Flannel shirts and zombie movies. Those are my only two claims to being ahead of the pop-culture curve.
Decades ago, in flannel shirts, I was sitting alone in empty movie theaters watching zombie movies long before either of those crazes began. Just me and a tub of popcorn and a big-ass grin on my face.
There are so many zombie movies today I don’t even bother to catch them all. Too many, like the recent Army of the Dead, are godawful. As far as The Walking Dead, it was never all that great, but now it’s unwatchable. CGI has made everything too easy, and no one seems to understand what The Mighty George Romero made clear when he invented the flesh-eating genre all the way back in 1968: Your movie has to have something to say without saying it, and your protagonist must be flawed, sometimes fatally.
Here are some under-appreciated zombie gems for your Halloween viewing.
- Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)
The fourth entry in this underrated franchise (which is set to be rebooted next month without Milla Jovovich’s sex appeal, so why bother?) finds Alice (Jovovich) crash landing on the roof of a prison surrounded by flesh-eating zombies desperate to gain entry for a feast.
This is my favorite in the franchise, and other than part two (2004’s Apocalypse), it’s the purest zombie chapter in the bunch. Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller (who knows something about prisons), and Kim Coates lend their able support in a very cool-looking and legitimately tense R-rated zombie-a-thon.
- Diary of the Dead (2007)
The Mighty George Romero’s fourth zombie entry follows a group of college filmmakers as they not only attempt to make their way through the first stages of the Zombie Apocalypse but try to film and make sense of it.
At first, I hated this movie. Hated it! Now, thanks to Romero’s secret thematic sauce, I love it as much as his previous three. Forget the found-footage conceit. Not only is Diary terrifying in spots, Romero was way ahead of the curve when it comes to social media. He not only understood its cancerous effects on society but on the human spirit.
The Return of the Living Dead franchise is now 36 years old and offers five chapters. Unfortunately, the final two are total crap. The first is a masterpiece. The second is okay. The third is something truly special.
If you’re looking for apocalyptic scope, this is not the movie for you. Return III is a low-budget entry filmed on backlots and soundstages. This means the money went where it’s supposed to go: into the stunning practical effects and in-camera gore no computer will ever come close to recreating.
Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and Julie (Melinda Clarke) are young and desperately in love. But thanks to his father’s connection to ongoing military experiments using the deceased, after Julie dies in a motorcycle accident, Curt brings her back to life.
The only connection to the original Return is the use of Trioxin, but that should tell you all you need to know about what happens next.
Melinda Clarke is the whole show. She’s absolutely stunning as a young woman in love slowly losing herself to after-death appetites. When she opens a door and steps out transformed, it is one of the greatest moments in all of zombie history, an actual horror moment, and it’s Clarke who turns what could have been camp into an unforgettable chiller.
- Night of the Comet (1984)
Valley Girls. Apocalypse. Zombies.
Need I say more?
Okay, I’ll say a little more…
Outside of being entertaining, what I love about Night of the Comet is its atmosphere. With only a $700,000 budget to work with, director Thom Eberhardt and his cinematographer, Arthur Albert, do an unforgettable job of creating a post-apocalyptic atmosphere using color, light, and camera angles.
- Night of the Living Dead (1990)
George Romero wrote the screenplay for this remake of his 1968 masterpiece, but handed directing duties over to Tom Savini, the special effects genius who made Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985) so mind-stoppingly realistic.
At the time, Savini’s remake was savaged by critics as an unnecessary and cynical cash-grab, but the distance of time has gained it the reputation it deserves. Yes, it’s a pretty straightforward remake, but it’s a supremely well-directed one filled with tension and superb effects.
Most of all, it’s a bloody good time.