The horror community lost an icon this week. George A. Romero, best known for his groundbreaking 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead, was a profound influence on genre cinema, proving you could make fright films that were gross, political, and emotional. This was perhaps most evident in the slew of imitators that sprung up in places like Italy during the ’70s and ’80s, whose directors filtered these concepts through a European worldview with extra gore and nudity on top. Some of the resulting films were great, others not so much — but all of them are fun and helped shape modern living dead cinema as we know it. We traveled abroad to present you with some of those Italian zombie films, and a few other unusual takes on the genre from other countries, that you might have missed.
Lucio Fulci, known as the “Godfather of Gore” among Italian genre nuts, pit a zombie against a shark in his 1979 film Zombie. The showdown is as ridiculous as it sounds. The movie’s gruesome special effects, nasty tone, and killer score by Fabio Frizzi make Zombie a cult film favorite.
Burial Ground (1981)
Leading the subgenre of zombie incest movies is Burial Ground, a truly bizarre take on the undead. Director Andrea Bianchi decided it was a good idea to cast a little person (25-year-old actor Peter Bark) as a young boy who has a thing for his mamma (Mariangela Giordano), which spirals out of control when some zombies take over an Italian villa.
Cemetery Man (1994)
Michele Soavi’s somber take on the genre, which is a tragic love story and existential drama wrapped in one, is set in a small-town Italian cemetery. The faithful caretaker (Rupert Everett) fends off zombies with the help of his mentally-handicapped assistant Gnaghi. In one of the film’s storylines, poor Gnaghi eventually falls for a young woman — but when she dies after being decapitated, he’s left with just her head to love.
Erotic Nights of the Living Dead (1980)
Zombie porn is a thing that exists. This 1980 hardcore movie was directed by Joe D’Amato, who was known for turning a fast buck by creating cheap, exploitive, over-the-top movies. The plot here is thin: an American businessman wants to build a hotel and resort on an island, zombies show up, people have sex and die.
Otto; or, Up with Dead People (2008)
Canadian queer cinema icon Bruce LaBruce takes the genre to Berlin where a young zombie named Otto recalls his human life as he tries to make a living as, well, a zombie. From our interview with the director:
In Otto, it’s the manifestation of all the hostility, homophobia, and the threat of homophobic violence against this boy. It’s manifested outwardly as being dead or feeling dead. It’s pushing that analogy to its extreme. A friend of mine who is a yogi said he thought that Otto was an evolved soul. He evolved post-human, to a state of enlightenment, where he’s detached from everything and totally anti-materialistic, floating through life in a detached, but still observational state. I thought that was interesting. I relate to the zombie boy as a queer who came up through that period where it was dangerous and a hostile environment to be a homosexual.
Zombie Holocaust (1980)
Double your flesh-eating pleasure with zombies and cannibals in Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust (aka Zombie 3). “It spends time in NYC with cannibal shenanigans and then it goes to sweaty jungles for cannibals and Zombies,” writes Bleeding Skull. “The description of what’s in the package is better than the actual content. But, there’s enough in there for Fun.”
Planet of the Vampires (1965)
The great Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires was essentially Alien before Alien. A team of astronauts land on a planet and start to turn wonky, swayed by a mysterious influence. Some audiences call Bava’s baddies vamps, others zombies, but who cares when a movie looks this cool. Keep in mind that POTV predates Romero’s famed 1968 film.
Stuart Gordon’s take on Lovecraft is darkly comedic, psychotic, disgusting, and fun. Consider yourself warned about a gross zombie sex scene.