Great Moments In Zombie History

Great Moments In Zombie History

"Zombieland" opens Friday

With Zombieland shambling into theatres this week, it’s apparent that the walking dead are establishing themselves as a true force to be reckoned with in Hollywood, and therefore a vital and productive segment of our society in their own right.

Like any group, zombies have their own culture and history. So with all due respect to White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie which first established the Haitian voodoo sect of their population, we're going to start with 1968 as modern Zombie Year Zero. That year either immediately rings a bell to you or you'll learn why right below.

So without further ado, and a DQ to 28 Days Later for being about infected humans and not true zombies, here is Newsarama's look at ten Great Moments in Zombie History...

10. Return of the Living Dead (1985): One common misconception circling this film is that it’s a direct sequel to “Night of the Living Dead”. Actually, when writer John Russo and director George A. Romero parted company after that film, they each kept one naming convention and the right to do their own films. Russo kept the “Living Dead” for his titles, while Romero stuck with “Dead” or “of the Dead”.

Russo’s subsequent novel was adapted into this film by Dan O’Bannon, who gave it a more comedic edge. This is the film that introduced “Braaaains! More braaaains!” and “Send more cops!” to the horror lexicon.

9. Re-Animator (1985): Frequent Lovecraft adapter Stuart Gordon directed one of his best interpretations with this 1985 fright-fest. Pulling a classic performance from Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West, Gordon also worked in several FX bits that were fairly innovative for the time.

While the film thrives on gallows humor and has became widely known for several scenes involving Dr. Hill’s head (including a particularly notorious one featuring Barbara Crampton), the whole enterprise maintains a taboo-busting vitality that extends into some of its scare moments. One strong entry: the follow-up to Hill’s declaration that he didn’t come without a plan.

8. Shaun of the Dead (2004): Not the first Zom-Com, but the first Zom-Rom-Com (i.e. zombie romantic comedy), “Shaun of the Dead” proudly wore all of its influences on its sleeve. Zombie apocalypse on the outside and treatise about making sacrifices for a relationship on the inside, “Shaun” scores as many points for its sharply observed details about love as it does for its horde of zombie-film references.

The tracking shot of Shaun walking through his mindless daily routine against the carnage kills, as does the process by which one selects which LP to hurl at the advancing dead. Packed with laughs and not a little pathos, “Shaun” proved that there was still fresh territory to be mined in the genre.

7. Zombie (1979): Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci made his bones in film with this swing at an unofficial “Night of the Living Dead” sequel. This one posits what happens when one lone zombie reaches New York City. The event spurs an investigation to a tropical island where things get much, much worse.

Perhaps the most famous scene in the film is the one that is referred to in the fan short-hand of “zombie vs. shark”. And yes, that’s as much fun as it sounds.

6. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War (2006): Writer Max Brooks (son of Mel!) struck comedy gold in 2003 with his “Zombie Survival Guide”. However, his 2006 novel “World War Z” staked a claim in a swiftly growing horror lit subgenre. With an epic scope and a sweeping account of a zombie apocalypse across the entire planet, Brooks wasn’t exactly short on ambition.

A film is in development; it’s set to be directed by Marc Foster, with a screenplay adaptation by genre powerhouse J. Michael Straczynski. And really, won’t it be extremely interesting to see what Brooks’s biggest contribution to zombiedom, the Redeker Plan, looks like on screen?

5. Dead Alive/Braindead (1992): Before "The Lord of the Rings" made him "mainstream," director Peter Jackson made outrageous SF and horror pictures like “Bad Taste” and “Meet the Feebles”. He also did this amazingly entertaining zombie entry, “Dead Alive” (in North America; “Braindead” elsewhere in the world).

Not only did this film establish the lawnmower as a potent zombie dispatching weapon, it introduced us to the Sumatran Rat Monkey, the perils of zombie babysitting, unfortunate mid-dinner zombie lovemaking, and one Kung Fu fighting clergyperson. It’s certainly comfortably within the confines of horror-comedy, but it has more than enough wetwork to satisfy the biggest gorehound.

4. The Walking Dead (2003-Present): Certainly one of the most important zombie-related comic books ever produced, Image Comics’ “The Walking Dead” depicts human survivors struggling in the weeks and months after a zombie apocalypse.

Praised for its character development, the series sprang from the mind of writer Robert Kirkman (who would later go on to write three entries in the series of “Marvel Zombies” mini-series). One of the rare books that has continued to build an audience over time, the series is also well-known for unexpected twists and shocking character deaths.

It was announced in August 2009 that writer/director Frank Darabont and producer Gale Anne Hurd would be bringing to comic to TV as an AMC series.

[Read the first full issue of "The Walking Dead" ]

3. The Evil Dead Trilogy (1981, 1987, 1992): Hail to the King, Baby! Sam Raimi became an icon by torturing star Bruce Campbell through three violent, gory, and increasingly hilarious, zombie cult classics. Actually, the original independently-made film is probably the least seen of the three movies, and it features some particularly brutal moments. One notable instance was the infamous “tree rape” scene, which was condemned in several quarters.

By the time of “Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn”, the filmmakers veered more toward a mix of horror and slapstick, with Campbell’s Ash positioned as a wiseacre hero. The ending of “2” led directly to “Army of Darkness”, which has found its own life beyond the two original films, highlighting as it does Campbell, his chainsaw, and his boomstick taking on the Deadites in a medieval setting. Rumor has a fourth installment on the way.

2. Dawn of the Dead (1978, 2004): Roger Ebert nailed it: “Nobody ever said art had to be in good taste.” Romero’s follow-up to “Night of the Living Dead” amplified the siege mentality of the original and added the extra context of consumer criticism by staging the action around a mall.

Suffused with ideas that have been imitated by countless films to follow, “Dawn” almost has as much impact on the cultural landscape as its sire. The turns of dark humor and the effects of Tom Savini are but two of the classic trademarks. And, of course, there’s the immortal tagline: “When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.”

It also needs noting that the 2004 remake by director Zack Snyder is a strong entrant in the pantheon, itself a worthy contributor to a more self-aware, though no less frightening, fast-zombie vision.

1. Night of the Living Dead (1968): Bestriding the zombie world like a rotting colossus, “Night” is Patient Zero for the outbreak of zombie films over the past forty years. Director Romero and writer Russo eschewed voodoo zombies of the past and reimagined the living dead as cannibalistic creatures reanimated by energy from space.

By including a set of rules akin to vampire disposal (you must destroy the zombie’s brain; a bite can turn you; etc.), the creators established a mythos of their own against the backdrop of an entirely new subgenre: the Zombie Apocalypse.

On top of that, they managed to capture the tenor of the times by echoing visuals of Vietnam War footage and playing on the notions of racial politics during both the siege and the shocking, virtuosic ending. There simply are no “modern” zombies without this film. Pay homage, fleshlings.

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