Cult zombie films
In 1985, director Stuart Gordon made Re-Animator, a film of Herbert West: Reanimator, H.P. Lovecraft's virulent and misanthropic take on Frankenstein. It's a brilliant and funny classic and one of the best of all zombie flicks. After killing his Swiss mentor, medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) comes to Massachusetts to continue his work on creating a slime-green "reagent" that will bring the dead back to life. He never quite gets the reagent right, thus most of the re-animated are drooling, insane zombies. Re-Animator has plenty of blood and gallows humor (great lines include "Who will believe a talking head? Get a job in a freakshow"), an unforgettable visual pun on, ahem, giving head, Talking Heads posters in a med student's dorm room, and a truly brutal scene wherein Herbert puts a bone saw through the sternum of a misbehaving zombie.
Return of the Living Dead is a cult horror comedy distilled from what was initially to be a serious sequel to Night of The Living Dead. Originally to be directed by Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and produced by George Romero, Return fell into the capable hands of director and writer Dan O'Bannon (a writer on Alien, Lifeforce, and Total Recall). While UNEEDA Medical Supply employee Frank is explaining to his nephew that Night of the Living Dead was based on a true story, he ruptures a canister and releases reanimation gas into the atmosphere. The vapors spread to a nearby cemetery, where New Waver Tina (Beverly Hartley) and her punk friends (including scream queen Linnea Quigley, throwing herself with zeal into the role of Trash) are having a party. The cemetery comes alive and the punk rockers fight their way to a nearby funeral home. The remainder of the film feels like a zombiefied Assault on Precinct 13, with punks versus some very clever and colorful zombies - particularly the 'Tar Zombie', whose favorite utterance is "Braiiiiinnnns!" (Return probably started the inexplicable brain-eating theme in zombie movies.)
A decade before Peter Jackson wrapped up his Lord of the Rings trilogy, he directed Dead Alive (1992) - nothing short of one of the funniest and best zombie movies ever made. Protagonist Lionel finds salvation from an overbearing mother in the form of a new girlfriend, but is interrupted by a houseful of zombies. Coming to terms with his inner demons requires tearing out zombie innards. It's Jackson's comic timing that holds the film together. The film is teeming with grotesque zombie childbirth, heat-seeking intestines, and quality slapstick and gore scenes, one of which required the use of five gallons of fake blood per second.
Cemetery Man, aka Dellamorte Dellamore, (1994) is one of the more intelligent zombie movies out there, which, fortunately, doesn't prevent it from being sexy and funny. Directed by Michele Soavi (Stagefright, The Church, The Devil's Daughter), and based on the Italian horror comic strip "Dylan Dog," Cemetery Man stars Rupert Everett as Francesco Dellamorte, a man consigned to standing watch over a cemetery whose inhabitants just won't stay dead. Dellamorte is happily distracted from the drudgery of head-splitting by the arrival of a young widow (Italian model Anna Falchi) who croaks fairly early in the story - but don't worry, she'll be back. If you fancy gore, you can't ask for much more than the film's school bus/motorcycle gang collision.
In 1971, Amando de Ossorio wrote and directed Tombs of the Blind Dead, a beautifully costumed film about the Knights Templar (based on a real order), who bring back the secret of immortality from Egypt and become the most original and creepiest zombies to grace the silver screen. In Attack of the Blind Dead (a.k.a. Return of the Evil Dead), the knights emerge from their graves 500 years after being burned by an angry mob, mount undead horses, and crash their hometown's anniversary party. Be warned that the English subtitles are quite bad, so if you understand Spanish it's worth forgoing the dubs and ignoring the subs. Ossorio's third and fourth installments - Horror of the Zombies (aka: El Buque Maldito, translation: 'The Damned Ship', 1974) and The Night of the Seagulls (aka: La Noche de las Gaviotas, 1975) - have the Knights Templar taking to the sea.
If you like atmospheric horror flicks, and George Romero's The Crazies, crucifixions, violent decapitations, oozing, pus-filled sores, severed heads being carried about, a demented farmer plunging a pitchfork into the exposed chest of his adult daughter, and show-stopping full-frontal nude scenes featuring gorgeous French ex-porn stars (like Brigitte Lahaie) - then Jean Rollin's The Grapes of Death (1978) is for you. Meanwhile, Jorge Grau's Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (a.k.a. Zombi 3; 1974) has a pro-organic bent: A sonic machine designed to help crops by eradicating insects ends up raising the dead as well.
Director Don Coscarelli brought the zombie back to its traditional slave role with Phantasm (1979), in which an alien undertaker crushes down the bodies of the dead in his other dimension's extreme gravity, reanimates them and enslaves them. And horror master Wes Craven created an underground gem with The Serpent and the Rainbow in 1988, in which a Harvard anthropologist's (Bill Pullman) interests lie in consciousness-altering substances. He travels to Haiti at the behest of a pharmaceutical company to secure a powder that can place people into a state of simulated death, only to find himself eventually uttering the memorable line, "Don't let them bury me! I'm not dead!"
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