Friday, March 19, 2004
Typically presented as walking half-rotted corpses, mindless slaves or both, zombies rank rather low in the pantheon of horror movie boogiemen, more disgusting than terrifying. Yet, while they may not be as sexy as vampires or as fearsome as werewolves, zombies have had their share of classic movies. Here's a sampling of the best:
- "White Zombie" (1932): After his legendary performance in Dracula, Bela Lugosi appeared in the prototypical zombie movie. Lugosi plays a hypnotist and voodoo master who supplies the local Haitian mills with zombie labor and draws two newlyweds into his world of the undead. An ambitious low-budget movie that lifted the gothic atmosphere of the early Universal horror classics
- "Night of the Living Dead" (1968): The first in writer-director George Romero's zombie trilogy set the standard for just about every zombie movie made since. Filmed cinema verite-style and in stark black and white, the movie centers on a group of people trapped in a farmhouse when the dead suddenly and inexplicably rise from the graves and begin attacking and eating the living. The result is an eerie examination of human nature and a stinging comment on the angst and paranoia of the late '60s. The film was remade in 1990.
- "Dawn of the Dead" (1978): "When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk" -- and they'll head straight for the mall. Romero's second zombie movie is, at its black little heart, a satire on consumerism. Refugees from the zombie plague of the first movie take shelter in a shopping mall infested with undead, who stumble mindlessly through the shops and food courts while Muzak plays over the intercom. Our heroes struggle to establish something resembling civilization while fighting off barbarism in the form of a gang of rampaging bikers. The original has been re-released on DVD as part of the buzz surrounding the new remake.
- "Day of the Dead" (1985): Romero concludes his zombie cycle with a nihilistic coda that offers only a faint glimmer of hope. The world is now overrun with the undead, who outnumber the living by 400,000 to one. A small group of demented soldiers and mad scientists have holed up in an underground bunker, where they are at odds with each other over the situation. More dramatic than the previous two and, in a way, more disturbing.
- "The Return of the Living Dead" (1985)" Sci-fi-horror screenwriter Dan O'Bannon made his directing debut with this comedic-yet-harrowing zombie flick. Yet another group of beleaguered souls is forced to make a desperate stand when a toxic gas leak in Louisville, Ky., causes the dead to return to life and eat the brains of anyone they can get their hands on. It's an interesting blend of ghoulish comedy and even more ghoulish horror.
- "The Serpent and the Rainbow" (1988): Fright-master Wes Craven's entry into the fold with an exotic, atmospheric tale loosely based on a true story set in Haiti during the uprising that ousted "Baby Doc" Duvalier. Bill Pullman stars as a scientist seeking a drug used in zombie rituals that renders its victims paralyzed but conscious, and he becomes involved in political intrigue as well as in the world of voodoo.
- "Dead Alive" (1992): Before he was the Lord of the "Rings," Peter Jackson made a name for himself making cheap, funny, very gross and very tacky movies like "Bad Taste," "Meet the Feebles" and this little number about a hapless hero whose overbearing mother initiates a zombie plague after being bitten by a rat monkey. Gross-out gags, zombie toddlers and a preacher who knows kung fu -- this one's got it all.
- "28 Days Later" (2003): "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle put a new spin on zombies with his low-budget, high-scares thriller in which England is overwhelmed by a virus that puts its victims into a permanent stage of rage. The obligatory band of survivors heads from London to Manchester seeking refuge with a military unit. Shot on hand-held digital video, it has an intense documentary feel and is as effective a study of humanity under extreme duress as its predecessors.