As I believe I have mentioned before, I am a zombie enthusiast. Really. Peruse my dvd collection, and this quickly becomes apparent. On the regular, I have zombie dreams. I even have a mock-zombie escape route from work and my apartment, should the apocalypse ever strike. (No I don’t really believe in an impending zombie apocalypse…but it can’t hurt to be prepared, right?)
So, needless to say, I’m a big fan. In honor of our ZOMBIES ATTACK! day for Halloween Week, I present you with my essentials list of zombie literature and movies!
The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
Max Brooks, son of legendary Mel Brooks, writes this hilarious, and shockingly comprehensive guidebook. The reason why this book works is because it takes its subject material dead serious–planning for every conceivable location of an attack, the best weapons to use, the best vehicles to procure, etc. For example, he discusses the merits of a flame thrower versus a revolver, and those of a motorcycle versus a hummer. Should there ever be a zombie apocalypse, I’ll be thanking Max Brooks for this book! Really, it’s just a good, fun read. Highly recommended!
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks
Following up on the success of The Zombie Survival Guide, Max Brooks tries his hand at fiction with World War Z. Instead of a formal novel, this book collects fictional memoirs of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Not only is Mr. Brooks a master at characterizations of the different survivors and capturing a different ‘voice’ for each of them, but he also manages to weave an incredibly smart social commentary with each story–criticizing the ineptitude of government response (in the aftermath of Katrina this critique holds even stronger sway), and the failings of humans in terms of ethnic, political, religious and socio-economic discrimination. While on the surface it is an engaging zombie novel, Max Brooks does for the literary genre what George Romero did decades earlier with his classic films–using the zombie as a means of commentary, to convey the failings of society.
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
Robert Kirkman’s serious, well developed series follows a group of human survivors in the throws of a zombie apocalypse. The monthlies have been in publication since 2003, and are still going strong (although I don’t think the recent issues can compare to the superb first few arcs). Drawing heavily from George A. Romero’s films, Mr. Kirkman tells a compelling tale about a true apocalypse–it’s the end of the world, and this is some serious stuff with real gravity. With each issue we learn a little more about the characters, and they become more–forgive the pun–fleshed out. Definitely essential reading material for any fan of comics, apocalyptic tales, and (of course) zombies.
Marvel Zombies/Marvel Zombies 2/Marvel Zombies 3 written by Robert Kirkman (1&2) and Fred Van Lente (3)
Speaking of Robert Kirkman, The Marvel Zombies collections are ridiculously good fun. The first arc, opening with Magneto on the run from a swarm of ravenous, undead Marvel superheroes completely took me by surprise–and I loved every disgusting, hilarious minute of it. The second arc is still great fun, if somewhat predictable and repetitive. The third arc, however, is pretty damn cool–these issues just came out this month. And a brief word about the artwork–it is, simply put, stunning. I love the zombified imaginings of our favorite Marvel characters, especially with the collection of covers! Each issue of the first two storyarcs is a play on classic comic book covers, and the third arc instead is a play on classic horror movie posters! Really, brilliance, I say! (Later today Ana will review Marvel Zombies 1, so stay tuned.)
Marvel Zombies: Dead Days by Arthur Suydam/Marvel Zombies vs. The Army of Darkness by John Layman and Robert Kirkman
Just because I love Ash so. No, seriously, the one shot and crossover tie in really nicely with the Marvel Zombies collections listed previously. With these two prequels, we learn how the plague was initially spread. Plus…it’s Army of Darkness. With superhero zombies. It doesn’t get any better than that!
The Living Dead anthology with Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, George R.R. Martin, Joe Hill, and others
Confession: I was planning on having a review for this anthology for today, but I have not been able to finish it (it’s approximately 500 pages long–I swear I’m not lazy!). What I have read, I have loved. Really–just look at the author list! This anthology is incredibly well rounded, and I am loving each story in here. The editor, John Joseph Adams, does a fantastic job–one of the finest anthologies I have ever had the pleasure of reading (and I’m not even finished with it yet!).
Cell by Stephen King
You knew I’d have to have at least ONE King novel on this list, didncha? Cell takes a morbid look at our dependence on cellular phones and creates a zombie apocalypse-type story. One afternoon, a signal is sent out, and everyone on a cellular phone goes completely balls insane–we’re talking unspeakable, irrational violence. The survivors try to escape the mayhem, but soon the ‘infected’ start displaying even more bizarre behavior. A father tries desperately to save his son, against all odds. I actually wasn’t expecting to like this novel as much as I did–and I wholeheartedly recommend it to any King fans, or any zombie fans (A while back I read Brian Keene’s The Rising which is a pale, pale version of this novel–so any disappointed zombie fans can take solace in Cell)
The Walking by Bentley Little
Bentley Little is one hell of an author. His brand of horror ranges from the slyly humorous to genuinely haunting–The Walking is one of the latter. The story follows Miles, a private detective who gets a new case–and he discovers that the dead have reanimated and begun walking (even when restrained, they continue to walk) westward, to the Arizona desert. This is a very smart zombie novel, and definitely recommended for fans of Stephen King, and of a well-written horror novel in general.
Night of the Living Dead/Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead/Land of the Dead (Diary of the Dead…even if it is sucky)
No zombie–or horror, or even influential films–list would be complete without George Romero and his legacy. Beginning with Night of the Living Dead, when a Venus space probe explodes in the Earth’s atmosphere, the dead re-animate and take to feasting on human flesh, attacking a group isolated in a Pennsylvania farmhouse. Dawn of the Dead revisits the zombie apocalypse, with completely new characters isolated in a shopping mall, while legions of the undead attack. Day of the Dead shifts the location to a subterranean military bunker, whose inhabitants research the zombie physiology, fear they are the only remaining survivors on Earth, and focuses on the human threats in the group over the external zombie threats. Land of the Dead, Romero’s 2005 release, focuses on a fortressed city, ruled by an oh so appropriate devil-in-a-blue-suit Dennis Hopper. Part a critique on socio-economic divides, part a possible criticism of the Iraq War, it’s also just cool to see Romero with high budget, hi-tech zombies at his disposal.
All of Romero’s work uses zombies as a means to examine, satirize and critique humanity–and no one does it better.
**Note–There was also the release of Diary of the Dead this past year–mostly unnoticed, hitting few theaters nationwide. Diary follows a group of film students, and is told through their footage (as seems to be the rage what with Cloverfield and Quarantine, etc). The film’s dialogue is kitschy, the students are narcissistic idiots, blithely refusing to accept the ‘official story’–and accepting this film at face value, it is a huge disappointment. I’ll admit it. BUT, since it is Romero, I don’t know if this all wasn’t completely intentional as a critique of our sort of You-Tube, look-at-me generation. Anyone else seen the film and care to comment? Huge disappointment? Or is Romero once again biting his thumb at us?**
Zombi (aka Zombi2)
Lucio Fulci’s definitive zombie film. Zombie apocalypse strikes New York by means of a seemingly abandoned boat–some crazy research has been happening on an isolated tropical island, and the zombies have escaped to quench their unquenchable hunger. This is an incredibly gory movie, in all the best ways. Plus…three words: Zombie Shark Battle. That’s right.
*Note–if you’re wondering about the title, Zombi and Zombi2 are the same movie. Fulci changed the name to Zombi2 since the film was released in the same year as Romero’s Dawn of the Dead–whose title translated internationally as Zombi.
The Serpent and the Rainbow
Based on ethnobotanist & anthropologist Wade Davis’ doctoral dissertation (yes, his REAL dissertation), The Serpent and the Rainbow takes zombies back to their roots in Haitian voodoo. A Harvard researcher travels to Haiti at the behest of a pharmaceutical company that wants him to investigate the properties of a local drug used in voodoo practices, as it is hoped to be an alternative to anesthesia. Although this film doesn’t get much love from horror fans or critics, it’s one of my favorite Wes Craven titles. The acting is superb (Bill Pullman stars), the tone is serious and dramatic, and the cinematography is pretty cool. There’s a lot of time spent on Haitian and voodoo rituals, which is very interesting. Plus, it’s just so different from most other zombie films, especially for a director like Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes, Scream). Highly recommended.
Night of the Comet
Campy, campy, campy! Deliciously so. A comet passes over earth, and anyone not in a steel encased structure at the time of the comet’s passing turns into red dust. Anyone that was only partially shielded (inside a concrete house, for example) well, they turn into zombies (though these zombies transform gradually, and are still capable of speech and normal thought functions). Two valley gal sisters find themselves seemingly the only survivors in Los Angeles, but they aren’t defenseless, thanks to their military dad’s training them how to shoot with uzis and the like. The girls hook up with Hector Gomez, and then discover the nefarious deeds of a US government agency. YES this movie is ridiculous–but it’s wonderful in its admitted camp fun. I actually saw this rerun on sci fi a few months back–though it’s available on DVD now, so totally worth the netflix rental.
Virus (aka Night of the Zombies, aka Hell of the Living Dead, aka Zombie Creeping Flesh, etc)
A group of commandos go into Papua New Guinea to investigate a radioactive chemical leak. What they discover is a population of zombies. This is by all accounts a terrible movie. The camera is awful, the script is awful, the soundtrack is really cool but totally ripped off. There is a lot of stock footage in here–random shots of animals running around, WTF?!–but…for all that, it’s so much fun. You know, in a sort of Plan 9 or Manos: The Hands of Fate, MST3K kind of way. It’s the kind of movie you watch to get in a few laughs as well as some decent zombie attacks, or have it projecting on the wall at a party or something. Personally, I likey.
*Note: apparently this is one of the most “alternatively titled” films of all time, according to wikipedia. Now that’s an honor! Heh.*
28 Days Later/28 Weeks Later (I think DAYS sucks though)
All cards on the table–I didn’t really like 28 Days Later. I felt it was a ripoff of Day of the Dead, and besides boasting a cool soundtrack and some interesting grainy cinematography, there really wasn’t much to this film (and it irks me to no end that it is constantly heralded as something OMG GREAT AND ORIGINAL. Because really…it’s not). For a “zombie” (I use quotations as they aren’t really zombies) movie that takes itself seriously as a horror film, the premise is pretty lame–monkeys, infected with RAGE (not a drug, but actual rage, having to sit and watch footage of human bruatlity in a lab) are responsible for the outbreak. Blah blah blah, the military is bad and intent on raping girls for fun, yadda yadda yadda.
Still, 28 Days brought us the oxymoronic ‘fast zombie’, and is an important film in the zombie cannon. Any fan worth their salt has to at least watch this film.
Surprisingly…I love 28 Weeks Later! All of the pretentiousness of the first film is done away with in this sequel, and the change in director brings a brutal hopelessness to the film (while still keeping the same cinematography and cool score). Yes, there are a ton of plotholes with this film, but those aren’t as important–this is a more visceral, emotional film, and really worth not just watching, but owning. You don’t need to watch the first film to see this one–I’d definitely recommend Weeks over Days.
Resident Evil/Resident Evil 3 (RE2 never happened)
Based on the video games, the Resident Evil films are blood-splatteringly good fun. Don’t look for any deep meanings or metaphor here–but if you’re in the mood for a kick-ass, highly stylized zombie flick, these are for you. Plus, Mila is made of awesome. (I didn’t include RE2 because…well, frankly it’s BORING! And just…terrible. Just, no. NO.)
Horror Classics Vol. 1: White Zombie
Commonly cited as the first zombie movie ever made, White Zombie stars the legendary Bela Lugosi as a voodoo master who controls his mindless zombies with his evil magic. A jealous man, refused by the object of his affection, turns to Bela Lugosi to turn his would be lover into a zombie to trick her fiance into thinking she’s dead, and then too win her love. This film is very…strange. Not really as ‘classic’ as Lugosi’s other films, but still a wonderful surreal movie, and a must for the mere fact that it is the first zombie film.
This little gem is hilarious. In an alternate world, the zombie apocalypse has occured and been beaten down, though the world has resultingly resorted to a 1950s Leave it to Beaver type of society. The cause of zombies here is radiation, that causes any deceased (as soon as they die) to reanimate as zombies–so every citizen must be closely monitored. What’s even better is that well-to-do families can afford to hve zombies as pets (domesticated by way of their brain controlling collars). This is really a story of a boy and his “dog”, except his dog Fido is really a zombie. I love this movie–it’s hilarious and completely fresh. It also stars Carrie Ann Moss (aka Trinity) in the lead role, which is always a plus.
Grindhouse Presents: Planet Terror
Oh, The Grindhouse! This film, along with Tarantino’s Death Proof, is so much fun–and it was a steal in the theater with the two films for the price of one. A deadly government gas leaks, turning people into bloodthirsty zombie-like creatures (although some folks are immune to the effects of the gas). Cherry Darling, aspiring stand up comedian who go-go dances by day, is played by the gorgeous Rose McGowan. This movie is a treat–hilarious, disgusting, thrilling, and sexy. A throwback, it’s exploitational and only in the best ways. Love it. If you haven’t seen it yet, you really need to get on board (and get Death Proof while your at it!)
Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead, Dead Alive, Re-Animator
Since I’ve already written about these films, I’ll just give them another quick mention here. Essential.
The Remakes: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead
These are both solid remakes–but only to watch after you’ve seen the originals. I’m a stickler about these things. The Night of the Living Dead remake has one huge script change that is all fine and good, but only if you’ve seen the original ending. Dawn of the Dead is loyal in themes and spirit, but introduces fast zombies. Still, I own both remakes, and they are great fun updates.
PHEW!!!! SO there you have it. Thea’s list of essentials. Later on, for zombie appreciation week, we’ll go more in depth with lesser known films, books, video games, etc–but for now, this will have to do.
Any other zombie favorites? Want to make a case for or against any of the works on the list? Let us know!