Ten zombie flicks perfect for any creepy Halloween season movie marathons you might have planned
Snyder and Gunn, above all else, help make zombies terrifying again.
Nightmare City. 1980. Directed by Umberto Lenzi. Screenplay by Tony Corti, Jose Luis Delgado, & Piero Regnoli.
Starring Hugo Stiglitz, Laura Trotter, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, Francisco Rabal, Sonia Viviani, Eduardo Fajardo, Stefania D’Amario, Ugo Bologna, Sara Franchetti, Manuel Zarzo, Tom Felleghy, and Mel Ferrer. Dialchi Film/Lotus Films/Televicine S.A de C.V.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
If you loved Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake with its fast moving zombies, then if you’ve not seen the Umberto Lenzi cult classic zombie-horror movie Nightmare City, do yourself a favour and track it down. Lenzi is most famous among horror hounds perhaps for his 1980 Eaten Alive! or the following year’s Cannibal Ferox, maybe even back to 1972 with his film The Man From Deep River, as they’re often touted as being big powerhouses in the cannibal sub-genre of horror. Then of course there’s a ton of other stuff like Seven Bloodstained Orchids, Knife of Ice, Orgasmo (a.k.a Paranoia for U.S release), Nightmare Beach (one of the stars in this one being Michael Parks who Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith have recently cast in their work over the past decade), and others.
However, many of the biggest zombie fans will certainly rave about Nightmare City as some of his best horror work. As far as I’m concerned, it’s up there with the best of them. From nasty zombie makeup effects, to the fast paced movements of the infected themselves, to the frenetic energy of the movie, this one is highly memorable in a sub-genre of horror that nowadays, thanks to The Walking Dead especially, has become almost commonplace. This will remain a genuine, bonafide cult classic because it rises above the mediocrity of so many other zombie movies by being both serious and a lot of fun in terms of its nasty horror.
As an American news reporter, Dean Miller (Hugo Stiglitz), waits at an airport to interview a scientist concerning recent accidents at a nuclear plant, a mysterious plane lands urgently. When the doors come open, a mass of infected human beings run out onto the tarmac; they immediately begin to maim and murder anyone/everyone in their path, killing the military guards stationed outside. Miller finds himself up against General Murchison (Mel Ferrer) who will not let him leak this information to the general public, instead keeping them in the dark. So while everything devolves into insanity outside, Miller heads off to try and locate his wife Anna (Laura Trotter) at the hospital. There’s no telling if any of them will survive, or if anything will be left standing once the epidemic is over. If it’s ever over.
So this is not a traditional zombie film, for the purists out there, it’s more of a radiation-infection film. Which is fine, I could care less how a movie like this is described. What matters is the horror, as well as the fact Lenzi does take his shots at the military and armed forces, and war in general. In the same way George A. Romero instilled his own zombie films with sociopolitical messages/themes, I definitely feel Lenzi is making his own statements here about the military, their efficiency, even their intentions.
Most of all, though, it’s the infected, the zombies – the whatever – which ultimately matter. The plot and story are all there, nothing too complex yet it isn’t just throwaway nonsense like some underdeveloped horror movies. But the horror, the effects, those aspects are the main attraction, which is something Lenzi understands.
Right from the very beginning, as Miller (Stiglitz) witnesses the unmarked plane land, its doors opening to reveal crazed masses of infected people, bloodthirsty and maniacal, the movie really starts with a punch. There are throat cuttings and other vile special makeup effects gags right within the first 10 minutes, so it’s easy to see from the get-go how insanely fun Lenzi intends on getting with the rest of the film.
One of my favourite moments is when the infected people make their way into the hospital – they barge in on a surgery, kill the doctor, then one feeds on the open surgical wound while another goes for the IV bottle half-filled with blood. It’s just this real macabre little scene I find awesome yet unsettling. A hospital is the perfect place for these nasties – they need blood to sustain them – and at the same time, for non-infected normal people, the hospital is one of their most vulnerable safe havens. So many sick and old people, others injured, it’s like an ultimate feeding ground for these infected, zombie-like predators, these bloodlusting beasts.
There’s also plenty of human drama. It’s not all scene after scene of zombie mayhem. A hugely interesting part of any good infected/zombie(/whatever) film is the way humanity is affected, how the population react and how they either fall apart or band together, and so on. There are a few good scenes in this regard. Mixed in amongst the terror and the bloody mess are moments where we’re able to get at least a kernel of character from the cast of survivors, all holed up in their own various ways to try and outlast the epidemic. Not that this film is loaded down with a throbbing supply of characterization, but it’s also not Lenzi just throwing buckets of blood at the camera, sending zombie after zombie into the frame constantly. There’s a lot of that, too. Although he does a fine job including the human element, so as not to get lost in horror makeup and effects. Some zombie movies really get caught up trying to make the zombies everything (and yes they are to a certain extent), they almost forget about the characters and the actors playing them, letting too much fall to the wayside for it to end up a great piece of work. While Lenzi could have done more, certainly, he did pretty well. Enough to make things interesting, plus the characters aren’t all hateable like so many modern horror movies, you actually care about them when they’re slaughtered by the infected.
All in, Umberto Lenzi’s cult classic Nightmare City is a solid 4 out of 5 star horror movie, especially in the zombie/infected sub-genre. If someone says they’re a big zombie buff and haven’t even heard of this one, be sure to promptly correct them; they are not a buff if they don’t know about this Lenzi flick. You may not be a huge fan of it, though, I’m firm in my belief this is a proper classic. Might have taken awhile for it to find the following of which it is deserving, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.
When in need this is a perfect flick for any time you need the zombie fix, especially fitting around Halloween season.
Without going for too many of the obvious choices, I wanted to come up with another list of horror for the Halloween season.
Opting to go with anything from traditional zombies to the Romero zombie to infection films and so on, there should be something for everybody on this list. Maybe the more seasoned horror veterans out there have seen just about all of these. But I’m hoping those of you out there looking for a few good flicks to indulge during the lead-up to Halloween might get a good new scare for yourselves and find something new.
These aren’t in any kind of order, just in a list. I’m not saying these are all my favourites either, though, I’ll let you know which ones I love most.
Nightmare City (1980)
For a full review, click here.
This Umberto Lenzi classic is the genesis for fast zombies. It’s been said already – the remake of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? Would never have been without Lenzi. Sure, someone would have made zombies fast in a cool way, but I still think Zack Snyder owes a ton to Lenzi’s film. There’s something about this one that will get you from the star. Immediately, there’s a sense of chaos, and then the streets are flowing the undead, moving at a face past, fighting the living.
When it comes to zombie films, fast or not, Nightmare City packs the goods. This is a real great movie to put on and watch with a few people or a big group, as you’ll be hooting and hollering at some of the undead action going down under direction of a master like Lenzi.
Day of the Dead (1985)
For a full review, click here.
It’s hard to pick a favourite out of George A. Romero’s films, even considering his others outside of the Dead films; The Crazies and Martin are both pretty excellent, more so the latter, and Creepshow is a wonderful collaboration between him and Stephen King.
But honestly, even above the two previously amazing films, Day of the Dead is my favourite of Romero’s zombie work. There’s something truly dystopian for me above this one. As always, the plot keeps things claustrophobic, even worse the characters are in an underground military base. The best, though, is Bub – Romero introduces a zombie who has essentially been taught, like a primitive human or an animal, to respond and do things more than just eat brains. And if you look at the progression of Romero’s zombie series, include Land of the Dead and how active the zombies become there, I find there’s a lot to enjoy. Plus, you get cool imagery, a great colour scheme as is always the case with Romero, and lots of zombie goodness.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
For a full review, click here.
Lucio Fulci will often turn up on any horror list I make. Not because I think his films are all the best made, though some I think are fucking incredible, but mostly it’s because Fulci swings for the fences on just about horror film he’s made.
In City of the Living Dead there are a bunch of practical horror effects which are going to blow your face off. While I don’t think this is one of Fulci’s best, I do feel it has some of his wildest blood and gore.
From throwing up internal organs, priests committing suicide and dead babies, to heads being torn apart or heads being subjected to power drills, this is one zombie flick you’ll most certainly want to watch around Halloween. Any time you look out and see kids roaming the streets on the 31st, it’s always creepy in a way. After this Fulci film, it might look even creepier.
Dead and Buried (1981)
From a screenplay by Ronald Shusett and Dan O’Bannon (particularly of Alien fame), Gary Sherman crafts a pretty unique and horrific film which you can definitely consider one of the living dead variety.
In a small New England town, Potter’s Bluff, visitors seem to be continually murdered and Sheriff Gillis (James Farentino) is trying to get to the bottom of it. Unaware the other townsfolk have an idea about what’s been happening, Gillis may or may not survive the events transpiring in his own little jurisdiction.
To say a whole lot more than the simple plot synopsis would do you, the viewer, a disservice. Ultimately I’ll say only this – Dead and Buried has a wonderfully dreadful atmosphere, like a bad nightmare torn out of The Twilight Zone, and there is a classic type of feel to the film which makes it feel almost at home amongst William Castle flicks and the Hammer Horror catalogue at times. Perfect for a bunch of friends, but it does have a nice plot so it isn’t only horror-tainment; it also has some horror teeth with a solid script, full of dread and terror.
Shock Waves (1977)/ Dead Snow (2009)/ Blood Creek (2009)
This is honestly a pretty gnarly triple feature. A lot of people would tell you Dead Snow is the only real great movie out of these three. Me? Oh, I’d disagree with that.
First, Shock Waves takes us to an island where Peter Cushing plays a former SS Commander out of Nazi Germany, in charge of a troop of aquatic zombies. There’s lots of madness on the island, lots of almost gothic-like stuff going on.
You can never go wrong with Cushing in a horror, for me anyways. He is classic. Here bringing some of that class to a Nazi zombie movie, a precursor to the next film – Dead Snow.
A newer Nazi zombie flick out of Norway, this one sees a group of friends on Easter vacation in the mountains at a cabin; unfortunately, they run afoul of some buried Nazi troops who are more than happy to unfreeze, come back from the dead, and lay siege to the cabin and the unsuspecting friends.
This is a happily, unapologetically gory film, tons of splatter, blood everywhere. But it’s not one of those types of horror movies where it starts to get boring, because who doesn’t want to see Nazis die? Only Nazis, one could imagine. So get your fill here with tons of nasty horror kills.
Next up is another Nazi horror, though, in a vastly different vein. Blood Creek, also known as Town Creek, did not make an impact in theatres on a limited release, it hasn’t particularly enthused a lot of others since. But I thought it was a nice bit of fun. Featuring Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell and Superman himself Henry Cavill as brothers out for revenge, as well as an incredibly low key and make-up’d Michael Fassbender (of whom I’ve been a big fan for a while), this is mostly a good popcorn romp in the horror genre, with a nice dose of Nazis to boot. Fassbender plays a Nazi officer who was dispatched to track down ancient runes, eventually becoming a nearly immortal, terrible and undead monster whose entire being consists of consuming human blood, and other creepy, nasty, Nazi business. Don’t expect director Joel Schumacher to do anything hugely innovative, but throw this one on after the others to give a different spin on the Nazi living dead sub-genre.
I honestly recommend this as a triple feature. You would not regret it, especially if you’re looking for a group movie night!
[REC] (2007)/ [REC]2 (2009)
For a full review of [Rec], click here.
These are subtitled Spanish films, so those who don’t dig on that may want to move on. Though, I stress as I usually do: if you only watch English language movies, you’re not doing yourself as a filmgoer justice. Horror has some amazing stuff going on in other countries.
Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza take the found footage sub-genre and horrified audiences with their infection horror film [Rec] which takes us inside a fire station with a news crew, on a night when they’re called to an apartment building where all hell breaks loose; inside, an epidemic begins. The second film [Rec]2 begins straight after the events of the first, taking a GEO team inside the same apartment building in order to combat the infected humans that are beginning to swarm the entire building and threaten to turn the whole city into a massive horde of infection. But it turns out there aren’t only the interest of police and medical authorities at play, as the Vatican has their hand in things.
Both of these movies do found footage proper justice. So many of the low budget efforts in this sub-genre come out terrible, while only a small number are excellent and more importantly effective; these two movies are in the latter category. Amping up on suspense and tension, Balagueró and Plaza really grind home the terror from beginning to end. There’s a lot of scary moments and the zombies/infected are creepy as all hell! Love the blood and gore here, as well as the jump scares; I don’t often say that, but the jumps here aren’t cheap, they’re the result of good atmosphere and tension, as I mentioned before. Great movies. More for a solo viewing, or just a pair; you don’t need a crowd talking a bit here and there during these, ruins the mood. But you’d be wise to do a double feature viewing on these two movies – awesome continuity and you’ll get your fill of zombified mayhem.
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
More Dan O’Bannon, this time he’s directing.
Honestly, if you’re a horror-comedy fan (I’m actually not a huge one) and you don’t know or enjoy Return of the Living Dead, I don’t know what’s going on with you. I mean, this is just about the perfect marriage of zombie horror and hilariously foolish comedy. On top of all that, it’s slightly meta-fictional in a way.
After two bumbling meatballs end up releasing toxins from the government, which inspired Night of the Living Dead, the living dead begin to rise once more and the world is threatened by zombies walking the earth, tearing and eating human flesh, consuming all which stand in their way!
A classic entry in the zombie sub-genre of horror, this is not one to be missed. Great for a pair or a crew of people, you can never go wrong with this one. There is plenty of goofball comedy and lots of zombie nastiness to boot, not many as great as this out there.
The House by the Cemetery (1981)
For a full review, click here.
Lucio Fulci returns on the list! This time with a different take on the living dead horror movie.
When a new family movies into a house and begins discovering a bunch of unsettling, the house’s past lurches forward from the darkness and into the present.
Victorian era illegal surgery, zombified and rotten corpses, neck stabbings, slashed throats and decapitated heads – Fulci is in fine style here, a (pardon the pun) full-blooded horror.
This is a nasty one with plenty of the director’s signature style. You could also say this fulfills the haunted house quota, even though it’s more of a living dead horror, but still – lots to take in for an October evening, better yet on Halloween night.
Mutants (2009)/ Open Grave (2013)
Another double feature, slightly different; these aren’t exactly the same type of zombie/infected horror movies, though, I think a certain vein runs through the both of these gnarly flicks.
Mutants is a French film about an epidemic turning human beings into mutant-like creatures, basically zombies. The plot concerns a young couple, Marco and Sonia (who is pregnant), attempting to find refuge in a military base. But when Marco contracts the virus, Sonia has to defend herself against her husband, best friend and lover in order to try and survive; for herself and for their baby. So you get a mix of zombie horror, emotional and personal drama, as well as a good deal of horror-action throughout the film. A high intensity and at times downright scary epidemic film.
In a similar more personal sense, Open Grave starring Sharlto Copley examines the epidemic sub-genre of horror through the eyes of a man who wakes up, with no memory, in a pit of corpses, only to eventually come across a group of others who woke under similar circumstances.
I can’t say much else about the plot, and honestly saying that it’s an epidemic/zombie type movie is saying too much, but just know Open Grave packs a real good punch. Copley adds lots of authenticity to the film playing a very believable, real type character. But the screenplay itself is the strongest bit of the movie and drives everything, making this one of those horror films that’s really going to draw you and keep you interested, riveted from the top until the impressively tense finale.
These two movies would fit together in a great way for a double bill, I highly suggest you try these out even if on their own, though. Both a good and terrifying ride.
Night of the Comet (1984)
If you want an interesting, tongue-in-cheek style horror with comedy, then look no further: Night of the Comet is the film you’re searching out!
When a strange astral event involving a comet happens, much of humanity is devastated leaving two young ladies to deal with the few humans, madness, and zombies which remain.
A true classic ’80s movie, this one will satisfy a ton of criteria depending on what you want – there are zombie types, there is throwback music, there are funny women, and there is science fiction abound.
This is a lot of fun and I think it’s definitely a zombie movie, just in its own way. You’re not going to find a ton of gore or anything like that. This is first and foremost a retro comedy with horror and science fiction thrown in, but the post-apocalyptic landscape of Los Angeles and the living dead roaming the streets makes this a proper entry on this list.
The Signal (2007)
Honestly I don’t know how this movie hasn’t gotten huge. That’s all right, though. Some movies are meant for a cult classic status, in another 20 years this will find the proper appreciation, the kind it deserves.
The Signal takes place in several sections, taking place in a city after an epidemic occurs spurred on by the signals transmitting through radio waves and television sets, et cetera. One woman tries to make her way to meet a lover after her husband and everyone seem to go crazy from the signal. For her, it becomes an absolute struggle for survival. As her lover does his best to track her down across the devastated city, they both encounter their own trials and tribulations.
When I first saw this one I was blown away. The acting is solid, which helps put the plot over; notably, a favourite actor of mine A.J. Bowen does a spectacular job with a menacing character. Most of all it’s the mix of science fiction and horror I find real interesting. Lots of weird infected-zombie-like action happening, as the citizens of the city all start to just revert into animalistic, primitive men and women only concerned with fighting and killing the next person before they themselves are fought or killed. Scary stuff, but also there’s a good, organic love story built in which I enjoy – when the love stories are forced into horrors or thrillers, I find it so tiring, this one is primarily a romance honestly yet the horror/sci-fi becomes a huge part of it and makes this an epidemic sub-genre film, absolutely. You could do a lot worse than this one, it’s going to find a bigger audience as time goes by. Good one for two partners who want to watch something creepy while also wanting to watching something together: ideal for the pair who’ve got different tastes slightly. Something for everyone here with this romance-horror-science fiction hybrid.
Splinter (2008)/ The Battery (2012)
One last double feature for the horror hounds. This one is the ultimate indie horror tag team, two vastly different movies but very much innovative and lots of fun in their own respect.
To start is the 2008 Splinter – a couple find themselves trapped in a gas station with an escaping criminal, all trying to find off a virus which splinters the bones and insides of its victims, contorting them into awful, terrifying shapes.
This one is nasty and also has great drama going on. The splinter parasite/virus was so intriguing, adding something fresh to the zombie/living dead sub-genre. A fantastic indie film you really have to see.
Then, you’ll need to throw on The Battery, another hugely satisfying indie horror with a premise not always tackled. While still in a zombie apocalypse, this film goes for a much more microcosmic view of the dystopian-horror landscape: two former baseball players try and make their way through the living dead infested countryside of New England, each with their own grating personality to test the other’s patience. This one also has tons of nice drama, while it continually pushes into the zombie sub-genre with good use of the deadheads in the background. First and foremost, you find yourself interested immensely with the relationship between these two men trying to survive in the post-apocalyptic, zombie world. Second, the zombies, the death and the loneliness of the epidemic stricken world all makes this a worthwhile horror.
Two awesome indie horror movies which fit together real nice! A good double bill, fit for a solo viewing or with a friend. These will suck you in and keep you interested with that indie screenwriting, but you’re going to get a nice swift helping of horror to ring in Halloween right here!
Pet Sematary (1989)
Not all of Stephen King’s wonderful stories end up translated onto the screen appropriately. I’m a huge fan of his writing, yet there’s always problems with the films adapted into film from his work.
Pet Sematary, for me, does not fall into the category of problem films. Some others say differently, I’m pretty sure even King himself isn’t a real fan at all, but this one did a number on me, still does each time I see it again. Of course there are parts that could’ve obviously been better executed (maybe this would be fitting for a remake nowadays other than the endless films being remade which don’t need to be). Still, bottom line is that this horror is actually horrific; its tension is there, the atmosphere of dread pervades almost each solitary scene to which we’re treated, and some of the imagery is truly scary.
One scene in particular, involving the wife’s now dead sister, still scars me to this day. Even when I think about it (she’s in the bed forgotten in a room of their house calling out for help; she looks hideous like a person twisted into a monster), the hair raises on the back of my neck. And the rest of the film is pretty chilling, to say the least. Ignore a few of the flaws and you’ll find yourself taken away into a land of terror. The living dead angle of Pet Sematary is another much more personal, intimate take on the whole sub-genre, in a way only Stephen King can tap into so emotionally. Not all of his original novel makes it through in translation, though, I can’t say there’s any missing horror.
Here’s to hoping you’ve enjoyed some of these films before, or that you discovered them here/somewhere else similar and now have come to love them the way I do!
Cheers to a good October and I’m going to have myself an epic movie marathon over the last week leading up to Halloween. Check back for more lists and movie reviews as we get closer to that beloved devilish night of candy, fun, horror and mayhem.