Who doesn’t love a good, thrilling zombie flick? There’s something about the concept of flesh-eating undead terrorizing the living that’s timelessly creepy and fun. Much like space flight and aliens in sci-fi, zombies have been a tried-and-true staple for horror. Yet, it’s tough to argue that this type of film has largely adhered to an established formula, to the point where zombies have grown cliched for many. Some of the more typical zombie flicks have felt as lifeless as the very undead they feature – perhaps sticking a bit too close to the classic Dawn of the Dead template while doing little to stand out.
Yet, there are examples of filmmakers that have crafted creative, compelling zombie romps through various means – especially in recent years. Whether it’s through witty humor, stylized filmmaking, or imaginative concepts, these movies stand out over their undead brethren in terms of inventiveness. So grab some popcorn as we highlight 10 of the best zombie movies that offer a unique, creative twist.
The Dead Don’t Die (2019)
A recent trend in zombie films has been to inject some humor to offset the creepiness and put a fun spin on the typical formula. One could argue this technique has itself been done quite a bit of late. Yet, Jim Jarmusch uses the comedic talents and strong chemistry of Bill Murray and Adam Driver to, erm, “drive” the entertainment value in this horror-comedy.
In addition to zaniness and witty banter, The Dead Don’t Die thrives on its unique premise of zombies being summoned from – wait for it – polar fracking and lunar happenings. Though its subdued, tepid pacing might not be for everyone, the funny ramblings and sociopolitical undertones make this an interesting watch.
Dead Alive/Braindead (1992)
Those aware of Peter Jackson’s distinct filmmaking style know that we’re in for a deep, off-the-wall brand of zombie flicks with Braindead. This 1992 romp, also known as Dead Alive in the US, combines excessive gore and slapstick to round out a distinctly insane, yet entertaining dark comedy.
The goofy, absurd plot sets the tone for the rest of the film, which features an elderly woman being infected by, of all things, a Sumatran rat-monkey. This sets the stage for a gore-laden zombie outbreak that balances gross imagery and Monty Python-style humor.
One Cut Of The Dead (2017)
Films like Braindead and Shaun of the Dead proved that the undead can be just as funny as they can be frightening. This off-kilter comedy reinforces this notion in its own amusing way, throwing a hilarious curveball at the viewer midway through its runtime.
Without revealing too much, One Cut of the Dead shifts to an entirely different, largely unexpected second and third act, injecting additional depth and ample humor.
With the making of this film, Shin’ichiro Ueda – just days removed from Tokyo drama school – shows that a gritty, low-budget movie can be just as compelling as flashy blockbusters.
Dead & Buried (1981)
While some filmmakers opt for a campy or silly twist to inject intrigue into their zombie flicks, Gary Sherman very much goes the other direction with this premise. The result is 1981’s Dead & Buried, a particularly bizarre, unsettling undead thriller.
Through the use of stark imagery and gritty cinematography, the movie contains a thick, spooky sense of atmosphere that sets the stage for an impressionable horror. The film blends scares with a crime caper mystery, honing in on a small New England town and its murderous inhabitants. The viewer is taken on an unsettling journey as the motives and revelations of this violence are slowly brought to light.
28 Days Later (2002)
Similar to The Dead Don’t Die, this 2002 romp uses political allegory and an atypical premise that allows it to stand out from the existing mass of undead flicks. Yet, this is mostly where the similarities end, as 28 Days Later stresses action and post-apocalyptic insanity over subdued comedy.
The film is widely regarded for reinvigorating the zombie movies with its implementation of aggressive, fast-moving undead that more resemble humans. Director Danny Boyle’s use of sharp, crazed zombies influenced by a virus, rather than sauntering dullards, sets the stage for a truly frightening ride.
The zombie motif seems like a natural fit with another popular practice in horror – the found-footage style. This 2007 Spanish-made thriller proves this notion correct with its creepy atmosphere and heart-pumping intensity throughout.
[REC] emphasizes silence and minimalism to build the tension, making each scary reveal all the more impactful. Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero literally keep us in the dark with shadowy settings and a disorienting realistic shaky-cam, as we follow a reporter trying to survive in a demon-infested apartment.
On the surface, Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland might seem fairly conventional, as it features a post-apocalyptic world crawling with flesh-eating creepers. Yet, this ’09 comedy stands out with its fun action and funny, likable cast played by Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Emma Stone, who have great chemistry throughout.
The unpredictable zaniness and stylistic editing keep the viewer engaged in this amusing romp, and offer a surprisingly endearing story to boot. Still, it doesn’t sacrifice on the gore-laden thriller front either.
The film has been critically acclaimed for its exciting action, clever writing, and swift pacing, which crams much into its 88-minute runtime.
The Wailing (2016)
Decades after zombie classics like Night of the Living Dead established a formula, Korean filmmaker Na Hong-jin reinvented it and proved films about the undead can still be interesting. This deeply unsettling horror from ’16 masterfully blends zombies with demonic and ghostly motifs, along with mythological influences of both Eastern and Western origin.
The film hones in on a cop in a humble Korean town who uncovers a series of grizzly murders in the area. During the course of this 156-minute epic, officer Jong-goo uncovers revelations involving evil spirits, satanic rituals, and deadly infections that cause the townspeople to engage in psychotic, violent tantrums.
The Wailing has been almost universally appraised amongst both critics and fans, earning a whopping 99% on rottentomatoes.com.
Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Acting as both an homage and spoof to zombie classics of the 60s and 70s, Shaun of the Dead excels in its parodies of undead tropes, memorable characters, and unique editing. This Edgar Wright comedy cleverly juxtaposes braindead zombies with the obliviousness and mundane life of Shaun, played by actor and writer Simon Pegg.
The movie begins in a funny-but-subdued manner before escalating towards a zombified apocalypse in London, taking the viewer on a ride full of both thrills and yuks.
With a budget of just $6.1 million, Shaun of the Dead grossed $30 million and has since gained a large cult following.
Train To Busan (2016)
Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan is captivating and intense throughout; making its 2-hour runtime speed by as fast as its train setting. This distinct blend of emotional action-drama and a creepy fast horde of undead rounds out a truly compelling watch.
Along with its Korean peer The Wailing, this 2016 film helped reinvigorate the genre that seemed on the verge of feeling stagnant and stale.
It hones in on the simple narrative of a man and his daughter looking to reunite with his wife in Busan, after which things cascade into a series of terrifying, adrenaline-pumping events.