Alive And Kicking: "Fresh" Zombie Movies That Will Resurrect Your Faith In The Undead

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.

the battery

The Battery

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.

dead alive

Dead Alive

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.



The world of Fido is bizarre and kind of brilliant. Set in an alternate 1950s where a zombie plague nearly destroyed mankind, humanity has rebuilt civilization and now lives in walled-off communities to protect themselves from the remaining hordes of the undead that still cover much of the world. And within these cheery, Leave It to Beaver-flavored communities, fancy new collars that can curb the appetite of the undead have been invented. And you know what that means: zombie servants. Fido is essentially a story of a boy and his dog, except that the dog is the boy's household zombie slave and their ensuing adventure has consequences that are a little more grave than a kid falling down a well. This is a slight film, but it's certainly a clever one, utilizing its vaguely science fiction premise to build an entirely unique world that subverts '50s Americana through good ol' fashioned throat ripping and disemboweling.

juan of the dead

Juan of the Dead

Don't let the title fool you. While director Alejandro Brugués was obviously inspired by Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, his film is no mere rip-off. As far as goofy horror comedies go, Juan of the Dead feels strangely personal – it only could have emerged from a specific voice working out of a specific nation. That nation is Cuba and Brugués isn't shy about exploring what makes his home country tick, even when his characters are smashing the undead over the head and running for their lives and generally being borderline incompetent slackers who scrape through the zombie apocalypse through pure luck. The satire is a little obvious (the Cuban government declares the waves of the undead to be political dissidents), but it's balanced by the love that Brugués and his characters have for their beloved, albeit troubled, country. Even when things are seemingly beyond repair, when society is crumbling and your place in the social order is unknown, your home is worth fighting for.



There will be some people who will argue that Pontypool isn't a zombie movie, that the "infected" at the center of the film aren't dead and therefore can't be zombies. And I'll just say this much: it's close enough, and to skip out on this fresh and freaky and crafty movie because it's a not a literal zombie movie would be a big mistake. Directed by Bruce McDonald and written by Tony Burgess (from his own novel), the film takes place almost entirely in a radio studio and follows a washed-up shock jock (an incredible Stephen McHattie) and his harried producer (the equally strong Lisa Houle) as they slowly realize that civilization is falling down outside thanks to a bizarre plague. As they continue reporting about horrors that can only be described to them by callers, the nature of the disease that is turning people into violent monsters is unveiled and it's one of the more unique and unsettling concepts to ever grace a horror movie. Pontypool is claustrophobic and tense, but it's really about the nature of communication and the power of words. Language, like society itself, is a human construct and both are surprisingly fragile in Pontypool.



On paper, Rammbock sounds like just another zombie movie. In execution, it's a surprisingly fresh experience. The set-up is certainly familiar: a man visits his ex-girlfriend's apartment to return her set of keys just as a bizarre viral outbreak transforms the population of Berlin into bloodthirsty zombies. Chaos ensues. However, director Marvin Kren knows that you've seen this setting before and he chooses to not waste a single second of your time. Rammbock is a scant 54 minutes long and it's all the better for it. This story flies, never pausing too long for cliches and never lingering on anything that will give it any fat whatsoever. Set almost entirely within the confines of a single apartment complex, it's a straightforward chase movie that gets in and gets out at remarkable speed. And yet Kren never lets the film feel rushed or even short. There is enough going on in Rammbock to make you question the bloated running times of most other movies. Rather than artificially inflate the length to a more "proper" 85 minutes or so, this film is happy to exist, to give you the pleasures of a zombie movie without making you wait through everything you've seen before.

rec 2

Rec and Rec 2

If I was asked to make a shortlist of the scariest movies ever made, Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza's Rec would sit somewhere near the top. It's one of the best "found footage" movies ever made, using this format to place you directly in the action, to make you feel like a participant in a series of horrifying events. Think of it as a haunted house simulator – you watch through a first-person perspective as awful things transpire in front of you and monsters chase you through darkened hallways. And as great as the first Rec is, it feels like a well-made and utterly terrifying riff on 28 Days Later for its first hour or so. It's frightening and visceral, but you've seen it before. It's only in the final stretch that clues about the origin of the disease that has been transforming ordinary people into flesh-eating monstrosities start to trickle out. Unlike the American remake, Quarantine, which doubled down on these zombies being the creation of science, Rec nudges this genre into the realm of the supernatural in a brave and intriguing way. The sequel, Rec 2, literally picks up 15 minutes after the end of the first movie and runs with these strange revelations. The follow-up isn't quite as scary as the first movie, but it's more action-packed and traditionally thrilling, an ideal vehicle to explore the mysteries of part one from a different angle.