10 Return of the Living Dead – This one’s on my list for two reasons first it truly scared the shit out of me as a kid. I lived near a cemetery and literally would not go outside at night if it was raining. The second is the tarman’s expression “BRAINS!!” Otherwise this is standard 80’s gore with the typical overstylized cliché punk teenagers battling to stay alive as the reanimated dead crawl from their graves in ever-increasing numbers.
9 I Am Legend – Not your standard zombie gore, but this still hangs in there with some of the best. The film’s focus on a single man struggling to find the cure is a welcome relief from the group mentality that is usually explored in zombie flicks. A great performance by man’s best friend and Will Smith’s epic battles with zombies, mental stability and a shortage of bacon make for a stellar cinematic experience.
8 28 Days Later – Often viewed as a game-changer in the genre, by replacing clumsy shuffling with fully athletic brain chompers. For me the method of infection, a “rage” virus, provides one of the most plausible and scientifically valid zombiefication scenarios in the genre. Unfortunately the sequel, 28 Weeks Later, elaborates on the “rage” virus theme by introducing a goal oriented zombie father stalking his children. The series is decent and deserves viewing for its slick production but both films fell somewhat flat for me.
7 American Zombie – I’m including this one for its creative use of the documentary style to portray the lifestyle of functioning zombies. In this world zombies coexist with humans as second-class citizens, serving as the perfect cheap labor source since they never sleep. The film crew follows three individual zombies and a non-profit that fights for zombie rights as everyone prepares for the annual zombie exclusive three day festival.
6 Dead Snow – Zombie Nazis, you knew it was only a matter of time before someone came up with it. Some Norwegian college students awaken a long dead Nazi brigade when they stumble upon their hidden gold while vacationing at a remote cabin in the middle of winter. Every time you think they’re all dead, a fresh batch of soldiers appears to keep this gorefest, action packed up to the end.
5 Night of the Living Dead – This 1968 black and white film by George Romero is credited with fathering the genre. It will seem slowly paced with ridiculous reactions by the survivors to the seasoned zombiephile, but you gotta know your roots. Romero continued to improve in his loosely connected set of sequels Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead/Land of the Dead and a viewing of his works provides an interesting look at the evolution of zombies through the decades.
4 Zombieland – The American Shaun of the Dead in my book. Somewhat spoofy and humorous but retains high value gore and realistic zombie activity. I love the footnotes style editing for the rules of survival. The movie gets a little weak with the old boy meets girl storyline, but is carried through with Woody’s love of guns, big trucks and his endless quest for a twinkie.
3 Dead Alive – Goriest film ever. Yeah its pretty campy, but the volume of blood in this one easily defeats the combined blood loss of all other zombie films. Some great stop-motion photography, the creepy uncle and Mother, and the lawnmower scene earns this on a spot with the greats.
2 Shaun of the Dead – The classic zombie spoof film. Everything from evasion tactics to weapon selection and killing infected loved ones is parodied as a group of friends attempt to head for the pub to wait out the zombie apocalypse. While humorous, the film avoids campy blood scenes and maintains relatively high gore standards.
1 Dawn of the Dead – The original isn’t bad, but it is a little slow for my modern zombie tastes. However, the 2004 remake tops my list. This film’s got it all; first class gore, think shotgun to the head in the parking garage scene, fast zombies, one of the best apocalyptic safehouses, group dynamics and mercy killing of the recently infected (new twist with the pregnant zombie), humorous killings by the sniper from across the street, action packed with chainsaw buses, and of course the classic ending.
Undead – Not sure if they’re really zombies, as its poorly explained as to what is really going in this film. But this lowbudget film kept me interested and is worth it for the opening scene with the old lady in the parking lot.
Quarantine/Rec – Just gonna mention this one because I’ve heard (haven’t actually watched it yet) that the original Rec is actually much better. Quarantine takes an interesting premise of attempts to control the initial outbreak as seen through the shaky camera work of a reporter on her first assignment. Zombies and gore were realistic, but there were so many chances to kill them early on and avoid getting bitten later that I got kind of pissed.
Grindhouse: Planet Terror Robert Rodriguez – Pure zombie porn, not in the disgusting way you’re imagining. No plotline that I can remember just hordes of the undead attacking the living and getting blown to pieces by a well armed biker gang and the army.
Thanks for checking out my list and let me know if there's any good ones I've missed.