Horror movies don’t always have the most successful sequels or reboots. Whether the source material seems old and outdated or a change in production causes the movie to lose what made the original so special, rebooting or creating a sequel/spinoff of a well-loved horror movie can be an extremely risky endeavor. Since horror movies rely so much on surprising the audience, it can be extremely difficult to fool an audience twice with the same monster.
8.” Zombi 2″ (1979)
Yes, we could talk about how Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci made “Zombi 2” as a sequel to Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” released in Italy as “Zombi,” but none of that is near as fun, interesting, and jaw-dropping as having a zombie fight a shark. Again, a zombie fights a shark, underwater…and wins. That’s right, a zombie, slow-moving and twitchy, makes its way underwater, where it not only encounters a shark but said zombie overpowers and kills the shark with his zombie bite. That’s like creating an entirely new genre of film. Oh, and then there’s a scene where we get a bird’s-eye view of a woman having her eye pierced with a shard of glass, so there’s that too.
7. “Evil Dead II” (1987)
We thought long and hard as to whether or not Sam Raimi’s classic “Evil Dead” series belonged on our list, largely because the Deadites who plague poor Ash (Bruce Campbell) are largely demons who possess the living and the dead. But Deadites are both evil and dead, so here they are! “Evil Dead II” is largely a remake of 1983’s “The Evil Dead,” but this time everything is ramped up, including the gore and the laughs. While it’s not your standard zombie movie, it’s an entry worth your time.
6. “The Return of the Living Dead” (1985)
While Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead” serves as a sequel of sorts to “Night of the Living Dead,” it isn’t the only one. John Russo, who created, with Romero, the original film, parted ways with his collaborator and wrote a sequel as a novel. Seventeen years after the original, director Dan O’Bannon adapted it into “The Return of the Living Dead,” which exists as a sequel, but separate from any of Romero’s films. Interestingly enough, while “ROTLD” is certainly more focused on gore, the film shares several themes via social commentary in a similar fashion to Romero’s films.
5. “28 Days Later” (2002)
The film that revitalized the genre as a whole, “28 Days Later” doesn’t feature zombies who like to feast on flesh, but rather infected citizens who swarm like zombies and kill their victims with maniacal speed and mercilessness. Cillian Murphy plays a coma patient who wakes up to see London decimated in the wake of the “rage virus,” a disease that causes the victim to lose all sense of self and only exist to destroy everything it sees. When this film was released, the zombie genre was practically dead. It’s from this point that the genre would raise from the grave and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
4. “Dawn of the Dead” (2004)
When the trailers for Zack Snyder’s remake of “Dawn of the Dead” came along, many were unhappy with seeing zombies run. So much so, they were willing to boycott the film — for whatever limited value that sort of threat is worth. However, when the film made it to theaters, it earned quite a few converts, largely due to James Gunn’s witty and action-packed script. The best part of the film is that it wasn’t interested in replacing the original film, but taking that premise and creating something new and in some cases…better.
3. “Shaun of the Dead” (2004)
2004 was a significant year for zombie movies, largely due to the “Dawn of the Dead” remake and Edgar Wright’s mash-up of zombie and romantic-comedy genres with “Shaun of the Dead.” Starring Simon Pegg as the titular Shaun, a regular guy who lives a bit on the underachieving side, facing a zombie apocalypse with only a few friends and family to help fend off the undead hordes. Like Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead,” “Shaun” also takes a satirical swipe at modern life and all its trappings. It’s a favorite among genre fans and a minor classic in its own right.
2. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968)
No, “Night of the Living Dead” isn’t the original zombie movie, but what it does is redefine the genre and solidify what a zombie is supposed to be. For more than a generation, all zombie films that followed owed a giant debt to Romero’s original. But outside of the genre-based significance, Romero’s film succeeds in breaking an even greater cinematic taboo: showing a black man as a hero. 1968 was a flashpoint in the civil rights struggle, and a film featuring a man of color taking on an assertive and heroic role was unheard of — and probably this film’s greatest gift.
1. “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)
Let’s get right to it: The original “Dawn of the Dead” is the greatest zombie movie ever. Hands down. No questions asked. The blood and gore on vivid display are only matched by the wry social commentary that makes this film a solid time capsule into the excesses of the Reagan ’80s. Films like “Dawn” show why Romero never did well as a commercial filmmaker, because he simply had too much to say that would never pass muster with a studio system where marketability comes first. A masterclass on the thin line between real and fictional zombies.