpse of a domesticated zombie.
SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004): Riffing off Romero’s films, this comedy combines the zombie apocalypse with a love story; the end offers another glimpse of a domesticated zombie.
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Fido (2006): Billy Connolly plays a literally domesticated zombie, serving a human household as combination butler-pet.
FIDO (2006): Billy Connolly plays a literally domesticated zombie, serving a human household as combination butler-pet.
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[rec[ (2007): This Spanish film filtered zombies through the lens of a hand-held shaky-cam, in the style of "found footage" films. The explanation for the zombies is a combination of virus and supernatural, an idea explored in the first of two sequels. There was also an American remake, QUARANTINE.
[REC] [ (2007): This Spanish film filtered zombies through the lens of a hand-held shaky-cam, in the style of “found footage” films. The explanation for the zombies is a combination of virus and supernatural evil, an idea explored in the first of two sequels. There was also an American remake, QUARANTINE.
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I Am Legend (2007): Are they vampires or zombies? It's not clear, but thanks to the star power of Will Smith, this adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel reached a wider audience than any zombie movie before.
I AM LEGEND (2007): Are they vampires or zombies? It’s not clear, but thanks to the star power of Will Smith, this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s novel reached a wider audience than any zombie movie before.
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Dead Snow (2009): Nazis-had been done before but never better than in this somewhat comic horror film from Norway
DEAD SNOW (2009): Nazis-had been done before but never better than in this somewhat comic horror film from Norway
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Zombieland (2009): This comedy took the concept of zombies as living humans infected by a virus, and turned it into blockbuster success at the box office.
ZOMBIELAND (2009): This took the 28 DAYS LATER concept of zombies as virus-infected-humans, and mainstreamed it for the masses with a comedic approach, achieving blockbuster success.
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The Crazies (2010): This remake of George A. Romero's 1973 film offers another version of viral zombies - not the living dead, but infected humans.
THE CRAZIES (2010): This remake of George A. Romero’s 1973 film offers another version of viral zombies – not the living dead, but infected humans.
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The Walking Dead (2010-2013): This AMC series, based on Robert Kirkman's graphic novel, hews close to the zombie concept laid down by Romero but appealed to non-genre fans with its characterization and story-telling
THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2013): This AMC series, based on Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel, hews close to the zombie concept laid down by Romero but appealed to non-genre fans with its characterization and story-telling. The graphic make up and effects are courtesy of Greg Nicotero, who had assisted Tom Savini on DAY OF THE DEAD.
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Warm Bodies (2013): This comedy-romance gives us zombies with a heart as "R" (Nicholas Hoult) finds his human emotions revived when he falls in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer)
WARM BODIES (2013): This comedy-romance gives us zombies with a heart as “R” (Nicholas Hoult) finds his human emotions revived when he falls in love with Julie (Teresa Palmer).
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World War Z (2004): This big-budget blockbuster played out the zombie apocalypse on a bigger scale than ever before.
WORLD WAR Z (2013): This big-budget blockbuster played out the zombie apocalypse on a bigger scale than ever before.
[serialposts]

Oh What a ‘Night’: Looking Back at the ‘Living Dead’

"They're coming to bookstores, Barbara!"
"They're coming to bookstores, Barbara!"

Just in time for the pre-Halloween gift-giving crush comes this breezily entertaining yet critically informative tome on the evolution, production, and aftermath of 1968’s seminal horror film, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Joe Kane, a.k.a. The Phantom of the Movies, has been covering the exploitation and B-movie scene for thirty-plus years. As editor of the tabloid The Monster Times from 1972 to its premature demise in 1976, he oversaw coverage of a slew of genre flicks, as well as running a 1974 presidential campaign for the King of the Monsters himself, Godzilla (who better to replace the reptilian Richard M. Nixon, even if it wasn’t an election year?). Since 1984, he’s been writing as The Phantom of the Movies, a hip, streetwise counterpart to trailer parkdom’s drive-in guru, Joe Bob Briggs. Whether covering the demise of NYC’s Forty-second Street grind houses for the New York Daily News or the inexorable rise of the home video marketplace for The Washington Post — in addition to editing and publishing his own quarterly film magazine, VideoScope — Kane’s credentials for the task are indisputable, while his passion for the subject is undeniable.

In his foreword, writer/director Craven (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM) credits NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as having “liberated me to make LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, because I knew that after [NOTLD] there was a whole new kind of film blossoming in American cinema.” As Kane points out, film zombies were still mired in the voodoo traditions of 1932’s WHITE ZOMBIE before NOTLD, although 1943 became a banner year with the release of REVENGE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE MAD GHOUL. It wasn’t until 1964’s gritty, Italian-lensed THE LAST MAN ON EARTH and Hammer Studios’ period-piece THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES that we see the true cinematic forefathers of director George A. Romero’s re-animated flesh-eaters.
 
Through interviews with the primary participants (some posthumously culled from previously printed sources), Kane recalls the struggles of Pittsburgh, PA-based The Latent Image, Inc., a commercial/industrial film production house, to come up with a viable concept for a feature film they could shoot on a shoestring budget — actually, more like a penny-candy budget! After rejecting a science-fiction comedy about “‘hot-rodding’ aliens” and their BLOB-like pet coming to Earth for some highjinks, Latent Image partner John A. Russo concocted an outline that combined elements of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956) and, oddly enough, 1953’s LITTLE FUGITIVE. After discussing the idea of “ghoulish people or alien creatures … feeding off human corpses,” Romero, another partner at Latent Image, came up with forty pages of story that was basically the first half of what would become NOTLD’s plot. Once the story was in place (Russo would complete the screenplay), the major hurdle of actually making their first full-length feature loomed large. Casting friends as well as professionals, a significant shift in the film’s ultimate tone and focus occurred once African-American actor Duane Jones was cast as lead character Ben, a role originally written as a redneck trucker.
 
While the making-of section contains much that’s been previously revealed through various print and video sources over the four decades since NOTLD’s release, it’s the aftermath of production where the story gets truly complex. Changing the title from “Night of the Flesh Eaters,” distributor Continental Releasing (a division of the esteemed Walter Reade Organization) cost the original investors their copyright of the film. Then, Continental reneged on royalty payments, and lawsuits ensued until Walter Reade Organization finally went bankrupt. Once the film’s copyright was restored to the producers, however, they had no money to pursue legal action against the many infringers.
Meanwhile, the original cast and crew drifted apart, with Romero rising to the top of the notoriety pool. Kane chronicles his post-NOTLD career with efforts such as THERE’S ALWAYS VANILLA and JACK’S WIFE (both 1972), then his return to the horror genre with THE CRAZIES (1973) and the modern vampire tale MARTIN (1977). He eventually returned to the world of flesh-feasters with 1979’s DAWN OF THE DEAD and 1985’s DAY OF THE DEAD, in addition to such varied genre-related projects as KNIGHTRIDERS (1981), CREEPSHOW (1982), MONKEY SHINES (1988), TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (both the 1984-88 television series and the 1990 film), TWO EVIL EYES (1991), THE DARK HALF (1993), and BRUISER (2000). After twenty years, Romero revisited his ghoul-friends with his first studio-bankrolled zombie epic, 2005’s LAND OF THE DEAD, which served as a finale to his original DEAD cycle. Two years later, he returned to his low-budget roots with DIARY OF THE DEAD (2007), which rebooted the zombie plague and spawned the first-ever direct Romero/zombies sequel, SURVIVAL OF THE DEAD (2010). Kane also briefly spans the period in Romero’s career where he became a victim of numerous unrealized projects, such as an adaptation of Whitley Streiber’s novel UNHOLY FIRE, and remakes of both THE INNOCENTS and THE MUMMY (which Universal eventually assigned to Stephen Sommers), as well as the first film version of the NOTLD-inspired videogame RESIDENT EVIL. (After shooting a wildly acclaimed 30-second, live-action spot for the game RESIDENT EVIL 2, shown only in Japan, Romero was tasked to adapt the game to a feature, but the producers were unhappy with his script and the project went to EVENT HORIZON director Paul W.S. Anderson.)

Kane examines the various LIVING DEAD spin-offs, beginning with 1985’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Romero and Russo struck a deal, whereupon Russo could use the LIVING DEAD title as long as any projects weren’t promoted as direct sequels to the original NOTLD. However, Russo’s script for RETURN was exactly that, and it was a project he hoped to direct himself. After languishing for several years, Russo turned the screenplay into a novel, then sold the project to producer Tom Fox, and it wound up at Orion Pictures. ALIEN scripter Dan O’Bannon (DARK STAR) drastically rewrote the film into a dark, twisted comedy, and ended up replacing TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE auteur Tobe Hooper as director. The film’s punk rock-influenced cast and soundtrack gave it a lively twist, but its release at the same time as Romero’s own DAY OF THE DEAD overshadowed that project. RETURN was constantly being misidentified as Romero’s work during its initial release! RETURN spawned a bevy of sequels, of which only 1993’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 (directed by BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR’s Brian Yuzna), is worth a viewing. Russo and the other Latent Image partners were joined by Romero for the ill-advised 1990 remake of NOTLD, scripted by Romero and directed by DAWN and DAY’s make-up effects maestro, Tom Savini. Although a larger budget and a genre-savvy cast made for some solid production values, it was ultimately a letdown for both fans and the investors. Changes made to the plot seemed perfunctory at best, such as Barbara’s (Patricia Tallman) transformation into a Sigourney Weaveresque tough chick. It smacked of exactly what it was: an effort by the original investors to finally turn a buck. Even more desperate (and despicable) was the so-called NOTLD: THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY EDITION, released direct to home video by Anchor Bay Entertainment. “Inspired” by George Lucas’ successful twentieth anniversary re-releases of the original STAR WARS trilogy with enhanced special effects and added scenes as “Special Editions,” Russo, Karl Hardman (“Harry Cooper”), Bill Hinzman (“Cemetery Zombie”), and Russ Streiner lensed new sequences, re-edited the film, and added a new synth-rock score that was already a decade outdated. Romero, at the time hip deep in RESIDENT EVIL scripting, wisely avoided the project. It was instantly decried by fans and critics alike.

Throughout the volume, Kane scatters recollections on NOTLD by such genre luminaries as Peter Jackson (DEAD ALIVE), Danny Boyle (28 DAYS LATER), Lloyd Kaufman (THE TOXIC AVENGER), William Lustig (MANIAC), Allan Arkush (ROCK’N’ROLL HIGH SCHOOL), and Frank Hennenlotter (BASKET CASE). Also examined are spoofs such as NIGHT OF THE CREEPS (1988) and SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), as well as the Romero-less remakes/sequels DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004), DAWN OF THE DEAD 2: CONTAGIUM (2005), DAY OF THE DEAD (2008), and the non-sanctioned NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD 3D (2007). The upcoming NOTLD: ORIGINS (2011) sounds utterly yawn-inspiring.

Illustrated only with b/w photos, the book includes Russo’s complete NOTLD screenplay (with red-necked dialogue for the “Truckdriver” character that became Duane Jones’ more refined “Ben”). Kane’s writing style is conversational, so you never feel lectured at while he tells the tortured tales of the film’s four-decade odyssey. My own experience with it began with a 1980 screening of DAWN OF THE DEAD at Cambridge, MA’s Orson Welles Cinema, where beer-fueled Harvard frat boys chowed down on ketchup-drenched KFC during all the zombie-feasting sequences, then tossed the denuded chicken bones at the screen! Fortunately, a Harvard Square Cinema showing of NOTLD soon followed, making me a member of the DEAD-head ranks forever after. It’s an interesting, generational divide, as Jackson and Boyle both point out their own zombie epics were more influenced by DAWN than NOTLD. DAWN was the over-the-top, kick-in-the-nuts that then drove you to seek out the more subtle, sucker-punch-to-the-gut that was NOTLD. Twenty years from now, it would be interesting to see what the filmmakers whose first exposure to the living dead is 2004’s DAWN remake or Romero’s DIARY will be inspired to unleash upon us.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: BEHIND THE SCENES OF THE MOST TERRIFYING ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER, by Joe Kane, foreword by Wes Craven. Citadel Press, New York, NY. August 31, 2010. 316 pp. $16.95.

Creation's Weekend of Horrors in LA

CREATION’S
WEEKEND OF HORRORS
LOS ANGELES, CA
Fri., Sat. & Sun.
October 15-17, 2010
Marriott Burbank Airport Hotel
With Guests Including
BRUCE CAMPBELL
SEAN PATRICK FLANERY (SAW 3D)
NORMAN REEDUS (THE WALKING DEAD)
TROY DUFFY (BOONDOCK SAINTS)
SID HAIG (SPIDER BABY & MORE)
KEN FOREE (DAWN OF THE DEAD)
ADRIENNE KING (FRIDAY THE 13th — Crystal Lake Wine)
ROBERT Z’DAR (MANIAC COP)
WILLIAM LUSTIG (MANIAC — Blue Underground Video)
FRANK HENENLOTTER (BASKETCASE)
“UNCLE BOB” MARTIN
NATHAN HANNEMAN (HORRORHOUND)
Plus JEFFREY COMBS’ One Man Show NEVERMORE
A complete schedule of events will be posted shortly before the convention. Check their NEW webpage for Updates.
Note: Cinefantastique is a Media Sponsor of this event.

Top Ten Zombie Films, Plus One or Two

With DIARY OF THE DEAD opening in exclusive engagements around the country this weekend, horror fans have zombies on the brain. In fact, zombie fans are probably wondering aloud at this very moment: Just what are the Top Ten Zombie Films of All Time? And we bet they just can’t wait for us to tell them – so here we go!

Noble Johnson as the zombie in THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940)

A word of warning: You may find this list questionable; in fact, you may find some of the entries and omissions so bizarre that you even start to question our sanity. Rest assured, however, that there is a method to our madness. Can you decipher what it is?
1. I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943). This moody black-and-white opus from the producer-director team of Val Lewton and Jacques Tourner features a nurse who comes to the West Indies to take charge of a catatonic patient. It turns out the brain-dead woman may have been struck down not by disease but by voodoo. Midway through, the nurse takes her patient on a long trek to a local priestess in hope of finding a cure; along the way, they encounter another zombie, Carrefour (Darby Jones) – or is he? The mysterious storyline leaves the question of the supernatural up for grabs, creating an eerie ambiguity that chills the mind.
2. WHITE ZOMBIE (1932). Bela Lugosi (DRACULA) stars as a voodoo master who uses zombies to work his sugar mill. He is hired by a love-struck plantation owner to abscond with another man’s fiancee, but he decides to keep the beautiful woman for himself, turning her into a mindless automaton. The script makes clever use of the “facts” of zombies, reciting a local ordinance the prohibits the use of drugs to create a death-like trance from which the victim can be awakened. This leaves open the question of whether any of the zombies we see are, in fact, the walking dead or merely victims in a trance. Either way, this creaky old effort is historically important as the first zombie film ever, and it overcomes its flaws thanks to its rich atmosphere and the strength of Lugosi’s performance.
3. THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW (1987). Director Wes Craven turns in a fictionalized film version of a non-fiction book about an anthropologist who heads to Haiti in search of the truth behind the myth of zombies. As in WHITE ZOMBIE, the scientific explanation revolves around the use of drugs to render the victim with no will of his own, so that he resembles the walking dead. However, Craven tosses in several of his patented hallucinatory dream sequences, leaving open the question of whether the supernatural exists or not.
4. THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940). Bob Hope and Paulette Godard star in this follow-up to THE CAT AND THE CANARY, in which the couple head to Cuba to take possession of an inherited castle, which turns out to be haunted not only by ghost but also, according to the locals, by a zombie (Noble Johnson). Although a comedy, the horror elements are played relatively straight, and the black-and-white atmosphere is genuinely spooky. Of course, the last-reel explains the supernatural elements away, but lingering doubts remain.
5. PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES (1966). Hammer Films’ only zombie flick is set in a Cornish village where a powerful local squire is using voodoo to revive the dead, whom he then puts to work in his tin mine. Although the ending is weak, this is otherwise a strong effort, featuring a wonderfully hallucinatory sequence of the dead rising from their graves, clawing their way through the earth to attack the hero, who watches in horror as the resurrected corpse of his dead wife is decapitated.
6. SUGAR HILL (1974). The titular character (played by Marki Bey) is a tough black woman who uses voodoo to seek revenge after her boyfriend is murdered by a white mobster as part of a plan to take over the victim’s night club. With the help of the god Baron Samedi, Sugar resurrects some black slaves who died on the boat to America centuries ago and turns the zombies loose on the murderous thugs. This obscure title is not really very good, but it is fun to see the cross-pollination of the blaxploitation and horror genres, and Robert Quarry, as the villain, is a real hoot.
7. ZOMBIE (a.k.a. “Zombie 2,” 1980). Director Lucio Fulci’s rip-off of DAWN OF THE DEAD combines the explosive flesh-eating splatter of George A. Romero’s urban film with the moody island atmospherics of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. The story is mostly set in the Caribbean, where a scientist (Richard Johnson) tries to find a solution to the question of why his dead patients keep returning from the grave. His assistant, a local native, believes he has the answer: a local voodoo priest has put a curse on the island that brings the dead back to life. This is the film with the infamous scene of a woman’s eye being skewered by a splinter of wood. Almost as much fun is the amusing but ridiculous scene of a face-off between a shark and a zombie, each trying to eat the other.
8. DAWN OF THE DEAD (a.k.a. “Zombie,” 1978). George A. Romero’s sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD relocates the cannibalistic corpses to a modern shopping mall, where a group of human survivors hope to ride out the apocalypse in comfort and style, thanks the the abundant supply of consumer goods around them. Whereas NIGHT offered a science-fiction explanation for the return of the dead (radiation from a crashed satellite), DAWN introduces hints of the supernatural, as Peter (Ken Foree) quotes his grandmother, a voodoo priestess: “When there’s no more room in Hell, the Dead will walk the Earth.” The film also includes Romero’s first reference to the living dead by their traditional voodoo name: when a motorcycle gang breaks into the mall near the end, Peter notes that the place will soon be filled with “zombies.”
9. LAND OF THE DEAD (2005). Twenty years after DAY OF THE DEAD, Romero has another go at the subject, this time with metaphoric references to the military occupation of Iraq, in the form of a “Green Zone,” where the rich and affluent can live in comfort, protected from the horrors outside. This expensive studio films lacks the inspired creativity of Romero’s earlier films, but it still has plenty to offer, including an amusing performance from Dennis Hopper, who at one point remarks casually, “Zombies, man…they creep me out.”
10. CHOPPER CHICKS IN ZOMBIE TOWN (1988). This low-budget cult film mixes elements of Russ Meyer with George Romero in its tale of a female biker gang that rides into a small town where a mad scientist (Don Calfa) has resurrected the dead and put them to work in the local Uranium mine. It’s not very scary, but it is quite funny. Billy Bob Thornton makes an early appearance as the boyfriend of one of the biker chicks, who becomes one of the living dead.
11. UNDEAD (2004). A tongue-in-cheek effort from Australia, this film borrows Romero’s rules for the living dead (i.e., shoot ’em in the head) and adds slow-motion gunplay lifted from John Woo. It’s funny, though not quite as funny as it intended, and actor Mungo McKay’s attempt to channel Clint Eastwood through an Aussie accent is a bit of a botch. Still, you have to give credit to a film that has a hero who has been expecting the coming disaster ever since he was attacked by a “zombie fish.”
12. ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN (a.k.a. “Flesh for Frankenstein,” 1974). Actually written by Warhol protege Paul Morrissey (with assistance from Antonio Margerit on filming the 3-D gore effects), this bizarre piece of bloody camp may seem out of place in this list, but Baron Frankenstein (the marvelous Udo Kier) refers to his piecemeal creations, male and female, as “my zombies.” This is a film that really needs to be seen in 3-D; otherwise, you loose the impact of those entrails handing out of the screen into your nose.
Well, that’s it – the Top Twelve Zombie Films of All Time. What’s that, you say? Wondering why SUGAR HILL ranks above DAWN OF THE DEAD? Aghast that your favorite flick is not on the list? Appalled by the absence of classics like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, EVIL DEAD 2, DAY OF THE DEAD, RE-ANIMATOR, DEATH DREAM, BRAIN DEAD (DEAD/ALIVE), THE BEYOND, CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, and 28 DAYS LATER. Uncertain just what form of crack we’ve been smoking?
Well, we warned you up front that this list would be eccentric, but there is a rational behind our choices. Have you figured it out? It’s a little hard if you haven’t seen the films, but we tried to lace the entries with clues: check out the titles, plots descriptions, and dialogue references, and you might be able to piece it together, even if you have missed one or two of the movies.
Give up? Okay, we’ll tell you. By and large, when it comes to the cannibalistic walking dead seen on screen since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the bottom line is this: They’re not Zombies!
As George Romero himself says, “For me, zombies were the slave workers in WHITE ZOMBIE [1932] with Bela Lugosi. […] I never thought of [the walking corpses in my films] as zombies; I never called them zombies in NIGHT. They were ‘ghouls’ or ‘those things.’”


As Romero rightly points out, the word “zombie” specifically refers to a corpse that is resurrected through voodoo and mindlessly obeys the commands of its master. Our Top Twelve emphasizes films that feature this traditional definition of the word “zombie.” Failing that, we have selected films that either include “zombie” in the title or use it in the dialogue to refer to the walking dead. Consequently, movies like ZOMBIE and SUGAR HILL, which feature Caribbean settings and/or references to voodoo, rank above Romero’s DAWN and LAND, which feature only brief lip service references to “zombies.” That’s why we called this a “Top Ten” list rather than a “Best of” list.
Okay, so maybe it’s not the cleverest conceit in the world, but it did give us an excuse to assemble a list that was not just a hodge-podge of the obvious.

Dawn of the Dead (1979) – A Retrospective

[EDITOR’S NOTE: DAWN OF THE DEAD makes another appearance on home video today, this time in the Blu-ray format, so we took this opportunity to post a retrospective-review of the film, including an interview with writer-director George Romero.]
DAWN OF THE DEAD (1979) billed itself as “the most intensely shocking motion picture experience for all times,” and this was a rare instance of a film that lived up to its advertising hyperbole. This sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) abandoned the shadowy black-and-white creepiness of its progenitor in favor of a brightly lit color canvas that was bigger, broader, and bloodier. The film established a new record for explicit on-screen carnage, but it also extended the scope of the original film, taking the living dead phenomenon out of the farmhouse and unleashing it upon the world at large. This time out, the production values are superior; the acting performances are uniformly strong; and the script develops its themes more explicitly, with obvious satirical jabs at modern consumer society, as epitomized by the indoor shopping mall where a small band of human survivors take shelter from the zombie plague sweeping the country.
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