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Figuring out where the word ‘zombie’ itself came from is the stuff of nightmare research projects for horror fans. Luckily, we can trace both the current mythology of the walking dead and their use in social satire to legendary American-Canadian director George A. Romero, who raised these reanimated monsters to a whole new, thoughtful plain with his follow-up film: ‘Dawn of the Dead’.
Set almost entirely in a typical suburban shopping mall during a zombie outbreak, the film follows a handful of survivors as they try and make a life for themselves in and amongst the walkers and Walgreens. The idea of having mindless bodies meandering around America’s greatest consumer icon is some pretty inspired stuff, as is the still stellar special effects work by Tom Savini.
‘Dawn of the Dead’ was preceded and followed over the years by many other clever works of cadaverous terror, with the following zombie films all paying heavy respect to the genre.
This now classic comedy is often thought of as a spoof of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, but in all earnestness it’s more like an unofficial British remake, just set in your local pub instead of a shopping mall. In this version, directionless lowlife Shaun tries to win back his long-time girlfriend Liz whilst his country slowly descends into zombie-induced chaos.
Filled with horror movie references and Britishisms, the second half of the movie is pretty much a zombified mirror of the first – from the slumping suburban street shots to the post Z-day special episode of ‘Trisha’.
I could quite easily have filled this list of movies similar to ‘Dawn of the Dead’ with all the other Romero zombie flicks, but for fairness sake I’ll stick to his original debut of the dead. One of the most financially successful and notorious indie films of all time, ‘Night of the Living Dead’ follows a ragtag group of people holed up in a farmhouse as they battle the zombified horde outside.
For years, the film has been heavily scrutinized for its subtext and social commentary of Cold War politics, the patriarchal nuclear family and more. Though these subjects differ from ‘Dawn of the Dead’, both films use the undead to single out society’s true villains, and each were notable for having African-American leads when such a thing was still uncommon.
Being such an oversaturated genre, it’s hard to imagine new zombie films bringing anything new to the table. However, not only did this Canadian horror flick revive the tradition of using the undead as metaphor, but it totally reinvented the creatures themselves.
In ‘Pontypool’ the virus infects not through bites, but with certain words in the English language. Set entirely in a local radio station with a former shock jock DJ as its hero, it’s easy to see parallels between the way the zombies amass new members and how certain ideas can lead us to conform.
If the juxtaposition of brain-dead revenants and thinking-man’s scripts is your thing, then the following zombie films like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ are definitely worth tracking down.
This British horror movie remains as one of the more poignant zombie films of recent years. Its iconic depiction of a desolate London was considered a symbol of Western isolation in the Iraq war at the time of its release. This sentiment was carried over in the sequel ’28 Weeks Later’, where the self-contained, zombie-free safe haven in London was somewhat analogous to the Green Zone in Baghdad.
Despite the fact that zombie films these days mash-up the undead with everything from Nazis to Sheep, the amount of actual satire has waned depressingly thin. Enter this bizarre horror comedy from Thailand, where a Type 4 SARS virus causes an outbreak in an apartment building that must be saved by a sword wielding superhero.
The pantheon of zombie movies has plenty of clever flicks worth your time. Though they are more on the science fiction side, ‘Slither’, ‘Cabin in the Woods’ and ‘Return of the Living Dead’ offer the requisite mix of laughs and scares, and if you’re willing to venture into the realm of TV, I’d definitely recommend ‘Les Revenants’ and the BBC series ‘In the Flesh’.
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