George A. Romero started the zombie sub-genre with Night of the Living Dead (1968), a brilliant film built on a shoe-string, five-hundred-thousand dollar budget (which has received an incredible $30 million dollar gross worldwide). In Night, Romero introduces us to the slow, shambling zombies that we’ve come to love, setting up horror movie rules that have endured for decades, most importantly that if you want to kill a zombie, shoot him/her in the head.
Romero’s zombie sequels, Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), have further filled out the mythos with a continuing undead holocaust. Dawn features four survivors (two swat team members, a helicopter pilot, and a pregnant woman) desperately holding up in a mall in an attempt to outlast the horror. Day brings us even further into an ugly future: zombies have overrun most of the world and we’re following the story of an underground military installation rife with internal conflict between a team of scientists and a group of soldiers. Watch as a scientist tries to domesticate a zombie with very entertaining results.
Romero took zombies seriously, using them for fear fodder, metaphor, and social commentary. Others have tried a different tact. Dan O’Bannion’s Return of the Living Dead (1985) and the equally entertaining other films in the series present a hilarious view of zombies that can speak (mostly just to moan “braaaaaaaaaaains!”) and who can’t be killed by most conventional means. A bullet to the head doesn’t stop these guys. The tone is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but nonetheless the zombies in Return have been influential upon the sub-genre.
Other notably funny zombie flicks have included Slither (2006) and Night of the Creeps (1986), both films that attribute the root cause of our undead problems to alien parasites. Arguably the best slapstick, zombie-comedy is a young Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead-Alive) (1992), a movie complete with a kung-fu priest, gallons of blood, and an amusing lawnmower revenge-scene. Other important zombie-comedy notables: Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, Redneck Zombies, Shaun of the Dead, Fido, Dead & Breakfest, My Boyfriend’s Back, and Idle Hands.
Zombies like to eat flesh. It’s a fact. And some movies aggressively highlight this predilection. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (a.k.a. Zombie Flesh Eaters and Zombi 2) (1979) is a supreme example of this type of film. Highlighting the gore over plot, acting, or filmography, Fulci entreats you to some of the most graphic zombie death scenes imaginable. Watch also for an amazing zombie/shark battle.