A hunger for brains, ceaseless surging, and a surprising amount of heart – that’s what good zombie movies are made of.
I am fascinated by the zombie genre – the books, the movies, the video games. It’s the against-all-odds fight for survival that draws me in. But while some are attracted to the bleak and dismal nature of overwhelming odds, I’m lured by the perpetual optimism found there.
There’s always a glimmer of hope in a good zombie story. A silver lining to cling to and, often enough, show us the way out of the dark. Whether that is zombies regaining some semblance of humanity, or generally showing that if they can’t be beaten, they can at least be avoided for the most part.
But it’s the situations where they can’t, the truly desperate situations, full of flawed heroes and unbearable odds, that make for the best viewing.
28 Days Later (2002) Four weeks after a mysterious, incurable virus spreads throughout the UK, a handful of survivors try to find sanctuary.
Remember when zombies were laughable? This was the film that terrorized us with the concept of fast zombies – officially making zombies way scarier than what I grew up with. It’s also marked by a delightful and heartbreaking performance by Brendan Gleeson. In my opinion, this will always be the flagship for the modern zombie era and should be appreciated as such.
28 Days Later is currently streaming on HBO Max and Vudu
Shaun of the Dead (2004) The uneventful, aimless lives of a London electronics salesman and his layabout roommate are disrupted by the zombie apocalypse.
While it’s primarily a comedy, Edgar Wright manages to pack in several beats from across the genres, pulling together a zombie film as full of heart as it is brains and viscera. It’s surprising how bleak and hopeless a comedy about zombies can get before finally giving us that reason to live that I love zombie movies for.
Shaun of the Dead is currently streaming on Peacock and Vudu
Pontypool (2008) A radio host interprets the possible outbreak of a deadly virus which infects the small Ontario town he is stationed in.
The thing about zombies that gets me is that they bring a dreadful dose of claustrophobia with them. The smaller the shelter, the bigger the mob, the more pressure placed on our survivors – and us as the audience. There are few better places to generate claustrophobia than a radio station in a snowstorm where not even sturdy walls can save you from what’s coming.
Pontypool is currently streaming on Apple TV and Amazon through the IFC or AMC add-ons
Rammbock: Berlin Undead (2010) A terrible virus spreads across Berlin at a rapid pace, turning people into mindless homicidal maniacs and trapping survivors in an apartment building.
This one doesn’t find itself on a lot of lists, and I’ve never understood why. It is a wonderfully crafted zombie movie marked by excellent special effects, a boatload of tension, and a good dose of uplifting optimism.
Pontypool is currently streaming on Vudu
Train to Busan (2016) While a zombie virus breaks out in South Korea, passengers struggle to survive on the train from Seoul to Busan.
The second most claustrophobic location to be confined during a zombie outbreak after a radio station. Rather than spend the whole film focused on the train, they attempt escape – only escalating the tension. As if that wasn’t enough, Ma Dong-seok’s role shares some good (and terrible) parallel’s with Brendan Gleeson’s character from 28 Days Later.
Train to Busan is currently streaming on Peacock, Tubi, and Pluto
The Night Eats the World (2018) The morning after a party, a young man wakes up to find Paris invaded by zombies.
What would you do if you were trapped in an apartment in an unfamiliar place when the zombie apocalypse hit? The question goes beyond unfamiliarity and explores a variety of levels of isolation, putting the zombie threat at the bottom of the list of concerns, giving much more time to exploring the human condition.
The Night Eats the World is currently streaming on Peacock, Tubi, and Pluto
#Alive (2020) The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story.
If you only see one zombie film this season, make it this one. This one is so good. The tension runs on multiple levels in this one, tightening slowly until you don’t think you can take anymore. It is the best of all of them, blending a relatable human situation, realistic limitations, true hopelessness, and on the inverse, real, genuine hope – for the characters, for humanity, for all of us. It’s picture perfect and I think everyone should see this movie.
#Alive (2020) is currently streaming on Netflix
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Andy Lockwood is a writer, artist, dreamer, and horror enthusiast. He rekindled his love of storytelling as an indie filmmaker, and is the author of three novels, Empty Hallways and House of Thirteen; a 12-part serial, At Calendar’s End; and is a regular contributor to horror anthologies.
When not slaving away the keyboard, he buys books he has no time to read, and delves into mediums he has no time to fully explore.
He lives in mid-Michigan with his talented, supportive wife, his chaotic goblin of a daughter, and their brood if familiars – er, cats.
More information about his books, thoughts, and random adventures are neglectfully curated at www.happierthoughts.com