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Good Zombie Movies (2000-05): Undead Diversified

The Nineties saw a decline in zombie flicks – most people had grown tired of the rambling, decaying horde. A generation of gamers wanted a faster, more dangerous menace. Well, they got one. ~ Hope Madden

Built for Speed

The new millennium introduced a new breed of monster – one that could effing run. Yikes! In fact, many filmmakers toyed with the parameters of the zombie movie – some found romance, some abandoned the “undead” idea entirely. But some chose to celebrate the originator of the zombie, and that maestro made a comeback of his own.


Queasying Zombie Movie Recommendations

‘28 Days Later’ (Danny Boyle, 2002)

You know you’re in trouble from the genius opening sequence: vulnerability, tension, bewilderment, rage and blood – it marks a frantic and terrifying film.

Like Romero, though, director Danny Boyle’s real worry is not the infected, it’s the living.

He uses a lot of ideas Romero introduced, pulling loads of images from ‘The Crazies’ and ‘Day of the Dead,’ in particular (as well as Adrian Lyne’s ‘Jacob’s Ladder’). But he revolutionized the genre – sparking the rebirth of zombie movies – with just a handful of terrifying tweaks. And mostly, by making them move really fast.

The vision, the writing, and the performances all help him transcend genre trappings without abandoning the genre. Both Brendan Gleeson and Cillian Murphy are impeccable actors, and Naomie Harris is a truly convincing badass. Their performances, along with the cinematic moments of real joy, make their ordeal that much more powerful.

Sure, it’s tough to believe that among the ten or so people still alive in England, two are as stunningly attractive as Murphy and Harris. You know what, though? Boyle otherwise paints a terrifyingly realistic vision of an apocalypse we could really bring on ourselves.

‘Shaun of the Dead’ (Edgar Wright, 2004)

A film that is hard not to like is this hilarious Brit zom-rom-com.

Writer/director Edgar Wright teams with writer/star Simon Pegg to lovingly mock the slacker generation, 80s pop, and George Romero with this riotous flesh eating romance. But what is easy to overlook is the genuine craftsmanship that went into making this picture.

Every frame of every scene is so perfectly timed – pauses in conversation synchronized with seemingly random snippets of other conversations, or juke box songs, or bits from the tele.

Pegg and co-star Nick Frost are my favorite Brit duo outside of Wallace and Gromit, but the entire cast is spot-on. Bill Nighy, for instance – awesome in any role- couldn’t be better as Shaun’s prim, disappointed stepfather.

‘Shaun’ offers such a witty observation of both a generation and a genre, so well told and acted, that it is an absolute joy, even if you’re not a fan of zombie movies. As social satire, it is as sharp as they come. It also manages to hit the bull’s eye as a splatter horror film, an ode to Romero, a buddy picture, and an authentic romantic comedy. And it’s more than just a remarkable achievement; it’s a fresh, vivid explosion of entertainment. It’s a great movie.

‘Dawn of the Dead’ (Zack Snyder, 2004)

Plenty of filmmakers remade or reimagined Romero’s flicks, but none did it as well as Zack Snyder. Snyder would go on to success with vastly overrated movies, but his one truly fine piece of filmmaking updated Romero’s ‘NOTLD’ sequel with the high octane horror. The result may be less cerebral and political than Romero’s original, but it is a thrill ride through hell and it is not to be missed.

The flick begins strong with one of the best “things seem fine but then they don’t” openings in film. And finally! A strong female lead (Sarah Polley) who seems like a real person. Polley’s beleaguered nurse Ana leads us through the aftermath of the dawn of the dead, fleeing her rabid husband and neighbors and winding up with a rag tag team of survivors hunkered down inside a mall.

In Romero’s version, themes of capitalism, greed, mindless consumerism run through the narrative. Snyder, though affectionate to the source material, focuses more on survival, humanity and thrills. (He also has a wickedly clever soundtrack.) It’s more visceral and more fun. His feature is gripping, breathlessly paced, well developed and genuinely terrifying.

Plus, one truly good guy, one effective change-of-heart character, an excellent slimeball and solid performances all around keep you invested in the characters.

You’ve got to kind of make up your own mind about the zombie-baby, though.

‘Land of the Dead’ (George A. Romero, 2005)

After a break of 20 years, the master himself returned home. George A. Romero came back in 2005 to show us what happens when the living dead finally overrun the earth.

Spanning a single night, ‘Land’ involves us in a class struggle in a walled-off “safe city.” With ‘Land’, Romero reveals what we’ve long suspected of his decaying new breed of man – that zombiism may actually be God’s new beginning for the human race.

‘Land of the Dead’ is not the classic of Romero’s earliest undead work, but the filmmaker’s trademark lefty politics combine with some inspired set pieces, some nods to his own canon, and decent performances to ensure this is one of the better remembered tunes in his ‘Dead’ symphony.


Here to Stay

The walking dead would remain a constant in cinema and pop culture throughout the early 2000s. A nimble symbol, zombies could be used by filmmakers as analogies to nearly everything, political to medical to romantic. Their flexibility helped them become the go-to monster of the millennial generation, which means a lot more and more varied zombie efforts in the coming years.

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