You Can't Keep a Good Zombie Down: Top 10 Modern Zombies Movies

The Best Zombie Movies That Break George A. Romero's Rules

I'm a zombie nerd. I debate whether Frankenstein's monster is a zombie or not (he's not because he's made of dead parts and not a single body reanimated from the dead). I couldn't make a list and make no distinction of sub-genres and zombie classifications. So I divided my list into two parts: Old School Zombies, and Modern Zombies. This second part includes films that break the classic George A. Romero rules by featuring zombies that are fast-moving, infected not re-animated, or demonic. But there are still thematic ties that make all of these worth including in any discussion of the genre.

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28 Days Later (2002)

28 Days Later
20th Century Fox

The mention of 28 Days Later brings up a contentious point for true zombie fans: infected people. A true zombie is a lethargic reanimated corpse that feeds on human flesh. The creatures in 28 Days Later are not really undead zombies but rather bloodthirsty, fast-moving people plagued with a virus that comes from "rage-infected monkeys." Each generation gets a zombie apocalypse suited to its times. In this case, it's a combo of disease (inspired by the likes of Ebola, AIDS, Mad Cow) and a psychological component (along the lines of social rage, like road rage). Yet like Romero's zombies, these creatures are still remotely human.
They may not be classic zombies but they reanimated the genre with considerable energy and verve. Danny Boyle chose to shoot on DV cameras so it would look as if it were shot by one of the survivors. It prompted the sequel 28 Weeks Later (2007).

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Pontypool (2008)


IFC Films

Pontypool serves up a zombie film without zombies. I know how that sounds, but it's true and it works. The innovation is how zombification is spread -- it's not through a virus or a bite or even because there's no more room in hell. The infection, in this case, is spread through language. If you hear an "infected" word, you can become something that's essentially a zombie. You don't die and become reanimated, but your brain ceases to function and you suddenly want to attack those who are uninfected.

This zombification taps into our fear about loss of identity and of some degenerative mental illness, like dementia. Zombies are hollow shells of what we once were and that's what makes them scary. They scare us not only because they pose a threat but also because we fear we might become one. This Canadian film is a unique, must-see entry in the zombie canon.

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Dead Alive (1992)

Dead Alive

Lionsgate Films

If Pontypool exists on one end of the zombie spectrum, Dead Alive is on the opposite end. Pontypool is subtle and intellectual while Dead Alive is a visceral, over-the-top gorefest. And both are brilliant. Dead Alive is Peter Jackson's take on zombies and he serves up a demonic breed all born from one Sumatran rat monkey.

The film serves up what I think is the first zombie sex scene and zombie baby birth. It also has the great line from the priest as he engages in a battle with the zombie creatures: "I kick ass for the Lord." This is reportedly the bloodiest film shot (as measured in gallons of blood).

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Planet Terror (2007)

Planet Terror

Dimension Films

Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror is one half of the faux double bill of Grindhouse. Quentin Tarantino provided the other half (Deathproof). At the Comic-Con panel for the film, Rodriguez clearly pointed out that this was an "infected people" film. An experimental bio-weapon ends up turning people into diseased, rotting, ravenous creatures.

Rodriguez delivers a grindhouse splatterfest with plenty of oozing, mangled, and bloody infected people running around and chewing victims up. Gore effects artist Tom Savini has a cameo as a cop who gets torn limb from limb, literally!

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Juan of the Dead (2010)

Juan of the Dead

Outsider Pictures

Zombies have definitely become more international and diverse in recent years. Japan gave us demonic, John Woo-style zombies in Versus; New Zealand zombified its plentiful livestock in Black Sheep; and Germany went for a fast spreading zombie virus in Rammbock: Berlin Undead. As with Romero's films, Cuba's comedy finds zombies fertile ground for clever political and social satire.

In this case, the zombies are labeled "dissidents" by the government, which also assumes the zombies are covertly funded by the U.S. government. At one point, the title character asks for clarification about why are some zombies slow and others fast. It's a funny acknowledgment of the inconsistency within the genre. The film just misses being a classic zombie film because it mixes slow and fast creatures. The film really displays a Cuban flavor in terms of how the characters react to the zombie apocalypse.

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Re-Animator (1985)


Starz / Anchor Bay

Re-Animator is a kindred spirit to Dead Alive and the only reason it doesn't rank higher on this list is that the reanimated beings have relatively little screen time. Herbert West (played to perfection by Jeffrey Combs) is a med student with a glowing serum that can bring the dead back to life... the only problem is they come back really pissed off.

West experiments quite a bit and even tries reanimating parts, as in the severed head and disconnected body of a doctor (who then spends the rest of the film carrying his head around). Brilliant, bloody, and blackly comic. It's inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, so it also raises some dark themes. There is now a musical comedy based on the film: Re-Animator: The Musical.

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The Evil Dead (1981)

The Evil Dead

Anchor Bay Entertainment

"They got up on the wrong side of the grave." That tagline is about the best way to describe the nasty and demonic zombie-like creatures of Sam Raimi's film. Two sequels followed (The Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness), plus a remake and a TV series.

Bruce Campbell does his best to fight the demonic creatures in the first three films and television series. But in the second movie, he famously chops off his possessed hand and replaces it with a handy dandy chainsaw. Great low budget special effects and plenty of fun dialogue.

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La Horde (2009)

La Horde
Capture The Flag Films

France serves up another international zombie entry. It delivers a damn good and bleakly satisfying take on the zombie apocalypse. It says we get what we deserve or as Shakespeare put it, “We but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor.”

In this case, a zombie plague comes back to wreak havoc on the teachers of violence -- in this case gangsters and cops. So these zombies might be some bizarre off-shoot of the current social upheaval in France. The film sets the zombies loose within a cop/gangster thriller. The zombies quickly change the dynamics of the story as cops and gangsters join forces to fight the undead. But new divisions soon arise, and alliances are no longer determined by job, race or social status but rather by intelligence and survival skills.

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Zombieland (2009)


Columbia Pictures

Zombieland gives a twist to the classic zombie by speeding up the reanimated creatures and making them the result of a virus that may have started with Mad Cow Disease. This horror comedy also provided us with a whole new set of rules -- Rule #1: Cardio; Rule #4: Double Tap; Rule #15: Know your way out; and Rule #32 Enjoy the Little Things. Bill Murray's mid-film cameo steals the show.

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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead
Universal Pictures

This remake of Romero's zombie classic recasts the zombies as fast moving and infected, but it's a supernatural infection rather than a science-based one. Like a vampire, these zombies spread their infection with a bite. The film marked Zack Snyder's directing debut. He claims he made the zombies fast moving because he didn't want lumbering ones to spark laughter. There's a nice cameo by Ken Foree (star of the original Dawn of the Dead) in which he repeats his line from that 1978 film about "when there's no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth." But the context now makes the line sound like something from a religious fanatic.