Shamblers are the classic ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ style zombies – slow, not very smart, and hardly lethal if you get caught out by them. These types of zombies can usually be outsmarted with speed and cunning. You should be more worried about hordes and other survivors when dealing with ‘Shamblers!’
OG Tough Guys andDumb But Cute Would-Be Thugs Fight the Undead
Movie / Outrbrea / Underrated
Cockneys vs. Zombies offers a truly ridiculous premise: a group of young Cockney toughs are simply trying to rob a bank, no big deal, when, bam, here comes the zombie apocalypse. They fight off the walkers with some understandable difficulty – I mean, there are not the sharpest bulbs in the basket -- but eventually, they get the job done – or they survive at least -- and somehow end up at an old folks’ home that’s populated by aging Cockney toughs from two generations back… and damn, can those old folks kick ass. It’s only a matter of minutes before the oldsters – the literal OG’s – are taking charge and beating back the horde of the hungry dead.
There’s absolutely no reason this should be as funny, engaging, and even exciting as it is. But it is. There’s a mad exuberance about old folks blasting away at the shamblers while the hapless younger generation barely keeps up. Much of it has to do with the performances of some great tough-type character actors from long ago – Alan Ford (who you will recognize immediately as playing the Cockney Tough guy since the 1960’s about 200 times -- Snatch, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, etc.) and Honor Blackman (yes, the GoldfingerBond Girl and The Avengers‘ Mrs. Peel before there was a Mrs. Peel), not to mention Harry Treadawayas the only young’un with half a brain. Treadaway went on to distinguish himself as Dr. Frankenstein inPenny Dreadful, as Brady Hartsfield inMr. Mercedes, and most recently as Narek in Picard.
You might have skipped this as another one of the Stripper vs. Zombies or Bigfoot vs Zombies low-budget throwaways, but in fact, this is a surprisingly well-made and just plain fun addition to your zombie collection. Or another great surprise for the zomfan who’s missed it for years.
Evil Dead 2: Reinvigorating the Genre with a Crazy-Mad Variation
Movie / Fast Zombies / Essential
Evil Dead 2 can be found on almost any list of the Top Ten Zombie Movies of All Time. And though a case can be made that Evil Dead and its sequels and spin-offs aren’t really, technically, “zombie movies” at all, one thing is certain: the entire franchise is a major milestone in the genre, a rare instance where the sequel is actually stronger than the original film, and where we can find the premiere of one of horror’s most memorable characters and most durable actors, the launching of a director who’s still making movie history forty years later, and the source of horror’s most powerful and classic tropes. Not bad for one crappy little horror flick.
Let’s start, logically enough, at the beginning:Evil Dead. Conceived and filmed in the late 1970’s and released in 1981, Evil Dead came from modest – very modest – beginnings, but displayed all the building blocks of greatness from Act 1, Scene 1. DirectorSam Raimi, along with aspiring actor Bruce Campbell and producer Robert Tapert, came up with the idea of a bunch of hapless college-age kids going to a run-down cabin in the woods for a fun-filled weekend, only to discover an unholy book – the legendary Necronomicon. They’re dumb enough (of course) to read from it, and resurrect (or create) zombies, ot at least zombie-like, creatures they come to call “deadites” -- reanimated dead folk with violently evil new personae that take endless pleasure in tormenting, torturing, and ultimately killing any human in sight. They’re not straight-up Romero zombies, no,; they speak (or spit-speak), move fast, and think way too clearly about all the wrong things… but they’re not exactly demons from hell or simply living people who’ve become possessed, either. They’re deadites, damn it, unexplained and perhaps inexplicable hybrids that make perfect sense by making no sense at all from the very beginning.
Evil Dead cost something around $375,000 to make and returned a handsome 500% profit to its original investors. But things really took off, cine-cult-wise, with Evil Dead 2, released in 1983. 2 started in the same place, with more ‘cabin in the woods’ nonsense, but now Campbell’s increasingly deranged character Ash Williams would take center stage, and many of the artifacts that are best loved and remembered about the franchise come from this second movie in the series, including Ash’s hand becoming possessed and then detached, only to be replaced by a chain saw. And face it: any movie that shows your deceased girlfriend dancing naked in the moonlight until her head falls off, or a whole race of crazed warriors tearing the cabin to splinters all around you – well, that’s pretty much your basic “horror classic” right there.
(It’s worth noting here that Evil Dead basically invented the “cabin in the woods” trope. It’s hard to find anything before that first film that begins with the basic premise of ‘kids go to a cabin and get killed a lot;” it’s equally difficult to get an accurate count of just how many horror movies using this same premise came after Evil Dead, though it’s rarely credited as the First and Best.)
Evil Dead 2 became the real classic, and holds up remarkably well today. And even that was only the beginning. Army of Darkness (1993), a dizzying tour de force of action, horror, violence, and funny jokes took Ash and his boom stick to an absurd version of the Middle Ages to fight yet another invasion of deadites, only to return him rather unceremoniously to his job as a middle manager at S-Mart (“Be Smart! Shop S-Mart!” in the final reel. And though the franchise took a long pause at that point, the real damage to American pop culture was still to come.
Fully thirty years after the first films premiered, an entirely new version of Evil Dead (2013) appeared, a remake (of sorts), produced by Raimi and Campbell and Tapert (among others) but co-written and directed by relative newcomer Fede Alvarez, recruited from his native Uruguay after his pretty remarkable short on Giant Robots destroying Montevideo (you can see it on YouTubehere. )This version featured Mia, a whole new central character with problems of her own, played powerfully by Jane Levy. It did well, as it deserved to, but people missed the madness and humor of Ash and his version of the deadites. And that led, not long after, to three seasons of Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015-1018). Original appearing on Starz, the series starred a happily aging Campbell as a not-so-happily-aging Ash and a wild crew of friends and enemies, including the impossibly still aliveLee Majors, now in his 80s, as his father, an early appearance of Samara Weavingas a recurring character in Season One, and the legendaryLucy Lawless, Xena Warrior Princessherself, as a formidable frenemy (and also, not so coincidenally, the wife of long-time producer Robert Tapert.)
And still Evil Dead will not die. In 2023, a new film, more of a deadite spin-off than a sequel, has arrived: Evil Dead Rise, which introduces a new set of characters in a brand-new urban setting. Raimi didn’t direct and Campbell didn’t appear, but both were highly involved and served as producers, and Rise has done so well that there’s already talk of a sequel in the near future.
And even more: Campbell made an announcement as Rise was rising that he was getting a little too old and tired to continue playing Ash, but (maybe because of the success of the new film) he’s recently re-opened the door to Ash-centric sequels. There is also talk of possible sequel to the 1983 version centering on the Mia character, as well as more films following characters and storylines from Rise. At last report, the Raimi/Campbell/Tapert team say they are thinking of a new Evil Dead movie from one or more of the storylines every two or three years rather than every two or three decades.
And as if that wasn’t enough… there’s the multimedia. Army of Darkness generated a wild-ass monthly comic for a while, both adaptations and new stories, written by none other than Walking Dead creator RobertKirkman. They’re all still widely available in comics shops, bookstores, and online. And the truly legendary artist John Bolton and comics veteran Mark Verheiden crafted an extraordinarily beautiful and disturbing graphic novel of Evil Dead 2, available in a 40th Anniversary Edition both digitally and in a fancy-pants hardcover edition.
And Good God, the merch. T-shirts, posters, action figures, throw pillows, blankets – the list is long and growing daily, like the deadite horde itself. Some of the coolest can be found at The Creepy Company, but an even wider array is only one or two Google clicks away.
When people think of Evil Dead, they often think more about the sequel, or the original movie, or maybe Army of Darkness, than they think about the rather massive franchise it’s generated for almost fifty years – fifty years. With so much good Dead stuff already available, and so much more to come, the weird and wild work of Raimi, Campbell and Co. deserve to stand right up there with the equally influential work of Danny Boyle, Robert Kirkman, and even Romero himself. And still, still, it rises ...
Call of Duty: When All You Want To Do Is Kill Zombies. A LOT of Zombies.
Video Game / First Person Shooter
One of the great attractions of the zombie apocalypse is – well, shooting things. You can guiltlessly take potshots at vaguely human-shaped figures, blow them to smithereens, and never be bothered with technicalities like murder in cold blood or assault with a deadly weapon. And we admit it, there are days – sometimes multiple days – when that’s simply glorious.
From the best first-person shooter game franchise in the biz.
Sure, there are plenty of other CoD modules that don’t feature the reanimated, but … why bother? Go for the gold – the suppurating, shambling, teeth-chattered gold, man. ‘Cause when it comes to just blowin’ up the walkers real good, you can’t do better than Call of Duty.
If that’s your thing, or you know a gamer who just loves this kinda stuff, you can’t go wrong.
A Gearpunk Alternative History,with Zombies
Book (Series) / Long After the Outbreak / Underrated
Zombies aren’t limited to a single timeline...and terrific authors like Cherie Priest can make them horribly real in any reality.
TakeBoneshaker’s world, for instance. In this universe, in the early days of the Civil War, an inventor named Leviticus Blue (Priest always comes up with the coolest character names) creates a huge machine that can drill right through the Alaska permafrost and bring gold up to the surface of the Klondike… except the Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill hits a cavern filled with very bad gas that blasts a crater into the middle of Seattle and transforms much of the populace into “rotters” (yet another cool name for zombies. We have to make a list someday). The government, in its wisdom, solves the problem by building a wall around the devastated city and abandoning it. But that doesn’t mean it disappears.
Cut to sixteen years later, as Priest relates the adventures of the heroes, villains, and monsters who scrape out a living in the remains of Seattle – outside the wall and occasionally inside the wall. The story is filled with great speculative history, action, awesome devices, and some of the smartest and most admirable female characters in zomfic. It may be the first, and one of the best, examples of steampunk fiction – and maybe the only zombie steampunk fiction around.
Best of all,Boneshakeris only the first of Priest’s five-book series,The Clockwork Century, and every one of them is better than the last. And this first book – all of them, actually – also has one of the coolest covers around.
Come on. Zombies and dirigibles. What more could you want?
Native Americans vs. Zombies in a Grim, Effective Film
Movie / Post-Apocalypse / Underrated
With so many low-budget zombie movies sneaking in through streaming services or film festivals, it’s easy to miss unexpected quality and creativity when it appears. Here’s an example.
Blood Quantum (sorry, kind of an awful and pretty much inexplicable name) has your standard virus-based flesh-eaters, and the opening scenes that establish it are deceptively familiar. But the truly intriguing part comes after a timeshift, as we focus on the stories that rotate around the effect of the zombie apocalypse on the First Nations and an already devastated Mi’kmaq reservation – a reservation that survives because Native Americans seem to be immune to the zombie virus, maybe because of their connection to the Earth itself.
Virtually all the principle players here are Native Americans, and many of them came from and went on to fascinating careers. Elle-Maija Tailfeathersis a multi-award-winning actor, writer, producer and director; her co-star Michael Greyeyes paid his zombie-dues in multiple episodes of Fear the Walking Dead,showed up after Blood Quantum, in the not-wonderful V Wars, and was excellent in the underrated mystery series Home Before Dark. He also has the dubious distinction of playing Rainbird in the otherwise awful remake if Firestarterin 2022. No George C. Scott, maybe, but at least the part was played, more than passably well, by an actual member of the First Nations as Stephen King meant it to be. The writer and director, Jeff Barnaby, is a member of the Mi’kmaq himself, and continues his work on projects based on the realities and fantasies of native Americans, past present and future.
It’s a bleak and brutal plot and worldview, but not without good reason, and probably one of the best – and most overlooked – ‘serious’ zombie movies of the decade.