There is no greater testimony to the modern zombie’s popularity than the spectacular overuse of the word in recent years. “Zombie” has been used to refer to so many different kinds of entities and social dynamics that it is now hard to rein it in with any specificity. By one expert’s account, for example, anyone who has died and been brought back to life is a zombie. This means that people who flat-line on the operating table before being revived are doomed to be zombies for the rest of their lives.
When thinking of the Modern Zombie originally seen in George Romero’s legendary 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, here is a list of top six not zombie movies of all time, based on how often they are mislabeled:
#6) PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (2003)
A published zombie film critic cited Johnny Depp as starring in the top-grossing zombie movie of all time, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film raked in more than $650 million worldwide and has spawned a number of highly profitable sequels. The only problem is that Pirates clearly isn’t a zombie movie, as any five-year-old who’s seen it can tell you. There is not a single creature in it that remotely approximates a zombie in any way, shape, or form.
#5) DEAD SNOW (2009)
Colonel Herzog and his undead Nazi troops behave much more like mummies than zombies in this Norwegian horror romp. They are preserved in ice, they just want their gold back, and they may not even be contagious. To clarify, mummies are not zombies because they are not relentlessly aggressive and they do not come to be through a biological infection. Once order is restored to the mummy’s world— meaning once you give it back its favorite ruby brooch or leave its sacred space—it will lie down again and wait for the next time someone disturbs its rest.
#4) 28 DAYS LATER (2002)
If you ask director Danny Boyle he will tell that you he’s never made a zombie movie. He doesn’t see the rage-filled humans he created in 28 Days Later as modern zombies. Zombie purists would agree with Boyle, arguing that a zombie that is still alive is not a zombie at all. Technically, they’re correct. The infected freaks of 28 Days Later can be killed by stopping their hearts, and once dead, they do not come back to life as conventional zombies. In this way, they are fundamentally different from George Romero’s original vision of the flesh eater raised from the grave to feast on the living.
#3) REANIMATOR (1985)
Reanimator of a version of Frankenstein movie, not a zombie movie. The dead brought back may be creepy and weird, but they have no contagion to spread. You don’t get bitten by Frankenstein and turn into Frankenstein. Secondly, the reanimated dead are not relentlessly aggressive. They are misunderstood, confused, even evil at times, but they have not become raving maniacs bent on attacking and killing every living human on the planet. Reanimator falls closely in line with the Frankenstein movie tradition.
#2) THE EVIL DEAD (1981)
In Sam Raimi’s 1981 romp, demons are accidentally awakened in the woods surrounding an isolated cabin. They set about tormenting the film’s lead, and picking off his friends one by one. Though human corpses do stand up, dance about, and attack the living, the demonic force behind their actions also causes trees and plants to come alive; turns slight young women into flying, bug-eyed maniacs with superhuman strength; and makes windows and doors swing about wildly as if the demon is possessing the entire building. When’s the last time you saw a real zombie do that?
#1) I AM LEGEND (2007)
In the 1950’s novel I Am Legend, Richard Matheson provided a biological explanation for vampires, and remnants of Matheson’s efforts can be seen in Will Smith’s 2007 blockbuster adaptation of the book. In fact, Legend’s filmmakers intentionally tried to cash in on the popularity of zombies by giving vampires some of their qualities. But make no mistake, it’s not a zombie movie. Like vampires of old, the creatures that infect Smith’s I Am Legend can leap over cars in a single bound. They magically climb on ceilings, they can scheme and strategize, and they sleep the days away in creepy clusters like bats. The plot pretends to hinge on a biological plague that can be cured someday, but repeated lapses in logic show a certain lack of respect for that premise.
What other movies should be included on this list?