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." (Find them here, here and here.)
"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.
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 four, go back to gore grade school.
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 German SS 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" (1994): Also known as "Cemetery Man," Rupert Everett stars 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's his job to put them back in their place. And 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. 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" (1980): Also known as "Nightmare City," 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" (1974): Also known as "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie," 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 are on the run from 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" (1980): Also known as "The Gates of Hell," this film was directed by the undisputed king of Italian zombie horror, Lucio Fulci. Well-known Fulci collaborator and 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. That means 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 the top 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): In this Spanish film, a 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. (Note: This was badly remade in the United States as "Quarantine." Ignore that version.)
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.
With that in mind, and 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!