Like heavy metal, zombie films are visceral, confrontational, and the furthest thing from subtle. Most cannibal corpse flickers are gleefully gory, with scattered gray matter commingling with exposed intestines and the occasional bit of bone. While the true forefathers of the genre, like 1932's White Zombie, 1943's I Walked with a Zombie, and 1968's Night of the Living Dead, are mostly atmospheric and contain next to no blood or gristle, the zombie films of the golden era (roughly 1978 to 1985) can be hard to stomach. Well, that is if you're a ninny, which I know you're not. You're a metalhead, right? The only complaint you should have is that the following ten films aren't gory enough.
Before getting started, I want to lay down a few disclaimers. At times, I might be a little fast and loose with what constitutes a "zombie." Yes, for the most part, the following ten films are about the walking, the shambling, and the slouching dead. The occasional zombie on a motorcycle or golf cart may appear, as well. However, for the purposes of this list, I will include those on-screen beasties that act like zombies without being called "zombies" specifically. I can already see your enraged comments now.
Second, this list will be merely that – a list. The films will not be ranked based on merit or quality. Fear not; if your favorite zombie movie comes in at number ten, don't take it as an insult. Numerical placement means little.
So, with that out of the way, let's eat.
10. Re-Animator (1985)
H.P. Lovecraft, the man responsible for writing the 1922 novella "Herbert West, Reanimator," did not think too highly of his own creation. Written purely to make five dollars per each serialization, "Herbert West, Reanimator" is usually regarded as one of Lovecraft's lesser lights. But, in director Stuart Gordon's hands, Lovecraft's cynical take on the Frankenstein story was turned into a comedy-horror masterpiece that is so eighties that it craps Gorbachevs while listening to Oingo Boingo. Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, and screenwriters William J. Norris and Dennis Paoli decided to do away with Lovecraft's arcane language and holdover gothicism in favor of slapstick schlock. Played brilliantly by Jeffrey Combs, Herbert West in Re-Animator is the perfect mixture of dweeb and demon. Armed with syringes containing a bright green serum that has the power to "reanimate" the recently dead, West is the great zombie king (and extreme metal inspiration) of Re-Animator.
West's main rival, Dr. Carl Hill (played by David Gale), is equally creepy as the lecherous cadaver who thinks longingly about the beautiful Megan Halsey (played by the still very hot Barbara Crampton). The scene wherein Hill's detached head performs cunninlingus on a terrified Halsey is reason enough to watch this movie.
Musical accompaniment: Rigor Mortis, "Re-Animator"
9. The Evil Dead (1981)
While 1987's Evil Dead II is the superior film, The Evil Dead earns a spot on this list because of its seriousness and its serious gore. The infamous pencil scene still makes what my grandmother affectionally calls "piss shivers" run up my spine. While the monsters in this low-budget classic are called "demons" throughout the film (Kandarian or Candarian demons to be exact), their lust for blood and their ugly visages make them more zombie-like than not. Besides, when was the last time you heard The Evil Dead lumped in with demon-themed movies like The Omen, Rosemary's Baby, or Angel Heart? Never. Why? Because Sam Raimi's gruesome little feature has all the hallmarks of a great zombie epic: gore, bile, power tools, and scenes of gratuitous violence.
Musical accompaniment: Death, "Evil Dead"
8. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)
Also known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, this Spanish-Italian horror film is peak '70s trash cinema. Set in the Lake District of northwest England, The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue follows a surly hippie (Ray Lovelock) and a sheepish acquaintance (Cristina Galbó) as the try and stop the Department of Agriculture from creating new zombies via their ultra-sonic radiation machine. While the government believes that their latest invention will help farmers to kill pests more efficiently, the machine is actually some sort of corpse aphrodisiac that forces them to rise all over. While The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue has absolutely nothing to do with Manchester, it is a film that is all about the counterculture sticking it to "The Man." The film's figure of authority, a rural police sergeant (played by Arthur Kennedy) who never misses an opportunity to slam the younger generation as a bunch of anarchists in "faggot clothes," gets his bloody comeuppance at the end. If you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and veg out to The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue.
Musical Accompaniment: Electric Wizard, "The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue"
7. City of the Living Dead (1980)
Italian director Lucio Fulci was a big fan of cruelty. More specifically, the maestro was heavily influenced by French dramatist Antonin Artaud's Theatre of Cruelty. Artaud and Fulci both believed in deemphasizing coherent and cohesive narratives in favor of shocking images. As a result, most of Fulci's films are unintelligible. This is especially true in the case of City of the Living Dead, which is the first installment of the director's semi-official "Gates of Hell" trilogy. Set in Dunwich (yes, the very same Dunwich created by Lovecraft), City of the Living Dead is more or less about how one priests's suicide opens a portal to the underworld. Once opened, zombies pour forth and try to capture the entire world. The only force opposing them are a New York clairvoyant (played by Katriona MacColl) and a journalist (played by Christopher George). We all know they're doomed from start, but that's not important. What's important in City of the Living Dead are the many revolting images that Fulci forces us to watch.
Musical accompaniment: Necrophagia, "Embalmed, Yet I Breathe"
6. The Beyond (1981)
Even weirder than City of the Living Dead, Fulci's The Beyond concerns the legacy of a man named Schweick. Killed by a Louisiana lynch mob in 1927 for the crime of wizardry, Schweick's practices in the occult (to say nothing of his study of the Book of Eibon, which just so happens to be yet another one of Lovecraft's literary inventions) helped to unlock one of the Seven Doors of Death. Decades later, when a New Yorker named Liza (played by Katriona MacColl) decides to reopen the very same hotel that served as Schweick's last known residence, all hell literally breaks loose. Again, The Beyond is more about gore than storytelling. At once Fulci's most surreal, yet commercially viable film (I dare you to watch the shootout in the hospital and not immediately think of The House of the Dead), The Beyond is the pinnacle of extreme horror.
Musical Accompaniment: Six Feet Under, "Revenge of the Zombie"
5. The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Written and directed by the very same Dan O'Bannon who wrote the screenplay for 1979's Alien, The Return of the Living Dead supposedly picks up where Night of the Living Dead left off. After a pair of warehouse workers unwittingly unleash noxious vapors from a US Army tank housing one of the original zombies from Pennsylvania, the dead begin to rise once again. The workers get sick, then the undead miasma seeps into an old cemetery. Inside the gates, the only punks in all of Louisville, Kentucky are busy partying without their clothes on. Before long the punks have to find shelter in a mortuary run by one Ernie Kaltenbrunner (played by Don Calfa), a human ghoul who not only rocks a German-made Walther P38 on his person, but who also happens to share the same name as an Austrian-born Nazi.
As things always go in zombie films, the punks and the old folks are picked off one by one. Paramedics are especially targeted by the film's fast and intelligent zombies. Ultimately, humanity can't win. If you burn these zombies, the smoke drifts into the soil, thereby reaching those buried under the earth. If you nuke these zombies, the combined gases from their corpses cause a type of acid rain that wakes up even more dead. "Abandon all hope, ye who enter."
Musical accompaniment: 45 Grave, "Partytime"
4. Braindead (1992)
Before making movies about little people from Cornwall with hairy feet, Peter Jackson gave the world Braindead (also known as Dead Alive). One part dark comedy and one part extra gross zombie movie, Braindead is all fluid and no filler. The film's everyman hero, Lionel Cosgrove (played by Timothy Balme), is also the film's unfortunate accomplice in all the mayhem. You see, the henpecked Lionel just so happens to be the proud owner of a Sumatran Rat-Monkey from Skull Island. When his monkey goes ape shit and bites Vera (Elizabeth Moody), Lionel's domineering mother, the infection spreads. Before long, most of New Zealand is covered in zombies carrying crazy monkey DNA. The only way to defeat such a menace is to tap into your inner suburban dad and grab the nearest lawnmower.
Although not a terribly scary film, Braindead is ridiculous, campy, and probably the wettest piece of celluloid this side of anything that begins with the words "Backdoor."
Musical accompaniment: Brain Dead, "From the Ecstasy"
3. Demons (1985)
Don't let the name fool you – Demons is a zombie movie. Directed by Lamberto Bava, the son of the famous auteur Mario Bava, Demons exploits a terror that we all have experienced at one point or another. Because they are dark and full of strangers, movie theaters have a natural disquiet about them. Now add to this mix a horde of bloodthirsty zombies, and you have the basic plot outline of Demons. As with most Italian horror movies, Demons doesn't make a whole lot of sense. As best as I can guess, the whole plague starts because some dumb prostitute nicks her face on a demon mask that is somehow connected to the tomb of Nostradamus. Whatever the reason, the zombies show up and destroy the theater and its patrons. Only a few people manage to survive. The coolest of them all, George (played by Urbano Barberini), spends a few glorious minutes attacking the zombies with a samurai sword while sitting on top of a dirt bike.
Musical accompaniment: Accept, "Fast as a Shark"
2. Zombi 2 (1979)
Lucio Fulci's most famous film, Zombi 2 was supposed to be the Italian (and completely unauthorized) sequel to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Somehow this was supposed work even though the films have nothing in common. While Romero's classic takes place in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and has nothing to do with voodoo, Fulci's film begins in New York and ends on the fictional island of Matul. Unlike his later efforts, Zombi 2 (also known as Zombie) has a somewhat comprehensible plot. After her father's boat winds up in New York Harbor with a zombie onboard, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow) joins forces with a British reporter named Peter West (played by Ian McCulloch) and the pair travel to Matul in order to get the skinny on all the undead hubbub. Along the way, the pair meet up with a couple who dislike clothes and love scuba diving. This is the foursome that meets Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), Matul's resident physician and the only man willing to investigate the true power of voodoo. Like all good zombie flicks, Zombi 2 contains head shots and gore galore. It also contains two of the most infamous sequences in all of horror cinema: the shark vs. zombie fight and eye vs. splinter fiasco.
Musical accompaniment: Cannibal Corpse, "Pit of Zombies"
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
For years, Dawn of the Dead was the most violent American film in history. Chalk full of evisceration, mutilation, and more death than an atomic holocaust, Dawn of the Dead is the Citizen Kane of zombie movies. Egghead intellectuals love it because of its critique of consumerism, especially its send-up of that class of "mall zombies" who keep coming back to shop, in life and in death. Metalheads enjoy it for simpler reasons. 1) It's a damn good story, 2) it has zombies, and 3) it's a damn good story with zombies, guns, and helicopters. What more could a person with a closet full of black t-shirts ask for?
Musical accompaniment: Mortician, "Zombie Apocalypse"