If I only had a brain 

A field guide to movie zombies

28 Days Later (2002; dir. Danny Boyle)
Zombie habitat: Great Britain ravaged by a viral epidemic
Cause of zombiehood: The “rage” virus, which escapes from a laboratory liberated by animal rights activists
Zombiehood transmissible: Yes
Notes: Bicycle courier Jim wakes up after days or weeks in a coma and finds London completely abandoned except for a few zombies gnawing on piles of bodies in a church. He is rescued by a group of survivors waving cudgels and throwing petrol bombs, and they all report to an army checkpoint that turns out to be a rape camp. Grim stuff, but a pretty good movie. Unlike most movie zombies, who stagger around groaning and clawing at thin air, these zombies go after their victims at a dead sprint. People who saw this in the theater and left when the credits started rolling missed the unhappy alternate ending, appended afterward.

Action Zombie (1993; dir. Max Vol)
Habitat: Gravel lots and community youth centers
Cause: Radioactive contamination
Transmissible: Maybe
Notes: Zombies manipulated by a sinister priest do battle with psychedelic “rebels” who pass time at their hideout by eating magic mushrooms and listening to Gong records. Plastic bags full of incredibly fake-looking blood are clearly visible whenever a zombie gets run through or a limb hacked off by the rebels’ wooden swords and garden shovels. A sequel, Reborn Undead, is just as ridiculous, with many “location” shots just scenic postcards filmed in close-up. Plus musical numbers!

Bio Zombie (1998; dir. Wilson Yip)
Habitat: Hong Kong shopping malls
Cause: Accidental ingestion of soft drink tainted with biological warfare agent
Transmissible: Yes
Notes: Two young video shop employees, Woody Invincible and Crazy Bee, accidentally run down a zombie infected by the aforementioned bio-agent while retrieving their boss’s car from the shop. The corpse later escapes from the trunk, and by the time the mall is locked and gated up for the evening, the subterranean complex is crawling with zombies and a small group of bickering employees trapped inside must fight or perish. Whacking good entertainment. Woody Invincible is the best name for a movie character ever.

Chopper Chicks in Zombietown (1989; dir. Dan Hoskins)
Habitat: Zariah, Calif., population 128 and falling rapidly.
Cause: Blue serum injected by meshuggah scientist
Transmissible: No
Notes: A D-plus B-movie—kind of like The Seven Samurai, only with female bikers and really, really crappy. The Cycle Sluts swarm into tiny, sunbaked Zariah looking for good times and companionship (“I bet Lucile got herself some real good coitus!” crows the one who looks like Army Guy from the Village People) but fall afoul of the area mad scientist, who has been turning local townsfolk into zombies to work in an abandoned mine a few miles out of town. Distributed, sensibly enough, by Troma, the schlockmeisters who brought you The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ’Em High. A completely awful movie, but highly regarded in France, where it’s considered a seminal work of le cinéma camel-toe. Celebrity surprises: Billy Bob Thornton and former MTV veejay Martha Quinn.

Dead Alive (1992; dir. Peter Jackson)
Habitat: Wellington, New Zealand
Cause: The Sumatran rat monkey, Simian raticus.
Transmissible: Yes
Notes: Lionel lives with his manipulative, suffocating mother, who secretly hates him because he was indirectly responsible for his father’s drowning. Mum gets bitten by a rat monkey while sneaking around in the bushes spying on Lionel and his girlfriend at the zoo, and pretty soon the house is full of cranky undead. Sample dialogue: “Your mother ate my dog!” “Not all of it!” The lawnmower scene is a classic. Top-shelf zombie fun—and it’s also a love story!

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988; dir. Wes Craven)
Habitat: Haiti
Cause: A 1,000-year-old recipe of herbs and spices, pulverized and buried for a week with the corpse of a voodoo princess
Transmissible: No
Notes: Scientist Dennis Alan (Bill Pullman) visits Haiti to investigate rumors of a drug that renders subjects fully conscious but paralyzed. It’s quite the vacation package: He gets lucky with an attractive local doctor, is repeatedly abducted and brutalized by the tontons macoutes, and trips his face off on zombie dust. Less a horror movie than a clumsy political poem with cheesy horror effects, Serpent is still plenty Cravenesque, with snakes leaping out of skeletal eye sockets and scorpions crawling out of corpses’ mouths and so on. Still not very good, though.

Zombie (1979; dir. Lucio Fulci)
Habitat: Remote Caribbean islands
Cause: Tropical disease
Transmissible: Yes
Notes: Italian horror: You either love it, hate it, or are blissfully unaware of its existence. Before his health began to decline precipitously in the early ’80s, director Lucio Fulci was on a par with fellow directors Dario Argento and Mario Bava—which is to say, he was cranking out much the same atmospheric horror mixed with eye-scalding gore and bountiful nudity. Zombie is a sequel in name only to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, starring Tisa Farrow—Mia’s sister—as the daughter of a scientist whose incautious experiments on remote Matul Island turn the natives into flesh-crazed people-eaters. A disgusting night in for the whole family.


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