5) The Dead Next Door
The zombie genre has long been a favorite of backyard auteurs shooting cheap, shoddy camcorder “epics” between shifts at the Burger King. Not surprisingly, most of these are utter shit. None manage to overcome these limitations quite so well as The Dead Next Door, a movie about a squad of elite government zombie fighters that is pure, schlocky grade-Z genius. The acting is atrocious, the writing is, at best, passable, the effects are laughably cheap and it features an unreal number of spectacularly bad mullets, but somehow the total result is epic in scope and thoroughly entertaining.
For sheer perversity and twisted, black humor, it’s hard to beat Re-Animator. Loosely based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, Re-Animator tells the tale of Herbert West, a brilliant if deranged medical student with a passion for defeating death. His roommate’s cat, random bodies from the morgue, a pesky school administrator and a teacher who try to steal his reanimating serum all become his unwitting test subjects. Most of them are “put down” shortly thereafter in a series of gruesome and hilarious scenes. The true, perverse genius of the film comes out in its final third, in scenes such as the one where his reanimated teacher, holds his own severed head up so he can, uh, give head to a pretty coed he’s captured. They don’t make movies much more fucked up than this.
3) Dead Alive
There are three reasons Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead) is a must-see zombie movie. First, it’s damn funny—where else can you see a creepy, big-headed zombie baby romping around a park or a kung-fu priest who “kicks ass for the Lord”? Second, it was directed by Peter Jackson before he went on to megafame and fortune for directing those weird, homo-erotic hobbit movies. And finally because it is almost universally recognized as the goriest film ever made—like hundreds of gallons of fake blood and a mass slaughter via lawnmower gory. For sheer volume of gore—albeit over-the-top, cartoonish gore—this movie cannot be beat.
2) Dawn of the Dead
George Romero made five zombie movies, including Night of the Living Dead, the film that essentially invented the modern genre in 1968. All five are worth seeing, but none of them is better than 1978’s Dawn of the Dead. Set in a shopping mall, when shopping malls were kind of a new thing, and featuring a near-perfect mix of gore, character development and kick-ass zombie battles, Dawn is the ne plus ultra of zombie cinema. From its opening scene of a SWAT team tackling a zombie-infested apartment building through to its unsettlingly ambiguous ending, Dawn offers everything you could ever want from a zombie movie—including a pie fight between a biker gang and a mall full of undead. You can’t claim to be a zombie fan without seeing this movie unless you want knowledgeable people to laugh in your face.
Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was so popular in Europe that it spawned a legion of imitators, most notably among the Italians. Deceptively marketed as a sequel to Dawn, which was called Zombi in Europe, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (a.k.a. Zombi 2 and Zombie Flesh Eaters) is by far the best—tightly paced, consistently entertaining and surprisingly obscure considering how good it actually is. The film still stands today as one of the most gruesome movies ever made—watch for the gut-wrenchingly realistic eye impalement on a splinter of wood. Not enough for you? Its most famous scene, shown here, has a zombie fighting a shark. What else do you need?