Zombies scare the pants off of us here at ZRS. That’s why we got into zombie research in the first place, to deal with our overwhelming fear of the coming undead plague. But what exactly is the scariest zombie of all time?
To streamline the field of contenders, the list below only includes zombies from film. We took into account each zombie’s look, behavior, lethality, interaction with other characters, and impact on both their specific movie and the zombie sub-genre as a whole.
#6) The Clown – Zombieland (2009)
The plague in Zombieland is caused by a mutated form of mad cow disease that doesn’t kill its victims, but instead turns them into raving lunatics with an appetite for human flesh. Its great box-office success solidified this new form of living zombie in the sub-genre, and proved once again that just because the world is dead doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. Geeky hero Columbus reveals that the only thing he fears more than zombies is clowns. Unfortunately, to save the girl of his dreams he has to fight a snarling zombie clown on its home turf: an apocalyptic amusement park. The zombie clown is a recurring theme throughout the movie, garnering it the number six spot.
#5) Tarman – Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Tarman crawls out of a fifty-gallon drum of toxic sludge with a hunger for one thing and one thing only: brains. After a military experiment goes horribly wrong, Tarman is the first modern zombie to ever say “brains” and the first modern zombie to ever eat brains, making him one of the most iconic ghouls of all time. Though Return of the Living Dead is mostly comical, Tarman and the horde he spawns is smart, fast and not afraid to rack up a huge body count. William Stout is the famed production designer of ROLTD, and he later worked on creature design for Predator (1987), Men in Black (1997), and Pan’s Labyrinth (2006).
#4) Colonel Herzog – Dead Snow (2009)
Colonel Herzog and his undead Nazi troops behave much more like mummies than actual zombies. They are preserved in ice, rather than being relentlessly aggressive they just want their gold back, and they may not even be contagious. But they’re called zombies by name throughout Dead Snow, making the intentions of this Norwegian romp clear. Herzog follows in a well established Nazi zombie tradition, with earlier movies including Shock Waves (1977), and Zombie Lake (1981). He captures the number four spot because he is the lead ghoul in the first-ever Scandinavian zombie movie, and he ruthlessly commands his legion of undead stormtroopers.
#3) Scuba Dive Zombie – Zombie (1979)
Zombie, also known as Zombi 2, is an Italian film directed by horror icon Lucio Fulci. In the movie’s early minutes a topless, scuba-diving young woman retreats from an aggressive shark in the coral reef at the ocean floor, only to be attacked by a submerged zombie hiding therein. The two mortal threats soon lose interest in the helpless woman and fight each other instead, leading to one of the most legendary zombie fight scenes ever filmed: shark versus zombie. The zombie lands a clean bite before having his arm ripped off by the shark as it speeds away. This ghoul locks the number three spot for reminding us that zombies can pop up in the most unlikely of places.
#2) Mrs. Izquierdo – [REC] (2007)
Spanish director Paco Plaza gave us what at first appears to be a new and deadly form of rabies in [REC]. A local crew of firefighters is called to an apartment complex in Barcelona where they find Mrs. Isquierdo confused and bloody in her unit. The old woman soon attacks and bites one man, before throwing another off the balcony three floors up. As the terrifying story unfolds,we learn that something sinister is at work. A secret experiment in the penthouse apartment has unleashed a new virus on the unsuspecting residents. Mrs. Izquierdo is the first sign of what’s to come. Her rage, strength, unpredictability and disturbing appearance land her at number two.
#1) Karen Cooper – Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Karen Cooper is the first film character ever to turn into a modern zombie on screen. Her parents frantically attend to a bite she’s suffered, only to be killed and eaten by their little girl in the basement of a secluded Pennsylvania farmhouse. Child zombies are arguably the most scary type in general, and Karen Cooper is certainly the queen of all pint-sized ghouls. She even uses a garden trowel to slice her helpless mother into pieces much like Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho . Though she never appears outdoors in the film, a promotional photo of Karen standing in the farmhouse yard is one of the most iconic and creepy images from Night of the Living Dead.