A few rare zombie flicks worth sinking your teeth into

By Kristian Smock | Feb - March 2006

Do you love the movies? Not fluffy slop starring Jennifer Aniston or Julia Roberts, but real movies? I’m talking about the kinds of films that crawl under the skin and fester like open wounds, burning images or ideas into your brain which are impossible to shake.

This column is dedicated to forgotten or overlooked films that get lost under all the flashy garbage coming out of Hollywood. We won’t be showcasing mainstream films, or even popular “indie” flicks, because every other publication already has that market cornered.

We are dedicated to bringing you reviews of worthy films in need of a worthy audience. These films are often esoteric, gritty, and perhaps even a little dangerous. Many of these movies aren’t for everyone, and that is exactly what’s so appealing about them.

If you’re looking for friendly films with happy Hollywood endings this is not the column for you, but if you yearn for something different you should be more than satisfied with the following selections.

To kick off the debut of this column, I’ve compiled a list of fairly unknown zombie flicks in celebration of the long awaited resurrection of “78 Magazine.” These films deserve to be excavated from obscurity by viewers that can appreciate them.

Deathdream (Dead of Night) (1974): Andy is a young solider killed in the line of duty in Vietnam. The evening his suburban family gets news of his death, Andy mysteriously shows up at the house in the middle of the night.

His family is thrilled by his arrival, thinking the military made a mistake, but they soon realize there is something terribly different about their son.

Andy’s demeanor is odd to say the least. He refuses to visit old friends and family, preferring to spend his days in a rocking chair staring at the wall.

At night he stalks the streets murdering people who take their freedom for granted, harvesting their blood in order to temporarily halt the progression of his own decay.

This creepy little Canadian production was the first movie to address the issue of Vietnam vets returning home. Even though the premise is over-the-top there is an undercurrent of social commentary regarding the psychological effects of war.

This is a great forgotten little gem with some innovative scenes, such as Andy siphoning the blood from a victim with a syringe, and then shooting the victim’s blood into his own veins like an undead junkie.

Dellamorte Dellamore (1994): This Italian masterpiece of the macabre is a poetically gruesome take on zombie lore. In 1994, the film had a brief shelf-life on video and laserdisc with the domestic title, “Cemetery Man,” but for unknown reasons it has been largely ignored within the horror genre ever since.

For years now, “Anchor Bay” has been claiming they are going to release a “2-Disc Special Edition” with audio commentary and featurettes. Their latest tentative street date is “sometime” in 2006, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

The film follows the daily exploits of graveyard caretaker, Francesco Dellamorte played by Rupert Everett. At “Buffalora Cemetery” some of the dead have a nasty habit of rising within seven days of burial, and it’s all up to Dellamorte and his inept sidekick, Gnaghi, to put them back in hollowed earth.

In Italian “dellamorte” means “of death” and “dellamore” means “of love;” this is symbolic of Francesco’s conflicting duality. Although he spends his nights hunting down unruly corpses, Francesco desperately yearns for love in this bizarre world of hot lead and decaying flesh.

This is a great horror movie, inspiring gasps and laughs in equal measure. Director Michele Soavi creates a gothic, surrealistic nightmare, making it hands-down the most aesthetically lavish film of the undead genre. Imagine if Salvador Dali, George Romero, and Dario Argento did a film together and then you’ll get an idea of what to expect.

This is a hard one to find, but it is certainly worth searching out. You don’t have to be a horror buff to enjoy it, but if you’re a fan of zombie films, this is mandatory viewing.

Wild Zero (1999): Aliens, zombies, transvestites, and Japanese rockabilly are just a few things to expect from this bizarre little number.

After alien creatures invade earth and begin turning the population into zombies, it’s up to the real-life Japanese rock band, Guitar Wolf, to save the day. With help from their biggest fan “Ace,” the band sets out to eradicate the world of alien undead scum.

This movie is ridiculous, but in a good way. There’s lots of exploding heads and ear-piercing rock music, in addition to a cast of some of the wildest characters you’re ever likely to see.

“Wild Zero” is like “KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park,” except it’s actually worth watching. It’s hard to lump this film into a genre, because it’s just so damn strange, but it’s certainly a fun ride unlike anything else. If you’re a fan of silly esoteric cinema, you’ll definitely want to check this out.

Versus (2000): “Versus” is a wildly frenetic Japanese film, incorporating elements of samurai swordplay, John Woo-style gunfights, zombie gore, and ass-kicking martial arts.

What more could you want in a movie?

Prisoner KSC2-303 is lost in a vast, desolate forest without any knowledge of how he got there. He can’t recall his past or even his name, but he’s definitely still in touch with his killer instincts.

He soon finds himself the target of a mysterious yakuza gang, in addition to a hungry horde of flesh-eating zombies. Desperate to find a way out of the forest, Prisoner KSC2-303 teams up with a familiar young girl.

He slowly begins to realize he’s not in the forest by chance, but was brought there for far darker purposes than he could ever imagine.

This movie rocks! “Versus” is one of the most innovative independent films of the new millennium. On a very modest budget, director Ryuhei Kitamura achieves a level of action and excitement unparalleled by most American action films.

Here are a few more...

Tasty Treats

The Beyond (1981): This is Lucio Fulci’s ultimate horror masterpiece, filled with plenty of frights, gore, and surrealism. A woman inherits a spooky mansion in New Orleans, but she gets more than she bargained for when she discovers a portal to hell located down in the basement. If one director is the authority on cheesy zombie movies—it’s definitely Fulci, but this is a rather unexpected artsy departure. It’s very campy at times, and it doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it’s a bloody entertaining mindfuck nonetheless.

Dead and Buried (1981): This is an engaging, spooky, underrated movie penned by “Alien” screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon. Residents in a quiet fishing village are on a murderous spree turning citizens into walking corpses. The atmosphere is very creepy and bizarre, and many questions are left unanswered, but it all works beautifully.

Evilspeak (1981): This one is so bad it’s fantastic! Clint Howard in an early starring role is a nerdy military school student that is the brunt of ridicule on campus. He gains powers after conjuring Satan on his computer, creating zombie slaves to help exact revenge on all his enemies. The special effects are really top-notch, especially considering the era. You can look forward to lots of gore, and even a herd of flesh-eating zombie pigs!

Warning Sign (1985): Chemists in a top secret government lab accidentally release a bio-weapon, turning the majority of their employees into stark-raving psychopaths. With the building in total lockdown, the few uninfected survivors must fight for their lives with scalpels, fire-axes, and pistols. This is a well done little sleeper that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Technically the zombies aren’t dead, but all the usual conventions are in place to qualify it as part of the genre.

Brain Dead (Dead Alive) (1992): This extremely gory extravaganza, helmed by director Peter Jackson, is one of the best zombie movies of all time. Poachers bring an exotic “Rat-Monkey” to New Zealand, infecting citizens of a small seaside town with a horrific undead virus. This is a hilariously funny bloodbath with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. Be sure to get the “unrated version,” because the R-rated cut is like an oral massage with no happy ending.

Rotten Meat

Burial Ground (1981): Laughable Italian garbage. Strictly for B-film masochists that can watch anything. No one can do bad horror films quite like the Italians, but this one is even worse than usual.

Dead Heat (1988): A mad scientist is creating zombie slaves to pull off high profile crimes in downtown L.A. It’s all up to zombie cops Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo to save the day. Need I say more? This film is only notable for Vincent Price’s hammy performance; the rest is simply dreadful.

The Dead Next Door (1988): Sam Raimi used the money he made on “Evil Dead 2” to finance this low-budget turd. Everyone involved on the production worked for free, and you can really tell when you sit down to watch it.

Chopper Chicks in Zombie Town (1992): Brawling biker babes must save a post-apocalyptic town from hordes of flesh-eating corpses. This is a fantastic movie if you’re pissed drunk in the middle of the night, but it’s very hard to endure stone-cold sober. Vaguely interesting for an early performance by Billy Bob Thornton, but that’s about it.

Junk (2000): Rarely is a film titled so appropriately. This is bottom of the barrel Japanese schlock. There isn’t anything new to mention here. This is nothing more than a low-budget, boring rehash of every zombie flick you’ve ever seen, and it was done much better the first hundred times we saw it. If this was a diaper I wouldn’t even shit in it.

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