Posted on Wednesday, February 10th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
If you think the zombie movie is dead, you’re not alone.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opened with a thud this past weekend. The shambling undead have become television fixtures thanks to AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has dominated the zombie conversation for so long that the genre has stopped feeling special. Countless new movies have been rightfully accused of repeatedly treading on familiar ground, riffing on a template that George Romero built with Night of the Living Dead decades ago and refusing to try anything truly new. For many, the mere thought of a new zombie movie sounds exhausting, boring.
But like all horror subgenres, a zombie movie is only as good and as unique as its makers are ambitious and clever. I’ve rounded up a group of zombie movies, some older and some new, that don’t play by the traditional rules. These are the movies that allow me to keep my faith in zombie movies alive and well, so consider these the antidote to everything else that has been frustrating you lately.
I have previously written a few words about Jeremy Gardner’s The Battery and I will happily do so again because this is one very special little movie. Set in the zombie apocalypse, the film follows two baseball players (yes, the title refers to that kind of battery) who were on the road and far from home when society collapsed. They’re not particularly good friends. They don’t like each other all that much. And they’re all they have in the world. And that’s the set-up for a meandering, funny, and frequently disturbing series of vignettes that showcase just how odd, boring, and surprisingly mundane life after the end of the world can be. There is no real plot here, just the story of two men whose relationship evolves as they’re forced into each other’s company. The shambling undead are just the backdrop for a tale of an improvised brotherhood – you can’t pick your family and you sure as hell can’t be picky about your only friend when the zombies rise.
Probably the most famous movie featured here, Dead Alive (also known as Braindead) still feels as fresh and unique as it did when it was released over twenty years ago, which is no small feat. Like Evil Dead 2, this is a film that has been relentlessly mimicked but rarely topped, a wild showcase for a side of director Peter Jackson that seems to have vanished into the abyss. This is a slapstick farce where the physical comedy frequently involves flesh being torn asunder and organs being forcibly removed from bodies. Jackson gives this zombie comedy the weight of a Saturday morning cartoon, but makes sure that silly, frivolous violence is about as gnarly as humanly possible. This is a downright wicked film, a deranged portrait of an odd dork and his very hungry zombie mother that sidesteps sweetness in favor of dark gags and endlessly clever violence. It’s a hoot, a reminder that the zombie genre remains infinitely malleable if a filmmaker is bold enough to push it in new directions.