Oh yes, lots of zombie movies.
White Zombie (1932)
One of the earliest, if not the earliest, examples of this subgenre. A young couple go to the Haitian plantation of a wealthy landowner to get married, but the landowner has designs on the woman and enlists the help of black magician ‘Murder’ Legendre to realise his desires. This film deals with the probable truth behind the zombie trope, natives drugged and persuaded that they were dead, then coerced into working on plantations, though it never quite commits to this theory. Despite being eighty years old the film stands up very well, with a neat plot and some impressive visuals (Legendre’s house looks like a French chateau, and appeals even if it is obviously a painted backdrop), while the shuffling zombies with their vacant eyes add a nice touch of menace. What really makes the film stand out though is the performance of Bela Lugosi as Legendre, a truly sinister realisation of the black magician, with piercing eyes that fill the screen and a chilling voice. He is here, I think, even better than when playing Dracula.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Romero’s classic holds the attention all the way, right from the opening scenes with their ‘coming to get you, Barbra’ vibe, through to the ending where hero Ben (Duane Jones) gets shot, with the implication it’s simply because he is black. It’s a gripping study of social collapse, with the people trapped in the farmhouse and besieged by a horde of zombies, falling out among themselves as the wider picture unfolds on their television screen. Plenty of excitement, as the zombies are fought off and various escape strategies fail, all leading up to the moment when they are overwhelmed. And there’s a new dimension of horror with the understated scenes of flesh eating, while the documentary style of the back story brings another twist. I loved it.
Land of the Dead (2005)
Okay, the dead have won, and the survivors reside in walled enclaves, the rich living the life of Riley in Fiddler’s Green and the poor fighting for the scraps that fall from their table. Riley Denbo (Simon Baker) heads up a band of fighters who sully forth into the wasteland to recover vital supplies. Only their latest raid uncovers evidence that the zombies are developing a rudimentary intelligence and the scene is set for yet another fall from grace for mankind. This is a big budget, adventure film on the surface, with plenty of bang for your buck, but scratch the surface and you find social commentary every bit as finely tuned as in Romero’s previous work. The decadent society presided over by the treacherous Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), in which the poor fight zombies to entertain the wealthy, is just asking to be toppled, and it’s hard not to identify the zombies with the proletariat, preyed on by those higher up the food chain until they find a voice. In the end poor and zombies have far more in common with each other, than they do with the denizens of Fiddler’s Green, a fact recognised by Denbo’s refusal to fire on the zombie horde and comment that they just want a place of their own and to be left alone.
‘The best zombie film of the year’, according to London Life, though technically speaking I’m not sure that it is a zombie film, so much as a film about the spread of a virus. The story is told from the viewpoint of three people in a Canadian radio station, broadcasting to the world and with news of strange events coming in over the wires. It appears that a virus rooted in language itself has taken hold, so that saying certain words (‘love’, ‘kiss’ etc) is enough to get infected and once infected your only purpose is to infect somebody else before you explode – speaking French is a way to protect yourself. It’s a nice idea, the sort of zombie story that Jorge Luis Borges or Stanislaw Lem might have come up with (and I read a similar story by Mark Samuels a while back), though at the same time not really convincing, with plot conveniences like the medical expert crawling in through a window to unload an infodump on everyone. What works very well is the claustrophobic atmosphere, the characters’ environment shrinking to the confines of a glass walled box as technology brings them news from all around the world, and the unspoken attraction between the two leads, one that is eventually expressed through the medium of reinventing language (giving the meaning ‘kiss’ for the word ‘kill’) to avoid infection. It was an interesting film, one that tried something new for which credit is deserved, but for me not entirely successful, mainly because I simply couldn’t suspend disbelief long enough to accept fully what was supposed to be taking place, the suggestion that language itself has developed a consciousness, but I want to watch it again before making any final judgement.
Favourite zombie movies anyone?