The Cheese Fry is a self-proclaimed zombie connoisseur. To us, there's something uniquely horrifying in a relentless, mindless attack by hordes of the undead. They can't be reasoned with or bargained with, not just because higher brain functions have shut down making it impossible to communicate, but because what drives zombies is the very primal need to feed... right... now. A zombie will keep going and going until it finds something to eat or until you kill it. Worse, for the heroes of zombie stories, it usually seems to come down to an issue of math: there's more of them than there are of you. Kill one and six more stagger in to take their place.
Here's our favorites.
Dawn of the Dead remake (2004) - We suspect this is the movie that kick-started the recent zombie renaissance. The opening sequence is an instant classic, a sucker punch of bloody horror and shocking chaos invading a placid suburban neighborhood. Dynamite horror action that explores that classic zombie movie trope: strangers stuck together in an isolated location (here, an empty shopping mall) trying hard to survive and plot a successful getaway. Bonus points for a surprisingly downbeat twist ending.
"Dead Island" teaser (2011) - We're not big videogamers, so we can't speak to the quality of the title it's selling. But there's no question the three-minute teaser (see below) is a haunting, stylistically ingenious account of one family's bloody demise. If you hunt around on YouTube, you'll find some versions that fans have recut to make the action unspool linearly. For us, though, it's the unsettling non-linear mosaic that's more effective. It's better than a lot of full-length features.
Night of the Living Dead (1968) - "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" The one that started it all. The cheap, grainy, zero-budget rawness only adds to the unsettling claustrophobic horror as strangers gather in a farmhouse (there's that set-up again) to hide from a sudden zombie scourge. Lean, mean, and unashamedly nasty. It's best to watch it on a late-night cable station while you're huddled up in bed under the covers.
Resident Evil (2002) - Probably the guilty pleasure of the list. It's undeniably shlocky, what with the heavy metal guitars and derivative slow-motion fight scenes. But shlock can be fun. There is something appealing about the propulsive action-thriller plot, the convoluted Umbrella Corporation conspiracy-theory backstory, the creepy Red Queen computer voice, and a nice amnesia-sufferers-remembering-the-truths act-two twist. And who wouldn't respond favorably to Milla Jovovick spending the entire movie in a little red dress?
AMC's "The Walking Dead" (2010-) - How could a cable channel turn everything we love about zombie apocalypse stories into a serialized show? It just didn't seem possible. But "The Walking Dead" is managing it quite well and drawing a pretty big audience. (On our to-do list: read the graphic novels on which the show is based.) You get all of the usual elements here: perfect strangers banding together to fight for survival, a collapsed social infrastructure, moral questions about hard choices the living sometimes must make to save themselves, and lots of running from shuffle-step zombies. The show is never afraid to go to some very dark places, whether it's putting children in jeopardy or suggesting some of the living may be just as inhuman as the undead.
World War Z by Max Brooks (2006) - "Genius" is how we describe it. A kind of literary mockumentary, fiction pretending to be oral-history non-fiction. It's told from the point of view of some distant future after a global zombie war was won. Rather than a single conventional narrative, "World War Z" is divided up into a number of personal accounts of the zombie war, whether it's a personal story of some ordinary citizen or a look at the choices of higher-ranking officials who propose some fairly radical counter-attacks. Coming soon to a theater near you, of course.
Zombieland (2009) - Give us a thumbs down for still having not yet seen Shaun of the Dead. We think if we had, it would have made this list. Instead, we're nominating Zombieland in the category of black-comedy zombie movie. Unlike a lot of people, we're not too keen on the Bill Murray cameo. But the stylish visual flourishes, the deadpan humor, the sprinkle of romantic comedy elements, and a hilariously intense performance by Woody Harrelson (who so desperately wants a Twinkie) make this a stand-out.