The first real zombie movie of any merit came to us from George A. Romero: the black and white cult classic “Night of the Living Dead”. Released in 1968, this ground-breaking film featured one of the earliest black male leading roles. In addition, there is an element of romantic tension between the male lead and the white female lead, something that was still very much taboo in this era. Romero went on to create “Dawn of the Dead”, “Day of the Dead”, and “Land of the Dead”, none of which measured up to his first and best effort. These early zombies of the Romero era were generally slow moving, shuffling, slobbering beasts, and most of the copy-cat productions that resulted from “Night of the Living Dead” followed this pattern.
Another series of zombie-esque movies worth the time starred Bruce Campbell: The Evil Dead Trilogy. Beginning with “Evil Dead”, a very low budget effort written and directed by Sam Raimi, this series has a large cult following who often refer to the star as “Campbell the Bruce”.
The 21st Century brought us a brand new kind of zombie: the wickedly fast, terribly strong zombie. Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” uses these very fast, very ravenous zombies. There is no way you could outrun these as you could easily have done in most of the 1970s and 1980s genre films.
The “Resident Evil” series of movies (based on the video games) is a decent set of zombie stories. “Resident Evil”, unlike most of the early genre movies, actually provides a realistic explanation for the creation of its zombies: a secret government installation underground that goes haywire.
Tangential to the true zombie movie, there is a subgenre of zombie-like creatures that aren’t necessarily the resurrected dead. Movies like “28 Days Later” take a different tack on the creation of these cannibalistic not-quite-humans. In “28 Days Later”, scientists have managed to concentrate rage in chimps so that they can study it. These rage infected chimps are loosed, and the rage infection spreads like wildfire. The film work on this movie is also a bit of a departure in that most of the camera work is unsteady, putting the viewer more into the terror of the scene.
Another subgenre is the comic zombie movie. The best in this area is Simon Pegg’s “Shaun of the Dead”: part spoof, mostly tribute to the Romero-era zombie movie. Simon described the popularity of zombie movies best: “As monsters from the id, zombies win out over vampires and werewolves when it comes to the title of Most Potent Metaphorical Monster the zombie trumps all by personifying our deepest fear: death. Zombies are our destiny writ large.”