By Will Mavity In the spirit of the month of October, we are continuing with part 2 of my horrifying list of terrific zombie films from the 21st Century which I started a week ago here. Click below to see which films topped my list and which films just barely missed the cut.
5. “Train To Busan” (2016)
Plot: While a zombie-virus breaks out in South Korea, a couple of passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
If 2016 was the summer for disappointing US blockbusters, South Korea produced the antidote in “Train to Busan.” A genuine global hit, “Train to Busan” has shattered global records: it is the highest grossing Korean film in history in Hong Kong and Taiwan, 1/5 of the entire population of South Korea has already seen the film, and the film has grossed close to $100 million worldwide.
Imagine a combination of “Snowpiercer,” and the parts of “World War Z” that worked, along with a hefty dose of social commentary, and then you have “Train to Busan.” Though the film is set primarily on a bullet train, it manages to contrive inventive ways to keep the plot moving and stay endlessly surprising. Director San-Ho Yeon, and editor Yang Jin-mo create a beast of relentless tension and energy. And though the film’s cinematography is nothing groundbreaking, the film manages to offer several memorable images of destruction. The characters are likable, and the order in which the film picks them off is often unpredictable, allowing an already nerve-wracking experience to become even more anxiety-inducing. The stuntwork is remarkable, and Ho-Yeo proves that unlike many blockbuster directors, he has something to say beyond spectacle: the film is a damning attack on corporate greed, and the tendency to value one’s own life over the lives of many. Because the piece is more-character driven than many in the genre, it occasionally veers into excessive melodrama, and the final thirty minutes aren’t quite as impressive as the film’s first hour, but Busan is nonetheless a riveting and inventive blockbuster experience. A popcorn film that still has a soul in an era where some a concept seems nonexistent.
Fun Fact: This is the director’s first non-animated film.
Worth Any Awards Consideration? The film’s editing is excellent, as are its stunts.
4. “Slither” (2006)
Plot: A small town is taken over by an alien plague, turning residents into zombies and all forms of mutant monsters.
Before James Gunn directed “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he cut his teeth on one of the most disgusting horror films in history. Managing to balance truly nauseating gross-out gore, with genuine scares, and some of 2006’s best dialogue was a difficult task. Fortunately, the witty and twisted Gunn was more than up to the task. He does the impossible, forging a coherent tone out of a tonally inconsistent concept (brutal violence and deadpan comedy), creating a slimy masterpiece that has the audience laughing as much as they flinch. (It should be noted that the film scared a younger me into sleeping with my mouth covered for months.) The stars Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, “The Walking Dead’s” Michael Rooker, Jenna Fischer, and Gregg Henry, and allows nearly everyone in the cast a chance to explore their comedic sides through Gunn’s ridiculous, but delightful dialogue. Like “Planet Terror,” the film boasts above-average creature makeup. But, if “Planet Terror” were merely content to pay tribute to the schlocky nature of 70’s creature horror, “Slither” goes one step forward into brilliantly spoofing the genre. It is telling, that in his review of the film, critic Jonathan Rosenbaum stated, “Gross-out horror comedy is my least favorite genre, but this movie’s so skillful I have to take my hat off to it.” If you have the stomach for it, “Slither” is a rare masterpiece in the horror-comedy genre.
Fun Fact: Stay after the credits for a disgusting extra scene. And assume that any character or building name is a reference to another zombie film.
Worth Any Awards Consideration? 2006 is a strong year for makeup, and “Slither” doesn’t quite make the cut. The creature work is excellent, however.
3. “Zombieland” (2009)
Plot: A shy student trying to reach his family in Ohio, a gun-toting tough guy trying to find the last Twinkie, and a pair of sisters trying to get to an amusement park join forces to travel across a zombie-filled America.
2009’s “Zombieland” is a marvel. Running less than 90 minutes, the film manages to pack an incredible number of jokes in. It also systematically established Jesse Eisenberg as a genuine comedic presence, and not the “poor man’s Michael Cera” some had previously described him as, reminded the film world why Woody Harrelson is a cinematic treasure, offered Emma Stone her first major leading role, and provided one of the funniest celebrity cameos…ever. Like “Dawn of the Dead” before it, Fleischer strives to set the film off with one of horror’s best opening credits sequences, full of slow motion images of a zombie outbreaks at weddings, father-son sack races, and strip clubs, while blasting Metallica. But unlike many members of the ‘zombedy’ genre, “Zombieland” doesn’t opt to derive humor from extreme gore effects, but instead lets its wonderful characters do the bulk of the comedic heavy lifting. And as a result, the film ends up, not only as a buddy comedy, but also oddly enough as a sort of study on neuroticism, masculinity, and family (all done through the most hilarious lens possible, of course.) Oh and with the many rumored clown sightings around the country, the film is as timely as ever in recognizing that while zombies may be scary, clowns are scarier.
Fun Fact: 2-Time Academy Award Winning Screenwriter, William Goldman did uncredited rewrites on the script.
Worth Any Awards Consideration? Best Original Screenplay
2. “Shaun Of The Dead” (2004)
Plot: A man decides to turn his moribund life around by winning back his ex-girlfriend, reconciling his relationship with his mother, and dealing with an entire community that has returned from the dead to eat the living.
The best films on this list transcend their genre trappings. And the fact that “Shaun of the Dead” marched its way into a frontier rarely explored by zombie films (awards season) is very telling. The film boasts BAFTA, London Film Critics, Online Film Critics Society Nominations, and wins from the British Independent Film Awards, and describes itself as “a romantic comedy with zombies.” Which is to say it is far more than your run of the mill zombie film, but instead, is a riotous comedy. But not only is the film funny, it is impeccably well-made. The film’s hilarious long takes have since become iconic, while Oscar Winning Editor, Chris Dickens gives the film a breakneck, and distinctive pace. And of course, Wright and co-writer, Simon Pegg pepper the film with references to other classic horror films (“28 Days Later,” “An American Werewolf in London,” and “Night of the Living Dead,” to name a few), as well as provide enough subtle puns to summarize the entire film’s plot. Cracked.Com pointed out that when Shaun describes his day (“A bloody Mary [Mary the garden zombie] first thing, a bite at the King’s Head [Shaun’s stepfather is bitten], couple at the Little Princess [meeting David and Diana at Liz’s flat], stagger back here [pretend to be zombies] and bang … back to the bar for shots [the final scene at the Winchester, where they shoot their way out].”), he has summarized the entire film. And of course, like the best zombie films, “Shaun of the Dead” makes a statement about apathetic society (oblivious Shaun doesn’t realize people are zombies, because zombie don’t behave differently from the humans already mindlessly going about their daily lives.) Finally, while “Shaun of the Dead” shies away from the excessive blood sprayed by other members of its genre, it still offers enough creative weapons (pool cues, throwing darts, vinyl records) to satisfy gore hounds, as well as offer brilliant slapstick comedy.
Fun Fact: “Shaun tells his girlfriend that he’s going to take her to “the place that does all the fish”. When he opens the phone book you can see that the restaurant is literally called ‘The Place That Does All the Fish’.” (Courtesy of IMDB trivia)
Worth Any Awards Consideration? Best Original Screenplay & Best Film Editing
1. “28 Days Later” (2002)
Plot: Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.
There is a large chunk of the internet who refuses to refer to “28 Days Later” as “a zombie film,” opting instead to describe it as “an infection film,” because they feel “zombie film” does not do justice to the film’s genre-transcending nature. But “28 Days Later” is a zombie film, and a damned good one at that. Boasting an impressive cast that includes Cilian Murphy, Naomi Harris, Brendan Gleeson, and “Dr. Who’s” Christopher Eccleston, the film values character first, and zombie spectacle second. Murphy and Harris have clear, believable character arcs that explore the question of “when is violence acceptable,” while Eccleston and his soldiers give a glimpse into redefined morality in a world that lacks any sort of moral absolutes. Anthony Dod Mantle’ s early foray into digital cinematography is impressive, despite the film’s low budget, and John Murphy’s score is alternately gorgeous and terrifying. What’s particularly impressive is, with only $8 million dollars, the film transforms London into a believably apocalyptic wasteland. “28 Days Later” takes the viewer on a wild roller coaster of emotions, along with its thrilling spectacle, offering humor, tragedy, and hope. The film is so dedicated to its character study, that zombies are entirely absent from large chunks of the film. Like many Alex Garland scripts, the film does falter a bit in its third act, but the overall product is a work of art, a standard for zombie filmmaking that has yet to be topped, and a prime example, that films should not be ignored solely because of their genre.
Fun Fact: “The scene where Jim and Selena celebrate with Frank and Hannah was shot on September 11, 2001. Danny Boyle said it felt extremely strange to shoot a celebratory scene on that particular day.” (Courtesy of IMDB trivia)
Worth Any Awards Consideration? Best Film Editing & Best Original Score
“World War Z” (2013): One of those big studio films that everyone seemed to be rooting against after its troubled production…and then to everyone’s surprise, it ended up being decent. The first 30 minutes could even be considered better than decent. It also made enough money back to justify a sequel. The film loses points for bearing absolutely no resemblance to its source material, and a lackluster third act, but deserves a mention as an entertaining addition to the genre.
“Resident Evil” (2002): Although the film bears little to no resemblance to its source material, and demonstrates more than a few zombie film clichés, it also boasts some entertaining action sequences and explores a fun, claustrophobic setting. Loses points for spawning a series of increasingly less-impressive sequels.
“Dead Snow” (2009): A film that works better in concept than in execution. The initial gag wears thin, but the prospect of Norwegian Nazi Zombies is amusing enough until the novelty wears off.
“REC” (2007): One of the strongest found-footage horror films out there, REC is a genuinely unsettling experience.
And a special shoutout to “The Girl with All The Gifts” (2016), which has yet to receive a US release date, but has received strong reviews in the U.K.
You can follow Will and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @mavericksmovies