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Top Ten Tuesday: Best Fast & Slow Moving Zombie Flicks

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It’s time for out Top Ten of the week and this time we’re doing things a bit differently here at WAMG. Zombies in the movies are a much-loved genre favorite of fans, held close to their hearts since George Romero first introduced us to the concept on a whole new level back in 1968. Then again, they’ve also spawned some controversy amongst some fans as the genre has split into two basic categories recently… slow-moving zombies and fast-moving, even raging psychotic zombies. Which is right? Which is best? Well, that’s for you to decide. With that in mind, we’ve decided to compile a two-part list, laying out our five favorite slow-moving and five favorite fast-moving zombie flicks. The list also embraces the new ultra-fun zombie comedy from Ruben Fleischer that opens this Friday, October 2, 2009. In addition, its rare that a film not out in theaters yet manages to make our Top ten list, so enjoy the list, then go enjoy ZOMBIELAND this weekend, because its very difficult NOT to enjoy!

Top 5 Best FAST-Moving Zombie Flicks:

5. Zombieland

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Who else but Woody Harrelson to pull off an over-enthusiastic, zombie-killing redneck? Then again, he was only part of the reason the movie rocked! While it’s been called the American answer to “Shaun of the Dead” the film has a distinctly American flavor… lots of violence and comedy, with zombies everywhere the main characters go. The zombies are mindless, raging feeding machines. They have no sense of free will or a fraction of intelligence. This is repeatedly evident by the way the lead characters manage to avoid and outsmart the rotting meat bags. The makeup effects are good, but not overwhelming special. The film’s not intended to scare, but rather make a mockery of the genre while still respecting its popularity and significance. One of the best elements of the movie is the zombie kills. There’s an art to killing zombies and Harrelson’s character Tallahassee is fully aware of this and takes great pride in his craft. He and Columbus (Eisenberg) often debate over what the zombie kill of the week should be, giving themselves extra credit. The zombies are fast, not superhuman fast, but running or sprinting human fast, chasing their human prey like undead cheetahs in the African Savannah. The zombies don’t get winded, so outrunning them is less about endurance as it is being able to stay calm and think on your feet. Then again, cardio is very important as well.

4. Dawn of the Dead (2004)

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I remember back in late 2003 hearing about someone remaking George Romero’s zombie classic, DAWN OF THE DEAD.  I remember thinking to myself, “What hack director did they pull in to do that job?”  Fortunately for me and the world, that “hack” ended up being Zack Snyder, who, now, almost six years later, has proved himself to be anything but.  While it will never hold a candle to the Romero film, nor do I think Snyder intended it to, the 2004 version of DAWN OF THE DEAD is an intense and wild ride.  More in line with Cameron’s ALIENS than the ALIEN nature of Romero’s original, the DAWN OF THE DEAD remake is more of an action movie, relying on fast-motion sequences, explosions, and lots and lots of guns.  The decision to have the zombies run rather than slowly lumber along for this film sees to that.  But the 2004 DAWN OF THE DEAD is more than just an action equivalent to the original film.  It is filled with sympathetic characters, moving moments of drama, and even an ample amount of originality both in story and in direction.  Who can forget that opening sequence that charges the viewer’s movie-watching engines way before the opening credits even kick in?  Some people still claim that the film is atrocious and should be stricken from the annals of cinema history.  I, on the other hand, think DAWN OF THE DEAD is a cornucopia of filmic entertainment, never holding back for a second.  While the chances of it being remembered as endearingly as Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD are very slim, it still remains as one helluva good time.

3. Return of the Living Dead

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One of the earliest zombie comedies was RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Directed by Saint Louis native Dan O’Bannon, the film is a parody of the zombie genre, but also a somewhat frightening yet hilarious b-movie staple. In this film, zombies are slightly more intelligent than the average wormhead, smart enough to learn basic things like how to use a CB radio to call for more paramedics, and they crave brains and brains alone to ease their pain. These zombies are a product of a military chemical weapon that leaks from its storage container being stored in a medical supply warehouse. As it turns out, the warehouse just happens to be right next door to a cemetery. See where this is going? The initial leak release only a handful of zombies, including the slimy zombie in a can which stores the chemical, but thanks to good old mother nature, a rain storm helps to spread the chemical’s effects to the nearby cemetery creating a massive horde of undead creepies with a killer appetite. The violence and gore are significantly less graphic and abundant than the average zombie flick, but that’s not to say it’s absent. The movie explores humor accessible to insiders and newcomers to the genre, references to other zombie films and Linnea Quigly in her birthday suit for most of her performance. That’s never a bad thing!

2. Dead Alive (aka Brain Dead)

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I’m certain it’s a relatively small minority of the movie-watching population that is truly aware of Peter Jackson’s early films that he made in New Zealand, as it’s a truly “unique” group of people who find twisted enjoyment (myself included) amidst the bizarre, grotesque and utterly repugnant comical gore of DEAD ALIVE, which originally released as BRAIN DEAD, depending on where you saw the film. This is a zombie comedy gore-fest, and I’m not mincing words! Gore, gore and more gore, blood, tearing apart of flesh, puncturing of eyeballs, splitting and removing of heads… this movie has it all. And, it’s funny! The zombies in DEAD ALIVE are slow-moving for the most part (the exception being the freaky zombie baby) and their taste for humans isn’t limited to brains. No, they’ll eat just about any part of a human they can get their cold, nasty fingers on. These zombies are brutal, but so is Lionel Cosgrove, our puny main character who ultimately becomes a zombie-killing machine. Once again, much of the fun in this film is a product of creative, mind-boggling and stomach-churning zombie kills. Surrounds by hungry undead killers? As it turns out, your lawn mower is a great multi-tasker after all! Hands down, DEAD ALIVE is the absolute best bang for your buck when it comes to all out bloody, gory, disgusting zombie-killing violence and good for a number of laughs as well… just, be mindful of who you screen the film for. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup-o-tea.

1. 28 Days Later

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While I wouldn’t say ’28 Days Later’ is necessarily a zombie film, it leans more to viral outbreak films, there is no doubt that this film gets lumped in the zombie sub-genre.   This is really the film that started the debate of “Fast Zombie vs Slow Zombie” on all the message boards and public forums.   Never you mind that horror geeks forgot that Return of the Living Dead had fast zombies as well.   Danny Boyle had the idea to shoot this film with a couple of miniDV cameras to eliminate setup and wait times which came in useful when showing the abandoned streets of London.   What ’28 Days Later’ did so well was reinvigorate the fear that we have of being chased.   Some might say it actually reinvented the zombie by making it fearful.   Back in ’68 when Romero created ‘Night of the Living Dead’ audiences were in fear of the ghouls that were outside that farm house.   However, with ’28 Days Later’ coming out in the generation it did – surrounded by films that have jump cuts and quick editing – the film adapted and made something scary.   The basic concept is there.   You get bit, you are going to become infected and in this film, you don’t have time to say goodbye.   What ’28 Days Later’ does even more on a psychological level is the way this outbreak starts is by other humans thinking they are doing a good thing by letting experimented chimps out when those chimps are infected with the Rage Virus.   If you don’t think that can happen today, think again.   Another scary thing about the film is the DIY militia that pops up where they take their power of position and try to be ‘King of the Hill’ and how our main characters are demeaned and put through a hostile environment within a hostile environment.   I’m a bigger fan of ’28 Weeks Later’ but ’28 Days Later’ is an important film on many levels behind and in front of the camera and definitely deserves the respect it receives.

Top 5 Best SLOW-Moving Zombie Flicks:

5. Zombie 2 (aka Zombi)

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While marketed worldwide as a sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD, Lucio Fulci’s 1979 masterpiece ZOMBIE is unrelated to the Romero films and brought the genre back to its Caribbean voodoo roots. Fulci’s zombies are more revolting than Romeros. Their bodies are significantly decayed and they rise from death as rotting piles of maggoty flesh. ZOMBIE never gets old and I can never get tired of watching it. The underwater sequence in which a Zombie faces off against a live shark is still startling and I have to credit Fulci for pulling it off so well in the days before digital effects. The most truly gut-wrenching moment comes during the infamous “eye splinter” scene when a jagged chunk of wood is slowly forced through a woman’s eyeball in full close up. The special effects for this sequence and others are quite stomach churning, which is why ZOMBIE has acquired legendary status in the annals of Italian horror. Adding invaluably to the film’s bleak atmosphere is Goblin’s creepy synthesized score. ZOMBIE used to play at the Drive-Ins constantly in the early 80’s and 30 years later holds up as one of the best zombie movies of all.

4. I Walked With a Zombie

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Between 1942 and 1946, Val Lewton served as the head of the horror division of RKO Pictures.  In that four-year span, he wrote and/or produced nine horror classics, films that have nearly been forgotten but stand up as incredible works of cinema over 60 years later.  One such film was I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.  One of three Val Lewton-produced horrors, the film was directed by the incomparable Robert Wise.  It centers on a young nurse, played by Frances Dee, who travels to the West Indies to care for the wife of a plantation owner.  As with any good film about nurses, this one falls in love with the owner.  Determined to cure her lover’s wife for his own happiness, the nurse resorts to using a Voodoo curse to relinquish the illness’ hold on the wife.  I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE  is a classic tale of the zombie years before Romero turned them into blood-thirsty fiends who turn others into the undead.  Relying more on atmosphere and story rather than jump-at-you scares or intensity, the film’s central zombie is one captured in haunting imagery by even today’s standards.  Darby Jones plays Carre-Four, the overbearing zombie who guards the sacred ground of the Voodoo rituals.  Carre-Four casts a daunting visage even when he is simply standing still as if a scarecrow.  Once he is unleashed to do the bidding of the Voodoo priest, the character becomes absolutely terrifying.  I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE  is a classic that should not be missed.

3. Cemetery Man (aka Dellamorte Dellamore)

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One thing you rarely see in a zombie flick is a good love story. Well, there’s a reason for that, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done successfully. CEMETERY MAN, also known as DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, is probably the best example of this unconventional approach to a genre film typically riddled with blood and violence. Don’t worry, this film has it’s share of killer zombie and zombie-killing violence as well. Rupert Everett plays Francesco, an undertaker for a cemetery which seems to be plagued with a curse that brings the recently deceased back to animated undead life. Francesco is good at what he does… putting corpses in the ground and then efficiently dispatching with them once they rise again, using his trusty six-shooter. The down side is that Francesco isn’t having any fun. He’s depressed and apathetic, but does have his feeble-minded assistant and friend Gnaghi as company. The “romance” comes into the fold with Francesco’s love having died and been buried in his cemetery and Francesco finds himself conflicted about what to do once she rises from her grave. Following suit, Gnaghi finds himself head over heels for a rich man’s daughter who dies and ends up in their cemetery. Having not been courageous enough in life, Gnaghi finds himself able to commence with courting her once she rises from her grave, despite being significantly “shorter” than she was in life. The movie is beautifully shot and stylistic to boot. Its a wonderful combination of the Italian horror sensibility and a visual style similar to that of Sam Raimi’s.

2. Shaun of the Dead

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Simon Pegg and Nick Frost made their big debut to American audiences at the hands of Edgar Wright with this very smart, very funny exploration of the zombie genre. Hurling them into fanboy favorite status, SHAUN OF THE DEAD became an instant classic. The movie takes the zombie genre and turns it inside out, remaining recognizable but also pinpointing all the tell-tale characteristics that make a zombie flick good, poking fun at and honoring these elements to create a wholly new and enjoyable type of zombie film. The two main characters, a couple of loser roommates with differing outlooks on life, find themselves members of a dwindling human population as a zombie epidemic takes over London. The two must fight off the wandering, bumbling undead corpses while trying to get to family and friends. The struggle to survive is accompanied by great dialogue and humor and a good story. The zombies are slow and stupid, which works perfectly for the two main characters to have their dialogue-heavy, often slightly philosophical debates and arguments regarding life, music, flatulence and yes, zombies. The make us is surprisingly good for a comedy take on the genre, but despite the importance of the zombies, SHAUN OF THE DEAD really isn’t about the zombies so much as it’s a trigger mechanism for Shaun’s epiphany in life to change. Then again, it also has some great, although relatively mild, scenes of zombie killing with weapons that range from cricket bats to vinyl records.

1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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What is left to say about ‘Dawn of the Dead’?   For those not familiar with the film, please run out this October and see it.   After George A. Romero essentially created flesh eating zombies in ‘Night of the Living Dead’, he steps up to push his physical creation of the zombie into the background to make a statement about consumerism with a horror film.   While it is not the first time horror films have been used to present snapshots of society at that certain time, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ definitely made it a little more obvious that there was more to the film than being about zombies in a mall.   While ‘Night of the Living Dead’ might be more influential in the long run, ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is so embedded in horror and pop culture and serves as a cautionary tale about how normal people who are fighting to survive can be wrapped up in decadence when given the opportunity.   IT IS A MUST SEE.

21 Comments

  1. Heath

    September 29, 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Good list, but the original NotLD is missing. That's gotta make it, right? Dead Alive is so insanely gory and fun. Speaking of zombies and brains, I don't remember the last time zombies ever specifically targeted brains in a movie, but you think they would or perhaps more importantly somebody would have them going for the brain. Otherwise they'd just moan "fleeeesh" all the time. Okay, enough about that.

    • garrett

      October 7, 2010 at 10:14 pm

      the only zombie movies i have ever seen where the zombies wanted brains and brains alone was in the Return of the living dead series; its an amazing comedy series worth watching…….. and i mean a movie series not a tv series haha

  2. Travis

    September 29, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    The original NOTLD is great, I'm not arguign that… and, if it were top ten zombie movies in general, it certainly would have made the list. It felt, with only 5 picks for each category, we didn't want to have more than one film from a single director appearing in each category, hence DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) which, IMO, is better than the original NOTLD.

  3. tyrone

    September 29, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    I saw it way back in 1968 when we had black and white television and David brinkley can into our living rooms at 5;30. Nothing scared me more, hell no movie ever scared me but the original NOLD. I ran home from the Victory theater in Wellston. I just moved back from Beaver county, Pa. and George Romero will tell you it is his best work and everyone claims they were zombies. 4o years later it still holds up. none of those other films we even matter 10 years from now.

  4. tyrone

    September 29, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    will even matter. I really must proofread.

  5. Charlie Harris

    September 29, 2009 at 7:36 pm

    This list is suspect. At least the fast moving list is. Why the Heck is Zombieland on it when it hasn't been released yet? How can a film, that hasn't even been seen by home audiences (ie – not critics or advanced screeners) be one of the greats of all time? Standing up over time makes the greats, not hype.

    • Travis

      September 29, 2009 at 10:02 pm

      I actually have seen Zombieland, and while it hasn't been released yet in theaters, it was incredibly enjoyable.

      • Charlie Harris

        October 1, 2009 at 2:30 pm

        So what? One guy gets to determine the all time greats for everybody? You're missing the point. If we culturally remember the film five years from now than put it on a greats list.

        I have one friend who swears that the best movie ever made is Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Is it? No.

  6. JustinBlock

    September 29, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    I'll give you 2 buckets of brain matter for including MY personal favorite Dead Alive…

  7. Sol

    September 29, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    With the slowest AND least motivated Zombies being in an Australian web series – Sharehouse Zombie Apocalypse. http://www.zombieapocalypse.tv

  8. zombiescott

    September 29, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    return of the living dead was really the first to incorperate brains into the fold and yes that's all they ate in that movie for the most part. (to answer Heath's question) and I personally think that Day Of The Dead was the best out of the romero movies ( for best slow zombie) or Tom Savini's 90' Night of the living dead remake. just because Romero's Night was a classic or innovator doesn't mean that it was better than all the others (just saying). and as for the fast ones I still have to go with Return of the living dead… they mobbed people… and they were actually rotting dead re-animations of corpses, not just infected people. 28 days was still great though… good and interesting list. oppinions are like a-holes I guess. lol. i agree… zombieland shouldn't be on there yet. my oppinion for what it's worth…
    SKOL…

    • Travis

      September 29, 2009 at 10:04 pm

      I will say this, for all the "list purists"… I was originally going to put DEAD SNOW where ZOMBIELAND currently sits on this list, but ultimately decided it wasn't as good as ZOMBIELAND.

  9. zombiescott

    September 30, 2009 at 12:10 am

    i don't think anybody's arguing about zombieland being good (or arguing at all for that matter) because im sure it's going to be great. like the other guy said not many of us have been able to see it yet, that's the only reason, but hey it's your list and kudos to you for doing that list anyways. that's awesome :)

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  11. Michael

    September 30, 2009 at 3:42 am

    Nightmare City! It is one of the first (if not the first ) to have fast zombies, and the gore and action are absolutely ridiculous. I mean a woman gets her breast ripped off! It is so campy and fun … I would put it over Dead Alive, but that is because it is hard for me to think of that film as a zombie movie.

  12. Michael

    September 30, 2009 at 3:45 am

    Kudos for Cemetery Man though! Most of the times, overlooked gem.

  13. Tyrone

    September 30, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Aw man, I saw it last night, Zombieland is the real deal. It is one of the best movies I have seen this year, along with Sin Nombre ( this is a bad year so far). It is easily the smartest and it is the most fun I had at a zombie movie. Before last night I was going to offer two more, "The Gates Of hell" and a movie I saw in Korea with John Saxon that was titled " Zombie Apocalypse" in Korea, I have no idea what the name is in the states but after last night I am a believer in Zombieland. And if the Academy can have a whole list of unseen films nominated as best picture, surely we can cut the geeks some lack.

  14. Tom Stockman

    September 30, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    The John Saxon movie was called CANNIBALS IN THE STREETS when I saw it at a St. Louis theater around '82. A couple years later it was at the drive-in (edited) under the title INVASION OF THE FLESH HUNTERS and is on DVD under the title CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE.

  15. zombiescott

    October 1, 2009 at 1:39 am

    The gates of hell aka City of the living dead is probably my second favorite zombie movie even though they just kind of dissapear and re-appear they're not really fast or slow but Fulci is a god to me as well. but I agree kudos on cemetary man that is a great over looked movie.

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  17. Meh

    August 11, 2017 at 11:09 pm

    Night of the Comet.

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