Jim Vorel via Paste Magazine:
From the living dead to the walking dead to the typing dead, zombies have completely and utterly suffused 21st century culture. And that’s a pretty weird phenomena, when you think about it.
It’s not like this was always the case. Go back to the ’80s, and to wax poetic about George Romero-esque zombie films would have been the hallmark of a nerdy, acne-ridden high school student in a John Hughes movie. The idea that a TV show like The Walking Dead could be one-upping Sunday Night football in TV ratings? That would seem patently impossible.
Yes, zombies have come a long way, as has our appreciation for them. We live in a society that has become profoundly geekier in the last 15 years, and adopted the once secretive and insular totems of geek culture as its own. But it’s not just us who has evolved, it’s the zombies themselves—the creatures, their films and the people who made them.
Recognizing that evolution, I decided to chart a crude history of zombie cinema by examining the most significant films in the genre from a standpoint of influence. Most of these are considered classics, although some aren’t very widely known. Most are also considered “good films,” but they aren’t necessarily GREAT—they’re just important, for one reason or another. And of course, there’s also a few real pieces of trash on the list because hey—there’s been a lot of terrible zombie movies over the years. So here you go: The 25 most influential zombie films ever made.
White Zombie, 1932
Where else could we begin? White Zombie was the first feature-length “zombie” horror film, and the first popularization of the Hollywood concept of Haitian voodoo zombies, decades before the modern George Romero ghoul. As a public domain staple in just about any cheapo package of zombie films ever assembled, it’s easy to view White Zombie today—you can simply breeze through its 67-minute runtime on YouTube, if you want. Bela Lugosi, only a year removed fromDracula and reveling in his celebrity as one of Universal’s go-to horror performers, plays a witch doctor who is literally named “Murder,” because the studio was still a few years away from discovering subtlety at this point. The Svengali-like Lugosi ends up using his various potions and powders to zombify a young woman who is engaged to be married, attempting to bend her to the will of a cruel plantation owner, and … well, it’s pretty dry, wooden stuff. Lugosi, predictably, is the one bright spot, but you had to start somewhere. After White Zombie, voodoo zombie flicks popped up occasionally in Hollywood for years, most of which are currently in the public domain today. And of course, the film also inspired a certain musical project from Rob Zombie.
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