So we’ve arrived at the spooky season and I am just so excited. I’ve got a bunch of lists that I’m going to be bringing to you, some of which, like today’s, will be totally accessible and an ease into the horror genre. My plan is to post a new list video each week of October and hopefully there are going to be at least a few things that maybe you haven’t seen. I did my best to choose titles that you can find on streaming channels, at least in the US, but I’ll tell you where I found each of them and then put chapter markers down in the description below.
To kick off this series, I wanted to talk about five very accessible zombie movies. I have these ranked in my order of preference but know that each of them does contain at least some nugget of goodness otherwise they just wouldn’t be on the list. I’d also like to know what zombie movies you love, and I know there are a crap tonne of them available. All right, let’s dive in. First up is a zombie film from 1985.
1. The Return of the Living Dead
This one is laughable, and it’s fairly cheesy by today’s standards. This is a horror comedy, sort of a sequel to The Return of the Living Dead. All right, so I think you just rolled your eyes, but before you check out of this and just hop into the comments to tell me why this shouldn’t be anywhere near a horror list I want you to hear me out. Two guys in an industrial medical supply warehouse accidentally break open a government container that’s filled with toxic gas, and then that starts bringing the dead back to life.
I love that the movie is self-aware in the fact that when a dead thing stops being dead, the characters then reference Night of the Living Dead. I mean, almost as source material, like it was a fact that had just been dramatised for the movie.
The acting in this is terrible, and it’s so over the top that it is laughable. The character spends so much time screaming and moaning either in agony or in distress that it can get on your nerves but here’s the thing that really freaked me out as a kid while I was watching this. Removing the head or destroying the brain doesn’t kill the zombies, and they’re aware of their state of death. It’s a unique twist that makes the zombies creepier because they’re almost unstoppable.
The whole thing takes place in less than 24 hours, so there’s a very compressed timeline that adds a bunch of tension and urgency to the story. The story also relies heavily on the mid-80s cultural outlook of the bunk scene. There’s a group of punk rockers that are written as nihilists, and they seemingly welcome death, and in one very ironic scene, a character even jokes about being eaten by a large group of men, and then you can guess what happens later on in the film. There is a tonne of gore in this and the practical effects are still impressive today.
The makeup is occasionally a bit lacking, but the majority of the time the dead are menacing and freaky, and I especially love it when we see zombies that are nearing the liquefied state. I mean, it’s just nasty, but it’s super effective too.
If you’re in the mood for cheese and brains, check out The Return of the Living Dead on Amazon Prime. Next up is a completely different type of zombie movie. In 2002, Danny Boyle put Killian Murphy and Naomi Harris up against a bunch of rage monsters and beat them.
2. 28 Days Later:
This is available on HBO Max, and there are some very harrowing scenarios within this. The opening scene informs us of how the rage virus infects people in a quick and violent way that starts off our film. Not all of the cinematography holds up, and it feels very early 2000s with a lot of quick cuts into strange angles and a look that’s grainy and then typically oversaturated, but even with some of that dated feel to the presentation, there are also some very impressive shots that create a huge sense of dread and then loneliness.
I love how tiny Killian’s character Gem looks as he just wanders along the road that’s littered with garbage and then zero people. Something that makes this movie stand out from other zombie films is how quick the infected are. It is common right now to watch a zombie movie and have the undead or the infected clip along at a fast pace, but we also know that traditionally they would just amble-like. When these infected come at you they are racing, and it is a terrifying prospect to watch these crazed beings just hurl themselves through the air in order to get at their targets.
Now I love how it immediately creates a huge state of urgency to get away or find shelter. In addition to Murphy and Harris, we also get some wonderful performances from Brendan Gleason and Christopher Eggleston. Gleason is cheery and quirky, and I love the slightly lighthearted sentiment that he brings. He’s not comic relief, but he’s doing his best to keep up morale, which makes him come across as way more jovial than his travelling companions. And then, in stark contrast, we got Eccleston as an Army Major, and as soon as we met this dude hairs on my neck just started tingling. He’s off in a way that I can’t immediately pinpoint, but he’s not somebody that you can let your guard down around now.
So, while not all of the filmmaking choices hold up as well as they should because they feel dated, the overall story and presentation deliver a thrilling watch that will keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense and anticipation. This spawns some sequels, and I’m not seeing any of them, so I can’t speak to their quality, but this first entry is definitely worth checking out.
3. The End of the World and Anna
We’ve now come to my third pick, and this one is wildly different than the others. In 2017 a Christmas themed zombie musical had a very limited release and when it came to VOD, I watched it nine times in 48 hours I mean, I was instantly hooked. Anna and the Apocalypse follows several high school friends as a zombie apocalypse decimates their tiny town. It’s available right now on Pluto, which I believe is a free streaming platform supported by ads.
The story is very simple and actually a bit thin. It’s really just about this group of kids trying to survive. Obviously, they’re caught off guard by what happens next and then spend the next 90 minutes avoiding the mighty undead around them. So why is this one worth checking out? Well, first it’s some music. I mean, the songs are catchy, extremely well written, and then the cast have phenomenal voices. There is also a lot of humour in the lyrics, and when that is combined with catchy melodies and catchy ah yes, well, anyway, the songs will get stuck in your head and make you want to sing along.
The story’s dialogue is also very witty; it’s filled with a lot of snark but delivered in ways that feel genuine to the characters, and each of them comes across as earnest, regardless of whether they are lovelorn, sarcastic, or just a D-Back. I mean, I think many are easy to root for, even if they didn’t start out that way. There are also violent sight gags to make us chuckle and wince, especially in the background shots.
It may feel slightly weird to watch during October, especially given the Christmas theme, but regardless of the time of year, this is a fun and unique take on the undead. Alright, so we’re nearing the top of my list and honestly, this one and my number one were really tough choices for what would be at the top just because I love them both so much but for wildly different reasons.
4. Shaun of the Dead
My number four zombie movie comes from my favourite director and also stars two of my favourite actors. Shaun of the Dead is from 2004. It’s directed by Edgar Wright and it stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost along with a tonne of others.
This is billed as a “rom-com song,” which means it’s a romantic comedy with zombies, and then contained within that is a rich and wonderful social commentary. If you’re unfamiliar with this movie, it follows two best friends, Sean and Ed, who are both in this sort of arrested development. They don’t show much if any real ambition, and they’re wholly content to just spend every night drinking pints at their local pub, the Winchester. The set up for this story is so brilliant as we watch a series of behaviours carried out by Sean pre-zombie apocalypse and then we watch him repeat these post-zombie breakout and the extreme level of his unawareness. I mean, it’s just so hilarious.
The film is filled with quotable lines that, at least in my house, are a staple for everyday conversation. If asked what the plan is for the day, my response is always the same: take the car, go to Mum’s Kill Phil, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice pint and wait for all this to blow over. How’s that for a slice of fried gold? The movie has also changed the way I hear Queens Don’t Stop Me. I mean, I have to hit something in time with the beat like I’m whacking a zombie with the pool cue, and I love that there’s a sense of peril in the story, which then makes the stakes very high and real, and there are characters who are very charismatic, and when they run the risk of dying, it’s emotional and tense.
But now we’re back to Sean. In particular, Wright reintroduces characters from his previous works, particularly Spaced. We get Peter Sarahfinowicz, Oi Prick, and Jessica Hines. I mean, now he’s a huge fan of space. The soundtrack is awesome, so as you watch the bloody carnage, you can tap your feet and bop your head along directly to the awesomeness.
The first is another rom-com zombie, but this one is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet and it’s called “Warm Bodies.” It stars Nicholas Holt as R, a slightly dead dude who knows he’s a zombie and yet also feels like he may not totally be one. He falls in love with Julie, but of course they’re going to be forbidden from being together since he’s dead. All in all, this is a cute and contained story, and because it follows the story of Romeo and Juliet, there’s a level of predictability to it, but it doesn’t ruin any of the enjoyment. There’s sarcasm and, of course there’s romance.
It’s currently available on HBO Max, so give it a shot or a re-watch, and the other honourable mention is a straight-up action comedy starring Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Abigail Breslin. I really love this mix of these characters. It really works especially with Eisenberg’s voiceovers and his reliance on the rules. And just like in Sean, this contains a tonne of irreverent humour that is delivered awesomely by the cast. Their chemistry is also what makes this dialogue so effective in its snark. But I love that there are also emotional moments within the story where we see humanity shine through, even when a character puts on a tough facade. And obviously, I’m talking about Zombieland.
The quirkiness of the cast members allows for each of them to stand out in unique ways, and then the emotional bits are offset by some extreme violence that’s exciting and ridiculous. This is a relatively short movie at under 90 minutes, so if you are in the mood for silly and exciting with some great action and characters that are easy to root for, certainly give Zombieland a watch. This one isn’t available on any streaming platform for free at the moment, but it is worth a rental or a purchase if you’re so inclined.
5. train to Busan.
Songho Young directed the 2016 Korean zombie drama Train to Busan. You can see it on Amazon Prime right now, and it is absolutely worth watching. The story follows a dad taking his daughter on a train from Seoul to Busan as a zombie apocalypse breaks out. The enclosed space of the train creates claustrophobic terror, which has made it even more harrowing because of the characters that we meet and then the threat that they face. There is a sense of humanity in the way the story is told, and this makes the fear and danger that the passengers are in feel real and close to home.
The movie also sets up some hero moments that are sure to be gut punches, and that’s what really makes this my number one pick for a zombie movie. This is the first and maybe only one to ever make me cry. The emotional investment that’s created with the characters is shocking and unexpected too, so of course when bad things happen, and they’re going to because this is a horror movie, but when they happen, they are designed to hurt our hearts. And just because this is an emotional movie, don’t think it shys away from the gore.
The pace works well to make us feel like we’re on an emotional roller coaster, building us up with extreme danger and fear before letting us relax for a moment but never scaring us.