cult movies I have loved: my favorite zombie movies (part 2)
It has been awhile since I’ve done an installment of my cult movie favorites, and I had barely posted my first installment of zombie movie favs when I started to suffer from horrible pangs of guilt.
How could I have neglected to mention some of the greatest zombie movies ever committed to film? Even as I wrote that first entry I knew the day would come that I would have to set things right and give credit where credit is due by correcting the record and bringing the list further up to speed.
George Romero taps the wellspring of his zombie fixation yet again with another classic. This is one of the all time great zombie movies and it is a crime that I did not include it in my first list of favorites.
Romero loves to use the zombie genre to explore social commentary. In Dawn of the Dead he has his group of survivors hole up in a shopping mall. The backdrop of the mall functions nicely as commentary on consumerism and the zombies, we are told, are drawn to the place by memory and instinct. I can’t walk into a mall without feeling like a zombie myself, so I know exactly where Romero is coming from.
Back in college I dragged a friend to see an on-campus presentation of this movie. He complained bitterly on the way to the film that he didn’t want to see a stupid zombie movie. Once the film began and the first zombie head exploded like a watermelon at a Gallagher show my buddy burst out giggling with horrified glee and never doubted me again.
Youngsters probably remember the nasty and enjoyable 2004 remake which kept the basic premise and setting of the original and updated the zombies by making them run fast instead of slowly shamble toward their prey. While decent by itself, it is hard to improve upon the perfection of the 1979 version, and much of the social metaphor and much of the humor was lost in translation.
Where George Romero’s undead subsist on symbolism and social commentary as much as human entrails, Lucio Fulci’s zombie movies go straight for the gore and atmosphere. The setting is an exotic island and the proceedings follow the familiar formula, but Fulci’s zombies are grotesque in his signature Italian sort of way, and the premise somehow remains fresh.
Inspired by the success of Dawn of the Dead, Zombie (aka Zombi 2) is obviously heavlily indebted to Romero’s movies. But it has just enough in the way of original ideas to make it stand on its own. There are several famous moments in this movie, including a zombie conquistador rising from his jungle grave, an underwater battle between a zombie and a shark, and perhaps most memorable – the eyeball scene. Some of the most powerful moments for me are simply when groups of zombies, shrouded in shadow, huddle slump-shouldered around a kill and slowly eat.
This is another all time classic that I should have included in my first list of favs.
Few people celebrate this Spanish-French co-production. It certainly is no Night of the Living Dead, but I give this movie points for atmosphere.
Oasis of the Zombies (aka Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies) puts the admittedly slow-paced action in the North African desert where the Nazi dead rise from their graves to protect the shipment of gold they were transporting when they died.
Although this movie is riddled with technical flaws including poor lighting, bad makeup, and suffers from overall low production values, the desert setting and shot composition make up for it as far as I am concerned.
It isn’t Shakespeare. It isn’t even George Romero. But I still enjoyed it.
Another installment in an already crowded field of Italian zombie movies, Burial Ground distinguishes itself from all the rest by virtue of a certain singularity of vision.
The action is slow, deliberate, and unrelenting in this inexorable zombie invasion. Awakened by a professor using ancient Etruscan magic, the dead attack a cast of characters lacking background or development. That’s okay because the characters won’t need any development where they are going, and in truth the real stars of this movie are the zombies themselves. Some of the masks are pretty silly, but other creatures are quite decent. The violence and gore are unrelieved. Try to pick out who you think the sole survivor will be and see if you are correct. Don’t look for any morals or deep symbolism in this exercise.
A famous scene where a zombie child bites his mother is often censored from video releases, or so I am told.
I saw this when I was teaching ESL in South Korea back around 1996. It was called Zombis 3 in that release, and while the child biting mother scene had been left in, several scenes where zombie heads are exploded seemed to have been cut short. The only thing I could figure out was that maybe in South Korea with its history of ancestor worship it was considered rude to explode the heads of the undead. But that is purely speculation on my part.
Bob Clark who would later be known for A Christmas Story delivered this minor zombie pleasure.
While this movie is formula zombie movie all the way, I include it here because of the way it manages to make you root for the zombies.
An obnoxious egomaniacal movie director takes his occult-curious cast onto an island to play spooky pranks on them and pretends to raise the dead with a Druid ceremony. Of course the pretend ritual actually causes the dead to rise. From this point on the movie plays like a retelling of Night of the Living Dead with the living having to barricade themselves in a house against the undead onslaught.
While the zombies take too long to enter the story, this gives you plenty of time to tire of the living characters so that when the dead finally show up you are more than ready for the killing to begin.
Low budget B-movie horror that looks like a student film project, this movie nonetheless gets a nod for setting and atmosphere. While the zombies remain on the periphery until the final act, once they do show themselves they don’t mess around.
If you can wade through the first two acts worth of questionable story telling and bad acting, you will be rewarded with some very nasty zombies.
Until now, all my zombie movie favorites this time around have been culled from the classic period of zombie movie making from 1968-1983.
Undead marks a modern spin on the premise, and while it manages to be derivative in almost every way, I gives this film an “A” for effort.
The Australians have their own take on gore and horror movies, and this film does a nice job with the material. Extra flourishes, like acid rain that sets your clothes to smoking, raises this movie above the normal zombie fare.
If you are a movie geek like me you will sometimes watch the extras on the DVD, and I enjoyed this movie enough to check out some of the behind the scenes stuff. The filmmakers did a great deal with very little. The movie looks great. You will be amazed when you discover the effects were all done on on their Macintosh computers. Also amusing was the behind the scenes story about how they had to tow their ailing vehicle from shoot to shoot as it died during the production. Suffice to say, if you aspire to low budget filmmaking these guys are an inspiration.
If you enjoyed this installment of Cult Movies I Have Loved, then please check out these other movies I have profiled:
An American Werewolf in London
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