Zombies. The walking dead. Ghouls. Whatever you call them, brain-eaters have become a staple horror villain. From the shuffling undead masses that wreak havoc in Zombieland to the to the post-apocalyptic terror of the infected in 28 Days Later, the undead are the antagonists in a host of excellent films.
With Halloween just around the corner, now’s the time to start planning your spooky movie marathon. And if you need some pointers, we’ve got you. Here NME writers go deep on the best zombie films of all time.
The Cabin in the Woods (2011)
Is there any zombie more terrifying than a redneck zombie? In Drew Goddard’s puzzle box horror, the resurrected Buckner family wield their own brand of pain-loving torture on a band of unknowing sacrifices. Feared by their victims yet treated as old, loyal pets by the people who know them best (no spoilers here), the Buckners may only be skilled at brutal murder, but boy do they do it well. Someone pass the rusty hacksaw.
Cemetery Man (1994)
If you like your zombie movies as weird as possible, this Italian cult classic is well worth seeking out. Rupert Everett stars as a smalltown cemetery caretaker whose job largely consists of killing “returners” – zombies – who continually emerge from the graves. Director Michele Soavi deftly blends sex, death and eye-popping comic book visuals into a memorably grotesque romp that some critics read as a critique of Italian smalltown corruption. Either way, it’s a lot of dark-hearted fun.
Train To Busan (2016)
Thanks to Bong Joon-ho’s awards-busting Parasite, global interest in Korean film has never been higher. But know this, bandwagoners: South Korean cinema has been ace for ages – such is their skill at keeping bums on the edge of seats. Take Train To Busan, for example. The 2016 zombie thriller, in which commuters fight off the undead on a speeding locomotive, is pure, popcorn entertainment. Even its back-to-basics special effects and ultra-simple setup can’t make it feel cheap or schlocky. This is top quality horror – who needs Hollywood?
28 Days Later (2002)
The Olympian-level fitness of the film’s rage-infected zombies is just one of the many captivating details of Danny Boyle’s bleakly brilliant 28 Days Later, which revitalised the zombie horror genre as it just about staggered into the new millennium. The shot of an increasingly incredulous Jim (played by a nascent Cillian Murphy) standing on a deserted Westminster Bridge in central London, realising that society has crumbled as a result of a devastating virus (now that sounds eerily familiar), will forever be considered as one of the most spectacular scenes in British cinema history.
The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
Zombie movies aren’t meant to take themselves seriously and Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die strikes that perfect balance between quietly funny and seriously odd in the way that only the cult filmmaker’s flicks can. It boasts a stellar cast too – Tilda Swinton as a bad-ass mortician with an interest in martial arts, Bill Murray and Adam Driver as a small-time policing duo, Iggy Pop as a coffee-addicted zombie. Literally, what is not to love?
Luke Morgan Britton
The found footage genre quickly became stale and overused in the wake of The Blair Witch Project, but a trio of films in 2007-8 cleverly revived the technique: Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield and [REC], the Spanish horror flick set at the epicentre of a zombie-virus outbreak in a Barcelona apartment complex. Like 28 Days Later’s zombies-on-speed, it gave the once lumbering brain-eaters the element of shock and surprise again, as they hurtled down corridors at reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman, or leapt from grainy corners of shaky hand-held camera frames. Then, in the final reel, the night-vision gets switched on and the film’s claustrophobic tone gets dialled into the red.
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
If you happen to be a massive wimp like me, Jennifer’s Body is the ideal horror flick – on a practical note there’s only one zombie to keep track of, plus it’s easier to look past the gore when there’s irreverent Mean Girls-style humour and a meaningful piece of social satire nestled alongside the pints of fake blood. Hugely overlooked when it came out, there’s actually more to this film than meets the eye. Played by Megan Fox, main character Jennifer is a witheringly mean cheerleader who is kidnapped and then sacrificed to the devil by a mediocre indie band called Low Shoulder – because she’s not a virgin she returns in undead form to wreak revenge on teenage boys everywhere. Beneath the dark humour the subtext is clear: and it tells a story about abuse and accountability.
I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
Curiously for a film that preempted the sub-genre, this RKO classic, directed by ‘40s horror don Jacques Tourneur and produced by spooky Svengali Val Lewton, doesn’t look much like a zombie movie as we know them today. Forget shuffling, flesh-eating hordes: this is a moody gothic drama that follows nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) as she heads to a sugar plantation in the Caribbean to treat a young woman who has become a ‘zombie’ – stupefied, silent, near-comatose. What happened to her? The answer is, of course, extremely creepy. This beautifully-shot film is partly an allegory about the shameful legacy of slavery, placing Lewton and Torneur’s masterpiece in the pantheon of zombie movies – see: 1968’s civil rights-themed Night Of The Living Dead and 2018’s The Cured, which explores the demonisation of migrants – that tell us about our own ravaged world.
Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
We’re barely twenty minutes into Shaun Of The Dead when the unlikeliest of questions is asked – which of your beloved records would you happily part with in order to kill a horde of flesh-eating zombies? And so sets the tone for the funniest zombie movie ever made. Edgar Wright’s 2004 epic is a masterclass in proving that, against all odds, perhaps a zombie pandemic would actually be fun – and it’s all thanks to the effortless chemistry between Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. And as with all good films, we’re left with a lasting lesson: should the shit hit the fan IRL, just go to the pub and wait for it all to end. When the undead rise, the first round is on us.
The wickedly funny Zombieland takes place in the aftermath of America’s zombie outbreak, which saw a strain of mad cow disease turn the country’s population into brain-munching parasites. Following a group of survivors – made up of loner college student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), brutal Twinkie obsessive Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) and con-artist sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) – as they travel across America on their way to a theme park they’ve heard is zombie free, the motley crew slowly become a dysfunctional family. Adding heart, humour and a laugh-out-loud cameo from Bill Murray to the stagnant zomcom genre, it’s the perfect post-apocalyptic comedy.