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Are these movies mindless entertainment, or do they actually have brains?
ORIGINAL ZOMBIES Night of the Living Dead DIRECTOR: George A. Romero YEAR: 1968 SCARE FACTOR: It was so gory for its time that critics attacked it for going too far. Roger Ebert tsk-tsked parents for letting kids go see it. By today’s standards, it’s a cheesy B-movie, complete with spooky piano music. WHAT MAKES A ZOMBIE? Some low budget makeup. ZOMBIE SPEED: A steady lurch. HUMAN DEFENSIVE MANOEUVRE: Scare them off with fire, or run. A light jog gets you out of harm’s way (see speed category above). ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Romero’s directorial debut is probably too corny for today’s audiences, but it still has significant appeal as a piece of film history. This wasn’t the first zombie movie, but it was the first to introduce the idea of zombies as dead people who came back to life to feed on human flesh. (Before Romero, zombies had existed on film as people under the spell of a voodoo witch doctor). Essential viewing for zombie fans.
COMEDIC ZOMBIES Shaun of the Dead DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright YEAR: 2004 SCARE FACTOR: Zero, but that’s not the point of a zombie comedy, is it? The scene of humans lurching around, looking catatonic before the zombie takeover even begins, is brilliant and establishes the film’s cheeky tone. WHAT MAKES A ZOMBIE? Much improved groaning compared with Romero’s earliest work, to which this film pays loving homage. Plus, much better makeup. ZOMBIE SPEED: Superslow foot-dragging. HUMAN DEFENSIVE MANOEUVRE: “Remove the head or destroy the brain,” as a newscaster in the film says. Bashing them with a cricket bat works well, as does using a shovel. In a pinch, play dead to fit in. Living dead. ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have great Abbott and Costello chemistry, and this was a genre begging for a loving parody. The second half lurches toward convention, but on the whole it stands up as a smart, enjoyable comedy.
SCARY-AS-HELL ZOMBIES 28 Days Later DIRECTOR: Danny Boyle YEAR: 2002 SCARE FACTOR: Terrifying. No B-movie elements see the light of day in this movie, which revived the genre. WHAT MAKES A ZOMBIE? Extreme twitching, aggressive neck-flesh tearing. ZOMBIE SPEED: A healthy sprint, adding a new dimension of terror. HUMAN DEFENSIVE MANOEUVRE: Molotov cocktails help to slow them down, but really, just run like hell. ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: This movie was praised for breathing new life in to the genre, which it fully deserves. Everything about it will give you nightmares – and isn’t that what a horror movie is supposed to do?
REMAKE ZOMBIES Dawn of the Dead DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder YEAR: 2004 SCARE FACTOR: Despite a chilling scene in the first 20 minutes, this remake of Romero’s 1978 movie of the same name never really terrifies. ZOMBIE POWERS: Extreme viciousness. Twitching. WHAT MAKES A ZOMBIE? Blood-soaked hordes. Snyder’s film has a bigger pack of zombies than most others – enough to fill an entire mall parking lot. ZOMBIE SPEED: They can run about as fast as a middle-aged man who has never smoked. HUMAN DEFENSIVE MANOEUVRE: “Shoot them in the head!” That or stand behind the shotgun-wielding cop played by Ving Rhames. ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Setting the movie in a shopping mall may have been a heavy-handed metaphor for a mindless consumer society in the original, but at least it was a real idea. Here, the mall is just the place where a bunch of boring waiting happens, interspersed with the occasional zombie attack.