So you say you love zombies. Maybe you routinely use the quote: "They're coming to get you, Barbara," and you've dressed up three years in a row for the local Zombie Walk. And yet…you've never heard of Lucio Fulci, the Italian director who made three of the best zombie movies ever. When I saw the new Angelika Mosaic Theatre featured an onscreen viewing of The Walking Dead season premiere, I figured it was time for a living dead history lesson.
Welcome to the "School of Rot."
For the first time in Cinema Siren column history, I asked a zombie expert, my friend Douglas E. Winter, to help pick 10 movies that are perhaps less known by late-coming fans of the undead, yet required viewing for any true zombiephile.
Doug is the horror critic and best-selling author known for writing a trilogy of short stories "Less Than Zombie," "Bright Lights Big Zombie" and "The Zombies of Madison County."
"Less Than Zombie" is credited with being the first zombie mashup, way, way before Seth Grahame-Smith's "Pride Prejudice and Zombies" crawled up the New York Times bestseller list. Check out the links below for great collections of zombie stories that will have you boarding up your doors and windows on Halloween night!
After quite a bit of haggling between Doug and Cinema Spouse (who himself has had the license plate "zombi" for 15 years), and a few peeps and eeks from my direction, the list below took shape and shambled forth:**
Top 10 zombie movies you've never seen
10) The Horde: 2009 This French film takes place in an abandoned apartment building in the bad part of Paris where a cadre of corrupt policemen and gangsters at odds join forces against a surprise attack of zombies. Very high body count…a great double feature with Versus.
9) Versus: 2002 Japanese film in which ruthless gangsters fight zombies from the 444th Portal of Hell in the Forest of Resurrection. Its relative plotlessness is made up for by a cool mix of traditional samurai and modern gang battles against the undead. Gangsters, Samurai zombies and machine guns…oh, my!
8) Shockwaves: 1977 Starring Peter Cushing the same year he was in Star Wars. A yacht full of party-goers shipwrecked on an island discover an aging S.S. officer (Cushing) whose experiments created a regiment of amphibious undead Nazi super-soldiers. Light on gore, heavy on atmosphere and iconic visuals of zombies from the deep.
7) Dellamorte Dellamore, also known as Cemetery Man- 1994 Starring Rupert Everett in an erotic, blackly comedic, and introspective zombie movie, directed by Michele Soavi, a student of Dario Argento. Everett is the lonely custodian of a cemetery in a small town in Italy, where unfortunately corpses keep rising from the grave. (don't you hate that?) He believes it his job to put them back in their place. Somehow love enters into the proceedings. Leave it to the Italians…
6) Demons 1985 Lamberto Bava (son of Italian horror maestro Mario Bava) directed this Dario Argento produced film about a group of filmgoers trapped in a West Berlin theatre where ravenous demons emerge from a haunted film to infect them and add to their numbers one by one. Claustrophobic and terrifying, this great classic is even greater seen as a double feature with Demons 2.
5) City of the Walking Dead (aka Nightmare City): 1980 This Spanish/Italian film directed by Umberto Lenzi is famous for American actor Mel Ferrer's immortal line "Aim for the brain!" An airplane loaded with the victims of a radiation spill lands at a metropolitan airport and the doors open to unleash hundreds of flesh eating zombies (and you thought your last flight was bad)…The creatures – possibly the first “fast-moving” zombies in film history – wield weapons, wreak havoc everywhere, and kill the “Solid Gold” dancers, and mankind’s hope lies in the hands of … Hugo Stiglitz!
4) The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (aka Let Sleeping Corpses Lie) 1974 Director Jorge Grau's film, which was banned, censored, and released in a confusing number of alternate titles, is a stylish and graphic cult favorite. Would-be lovers on the run are chased by the police (led by Arthur Kennedy) for a series of murders committed by flesh-eating zombies awakened by environmentally unsound pesticide machines. Top-notch special effects by Giannetto De Rossi, later famous for his work with Lucio Fulci.
Zombie trilogy of awesomeness:
3) City of the Living Dead (aka The Gates of Hell): 1980 directed by undisputed king of Italian Zombie horror Lucio Fulci. Well-known Fulci collaborator English actress Catriona McColl plays a psychic trying to close an accidentally opened gate of hell (created by a priest who commits suicide in a cemetery. What was he thinking?) before the whole world is killed by zombies. Gore with a capital G.
2) House by the Cemetery: 1981 also starring McColl. An old mansion is the new home to a young boy and his bickering parents, who are preyed upon by the ultimate “monster in the basement” – the aptly-named “Dr. Freudstein,” who is also a zombie.
1) The Beyond: 1981 Considered one of the best modern zombie movies, this time McColl stars with David Warbeck. She inherits an old Louisiana plantation that sadly sits on one of the seven gates of hell. (More house trouble for McColl!) When the death of a handyman opens the gates, all zombie hell breaks loose. Look for the breath-taking finale, which is the most existential in all zombie films.
In these three movies, the classic slow-moving, flesh-eating zombies are represented, and they are the blueprint for the modern zombie, as seen in The Walking Dead.
Fido: 2006 in a world where zombies are commonplace, a boy keeps a pet zombie, Fido. Fido eats the neighbors, to the annoyance and embarrassment of his parents. Starring Billy Connolly, this film is unique in that it has a poignancy generally missing from zombie flicks.
Rec: 2007 Spain: (Badly remade in the United States as Quarantine…ignore that version). Documentarian rides with a fire truck responding to an apartment building emergency with sick folk who turn into flesh-eating zombies. Shaky cameras capture the disaster as all are quarantined and left to fend for themselves.
With thanks to my friend Doug, I suggest you who embrace and celebrate creatures of the undead flesh-eating variety rent or buy these movies to educate and inspire your inner gore hound this Halloween season. ***
And if you encounter one of these in a cemetery at sundown, remember: Aim for the brain.
*from The Night of The Living Dead
**Don't think for a minute we'd include Night of the Living Dead (1968), Re-Animator (1985), Dawn of the Dead (1978) or Zombie (1979) on this list. Note to anyone who ever declared themselves a fan of the zombie movies: If you haven't seen those above, go back to gore grade school.
***these movies are NOT for children or even most teens, unless you want them obsessing about being cornered by the undead and ripped apart, ultimately resulting in expensive therapy.