In the pantheon of zombie films there are a select few that reach what could be called "classic" status. Even the originator of the genre, George A. Romero, doesn't always make the cut.
One of the best ways to make your zombie movie memorable - great zombies. The following is a list of some of the best to hit celluloid.
5. Shark-Fighting Zombie - Zombie (1979)
Okay, I'll admit this pick is a little out there. That's why it's at numero cinque. I'm aware that you have to be pretty into horror to know about the Italian/Euro horror stuff. That behind us, zombie films are mostly for the horror fan anyway, so let’s continue.
Zombie, directed by the late, great Lucio Fulci is considered one of the best in the zombie genre. The film is alluded to being a sequel to the quintessential zombie masterpiece from George Romero himself, Dawn of the Dead. In fact it is not at all a sequel. When Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy Dario Argento cut the flick and it was called Zombi. Fulci titled this film Zombi 2 (it’s called Zombie State-side) so people would think it was a sequel (a trick often used by the slick little Italians).
This is still a great film. Essentially known as “Island of the Dead“, it follows a group of individuals stranded on a small, tropical island that are faced with hordes of the undead. Pretty simple stuff. One of the most memorable scenes from the film, however, is easily the zombie fighting a tiger shark.
Oh yes, this shit is for real. No CGI here, folks. This was 1979. They had a guy underwater and they had a shark. So they had the guy fight the motherfuckin' shark.
How this all came to be is something I just can't imagine. How in the name of all that is holy did Fulci get a tiger shark at his disposal? Finding a guy that'll throw on some mesh and go down and mess with a shark isn't that uncommon. There are all kinds of nuts out there. But having the thought, "You know what would be great here? If we could go out, lure in a shark, and have this crazy motherfucker over here mess with it a bit on camera. That'd be awesome," and then making it happen... that's just amazing.
Another reason I had a hard time adding the Shark-Fighting Zombie to this list is because, in my mind at least, the zombie fighting a shark is really cool and all, but the question that hangs in your brain after the fight is the real reason it's so famous... did the shark turn into a zombie? Is that possible? Is there a Shombie (or Zark) swimming out there in the depths somewhere?
God, I wanna know! If only we'd had a chance to witness the Shombie, then it most certainly would've made this list.
4. Worm-eyed Zombie - Zombie (1979)
Yes, I know... another zombie from Zombie. I lack originality. Whatever. The fact is, folks, that the image of this zombie is easily one of the most iconic in the genre. Like it or lump it, Fulci knew what he was doing.
This zombie has several titles, like Conquistador Zombie and, I might be wrong on this one, Planter-head Zombie, which I believe was the name Fulci gave it himself, but I couldn't verify that anywhere. It's something like that. The zombie goes uncredited in the film, so it's hard to know what to call it, but Worm-eyed Zombie seems to take the cake, because... well... he has worms in his eye sockets.
Even if you haven't seen this film, you've probably seen this image. It finds its way on to numerous t-shirts, websites... anything zombie-related really. The image was almost always on the cover of the home video releases, going right back to its original big box release in 19-odd-dickety.
The first time I watched this film I kept waiting to see this zombie, and when the living dead first break through from the earth in this film, and you see ol' wormy eye for the first time, you won't be disappointed, trust me.
The film is famous for several reasons: the gore, which I haven't mentioned yet, but trust me, it's Fulci and it's top-notch; the Shombie... need I say more?; the eye-gouging scene, which sort of gets lumped in with gore, but it is a renowned moment in horror cinema; and finally, the Worm-eyed Zombie. The flick may have been a knock off in its day, but you have to check this one out, guys!
3. Cemetery Zombie - Night of the Living Dead (1968)
The original. The grand-daddy of them all. The Cemetery Zombie. In 1968, George Romero set out to make a low-budget, horror film. He filmed it in black and white to save some cash. He did it with a lot of extras, and little to no blood (which when on screen was actually chocolate syrup). He had no idea that he would create a sub-genre of horror films that has become one of the most widespread the genre, itself, has to offer.
This is in turn due to the fact that he didn't copyright the film properly, and anyone and their dog could rip him off and not get sued, but still. The man built a genre completely by accident. Hell, he didn't even call them zombies. He called them "ghouls", but fortunately that didn't take. Zombie just sounds cooler.
So what's the first zombie film ever? Well, technically it could go back to White Zombie (1932). That's not the same thing, though. Flesh-eating zombies, the ones that count, first hit with Night of the Living Dead, and the first one we ever saw was Cemetery Zombie.
Barbara and her brother Johnny go to visit their recently deceased mother in a cemetery outside of town. Little do they know this is the worst possible place to be right now, because the dead are returning to the land of the living! They see a strange and disoriented man off in the distance, who soon attacks, cracking Johnny's face off a perfectly good tombstone.
There isn't much to see here. He's just an old fella making faces, really. He's the first, however, and you gotta give the fella props for that.
2. Bub - Day of the Dead (1985)
Who doesn't remember that face? Huh? Isn't he cute? Oh, he thinks he's people.
That's right, Bub. The zombie that has just a little too much going on in the ol' noggin. Day of the Dead is, of course, the third in George Romero's original zombie trilogy. Like Star Wars, the original trilogy is the only one worth a damn (in my opinion). The film, however, gets over-shadowed by its predecessor, Dawn of the Dead. Night was the original, so it has that going for it, and Dawn took things into a much grander place. Day lost its scope. It bit off a bit more than it could chew. That being said, its still a great film all on its own, and has probably the most legendary zombie out of the whole trilogy.
I know Zombie Roger and Fly Boy are a big deal, but none of them could talk or use a gun! Now could they!?
In this film we have a small army regiment and a handful of scientists that are held up in a mine. They're getting a little shack-happy down there, and that's basically the plot of the film. The fact that the undead are trying their damndest to nibble on them is sort of a secondary thing. Some of the scientists down there are doing all sorts of fucked up experiments on the zombies, but when the military men find out they've been performing experiments on their own, shit gets ugly fast. Then the zombies, that have essentially taken over the world, find a way in and it's go time.
One of the scientific subjects is Bub. A lovable zombie who has been taught to speak and use some low level motor skills. He has a place in one of the most memorable moments in the film, or the series for that matter. Although this film does live in the shadow of Dawn of the Dead, its definitely the most gory of the series. The scene I'm talking about proves that point and then some: when Captain Rhodes gets it.
First, while attempting to escape from the zombies, Rhodes runs into ol' Bub. Bub has himself a pistol, and without hesitation puts a few in Rhodes so that his zombie buddies can get a taste. They then proceed to tear him clean in half (well, maybe not clean) while Bub dashes off into the sunset.
His image is, much like Worm-eye Zombie, one of those you almost always see associated with zombies. The original poster for Day of the Dead sports a "dawn-esque" image, not really associated with the film, but many of the home video releases, and teasers, have Bub splattered (wrong choice of words?) all over them.
1. Tarman - Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Argue all you like, people. Bitch till you're out of breath. What's the line you think of when you think "zombie"? Come on, go for it. Say it. That's right, "BRAAAAAIIINNNS!" Where'd that come from?
Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead, that's where. Before this, zombies really only starved for the flesh of the living. In O'Bannon's film, however, they were after one tasty little morsel, those sweet delicious brains, presumably because they lacked their own.
The first zombie to utter the term? Tarman. He's the first zombie to appear in the film, as well. Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews) are working in their storage facility for some kind of weird shipping company. They sell medical cadavers, fake skeletons, all kinds of weird shit. Frank decides to show Freddy something cool they have in the basement, which turns out to be an encapsulated zombie. The two dumbasses manage to open the container, which results in the Tarman escaping, along with a gas that turns the recently departed into mindless, brain-eating zombies!
The mere fact that Tarman can talk is something that's really interesting. Dawn of the Dead came out this same year, and Romero finally breached the topic of a zombie finding some of its humanity, or at least some of its old motor skills, and being able to perform simple tasks like speaking. O'Bannon's movie isn't that deep, though. Return of the Living Dead (the title clearly trying to make some cash off of Romero's classics) is pretty much a parody of zombie films.
But that's what makes it great! It's a horror comedy with tons of memorable moments, including Trash, played by the lovely Linnea Quigley, whom is naked most of the film (and should have made this list...), Spider, one of two Friday the 13th alumnists in the film (the other being Thom Mathews) who plays the angriest motherfucker ever, and those hilarious talkin' zombies!
Another great quote from this film is when some police are sent to a zombie-infested scene, only to be killed and ingested very quickly. One of the zombies then gets on the radio and yells, "Send more cops!" Brilliant, really.
As I said before, though, you can't think of zombies in this day and age without thinking of them wanting to feast on some brains, and the quote (simple as it is) "Braaaains!" is practically their motto. Tarman was the first, folks, so he caps off this list.
Hope you enjoyed,