Which zombie movies do you consider to be canonical?
October 2, 2004 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Which zombie movies do you consider to be canonical?
posted by Prospero to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the best "person in a trance" zombie picture.

The Last Man On Earth remake, The Omega Man, falls in (no pun intended) at a very distant second.

White Zombie was suspenseful and compelling to an extent, though its highly xenophobic/racial overtones have caused it to age over the years like a cheap wine.

If you're talking about ghoul-type "zombie" films, where the aimless walkers are flesh-eaters, I'm sure debate will rise (no pun intended) over weither parodies (Evil Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Dead Alive) and vampirism (Rabid) count, and if shambling, reanimated corpses are more/less "realistic" than the running variety.

As far as my personal bias is concerned, I'd include The Crazies, as it's closer in theme to the traditional vodun belief of captured/corrupted spirits.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:24 AM on October 2, 2004

I almost forgot to mention Carnival of Souls; it's often been argued by some to be more of a ghost movie, as the walking spirits are more likely apparitions than corporeal forms. Still worth a look in either case.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:31 AM on October 2, 2004

I would argue that 28 Days Later should be added as a modern classic, because it was the first to introduce the (much needed) concept of fast-moving undead. One of the biggest drawbacks to zombie movies is that they're by nature very unexciting -- the only reason a main character dies in a zombie flick is when he/she is overrun by hundreds of zombies. Big deal. 28 Days Later changed the equation -- now you can't just run around them.

The perfect example would be the original Dawn of the Dead and the new remake. While the remake lacks "camp" (no karate-chopping black-dude rescue, unfortunately), the terror of knowing you're really trapped is much more pronounced. In the original, they had time to get into the mall, kill some zombies, leave the mall and get trucks to block the entrances, go back into the mall... etc., etc. And don't even get me started on the absurd "biker-gang, pie-in-the-face" scene.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:33 AM on October 2, 2004

Obviously, any zombie canon would have to center around the George Romero zombie trilogy. There's just no getting away from the influence of Night of the Living Dead. It's certainly one of the most widely imitated and referenced films in the horror genre.

For pre-Romero stuff, In addition to White Zombie and Carnival of Souls, I'd throw in The Plague of the Zombies, a great 1966 Hammer Studios flick where half of the shooting budget seems to have been spent on fog machines.

Post-Romero, I'd include some Lucio Fulci movies, like Zombie/Zombi 2 or The Beyond.

Like all arguments about what is canonical, it gets harder to decide what to include from the past 20 years, but Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy and Peter Jackson's Dead/Alive are solid bets. And don't overlook the fantastic Cemetery Man.
posted by varmint at 10:54 AM on October 2, 2004

I agree with pretty much everything said above (some excellent answers so far!) and would add the "zombie movie" that doesn't actually have any zombies in it. And may not even be a zombie movie. We never find out what's "out there" or "happened" to bring about the current condition of the world. Time of the Wolf. Not canonical as next to no one has seen it, but to me, it's one of the most interesting "them against us" "horror" movies I've ever seen as it deals strictly with the unravelling of the victims.
posted by dobbs at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2004

One of the biggest drawbacks to zombie movies is that they're by nature very unexciting

Hmmm... I don't know that I agree with this. Part of the charm of Zombie movies , compared to other horror is IMO the slow but relentless march of the massed undead. For this reason I'd say say the second Dawn of the dead and 28 days later are less than canonical. Whereas Shaun of the dead, while a comedy is truer to the tradition of zombie movies
posted by devon at 11:24 AM on October 2, 2004

Return Of The Living Dead. 'Nuff said.

Oh, one other thing: "And the soundtrack. Everyone knows it rocks."

And if you really want to learn more about ROTLD, check out this site -- amazing.
posted by davidmsc at 11:29 AM on October 2, 2004

Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. It's that simple.
posted by nthdegx at 12:00 PM on October 2, 2004

I always loved Zombie movies growing up, especially George Romero's. Unfortunately, after watching the Romero movies recently, I found the concept of zombies much more compelling than the movies themselves. I would also say that now, as an adult, I enjoy Night of the Living Dead more than the other two, which is the exact opposite opinion I had when I was younger.

I'm also a fan of fast zombies. I thought the "virus" aspect of the new Dawn was far more damaging that the zombies running. To me, part of the scariness of the zombie situation is the inescapability of it all, which is kind of undermined if you need to be bitten to become one. I mean, at least on some level, zombies are a metaphor for death (i.e. you don't need to be bitten for it to happen). I did also feel that 28 Days Later skipped the most interesting (or at least my "favorite") part of the Zombie concept, which is the terrifying dissolution of society.

For cannonical, I'd say go with Night, but ignore the satellite explanation. It's just silly.

I'm going to go get a life now.
posted by Doug at 1:12 PM on October 2, 2004

I agree with C_D that 28 Days Later was a huge leap forward in zombie lore. There's no reason zombies can't be fast.

However, the living dead have never been used better than in Dawn of the Dead. Much more than cheap thrills in that one.
posted by samh23 at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2004

Peter Jackson's Dead Alive is fantastic.

I'm not sure whether the Evil Dead series are zombie movies. People are turned and they become mindless zombie-looking killers, but they don't infect others and people only turn by being dragged offscreen. And there are skeletons. It's the same style of humour as a zombie movie.
posted by holloway at 5:14 PM on October 2, 2004

I Walked With A Zombie and The Serpent and the Rainbow are zombie movies in the pre-Romero sense, dealing with people who have been convinced that they're dead through "voodoo" techniques.

The RPG All Flesh Must Be Eaten deals mainly with post-Romero zombies, but the authors make an interesting point: post-Romero zombies more closely resemble old European vampires (eternally hungry corpses that pursue and feast on the living) than classical "voodoo" zombies.
posted by SPrintF at 8:02 PM on October 2, 2004

As all the good ones have been taken, I am going to go out on a limb and say that my favorite is Dawn of the Dead (original - just got the new box set!!!111!!), but I will say that the Dawn of the Dead remake held its own, and for "modern" (or perhaps "post-Scream") horror movies (as in the whole genre of horror movies), it is one of the best. Having re-watched both DotD 2004 and 28 Days Later, DotD 04 comes out on top. I just love it. I freaking love zombie movies.

That said, I saw "Shawn of the Dead" last night, and was REALLY looking forward to it, and came out severely dissapointed. It had its moments ("She's so drunk!"), but overall I think the movie falls flat.
posted by Quartermass at 9:52 PM on October 2, 2004

I would argue that 28 Days Later should be added as a modern classic, because it was the first to introduce the (much needed) concept of fast-moving undead.

Actually, Return of the Living Dead had fast zombies, and not only were they fast but if you cut of their arm the arm would come after you. I also would say it's definately a canonical film because it introduced the much referenced "Braaaains" convention.

One of the guys who worked on Shaun of the Dead had some interesting things to say about slow zombies, he said sure they're slow and kinda like Daleks and you can run away from them, but you can't run forever... and they'll keep coming (slowly) after you.
posted by bobo123 at 12:04 AM on October 3, 2004

Don't forget the best zombie of them all from the auteur of Lord of the Rings, no less.

Peter Jackson's Dead Alive. It's the funniest zombie movie ever with more quotable lines per second than Star Wars!
posted by timyang at 1:44 AM on October 3, 2004

If you don't mind a bit of cheesiness and absurdity in your list, here are a couple from the Italian school of zombies.

City of the Walking Dead (1980) is rather disturbing, yet funny. The zombies have scabby faces and either chase their victims with machetes or gun them down with automatic weapons and drink their victim's blood.

I am still watching Zombi 3 (1988) and it seems to have the funniest non-intentionally funny dialog. A terrorist makes away with a virus which reanimates dead tissue and winds up being exposed. After getting a room at a nearby resort, the soon-to-be-zombie orders his second pitcher of water leaving the room service attendant to say "Man! What's this guy's problem? Is he trying to get into the Guiness Book Of World Records or somethin?" Hilarious...
posted by the biscuit man at 7:12 AM on October 3, 2004

Thank you, zombie connoisseurs. My schedule of DVD watching for this month is pretty much set now, thanks to this thread.
posted by Prospero at 7:44 AM on October 3, 2004

The fast zombies in 28 Days Later were something new. That movie... was something special. As far as I'm concerned, there are a ton of really great zombie movies, but 28 Days Later really set the bar at another level. The best Zombie movies (Omega Man, Dawn of the Dead, etc..) aren't just about zombies at all.

Not to diss Dead Alive, which has the lawnmower scene... that movie was all about killing zombies. And that was cool.

Quartmass, man, I'm with you. It doesn't get too much better than zombie movies, but Shaun of the Dead left me a little cold. It wasn't bad... just not great.

One awesome one I checked out recently, though, Japanese import called Versus. The zombies have guns and swords... and there are samurai vampires in it. Or something like that. The plot is a little convoluted, but there's plenty of action and humor.

There's also "Ed and his Dead Mother," which has Steve Buscimi tending to a single member of the undead. (Because he loves her.) I guess it's kind of in the same tradition as "My Boyfriend's Back"
posted by ph00dz at 8:40 AM on October 3, 2004

Night of the Comet is not exactly remarkable, except for the fact that it was the movie I saw the first time I took a girl to the movies. If I recall, she wasn't in to zombies.
posted by samuelad at 11:41 AM on October 3, 2004

What about the Re-Animator flicks?

And, not so seriously, the Universal Soldier flicks...

Also, do other folks consider "shambling mummy" movies to be zombie flicks?
posted by NortonDC at 3:36 PM on October 3, 2004

How could I forget My Boyfriend's Back?

It may not be the only lighthearted zombie romp, but it's a helluva lot better than Ed and his dead mother.
posted by codger at 9:19 PM on October 11, 2004

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