Night of the Living Dead (1968):The first is still the best. Shot in glorious black-and-white, Romero’s tale of the dead rising and, you know, EATING PEOPLE, is every bit as scary today as it was then, no matter how many great zombie films have come since. From the first scene in the cemetery to the soul-crushing ending, a terrifying classic.
Return of the Living Dead (1985):This spoof of Romero’s movies is hilarious, truly – the line “Send more
paramedics” will slay (no pun intended) anyone who’s ever seen it. Director Dan O’Bannon obviously loves the films he’s sending up and has fun with other pop-culture icons, too: two of his characters are named Bert and Ernie. Love that. Sometimes it’s just fun to walk around and say, “I can smell your brains!”
Dawn of the Dead (1978): In which Romero uses his zombies to take a bite out of the shopping-mall culture (pun intended that time). A lot of people prefer this to Night, and there’s an argument to be made in that regard. But without the context of that first mind-blowing experience, this wouldn’t strike quite so strong a chord.
28 Days Later (2002): Brilliant re-imagining of the genre, which is to say, uh, they aren’t technically zombies. Instead there’s a virus going around, which taps into modern-day fear of biological terrorism, etc. But this film also gets more invested in characters than most zombie movies; when one character has to kill himself so that he doesn’t kill his daughter (hey, it’s a tough world in zombieland), it’s heartbreaking.
Shaun of the Dead (2004):Simon Pegg, kind of a poor man’s Ricky Gervais, co-wrote and stars in yet another hilarious spoof of zombie films. The running joke here is that modern society is so brain dead that it takes a while for Shaun (Pegg) to catch on to what’s happening. Also a love story, kind of. What more do you need?
Remember, in almost every case: Aim for the head.