?There are a lot of criticisms being tossed at The Walking Dead these days, but you what the show really lacks? Memorable zombies. Flesheaters should have personality and charm! I mean, just because they are dead doesn’t mean they have to be dull. George Romero totally gets this. He populated his Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead films with a diverse variety of ghouls that ranged from Marching Band Zombies to a Fat Dude Zombie in a Bathing Suit (for the sake of not wanting to be negative about a true horror legend let’s just pretend Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead didn’t happen). So for today’s Daily List, let’s examine ten of the greatest George Romero zombies. Making the cut due to issues ranging from importance to the plot to overall awesomeness, I think you’ll agree that these are all some pretty cool ghouls.
10) Photo Booth Zombies
Impressed by how much Shaun of the Dead paid tribute to his films, George Romero decided to return the favor by inviting Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg to make cameo appearances in his Land of the Dead. For the men — who also demonstrated their shared love for all things undead in memorable episodes of Spaced and Nick Frost’s UK comedy series Danger! 50000 Volts! — it was something of a dream come true. The above featurette follows Wright and Pegg as they prepare for their 12-second cameo as zombies who are chained up in a makeshift photobooth during the film’s bar sequence. Given the negativity that surrounds fanboy culture, when an event like the mutual appreciation society meeting between Romero, Pegg and Wright that you see here occurs it is something truly special.
9) Nun Zombie/Baseball Zombie
?Romero’s none-too-subtle commentary on consumerism gives Dawn of the Dead much of its staying power. But for me, the most powerful moments in the film are the graceful, human moments like the ones displayed when Francine helps Roger, Peter and Stephen fortify the mall. When a zombie nun gets her habit caught in a shop’s doors, Francine opens them to free her — putting her life at risk in the process. Soon after, she encounters a young baseball player who has fallen victim to the nightmare that has spread across the world. As he stares at Francine with confusion and pain, she responds with a touching look of empathy. Even though the nun and baseball player zombies are only onscreen briefly, they serve a purpose by helping to develop Francine’s character and show off the maternal skills she will doubtlessly need after the film ends. Or maybe Romero was just briefly feeling bad about being a lapsed Catholic and wanted to put something nice in his dark monster movie. Either way is noteworthy.
8) Big Daddy
?As the Dead saga wore on, the zombies became increasingly sophisticated. Unfortunately we’ve yet to see a wisecracking/showtune-spouting zombie character a la Gremlins 2: The New Batch‘s Brain Gremlin, but the creatures in Land of the Dead were still pretty dang smart. This is due in part to Big Daddy, a former gas station attendant who leads a zombie revolution against humans living in luxury while the rest of the world suffers (so basically, this film chronicles the very first Occupy movement). Played by actor and former Canadian pro football player Eugene Clark, Big Daddy is a hulking figure who is always one step ahead of the humans. By the time the film’s finale has rolled around, he has completed a flesh-eating take on Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey by helping his fellow zombies learn to communicate and protect themselves. There were hopes that Big Daddy’s story would continue in a direct sequel to Land of the Dead, but Romero eventually opted to make Diary of the Dead instead. The less said about this decision the better.
7) Flyboy Zombie
?In the original Dawn of the Dead, David Emge’s Stephen character was a well-intentioned guy whose complete and utter lack of preparation for the zombie wasteland he found himself thrust into caused him to act like a bit of a putz at times. So when a gang of looters invaded the mall that he, Francine, Peter and Roger had safeguarded, he naturally took it a bit personally and started a battle with the apparently vaudeville-loving bikers. (Just where in the hell did those tough guys get all that seltzer and whipped cream pies anyway?) Stephen’s actions eventually resulted in his demise, but on the upside he made for one hell of a creepy zombie. This move was also a crowd-pleaser, as fans who hated the character had their wishes for his doom fulfilled while everyone else realized that if the film was going to kill one of its leads then perhaps Dawn of the Dead would take a cue from its predecessor and no one would get out alive — thus upping the drama considerably. Somewhat irrelevant yet oddly worth noting is the fact that NECA’s Flyboy Zombie action figure refuses to stand upright no matter how much you scream in frustration or curse in its direction.
6) Helicopter Zombie
Note to John Landis: this is how you direct a helicopter stunt. Too soon?
5) Plaid Shirt Zombie
?The so-called Plaid Shirt Zombie is one of Tom Savini’s most creepy creations in Dawn of the Dead. His scene instantly ramps up the onscreen tension and raises questions like what the hell happened to this dude’s eye? Another lingering point to ponder is if this dude had any idea that kids in the Pacific Northwest would be aping his proto-grunge look 15 years later. It seems the dream of the ’90s is undead in Pittsburgh.
4) Girl Zombie
?When Night of the Living Dead first hit theaters in 1968, Variety notoriously referred to the film as an “orgy of sadism.” That sounds about right. You see, audiences then just weren’t expecting the violence and bleakness that the movie served up. The closest precedent at the time was Psycho, a masterpiece to be sure, but one whose deaths weren’t as graphically depicted. If Hitchcock’s film aimed to give nightmares, then Romero’s would stop at nothing short of ensuring that viewers never slept again. The grittiness of Night of the Living Dead makes its iconic moments that much more memorable. Perhaps the most chilling of these is the scene where young Karen has returned from the dead and made a quick meal of her father. Along with commenting on the death of innocence here, Romero was showing audiences that no one was safe from the terror just as we all are unable to avoid our eventual deaths. More than just a movie, the flick is a full-on existential crisis on celluloid. Pass the popcorn!
3) Graveyard Zombie
The horror world lost a true icon when Bill Hinzman died on February 5th. Why? His appearance as the Graveyard Zombie was the first encounter audiences had with one of Romero’s brain-devouring creatures. As the initial zombie in Night of the Living Dead, his performance could have ruined what the film was trying to accomplish if he played it any less deliciously menacing. Had he elicited laughs instead of screams we wouldn’t still be talking about Romero today. So the next time you watch The Walking Dead and one of the characters does something stupid and a zombie shows up, smile and think about good old Bill Hinzman. Because in a way he made it possible.
2) Hare Krishna Zombie
?Given the ubiquity of Hare Krishas within 1970s culture, a zombie follower of the movement was an obvious choice from Romero and company. What could not have been predicted however is just how disturbing the formerly peace-loving soul would be on screen. With dead eyes and an unrelenting desire to eat Francine’s brains, Mike Christopher’s Hare Krishna zombie (I totally didn’t realize it was a dude either) ranks alongside of the Machete zombie as Dawn‘s most unforgettable creature creation. Oh and in case you were wondering why the Machete zombie isn’t featured here, rest assured if a Best George Romero Special Effects list gets written he’ll, um, make the cut there.
Before Big Daddy, Bub was the first zombie anti-hero. As played by Howard Sherman in the underrated Day of the Dead, he is shown to be capable of learning and able to perform simple tasks. Bub is a undead ghoul of simple pleasures. When not rocking out to his Walkman (so 1980s!) he spends his time attempting to appreciate literature and making sure his five o’clock shadow doesn’t get out of hand. He’s also pretty handy with a weapon, and was a total smartass to that jerkface Captain Rhodes while he was getting his intestines munched on. Up until this point, all of the zombies in Romero’s movies were objects of pity or terror. Then Bub came along and was downright lovable. This development threw a bit of a monkeywrench into things and gave a nice shade of grey into the otherwise black and white war between zombies and humans. Thanks Bub, you are one awesome bastardization of nature.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.