13 Recent Zombie Films You Should See
Article By: Tony Timpone
Season Five of The Walking Dead finishes up this Sunday night after continuing to achieve record ratings (what else is new?!), because so many of us just can’t get enough zombies. If waiting a whole six months between seasons proves too much for Walker fanatics, today Chiller offers up a fresh crop of better-than-moldy-oldie living dead flicks from the last two to three years, many of which may have slipped under your horror radar. (Titles arranged alphabetically, along with DVD/Blu-ray distributor.)
1. The Battery (2012)
Two mismatched baseball buddies traverse the abandoned backroads of New England in this amusing and low key zombie drama, sort of an Odd Couple meets the Living Dead. Shot on a remarkable budget of just $6,000, writer/director/co-star Jeremy Gardner’s movie explores the mundane in a world turned upside down. The two survivors bicker and banter like an old married pair, one preferring to bunker down in a remote country home, while the other demanding to push forward. Pity the occasional zombie who stumbles along to disturb their routine. With its hip indie soundtrack, The Battery resembles a more meditative and lightly clownish version of The Walking Dead, minus the soap opera and graphic brain bashing.
2. Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)
In Britain, zombies and laughs go together like fish and chips (see Shaun of the Dead and Doghouse if you doubt us), and this 2012 surprise successfully nails the horror comedy balance. To save their granddad’s old age home, two brothers (Rasmus Hardiker and Penny Dreadful’s Harry Treadaway) hatch a scheme to rob a bank. Unfortunately, a zombie outbreak gets in the way to foil said plans… Director Matthias Hoene orchestrates the gags and splatter with aplomb, and watching senior citizens battling ghouls (one highlight sees an old man and his walker “outrunning” a shambling stiff!) will bust more than a few guts. The game performers include Goldfinger’s Honor Blackman, who’s gone from Pussy Galore to Gore Galore with this amiable fear farce.
3. Contracted (2013)
It’s hard to discuss this one without giving the great twist ending away, so spoiler alert! Writer/director Eric England’s public service announcement wrapped up in the guise of a horror film could also serve as a Zombie: Patient Zero primer. After a drunken sexual romp, a distressed teen girl (a fine Najarra Townsend) catches what she assumes is the newest STD. But, of course, it’s much worse. Her personal relationships with friends, lover and mother (a terrific Caroline Williams from Texas Chainsaw Massacre II) fall apart, as well as her body parts. Antibiotics and Clearasil won’t cure her horrifying symptoms. A sequel’s just been announced.
4. Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014)
After his entertaining Hollywood detour (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola returns to his homeland for another round of Nazi zombie splatter. Wirkola borrows much of his tricks from the early Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson catalogs, so there’s much fun to be uncovered here, including nonstop grue, hilarious splatstick and nutty military skirmishes. Returning hero Martin (the madcap Vegar Hoel in Bruce Campbell mode) once again faces off against the dreaded Nazi commander Herzog and his rotting battalion, whose latest ghastly mission involves massacring a town of former Allied sympathizers. Sporting a transplanted zombie arm (!), Martin teams up with a trio of American monster busters to combat the Panzer-driving baddies. But only the reanimation of a squad of Russian WWII casualties can tip the scales in this uproarious Gore War.
5. The Dead 2 (2013)
Britain’s fearless Ford brothers take the action to India in an exciting follow-up to their 2010 sleeper The Dead, which depicted a zombie outbreak in West Africa. When the plague crosses borders, hunky American contractor (Joseph Millson) must outrun hordes of flesh-craving walking corpses and journey 300 miles to rescue his pregnant Indian girlfriend. The setting lends a nice exotic flavor to the undead shenanigans, while the Fords display a noteworthy affection for both the Val Lewton and Lucio Fulci approaches to zombie cinema. Unlike most horror quickies, the filmmakers also make us care for their desperate and flawed characters.
6. Goal of the Dead (2014)
The thrills of the World Cup may be a year behind us, so what better opportunity to root for the first zombie soccer movie?! Co-directed by Frenchmen Benjamin Rocher and Thierry Poiraud and divided into two sections, Goal of the Dead builds up to a fiercely competitive match between rival French towns. But when a mad doctor pumps up his soccer-playing son with untested steroids, the strength-enhancing drugs turn the already aggressive player into a ravenous lunatic. When others come into contact with his projectile vomit, they too become hyperactive creatures with a passion for the game coupled with inappropriate organ-rending. Goal of the Dead scores as a winning bloody laughfest with a bench-full of quirky characters, extreme sportsmanship (and we do mean extreme!) and an over-the-top climactic clash (with balls and heads flying) at the stadium guaranteed to have both horror and sports fans cheering!
7. The Last Days on Mars (2013)
Well Jason, Leprechaun, Dracula and Pinhead made it into outer space, why not zombies? This throwback to old sci-fi horror programmers on the order of It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires charts the doomed first manned mission to the Red (Dead?) Planet. When a straying astronaut comes into contact with an alien pathogen, he becomes possessed and murders his fellow explorers, transforming them into Martian zombies! Liev Schrieber (patiently waiting for that Ray Donovan offer to come in) headlines a good cast, while this Irish/UK production convincingly creates a barren alien world with a limited budget. In addition, director Ruairi Robinson and company keep us guessing on who’s gonna die next. Last Days on Mars may be no Dawn of the Dead, but it’s not lost in space either.
8. Life After Beth (2014)
This romantically warped zombie comedy hits all the right beats, thanks to amazing stars and tons of indie cred. After love-smitten Zach (recent Green Goblin Dane DeHaan) loses true-love Beth (Aubrey Plaza) to a fatal snake bite, he discovers Beth’s secretive parents hiding her unexpected resurrection from everyone. But Zach ingratiates himself back into the Beth’s reanimated life, only to notice that his girlfriend’s violent mood swings and strange appetites will soon cause major complications. Director Jeff Baena (I Heart Huckabees’ scripter) infuses Life After Beth with a macabre wit and has assembled a wonderful ensemble (Matthew Gray Gubler, Molly Shannon and Paul Reiser, plus look for Garry Marshall as decomposing Grandpa). The always funny John C. Reilly fields big laughs as Beth’s protective but oblivious father.
9. Open Grave (2013)
This late night programmer unspools in the style of a lost episode of classic Twilight Zone. In the startling opening moments, a blood-spattered man with amnesia (District 9’s Sharlto Copley) wakes up in a pit of dead bodies. How did he get there and who killed all those people? The mysteries will continue to deepen when he encounters a group of strangers holed up in a remote house, likewise suffering memory loss and equally suspicious of each other. Without giving too much away, there is a good reason why Open Grave made our list, the big reveal coming in the last act. Spanisher helmer Gonzalo López-Gallego weaves together an engrossing scenario, enlivened by a strong bunch of genre TV favorites such as NBC’s Dracula’s Thomas Kretschmann, The Originals’ Joseph Morgan and Gotham’s Erin Richards.
10. ParaNorman (2012)
Label this charmingly macabre stop-motion film a gateway drug to harder stuff or the first zombie movie for kids. Either way, it’s a Tim Burton-esque delight from start to finish. Little Norman Babcock sees—and talks—with dead people, but of course no one believes him. But only misfit Norman and his motley friends (living and dead) can save his picturesque New England town from a witch’s curse that will reanimate the dead on the anniversary of the hag’s unjust execution. From the creators of Coraline and The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman rises above typical, candy-coated animated kids’ fare by emphasizing adult themes of acceptance (alternate religions, sexual preferences, etc.), while lovingly paying homage to past horror treats.
11. [REC] 4: Apocalypse (2014)
The hit Spanish series, which inspired the American remake Quarantine, continues with this fourth and reportedly final installment. Directed by Jaume Balagueró (one of the [REC] originators), [REC] 4 begins right after events depicted in the first outing and cleverly references the other entries as well. Government spooks lock up sole survivor Ángela (Manuela Velasco) on a ship at sea, where they conduct experiments to determine the origin of the zombie/demon outbreak. Naturally, it only takes about 30 minutes of screen time before another epidemic turns the tragic vessel into a ship of ghouls. Once more, Balagueró adeptly builds suspense in confined spaces and maintains a tight pace. [REC] 4 stays afloat as a good capper to the franchise.
12. The Returned (2013)
Filmax, the folks who brought us the [REC] pictures (see above), tried a different tack with this somber, character-driven zombie piece (with no relation to the same-titled/themed French/Sundance Channel series). Years after two catastrophic zombie outbreaks, a sort-of cure has been found for the infected. As long as they take daily doses of a Return Protein, those gruesome tendencies will be kept in remission. But when the antiviral supplies fall dangerously low and anti-zombie groups instigate mass trouble, cities will again be thrown into chaos. The plight of a woman doctor who smuggles the drug to her stricken husband emerges as the focus of this intriguing story, as we witness the tragedies of the pandemic through her eyes. An allegory for our times, The Returned will make you think in between scenes of cannibal carnage, domestic drama and societal strife.
13. Warm Bodies (2013)
Hardcore horror hounds may prefer having a Fulci-sized splinter shoved into their eye than watch this “zombie romance,” but they’d be missing out on something that refreshingly adds fresh wrinkles (the dead speak and can be ultimately cured) to the hackneyed living dead formula. When the undead R (Nicholas Hoult, still cute despite that gray pallor and rotting skin) saves pretty Julie (Teresa Palmer) from a zombie posse, affection gradually sparks between the couple. She’ll try to overlook the fact that R ate her boyfriend’s brains, and he’ll give Julie’s megalomaniac dad (John Malkovich) a pass even though he wants to exterminate his monstrous brethren. Love conquers all! You should give Warm Bodies (adapted from Isaac Marion’s young adult novel by indie writer/director Jonathan Levine) a chance too. Or at least watch it with your little sister.
Fangoria Editor Emeritus Tony Timpone interviewed zombie master George A. Romero on the Survival of the Dead DVD and Blu-ray.