With The Walking Dead entering its sixth season, Fear The Walking Dead signed up for a second season, and shows such as, iZombie and Z Nation becoming increasingly popular with audiences, it’s clear that viewers want to soak up as much blood, flesh and brains as possible. While the extent of zombie-centric shows is limited on TV, there is also an ever-increasing undead library growing in the movie market.
Every horror fan is probably familiar with mainstream zombie movies – Zombieland, World War Z, 28 Days Later – but there are a great many indie and international zombie movies available that generally don’t garner the attention they so richly deserve. While many of these films barely played theaters (if they did at all), they shouldn’t be considered B-movie schlock. With that said, you won’t find campy films such as Zombie Strippers, Zombeavers, Zombies! Zombies! Zombies! or Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies or this list.
Instead, we’ve picked out 10 Underrated Zombie Movies that you should immediately look up on any streaming video service (or find on DVD if you have to) and watch as soon as possible.
10. White Zombie (1932)
There’s no better way to kick off this post than with, what is widely considered to be, the first feature-length zombie movie ever made – White Zombie. The movie stars legendary horror actor Bela Lugosi (Dracula, The Wolf Man) as a voodoo master named “Murder Legendre” who, at the request of a Haitian plantation owner Charles Beaumont, uses dark magic to make Madeleine Short, the fiancé of Neil Parker, fall in love with him instead. Unfortunately the potion Murder gives Charles kills Madeleine and they revive her as a zombie.
White Zombie is unlike modern zombie films. Madeleine isn’t hungry for brains or human flesh; instead, she is in trance-like state, obedient to whoever controls her. This version of “zombie-ism” was inspired by Haitian Vodou (or “voodoo”) mythology, and can be read as a commentary on slavery in that nation. The Universal Studios property isn’t the best film on this list (it opened to mostly negative reviews) but over time the film has become an somewhat of an icon in horror pop culture. Rob Zombie has said he named his band, White Zombie, after the horror flick and scenes from the film have shown up in movies such as The Hand the Rocks the Cradle. A remake was announced in 2009 but it’s currently on hold due to copyright issues.
9. Maggie (2015)
After stepping down in his role as Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger returned to what he was most known for:
bodybuilding acting. His first few post-Governor roles were hit or miss (mostly miss), but in the summer of 2015 he gave, what could be, the best dramatic performance of his career in the zombie movie Maggie. The story follows Wade (Schwarzenegger) and his daughter Maggie (Abigail Breslin) as they cope with the reality of Maggie, who was bitten on the arm, slowly turning into a flesh-eating zombie.
Maggie isn’t a perfect movie by any means, but it’s a solid freshman debut from director Henry Hobson, who takes writer John Scott III’s script and turns it into something more emotional than just another bloody, action-filled horror movie. At its core, Maggie is essentially an allegory about having to watch a loved one die, and that feeling of helpless as they slowly give in to death – it just so happens the disease in this situation is a zombie plague infection instead of a real world disease, like cancer.
8. Cockneys vs. Zombies (2012)
Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) and Andy MacGuire (Harry Treadaway) are two Cockney-bred brothers attempting to pull off a bank heist in order to raise money to save their grandfather Ray’s (Alan Ford) retirement home from being demolished. Meanwhile, two construction workers unwittingly unleash a centuries-old plague that turns people into flesh-eating zombies, then all hell breaks loose in London. Some of the best bits of the film come from the retirement home residents, who fight off zombies using walkers and wheelchairs. There’s also a great scene involving a double-decker bus, because it wouldn’t be a movie set in London without one.
Whether the story involves an alien invasion or group of coworkers being hunted while on a team-building weekend, British-made horror films tend to be filled with lots of dark, subtle humor – Cockneys vs. Zombies is no different. Written by James Moran (Severance) and directed by Matthias Hoene, Cockneys vs. Zombies is bloody-good fun from beginning to end.
7. Undead (2003)
We have a couple of Australian-made zombie movies on this list and horror comedy Undead is the first we’ll discuss. Much like British humor, Australian humor and storytelling tends to be on the darker side, and can be an acquired taste for many viewers and critics. Undead, written and directed by the Spierig Brothers (Michael and Peter) very much falls into that category. The story centers on the inhabitants of Berkeley, a small town in Australia, as they simultaneously deal with, what appears to be, an alien invasion and a zombie outbreak.
Unlike many campy horror films (which usually are unaware of how campy they actually are), Undead knows that it’s presenting an absurd story and campy characters. It then uses that self-awareness to turn what could’ve been a dollar bin DVD movie into a fun zombie romp with an interesting twist ending that combines both alien and zombie genres. Many critics didn’t appreciate Undead for what it was and it still holds negative scores on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, but don’t let that keep you from watching what we think is a much underrated zombie movie.
6. Black Sheep (2006)
Though it was horrific, we’re aren’t referring to the 1996 comedy starring Chris Farley and David Spade. Rather, we’re referencing Black Sheep, the wonderful dark horror comedy from New Zealand written and directed by Jonathan King. It stars Nathan Meister and Peter Feeney as brothers Henry and Angus Oldfield who grew up on a sheep farm. However, due to a traumatic event (involving a prank joke and a dead sheep carcass), Henry now has an extreme phobia of sheep.
When Henry returns to the family farm as an adult, he discovers that Angus has been performing genetic experiments on the sheep, turning them into blood-thirsty carnivores. Together, with a female activist Experience (Danielle Mason), they try to keep from being bitten or consumed by one of these deadly zombie sheep. Black Sheep is filled with superbly written dialog and contains many funny sight and sound gags that keep the film from simply becoming another macabre monster movie.
5. Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (2014)
Thanks to brothers Kiah and Tristan Roache-Turner, Australia has once again produced a quality zombie movie with Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead. The Roache-Turner brothers co-wrote the script, with Kiah in the director’s chair and Tristan serving as producer. The movie starts with a split narrative following two protagonists, Barry and his sister Brooke, in different areas of Australian outback. After a meteor (which Barry names Wyrmwood after a reference to the book of Revelations) hits Earth, people begin turning into zombies. While Barry tries to escape the outbreak with his family, Brooke is kidnapped by a military group, led by a captain who is performing nefarious medical experiments on both the infected and uninfected.
Watching the quality of props, costumes, makeup and special effects, it’s hard to believe this movie was made for $160,000. Some of the acting is a little wooden and cheesy but the original story more than makes up for that deficiency. Unlike most zombie films, where survivors spend most of their screen time running for their lives, Wyrmwood sends its characters straight for the zombie jugular from almost the beginning – making it a true action-horror film worth watching.
4. Navy SEALs vs. Zombies (2015)
Navy SEALs vs. Zombies is a solid directorial debut for Hollywood stuntman and NASCAR driver Stanton Barrett. The story doesn’t jump immediately into fighting zombie hordes, choosing instead to take a “slow burn” approach to setting up the characters and plot. After the White House loses contact with Vice-President Bentley (played by former NBA star Rick Fox) during a press conference in New Orleans, a group of SEALs are sent on a search and rescue mission to find him. Fans of the brain-eating undead won’t get to see their first zombified citizen until the 45-minute mark, but after that it’s non-stop, military-based action.
Based solely on its kick-ass name, it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Navy SEALs vs. Zombies on this list, but what is surprising is how enjoyable this low-budget movie actually is to watch. Like most low-budget films, the acting suffers at times but it wins points for casting the American Ninja himself, Michael Dudikoff, as Sheer, a member of the SEALs team. Critic and audience reviews have been mixed towards the film, and are generally on the low end of the spectrum, but don’t let that keep you from enjoying it.
3. Juan of the Dead (2011)
Of all the horror comedies on this list, the Spanish-Cuban movie Juan of the Dead is, hands down, the funniest of the bunch. Written and directed by Alejandro Brugués, the movie follows a 40-something slacker named Juan (Alexis Díaz de Villegas), his loser buddy Lazaro (Jorge Molina) and their eccentric group of friends – Vladi California, La China (a drag queen/expert slingshot marksman), his huge, black lover with a weak stomach for blood, El Primo (who has to wear a blindfold when fighting) and Juan’s estranged daughter, Camila.
When people in their city begin turning into zombies, Juan and his buddies start a business using the slogan “Juan of the Dead: We kill your beloved ones. How can we help you?” What starts off as an easy way to make a fast buck, quickly turns into a fight for survival as the military (with evil intentions, of course) gets involved with the zombie outbreak. Juan of the Dead may not be a film for everyone, but zombie fans won’t be disappointed in what it has to offer.
2. Pontypool (2008)
With Cuba, New Zealand, England, Australia, and of course, America producing quality zombie films, Canada has now thrown its hat into the zombie ring with the off-kilter (in a good way) zombie flick, Pontypool. Based on the Tony Burgess novel Pontypool Changes Everything and directed by Bruce McDonald (Transporter: The Series), Pontypool manages to raise the bar for low-budget horror films in terms of sheer zombie entertainment. The story centers on radio “shock jock” Grant Mazzy (Stephen McHattie) and his producer Sydney Briar (Lisa Houle) trying to survive as the town of Pontypool is placed under quarantine following an undead outbreak.
Pontypool isn’t a typical zombie story, due to the abstract way the virus is spread – via linguistic tics instead of being bitten by one of the infected. The unlikely transmission might seem confusing or even dumb at first, but the film manages to make to really make it work, while remaining witty and believable at the same time – not an easy task to accomplish. Non-French speaking viewers will want to be prepared to read subtitles during parts of the movie.
1. Colin (2008)
The ultra-low budget horror film Colin stands out on this list for a couple of reasons: First, it was allegedly made on a budget of under $100 and second, it’s the first film to tell its entire story from the zombie’s perspective. A British film written and directed by actor/comedian Marc Price, the movie follows a young man, Colin, who turns into a zombie early on after being bitten on the arm. For the rest of the movie, viewers follow him as he ambles from location to location, dodging attackers, then finally being captured by his sister Linda and taken back to his mother’s house. Only during a flashback scene near the end of the film do we get to see exactly how Colin was bitten.
Colin is one of those independent zombie movies that people are either going to love or hate, with very few falling somewhere in the middle. Regardless, you should watch it at least once, if only to see what can be accomplished on an old, standard definition camcorder when the director has a unique story to tell.
There are so many great horror films that fall into the zombie subgenre out in there that we didn’t touch on, such as The Horde, Doghouse, Rammbock: Berlin Undead, The Dead, just name to a few, that we could go on talking about them ad nauseum. However, that wouldn’t leave any wonderful films for you to discover on your own.
What’s your favorite non-mainstream zombie movie? Tell us in the comments section.
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