Well, it’s official: zombies are the new vampires. Entertainment Weekly reports that both the CW and NBC are developing zombie-based primetime shows, a trend that surely has nothing to do with AMC’s successful first season of The Walking Dead last fall. So you know what this means: soon there will be sparkly zombie romance books and movies for the tweens, and a T&A-heavy HBO zombie series, and a terrible zombie spoof film by those Epic Movie dudes. We’ve already given you advice on how to brush up on your zombie history, but now you need to prep for the inevitable mainstreaming of zombie culture. And what’s the best way to do that? By familiarizing yourself with the more obscure entries in the undead canon. That’s right, you too can impress your hipster friends by scoffing that Day of the Dead is so mainstream.
And with that, we proudly present ten obscure zombie movies that are well worth your time. (HT to our buddy Jeremy Biltz for sharing some of his considerable zombie movie knowledge.)
Let Sleeping Corpsese Lie (aka The Living Dead of Manchester Morgue)
This 1974 horror film was directed by Jorge Graua. Though set in rural England, it was actually shot in Italy, its country of origin (its original Italian title was Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti. IMDb lists a full 19 alternate titles — gotta love a movie that gives you options!). “Instead of feeling dated,” Pop Matters’ Bill Gibron writes, “as some ‘70s films find themselves, there’s a timeless quality to what this movie accomplishes. By looking to the past while focusing on the present, Grau gives us an experience to contemplate for decades to come. It’s a dark and very disturbing vision.” It’s also a load of fun, and all over pop culture as well: White Zombie named their career-spanning five-disc box set after it, and Edgar Wright pinpointed it as an influence for his hilarious Don’t! trailer in Grindhouse.
Dellamorte Dellamore (aka Cemetery Man)
Michele Soavi’s 1994 Italian horror comedy stars a young Rupert Everett as a cemetery caretaker courting the deliciously beautiful Anna Falchi while warding off a zombie invasion. Laughs, scares, and great performances abound (Francois Hadji Lazaro is particularly memorable). Variety’s Deborah Young raved: “A hip, offbeat horror item floating on a bed of dark philosophy, Dellamorte Dellamore is a deceptively easy genre picture with hidden depths.” No less an expert than Martin Scorsese called Dellamorte Dellamore one of the best Italian films of the decade.
The first (and best) of Amando de Ossorio’s “blind dead” series, this 1971 Spanish effort features Templar knight zombies riding undead horses and wreaking slow-motion vengeance on the town that killed and blinded them centuries ago. “Tombs of the Blind Dead is a silly, atmospheric and often genuinely scary piece of unearthed continental decadence from the early ’70s,” writes Keith Phipps at The Onion A.V. Club. “Director Armando de Ossorio, who owes a heavy debt to Night of the Living Dead, has a command of both stylish touches and primitive scare tactics.”
Remade (not terribly well) as the American thriller Quarantine, this 2007 Spanish entry into the “handheld horror” genre was co-directed by Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza. The film, which follows a television reporter and cameraman into a zombie-infested apartment building, is beloved by horror fans. FearNet’s Scott Weinberg calls it “a shock-a-minute mini-masterpiece of sound design, tricky jolts, and wonderfully distressing tension.” Our zombie movie expert Jeremy concurs: “This movie will seriously freak you out.”
Ti West has become one of the horror genre’s ones to watch, thanks primarily to his wonderfully retro ‘80s horror throwback House of the Devil. But his first film was this tiny indie horror flick, understated but creepy, telling the tale of four teenagers stranded on a farm and Halloween night and terrorized by zombies and killer vampire bats. “This shoestring B movie provides the discerning horror fan with a viable alternative to yet another glossy ’70s remake,” noted The Village Voices’s Joshua Land.
This 2009 SXSW selection is much, much more than a zombie movie; it’s a coming-of-age story and a tale of unrequited love and obsession. The Deagol Brothers’ delicate picture also won awards at the Atlanta Film Festival, the Magnolia Independent Film Festival, and the Nashville Film Festival. The Village Voice’s Andrew Schnecker called it “the product of a genuinely unique sensibility… inventive without being twee, quirky without being overly Wes Anderson, and suffused with a late-adolescent sense of longing as palpably felt as it is understated.”
Virus Undead (aka The Beast Within)
This 2008 German zombie film from director Wolf Wolff (no, seriously) is not exactly quickly paced, but makes up for it in atmosphere and general dread. Writing for DVD Talk, Jeremy Biltz called the film “disturbing and frightening without being exploitive or derivative… It’s not a budget-busting epic, but is a very enjoyable ninety minutes of zombie goodness.”
An absolutely insane Japanese mobster/zombie/apocalypse movie (with some samurai swordplay thrown in), Ryuhei Kitamura’s 2000 action epic has a little something for everyone. “For diehard cultists raised on anime, kung-fu, the Evil Dead trilogy, and other bad-ass cinematic junk food,” AV Clubs’s Scott Tobias reported, “Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus comes custom-ordered for the most jaded geek, a non-stop action gorefest with elements of Highlander, George Romero’s zombie movies, and graphic comic books.”
Evil (aka Το Κακό)
This 2005 potboiler, in which the undead take over the city of Athens, was reportedly the first Greek zombie movie. Director Yorgos Noussias, working somewhat in a Sam Raimi mold, doesn’t take the picture too seriously; it’s loads of fun, with plenty of tasty gore. Variety’s Derek Elley called it an “inventively staged, professionally packaged low budgeter” that “delivers the genre goods.”
We’re not quite sure if Steve Barker’s 2008 British action flick qualifies as a straight zombie movie, but, hell, there are undead Nazi stormtroopers fighting Ray Stevenson, so why not? A team of mercenaries is hired to escort a scientist and businessman to an abandoned bunker in Eastern Europe; they find the remnants of an SS lab and an undead German army. Anton Bitel of Eye for Film writes: “It is a slick, stylish genre piece that gallops along and grips from its no-nonsense beginning to its bleakest of endings.”
What about you? What are your favorite tales of the undead? And are you already worried about the oncoming zombie overload?