They are on and off our screens constantly, but one thing is certain; We can never get enough of them.
But how and when did it all start, and what are some fantastic entries you should get on board with? Let’s find out, shall we?
When it comes to the zombie sub-genre in horror, many will immediately associate the “beginning of it all” with George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, which came out in 1968. While the living dead in that movie are definitely acting like zombies, in reality, that word was never said. They were called “ghouls.” Romero himself actually avoided using the word zombie too.
The first zombie movie was Victor Halperin’s 1932 film White Zombie with none other than the legendary Bela Lugosi. It defined what the word itself meant. There were originally four rules that defined zombies:
As you can see, it is completely missing the now well-known elements like eating brains, the unknown cause of the zombie outbreak, or actual revived dead corpses.
White Zombie didn’t spawn imitators or start a new trend. Connecting Zombies to Voodoo has only appeared in later movies a handful of times. Harkin did make a follow-up called Revolt of the Zombies in 1936, but it was unsuccessful.
Romero’s zombies – sorry – ghouls didn’t fit any of the before-mentioned categories that defined the word. They were fully reanimated dead corpses and feasted on the flesh of the living. So it was Romero who actually redefined the word to what we know it as today.
It became a universal experience devoid of cultural specificity.
Zombies became a commentary on society. They criticize modernity, middle-class angst, and, most importantly, consumerism.
Now that we went through a little film history lesson let’s look at some movies and TV shows that should definitely be on your watchlist!
Movies – My top recommendations
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004) – Directed by Edgar Wright
This dark comedy (and the first entry of the Cornetto trilogy) is a homage to the genre. Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, it stars Pegg and Nick Frost in the main roles of Shaun and Ed.
They play best friends who also happen to be roommates with boring lives that get interrupted by the zombie apocalypse.
This movie perfectly mixes humor with the scary, gory stuff we love in the Zombie genre. It’s not afraid of the more dramatic scenes and, to be fair, nails them perfectly among the funny moments.
I especially love the opening of the movie, where they are already hinting at what’s to come, but due to Shaun and Ed’s complete ignorance of what’s going on around them, it gets ignored. Even when Shaun goes to the shop in the morning, and we see slow-moving zombies about, blood and chaos, he is completely oblivious to the whole thing.
This movie is full of brilliant choices right from the start, and I absolutely loved every moment. I highly recommend it to all who haven’t seen it yet as it won’t disappoint.
2. Dawn of the Dead (2004) – Directed by Zack Snyder
This remake of Romero’s classic is also partly responsible for the running zombies. Written by James Gunn (yes, that James Gunn) and directed by Zack Snyder, this one is a thrill ride from start to finish. I don’t think this film ever slows down; there’s always something happening.
I liked that the characters were actually thinking and weren’t just running around mindlessly, as that tends to happen in these types of movies. Sure, they made some rather stupid decisions… but that is something that’s hard to lose from the genre. If the characters always did what’s right and logical, we wouldn’t have any slaughter/horror elements. Although this is also different in Snyder’s film.
While the slow-moving zombies only become a real threat when they are moving in herds, the running ones are a whole different story. The first fast zombie actually appeared in Night of the Living Dead. Romero complained about Snyder’s sprinting zombies, which means that he forgot that his zombies were jogging, running, and even used tools in his first film.
The reason I didn’t list Romero’s original – that this film is based on – is because while I do appreciate that movie, it isn’t among my favorites. However, this one is something I go back to from time to time, and I often recommend it to those who haven’t started their zombie journey yet.
This one is THE zombie film for me. It took the world by storm, and the only downfall of its success is the fact that Hollywood is remaking it. Big mistake if you ask me. There are movies you should never touch, not in a million years. This is one of them. I love James Wan, and I know he is involved in the remake, but I will say: watch the original. Featuring legendary Korean actors like Ma Dong-seok (Don Lee), Gong Yoo , and Yu-mi Jung, this is a film with surprising depth to it.
It’s not just your usual zombie story. It’s about a father trying to take his daughter to Busan by train, and their journey gets interrupted by the zombie apocalypse itself. With only a few more than two dozen survivors left on the train, Sang-ho Yeon manages to bring depth to all of his characters. Ma Dong-seok plays a soon-to-be father who becomes the biggest badass the world has ever seen. He’s not only good at throwing punches, but he does everything to keep everyone safe, even if it’s someone who he doesn’t like that much. Gong Yoo plays the workaholic father who fails to pay attention to his own daughter. His failure to be a good parent to his child is what initially starts off the whole story and is something that is a lesson learned the hard way in the end.
When I say that Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead was already picking at characters not necessarily doing stupid things, Train to Busan doubles down on that. They make smart decisions to the best of their abilities and what the situation allows them to do.
This one is also one of the best character studies in recent film history, bringing out people’s true sides throughout the film. The one who turns selfish and disregards all life other than his own. The one who realizes his shortcomings and does everything to fix them. The one who turns out to be a hero to save as many as he can.
I can’t sing enough praises about Train To Busan. I will just ask you to please watch it if you haven’t already. The film got a follow-up in 2020 titled Peninsula. Even though Sang-ho Yeon returned to the director’s chair, it failed to deliver the same level as the original. The American influence was definitely felt on it, and not in a good way.
TV Shows – My top 2 recommendations
We are staying in Korea. While I used to love The Walking Dead and eagerly waited for every new episode, I lost all interest once Rick (Andrew Lincoln) left the show. I closely followed the spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead and only recently decided to stop watching it. I love Lennie James (aka Morgan) and Colman Domingo, but they weren’t enough for me to stick around after the mess they made it into.
However, I did find two TV shows on Netflix I literally can’t shut up about. If you read my previous article about Korean movies and tv or the more recent one about All of Us Are Dead, these two recommendations won’t come as a surprise.
The first is Kingdom, which places the zombie outbreak in the early Joseon period (1392-1897). Completely pulling you in with time period-specific beautiful costumes and set pieces, Kingdom also has a beautifully built-up story with many different layers. It is much more than an apocalypse story; it’s also a political drama, a story of character growth and change. It is also a zombie story that won’t leave us in the dark about how it all spreads and where it started. If you are a zombie fan, it’s something to be appreciated for sure. Lately, many films or TV shows in the same genre tend to not really care about how it started or what went down to kick off these specific events. That is fine, but I am also very happy to know what’s behind it all in Kingdom, and it’s a damn good one they came up with.
It is currently up in the air if we are getting a third season, but we already have a movie that connects to the Kingdom storyline titled Ashin of the North. We also know that one of the series’s main characters, Crown Prince Lee Chang (Ju Ji-Hoon), will also get his own film, which probably means that we’re gonna see more familiar faces returning.
The other one is All of Us Are Dead, and you can read all my thoughts on it in my previous article linked above. Since that article, it has also been confirmed that we will be getting a second season which is incredibly exciting!
So, what is YOUR favorite zombie movie or TV show? And if you don’t like them, why is that? Will you be watching any that I recommended?