I am a horror fan. I love the genre like no other and as a horror fan I have learned that there are two certainties we must deal with. 1. If a horror movie is beloved and considered a classic, it’ll undoubtedly be remade at some point. 2. Most of these remakes are sub-par at best. As a fan, I generally don’t like or understand – like most fans – the idea of something that is so beloved and in most cases time specific and remaking it while adding nothing new to the source material. I also, as a fan understand the importance of these remakes. More often than not they make a good chunk of change and shine a light on the oft-maligned horror genre and open the door for other films to be made. It’s a double-edged, blood-soaked sword. I bring this up because as we sit on the eve of yet another Day of the Dead remake, which would be the third in my book, preceded by the dreadful Day of the Dead 2: Contagium and the unwatchable Nick Cannon, Mena Suvari version, we here at Gruesome Magazine thought that now would be a good time to examine some of the greatest moments of zombie past, specifically those set in the Romero universe. So here are ten gore-soaked, slow shambling, gruesome ghoul of examples to sate your appetite.
10) “Zombie on horseback” from Survival of the Dead (2009)
Oh Survival of the Dead, or as I like to think of as Hatfields and McCoys with some zombies. While I will be the first to admit that this is a heavily flawed movie with not many stand out scenes, there is one angle or plot device that I particularly found haunting. That is the character of Jane played by the lovely Kathleen Munroe. Jane is a zombie that is constantly riding around our secluded island location on horseback as it was her favorite thing to do in life. Not only is the image beautiful and tragic, it also sets up much of the conflict that is happening between the two families. It is as scary as can be when you think about it. Not only does she want to eat you, she can get to you much faster than you can run away from her. Terrifying, Beautiful and just something new.
9) “Zombie pie party” from Dawn of the Dead (1978)
There is a reason for this. Bare with me here. Dawn of the Dead has several amazing scenes and moments, many of which will be featured near the top of this list, but the reason I chose this is very simple. The sheer lack of respect and fear of our ghouls. Our main location gets set upon and invaded by an army of bikers who immediately ransack and destroy with no regard or care for the undead inhabiting the mall. They literally throw cream pies into the faces of the zombies all while laughing and carrying on jovially. For all their carelessness and blase attitude they are rewarded with disembowelments and all the other awesome deaths and dismemberment we come to expect from zombies. Lack of respect will always lead to trouble.
8) “A stroll in the lake” from Land of the Dead (2005)
We’ve seen zombies in water, specifically in the Fulci classic “Zombie”, but I’d argue that we’ve never seen them like this. Our zombie horde has been slowly advancing towards one of, if not the last human occupied city in the U.S. Relentless in their pursuit of a warm meal, nothing will stop them. Not even a giant body of water that the humans believe is an unbeatable security measure. Our horde dives right in, slowly moving across the waterbed floor with one goal. Re-emerge on the opposite side and claim their dinner. There is no stopping this army of the undead. There is no precaution they cannot overcome with their sheer numbers and dedication and when they surface from the fog and steam covered waters, you truly lose all hope for the humans awaiting their death. Awesome.
7) “And in they come” from Day of the Dead (1985)
Much like the previous entry on this list, this shows what would happen were a large group of the damned get through to a group of humans, decimation. After a sort of mutiny takes place between our group of survivors holed up in an underground bunker, one of the wounded soldiers sort of says “screw you” to all of them and decides that he’s gonna to sacrifice himself to let the dead in. He takes a sort of elevator to the service and lets it fill up with zombies all the while they are munching and gnawing and ripping him to shreds. Once it’s completely overrun with the dead, he pushes the descend button, spilling them into the bunker with horrifying and graphic results. The aftermath of this scene holds some of the best zombie kills in the history of the genre.
6) “Not just for gardening” from Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Having seen the remake of this film first as a youngun, I was not expecting the garden trowel scene. In the remake, Helen Cooper is simply killed by her daughter Karen taking a huge bite out of her neck, cut to blood spray. So upon watching the original fairly soon afterwards, It was a huge surprise to see it go down a different way. The sheer violence implied makes it a much more disturbing death for Mrs. Cooper. Not only is it her own flesh and blood stabbing her to death, she’s also, well, BEING STABBED TO DEATH! Every puncture is felt and to be only followed up by another at the hands of the person you spent the last remaining moments of your life trying to protect, disturbing to say the least.
5) “Basement frenzy” from Dawn of the Dead (1978)
We all remember how this movie starts out. Police storm an apartment building and mow down gang members as well as zombies. The Afro zombie neck bite in particular deserves a mention. What seems to be oft forgotten is when a small group of SWAT members make their way into the basement of the tenement. What lies in wait is a virtual room of horrors that is quite a sight to behold. Zombies fill every corner of a fenced in area and are clearly being fed the remains of the once living. Seemingly being cared for by a one-legged priest, they are all quickly dispatched by our heroes who all display a genuine look of horror on their faces due to the atrocities they’ve just witnessed.
4) “He’s still coming to get you, Barbara” from Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Poor, poor Barbara. Not only is she assaulted by the first Romero zombie ever put on screen, she also has to watch her antagonistic brother Johnny bite the dust. Before his untimely demise, Johnny spends a good 5 minutes teasing his already afraid sister. In this bullying Johnny delivers arguably the most famous line to come from the sub-genre, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” and boy, were truer words ever spoken? After Barbara goes through all of this and is basically catatonic due to fear, she somehow survives most of the nights onslaught only to be greeted by a familiar leather driving glove gripping the door frame of her newly compromised haven. Johnny has returned, and he wants his sister.
3) “Flyboy” from Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Ah, David Emge as Stephen. He is such an unbelievable pain in the ass that you almost can’t wait for the inevitable to happen and when it does, you are treated with in my opinion the second greatest zombie portrayal in the history of cinema. When trying to escape through an elevator Stephen gets torn up and all sorts of bitten by our blue-hued ghouls. What emerges when the doors reopen is a sight to behold. Stephen, now also blue, has become slack-jawed and almost appears to be in the opening stages of rigor mortis with stiff appendages and a sort of pained expression on his face. He shambles out with all the life gone from his eyes replaced by only an unholy need to kill and to feed.
2) “Flashlight buffet of gore” from Land of the Dead (2005)
In an interview, George Romero stated that the boathouse zombie massacre from this film is what he envisioned as a modern take on the basement scene from Dawn of the Dead. Well, that’s a hard scene to top and he does it here in spades. Tongues are ripped out of mouths, intestines split and shared between ghouls and all sorts of limbs and viscera gnashed on. The reason this scene works as wonderfully as it does is because it’s lit only by flashlight. Instead of any of these scenes overstaying their welcome we are treated to quick glimpses illuminated quite sparsely and only as our characters see them. The implication of what you may not be seeing or the “did I just see what I think I saw?” aspect of this scene firmly cements it as one of the greatest zombie scenes put to celluloid second only to one.
1) “Salute” from Day of the Dead (1985)
Not only is this my favorite scene from ANY zombie film, it also contains what is the greatest portrayal of a zombie, period. Bub isn’t like any other zombie we’ve been given before. Not only does he seem to remember things from his previous life, he also seems to be learning new things. Throughout the film Bub develops almost a father, son type relationship with the doctor training him and when this doctor is shot down by the villain of the film, Bub makes it his personal mission to hunt down the man responsible. Armed with an army issue 1911 handgun, Bub corners his prey in a hallway and shoots him several times weakening him to the point that he can’t defend himself against a barrage of zombies at the opposite end of the hall. As the villain is literally ripped apart and eaten, Bub offers him a salute, a final “eff you” to the man. Perfection.