From Night of the Living Dead to 28 Weeks Later, Telegraph film writer Anne Billson lists her 10 favourite horror films of all time.
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t the first mash-up of 19th century Eng Lit and zombies. It’s 70 years since legendary RKO B-movie producer Val Lewton asked screenwriters Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray to update and transpose the story of Jane Eyre to a Caribbean island.
“There’s no beauty here, only death and decay,” says a plantation owner to the nurse who has come to the island to care for his sick wife – but Jacques Tourneur’s directing ensures this is the most hauntingly beautiful zombie film ever made.
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George A Romero ‘s low-budget sleeper shattered horror movie conventions, transformed movie zombies from the traditional drugged labour of voodoo lore into the flesh-eating ambulant cadavers we know and love today, and has lost none of its power to horrify.Romero followed it up with the marginally jollier but just as influential Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the criminally underrated Day of the Dead (1985).
Zack Snyder ‘s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, in which the dead no longer walked but ran, was visceral fun, but lacked the original’s trenchant social satire; Romero’s subsequent zombie pics have been less well received, yet still contain more intelligence in their (rotting) little fingers than in pretty much all of his imitators’ films laid end to end.
The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)
Jorge Grau’s Spanish-Italian shocker is set in the Lake District, not Manchester, and like many Italian horror movies revels in multiple alternative titles (15 at the last count, including Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie).
But it’s one of the earliest and best of the Night of the Living Dead rip-offs, with a uniquely unsettling atmosphere and the Spanish-Italian cast supplemented by American character actor Arthur Kennedy as an Irish cop. Agricultural insecticide causes the dead to walk; the resulting zombie mayhem is relentless.
Zombi 2 (1979)
Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was released in Europe as Zombi, hence the title of this unofficial sequel (also known as, among other things, Zombie Flesh-Eaters) directed by Lucio Fulci and starring Tisa Farrow (Mia’s sister) and British TV stalwarts Ian McCulloch and Richard Johnson.
After a sublimely creepy opening in New York harbour, the action shifts to the Caribbean for gore galore, a zombie-versus-shark fight and a memorably nasty encounter with a large splinter. Best line: “I’ve just been informed that zombies have entered the building… They’re at the door… They’re coming in… AAAAGH!”
Radical Chicago theatre director Stuart Gordon made his film-directing debut for Empire Pictures, the company responsible for some of the zippiest low-budget horror of the 1980s, with this splatterfest adapted from a story by HP Lovecraft and garnished with music that’s such a blatant steal from Psycho it’s a wonder Bernard Herrmann didn’t rise from his grave in protest.
Jeffrey Combs hams his way into cultdom as the frankly rather bonkers Dr Herbert West, whose experiments in reanimating dead tissue result in a zombie cat attack, the heroine sexually molested by a lascivious severed head, and zombie mayhem a-go-go.
Before Peter Jackson went mainstream with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, he dabbled in deliberately tasteless horror comedies like this cheerful romp set in 1950s New Zealand. The hero’s mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey, leading to Wellington being overrun by the walking dead, some of whom are defeated by a kung fu-fighting priest who triumphantly declares, “I kick arse for the Lord!”
Gross-out humour and a superabundance of splatter climax with one of the goriest bloodbaths ever filmed when the hero uses a rotary lawnmower to eviscerate, dismember or otherwise incapacitate about a trillion gazillion zombies.
Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)
Michele Soavi started out as assistant director to Dario Argento before making his debut as a horror film-maker. He has since gone mainstream, but not before giving Rupert Everett what was arguably the finest role of his career in this Franco-Italian-German co-production (also known as Cemetery Man) adapted from Tiziano Sclavi’s “Dylan Dog” horror comics.
Everett plays a world-weary live-in caretaker of the cemetery adjacent to a small Italian town, where his job involves dispatching the walking dead who routinely rise from their graves seven days after interment. The plentiful zombie action is enhanced by some astonishing flights of visual surrealism.
Ryûhei Kitamura, whose horror-thriller No One Lives opens in the UK this autumn, made his feature debut with this low-budget Japanese splatter action-horror-comedy in which pretty-boy Yakuzas ill-advisedly bury the corpses of their victims in the all-too-aptly named Forest of Resurrection, with exactly the results you’d expect.
What you might not expect are the barking mad camera angles, crazed zombie-fu, Kenji Matsuda’s insanely over-the-top performance as a nattily dressed gangster, and the cunning way in which Kitamura manages to insert historical samurai into the mix.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
This “zom-rom-com” from the team that brought you TV’s Spaced works because its genre-savvy director, Edgar Wright, and his co-writer and star Simon Pegg take both the horror and the comedy aspects seriously.
Slacker Shaun is so cut up about being dumped by his girlfriend he initially fails to notice North London is being overrun by the walking dead. Brimful of very British humour and packed with familiar faces (some of whom meet extremely gruesome fates), it’s the perfect balance of gags and gore.
Watch the Shaun of the Dead trailer
28 Weeks Later (2007)
28 Days Later shifted the goalposts by making the homicidal hordes a) fast sprinters, and b) not dead but infected by a rabies-like virus, leading to much quibbling as to whether they qualified as zombies at all. But I’m calling them zombies, and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s sequel is even scarier than its predecessor.
It begins with an act of extreme cowardice, and becomes steadily more intense as Jeremy Renner and his American-led NATO force struggle to secure their safe zone on the Isle of Dogs. Metaphor alert! But the pace is so frenetic there’s no time to dwell on it.
Read a review of 28 Weeks Later
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