15. White Zombie (1932)
Director: Victor Halperin
Stars: Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron
A young man turns to a witch doctor to lure the woman he loves away from her fiancé, but instead turns her into a zombie slave. A very different film than many on this list, White Zombie is the grandfather of the zombie genre, whose influence is felt everywhere from movies to music (as the band with the same name can attest). The movie is highlighted by Bela Lugosi at his creepy best, surprisingly scary looking dead heads, and an important lesson for all zombie movies to come: You can’t kill – or even slow down – a zombie by shooting it in the chest.
White Zombie is set in Haiti, and as such is more of a traditional zombie film. Namely, where voodoo masters use supernatural powers to make the undead work for them. This type of zombie, of course, morphed into flesh-eating ghouls in George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, although modern films like the aforementioned Serpent And The Rainbow have also taken the old-school approach. Either way, this is a movie that deserves your respect.
14. I Walked With A Zombie (1943)
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Stars: Frances Dee, Tom Conway, James Ellison, Edith Barrett, Darby Jones
Nurse Betsy Connell accepts a position caring for the invalid wife of Caribbean plantation owner Paul Holland. Jessica Holland isn’t dead, but she might as well be. She eats and breathes, but her willpower is completely gone and her eyes are fixed in an eternal trance. Connell becomes determined to cure Jessica, partially because she sees it as her duty, but also because she loves Paul and wants to express that love as selflessly as possible. When medicine fails, she begins to think that maybe the voodoo faith of the islanders may hold the answers. It does, but not the way that she thinks.
As much as this film melts multiple genres into one, the horror aspect truly shines a lot more than some people would like you to believe. The lighting, shadows, exotic setting and music all contribute to the immensely disturbing atmosphere, making this stunning piece of poetic horror a true classic of the genre.
13. The Plague Of The Zombies (1966)
Director: John Gilling
Stars: André Morell, Diane Clare, Brook Williams, Jacqueline Pearce, John Carson
One of the last pre-gut muncher zombie movies is also one of the best. Hammer’s The Plague Of The Zombies doesn’t get much attention these days, but it has a lot to offer if you’re in the mood for something different. For one thing, this is one of the few zombie movies from pre-Romero days in which the zombies actually do look dead, and though their creator, as usual, is the real threat here, the undead themselves get a lot more to do than is generally the case in truly old-school zombie flicks.
The plot involves a mad Cornish squire, who solves an annoying labor crisis in his tin mines by turning local villagers into voodoo-controlled zombies. Soon enough the unpleasant nocturnal habits of the undead slaves are uncovered – including their tendency to go on murderous rampages when not directly under the squire’s control. As a bridge in the genre, Hammer films are among the most important historically. They’re also frequently some of the highest quality as well, and Plague is no exception.
12. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Director: Jorge Grau
Stars: Cristina Galbó, Ray Lovelock, Arthur Kennedy, Aldo Massasso, Giorgio Trestini
In 1974, the modern zombie genre was still very much in its infancy. Nestled right in the newborn craze’s soft spot is this curio from Spain known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Actually, it’s also called Don’t Open The Window, Do Not Speak Ill Of The Dead, The Living Dead, and The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue – which is the most curious title, as none of the zombie action takes place in Manchester. In total, the film was released under more than 15 different titles internationally. Wowzers.
In the film, a cop chases two hippies suspected of a series of Manson family-like murders; unbeknownst to him, the real culprits are the living dead, brought to life with a thirst for human flesh by chemical pesticides being used by area farmers. Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is one of the earliest gore-fest zombie flicks, and has a pleasant distinction of being one with some professional quality. In some 40 years of filmmaking, Jorge Grau has only two horror films under his belt (the other being The Legend Of Blood Castle in 1973), and he thankfully did it justice with this undead entry.
11. Zombi 2 (1979)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Stars: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos
Strangers looking for a woman’s father arrive at a tropical island where a doctor desperately searches for the cause and cure of a recent epidemic of the undead. Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters), was the film which revitalized Lucio Fulci’s floundering career, and was the first film on his pathway to being dubbed “The Godfather of Gore”. It should be noted that Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was released in Europe under the title Zombi, and although Fulci’s film is billed as Zombi 2, it is in no way related to Romero’s series, being simply a marketing ploy. And an effective one at that.
Cutting to the chase, this film is remembered mostly thanks to two iconic scenes. The first is an underwater zombie vs. Tiger shark fight. This was one of the craziest stunts ever carried out in a zombie picture and was reportedly filmed in an underwater tank where the shark was drugged and the zombie was played by the shark trainer. The second has become legendary in the world of horror, the infamous eye-gouging scene. Everything from the screams of terror to the camera shots of the character’s eye approaching the splinter adds to the tension before we ultimately see her eye get stabbed out quite gruesomely. Great stuff.