Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen

Mike and Magnus take a look back at some of the best zombies films ever made.

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Mike: Yo Magnus! You know that series we said that we'd get started? The conversational one where we have a back and forth about the best movies of all time and where we try and wrestle some sort of critical consensus to the ground? Well, I'm starting it, right now. I'm even taking the liberty of choosing our first subject: zombies.

So... before we go any further, I gotta ask: what do you consider a zombie movie? Are you fine with any old undead creatures, or are you a purist who likes his zombies to be slow, mindless husks, an allegory for the modern consumer as they shuffle through the tills on Black Friday, mumbling incoherently as they go?

Magnus: Greetings old friend! What a treat this is going to be. Yes, we've been conversing back and forth about something like this for what seems like years, so it's great to finally get started. Hopefully, we're not going to agree on much, as that would probably make for more dramatic reading. Alright, let's go.

Well, I think the genre in and of itself has become more fluid and dynamic as time has passed, so while something like 28 Days Later was first seen as incredibly innovative, a straight zombie-premise can now even be considered trite. You need spice now, something to make a particular film stand out. But yeah, let's mumble incoherently!

So, to kick things off. Are you mostly going to hark on about older classics, or have you seen any zombie flicks recently that have caught your eye? I personally finally watched Train to Busan recently, and fought it extremely evocative and brilliantly put together.

Mike: That's not one I've watched yet. I used to love watching subtitled films and world cinema, but these days I have to balance my gaming habit with my movie addiction, and that often means no subs so I can have something running on the laptop while the film plays on the TV. First world problems, huh!

I'm actually going to open with an entry from left-field: Shaun of the Dead. There are a couple of reasons, but mostly it's because I used to live on the same road where they filmed the sequences with him going to the shop. That was the shop where I bought my milk and cigarettes (don't judge me, I've quit now) and I always enjoyed walking down there - though it was less fun walking home, that shop was at the bottom of the fairly steep hill!

The other reason to mention Shaun of the Dead is the funnies. This was peak Pegg and Frost and arguably their finest work together, although there is a distinct possibility that my bias towards zombie movies is blurring my hindsight somewhat. Still, it was funny and satirical in equal measure, and I also appreciated it for having proper slow-ass zombies (although that's not a sticking point for me, generally speaking). Bonus points for Peter Serafinowicz, too.

Magnus: I agree. Shaun of the Dead is incredible, and if you, dear reader, haven't watched Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's movies in general, there's a whole load of them just waiting for you. Shaun of the Dead uses general comedy to add that spice that I was talking about earlier. It has to have that extra.

Now that we're talking zombies and doing something wholly unique with an occasional overly familiar premise, Kingdom on Netflix is another awesome piece of zombie cinema from South Korea. Here though, it takes place in the Joseon period in the 1500s and mixes the threat of a nationwide zombie plague with royal disputes, imperial power struggles and characters that haven't really seen anything like it before. It's a refreshing twist and is handled beautifully throughout the series.

We'll get to the classics I'm sure, but just these three examples perfectly illustrate how something that would appear boring at this stage, actually still can be utilised for fascinating storytelling and set-piece design even today, so many years after the very first classics in the genre arrived.

Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen
Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Mike: Well let's go there then, and talk about Night of the Living Dead, the George Romero original from 1968. If you want to trace this genre back to a key point, this black and white movie would most certainly be it. I've watched it a couple of times now and it's certainly atmospheric, even if it is tame by today's more shocking standards.

Still, if you're a serious zombie fan it's well worth a watch and despite its flaws, Night of the Living Dead is arguably the closest thing we've got to a genuine classic in the genre. Do you think there are any more modern zombie flicks that warrant that sort of reverence? There are some great movies, sure, but I'd argue that in recent years especially, video games have pushed the genre forward more than movies have been able to.

Magnus: It's funny you should mention Romero because I was about to bring up Dawn of the Dead, which I think is a better intro-point for enthusiastic viewers who wants to explore the classics of the genre. While it cannot be considered the platform on which all other zombie flicks are built, I think it's better at representing some of the body horror tendencies, the social commentary, and the human-to-human interactions that are now mainstays in the genre.

And while on the subject of Dawn of the Dead, Zack Snyder's remake from 2004 isn't half-bad. I mean it's not great, almost none of his films are, really, but it does encapsulate some of the spirit of the original. In terms of modern films that deserve the reverence that you speak of, I do think we've touched upon a number of them already. Shaun of the Dead, Train to Busan, 28 Days Later, all three are incredibly strong, I'd say.

Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen
Zombieland (2009)

There are of a couple of very recent examples that could demand more attention though, such as The Dead Don't Die, which is this psychedelic, Twin Peaksesque zombie tale with Bill Murray and Adam Driver, as well as Zombieland, which, just like Shaun, manages to pull off smart comedy amidst a zombie pandemic. So, how about we start listing them, huh? Everything is always improved with lists!

Mike: Hell yeah! A list feels like a good way of wrapping things up and putting a bow on this here conversation. But perhaps before we form a huddle and deliberate over our top list, I think it's worth mentioning a couple of video game-related zombie flicks that probably won't get a mention in our top list because they're good but not that good.

World War Z is one, which stumbles despite the presence of Hollywood royalty (and the game came after the film, which itself came after the book, so perhaps it's not the best example). Coming the other way round is mainstay video game franchise Resident Evil, which spawned a whole series of mediocre movies, although the first one has a certain charm that I can't dismiss, even after all these years and knowing full well that really, it ain't all that. Still, it's worthy of being a footnote in this little shuffle down memory lane if nothing else, don't you think?

Our Top Five:

Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen
5. 28 Days Later (2004)
Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen
4. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen
3. Train to Busan (2016)
Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen
2. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Zombie Gold on the Silver Screen
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

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