5. [REC] (2007)
Directors: Jaume Balagueró, Paco Plaza
Stars: Manuela Velasco, Ferran Terraza, Jorge-Yaman Serrano, Pablo Rosso, David Vert
For many, the mere mention of “found footage” horror induces noises that are usually reserved for when you notice your car has a flat tire. Sure, the genre has its moments but for the most part it’s seen as cheap and a way for movie studios to make a quick buck. [REC], however, manages to take a somewhat generic formula, and shows genre-filmmakers how to do found footage right.
The concept couldn’t be more straightforward: Angela is a bubbly TV reporter shooting a documentary series on the late-night lives of firemen. Answering a routine rescue call to an apartment building, the crew find themselves in a world of trouble when the would-be victim takes a meaty bite out of her rescuers. With cameras rolling, the crew and residents must find a way to survive the zombie outbreak when they find themselves quarantined inside the building by the trigger-happy military. Not since John Carpenter’s one-shot intro to Halloween has POV horror been this good.
4. 28 Days Later… (2002)
Director: Danny Boyle
Stars: Cillian Murphy, Naomie Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns
Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary. Nerds can nitpick and complain about what constitutes a “real” zombie and what defines an “infected”-whatever, but no matter how you examine Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, it’s a powerful piece of post-apocalyptic fiction with a heartwarming message, bloody violence and bleak visuals, and hauntingly beautiful sequences of a world returned to “normality.”
28 Days Later is split into three distinct acts, the first act being our main character’s journey through London. Much of the iconography of the film’s legacy is seen here, famous roads and landmarks empty, isolation to a giant degree that is quite impressive for how difficult it must have been to achieve this in one of the biggest cities in the world. The middle part of the film is the group’s journey to the “promised land.” Then there is the amazing third act that makes you question just who the real monsters are; the infected or the humans.
3. Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley
“They’re coming to get you, Barbara,” jokes Johnny to his sister at the beginning of George Romero’s classic, which pretty much kick-started the entire genre. Little does Johnny know that they’re coming for him too, as he becomes the first zombie attack victim (although the film famously never uses the actual word “zombie”).
In short, Night Of The Living Dead is a national treasure; shot on a shoestring budget in and around Evans City, Pennsylvania, the zombie classic stands as a crucial milestone for independent cinema, an untouchable gem amongst horror purists, and an intelligent, thought-provoking time capsule from the Civil Rights era. Not bad for a movie about corpses devouring humans. Oh, and that ending. Damn, it still hurts.
2. Dawn Of The Dead (1978)
Director: George A. Romero
Stars: Ken Foree, Gaylen Ross, Scott Reiniger, David Emge, Dave Crawford
That’s right, Dawn Of The Dead is in fact better than Romero’s predecessor, the equally brilliant Night Of The Living Dead. By a small margin, but still superior. Dawn was made 10 years after Romero’s first foray into zombie terrain, and the filmmaker decided to change things up. It drops all the characters and the setting of the original (which if you’ve seen Night is no real surprise) and picks up at a point where the zombie apocalypse is very quickly growing out of control, despite the apparent containment of the epidemic at the end of the first film.
Moving from shock horror to more of an action/horror vibe, along with plenty of dark comedy and satire, Dawn’s famous shopping-mall setting gave Romero plenty of ammunition for more of his patented observations on the non-zombie real world. Well, the technically non-zombie real world, anyway. Plus, this time we get full-color head-exploding action! Yeah buddy.
1. The Return Of The Living Dead (1985)
Director: Dan O’Bannon
Stars: Thom Mathews, Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Beverly Randolph, Miguel A. Nunez, Jr., Linnea Quigley, John Philbin, Brian Peck, Jewel Shepherd
A controversial choice for the number one spot? Perhaps. But it shouldn’t be. Quick… think of the first word that enters your mind when you think of zombies. If that word is “Brains!” then you’re beginning to see the bigger picture.
Romero is rightly crowned the father of zombie cinema. Night Of The Living Dead changed everything for horror movies and that effect is still felt today (albeit in a far more watered down form). Romero indeed topped himself with Dawn Of The Dead, which many considered the pinnacle of the genre. However by 1985 the slow, lumbering image of a zombie had ceased to appeal to anyone outside of die hard gorehounds. Something needed to come along and revitalize this classic movie monster as Romero’s Day Of The Dead floundered at the box office. Guess who stepped up to the plate?
In the film, when two bumbling employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapors cause the dead to rise again. Going all out with the film’s inside joke, director Dan O’Bannon posited The Return Of The Living Dead as “based on true events,” and had his characters directly reference Night Of The Living Dead only to have them subsequently abandon all of Romero’s ideals. The film is severely re-watchable. It is as funny as it is frightening. It delivers buckets of blood, tons of zombie carnage and it has Linnea Quigley stripping naked in a cemetery. Case closed. You want to fight about it!?! Thought not.
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