In the late 1980's when I started scouring the shelves of the local video stores for zombie movies the pickings were slim. And if the video store didn't have it, and if the Late Late Show wasn't running it, the only way to see it was rent or buy it from Facets Video, and that was very expensive. I can assure you zombies were not all the rage in those days. And if you were a fiend for this genre you often ended up trying to explain yourself to people who just couldn't understand what the fascination was. Now, over twenty-five years later, not only are zombies all the rage, there are hundreds of zombie movies to choose from. And you don't have to wait for them to arrive at your nearest video store. But this is a list from a previous era. A time when you did have to wait, and when you saw a new zombie title on the shelf it was a cause for celebration. These are ten of those movies. Not the ten best zombie movies of all time, but ten video store classics that I rented again and again in those days.
1) Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. 1973. Not only is this my favorite zombie movie, but it's my favorite movie of all time. For reasons that are as much emotional as intellectual. I first saw it on Elvira's Movie Macabre season 5 episode 17 when I was sixteen years old. The next morning I remember a cross country meet where I was running through the woods. Everyone on the bus had seen the movie the night before and what is forgotten in the descriptions of this movie as campy is that it's a scary movie. The scene where they look out into the night and the female zombie is eating Paul floored everyone. It was what everyone was talking about. Now it's more years since I saw CSPWDT for the first time than it was years since the movie was first made when I saw it that first time. Twice as many years, in fact, if any of that makes sense.
"Satan: you tweeker of puppy dog tails... Hail!"
A couple more things to watch for in this movie. Notice in the beginning Alan pulls a shotgun out of his trunk of magical items, but when the shit hits the fan no one thinks to get the shotgun out again. That seems unlikely. Also, I want the viewer to contemplate when watching the movie whether it is Alan's Black Magic spell or Valerie's curse upon Satan that actually makes the dead rise from the grave. It's an interesting question concerning that the book of spells does apparently send the undead away temporarily, but if Val's curse called them from their graves why would Alan's counter spell be effective since it wouldn't have been his original spell that caused them to rise from the grave?
Also, I have an original movie poster from CSPWDT, which I had framed at great expense. When it was sent to me it was wrapped in a 1970's meat wrapper from a national food chain. Seemed appropriate.
2) Zombiethon. 1986. Ken Dixon. Okay, okay, before you propose I be drawn and quartered, let me explain this list is NOT a list of the top ten best zombie movies of all time, and as an executive decision I just decided the rankings are also irrelevant. I just saw Zombiethon on the list I had scrawled on my clipboard and wanted to talk about it. It's a clip show. A compilation of five zombie movies interspersed with original zombie shorts created by Ken Dixon. The shorts are actually the most original and entertaining aspect of this movie. This is a movie I found at Dollar Video, a store neatly tucked in behind the video arcade where I used to play Adam's Family pinball machine. Zombiethon was one of those big box movies. Who knows why some videos had enormous boxes. This one did. I won't tell you what the five, or is it six movies compiled are, because aside from one you'll never be able to find no matter how hard you look, the interstitial pieces are why you're going to watch this one over and over.
When is a really bad movie a really good movie? Zombie fans know the answer.
3) Shock Waves. 1977. Ken Wiederhorn. This one combines zombies and Nazis. But here's the twist... underwater Nazis. That come ashore to cause mayhem on an abandoned island with a huge resort. Why they didn't do it in any of the thirty years previous to the main characters becoming shipwrecked there is anyone's guess, but nonetheless, these two events coincide, and as a teenager I couldn't have been any happier that they did. peter Cushing is in it, and that's a good thing. Also, an eerie, abandoned location, ala Session 9, The Shining, Ghostkeeper, Humongous, Mansion of the Living Dead... is a character in itself.
The best of all the Nazi zombie movies? A bold claim. But possibly true.
4) Sugar Hill. 1974. Paul Maslansky. It's a blackspoitation film with zombies. And another desolate, eerie location. Seems to be a theme with me. This is one of those voodoo, revenge zombie movies. So far we have zombies created by Black Magic, wartime experiments on soldiers, now voodoo. I have another one later with a great zombie creating plot, but you'll have to wait for that. You're going to like this movie. Baron Samedi is in it. And some good swamps.
Where are all the white women? The Baron himself.
5) Messiah of Evil. 1973. William Huyck I IMDB'd to see if the director made any other movies so you can get an idea if he accidentally made something intentionally off center or if the whole thing was a mistake. No mistake here. Another very eerie movie, beautifully shot, with some magnificent scenes. One that gets a great deal of play on my DVD player, when I have one. One of the great mispronounciations of the composer Richard Wagner's name occurs in this movie, and is purported to be just a straight read of the script, not an intentional gaffe.
A nice nuance to this movie is that the artwork is really something.
6) Tombs of the Blind Dead. 1972. Amando de Ossorio. I used to joke that all I ever knew about the Knights Templar I learned from Tombs of the Blind Dead. Of course I used to do the joke before that book came out so hardly anyone ever knew what the hell I was talking about. Even after the six thousand books over the past decade I still consider this the definitive document on the Knights Templar. It's the first of the Blind Dead series, and the best one, for my money. I'm a fan of the dry look with zombies, so I appreciate these bone-faced undead. I once composed a soundtrack to accompany the movie but it only had the words "Tombs of the blind dead" repeated over and over. I had meant at one point to contact de ossorio to see if he wanted to use that should he ever re-release the movie, but I moved on to other things.
The dry look. No Karo syrup for these august gentlemen.
7) Mansion of the Living Dead. 1985. Jesus Franco. This is a bad movie and it's a stupid movie, but it has one of my favorite horror-inducing devices in the entire world... a desolate place. Even schlockster Jesus Franco can't mess up a location like this. He tries, with cheap sexual exploits, a really stupid plot, and not much to distinguish this from any of his other movies. But it's a Mansion of the Living Dead, and by mansion we of course mean abandoned resort. And if you're in an abandoned resort about to be attacked by the corpses of Conquistadors, or Conquistador Priests, or whatever the hell is happening here, I'm there with you in Rockland, Carl Solomon.
They're dead AND they're Catholic. they're all messed up.
8) Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. 1974. Jorge Grau. back to interesting ways in which the dead are coaxed to tear themselves from the Earth and seek human flesh. Sound. I said it. Sound. There's a sound device the British government is using in the countryside to control pests. You know the rest, but it's one of the more interesting setups. A setup that has a pretty damn good payoff and a hugely entertaining cemetery scene. Near the end of this movie is one of the more entertaining out of the blue lines from a character that might have been part of the plot at one time but now is so non-sequitur it's funny. I'll let you figure out what that is, but this is a very good and well-shot movie.
"I'm mad for apples." Sorry
9) The Dead Hate the Living. 2000. Dave Parker. I was surprised when i just looked that this one was rated so low on IMDB. It's not a classic movie, to be sure, but it's better than the rating it gets there. And I like it for the abandoned hospital motif, and the colors. I could do without all the clever, self-referential noise, but I guess some writers want other people to know that they know something. You'll probably like this one.
But we all hate Carrot Top, and that's the important thing.
10) Pontypool. 2008. Bruce McDonald. I wanted some variety on the list, and maybe one new movie, and this one fits the bill. At first you'll probably react the same way I did, wondering why this guy who doesn't look like he should be in a movie at all, is in a movie. But you'll soon forgive that, and that it's set in Canada. It contains another unique method of zombie generation: the spoken word. The spoken word as a contagion that causes people to go bazonga. A good and interesting movie that takes a different path and succeeds.
What the fuck do you mean I look like a fifth rate Lance Henricksen? I'm starring in this movie, bitches.
There are a handful of other movies that easily could have made this list, and I deliberately decided to not include more popular movies. This isn't a remedial list of the top ten movies of all time, nor is it a micro-examination of movies too obscure for the reader to probably enjoy. Just a list of pretty good zombie movies that are second-tier.
Amongst some of those other honorable mentions I might list Hard Rock Zombies, Fido, Revenge of the Dead, City of the Walking Dead and revolt of the Zombies.
Not an exhaustive list, and if I had written it yesterday or tomorrow it would contain different movies. Please add to it.