Courting Creepy: 13 crucial movies – for zombie lovers – at Halloween (or anytime.) By Pooka’s Beau.

Tonight, as promised, I bring you a new Courting Creepy list. As soon as I agreed to participate in the recent Blogger Virtual Zombie Walk, I knew I needed to craft a zombie movie list, so I’ve been thinking about it since late September. I racked my memories. I watched new-to-me films … which I didn’t much like. In the end, I was able to come up with only nine solid recommendations. That’s a shame, because I genuinely respect the genre. Some of the best horror movies I know are zombie films. (But then, so are some of the worst.) Eventually, I had to admit that most zombie films are just a bit too bloody and violent for me. In desperation, I reached out to my daughter’s beau who has a particular affection for zombies. He agreed to write up a list, using my existing lists as an example of format.

Please feel free to let The Beau¬†know he should have a blog of his very own ūüôā

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The Beau’s¬†take on zombie movies:

If horror movies were liquor, then zombie movies would be vodka. You can add just about anything to vodka and get a palatable drink. The same can be said for zombie movies. Granted, you have your top-shelf zombie movies and your cheap b-list zombie movies. Beyond that, you have your flavors: zombie comedies, zombie action flicks, zombie science fiction … the variety is overwhelming, but all of it works in some way. It’s the various permutations of these films that ensure you are going to like some kind of zombie movie, you’ve just got to find the right variety.

Let’s start by talking about pure zombies. This includes George Romero’s “of the Dead” series, most of the remakes of them, and a handful of other examples, like 28 Days Later and (especially) the TV series Walking Dead. These are what I consider the top-shelf zombie movies. They stay true to the plots that started the genre. All other types of zombie movies are spinoffs of elements within these movies.

In these top-shelf movies, the horror comes from the setting. A zombie, by itself, isn’t that scary. These zombies are (usually) slow-moving and easily outsmarted. The real threat is in the fact that the entire world is overrun with them; there are millions of them out there and they will always be after you. Still-human characters have to find a way to live in the resulting world, and that is where the real drama of the movie comes from. Without normal societal norms, the characters revert to survival mode and you see just how bad human nature can become in the name of survival.

These movies inspire the viewer to ask questions of themselves. What would you do in a situation like this? Would you isolate your family? Would you murder other people who try to get into your supplies? What would you promise your squad of soldiers to keep them from killing each other? Maybe you’d just try to be the last civilized person on the planet, holding true to what you can remember of the law and order that once was, at least for a time. These questions also apply to the oldest story ever told: Man vs Man vs Nature. We live in this world with such questions in the deep, dark back of our minds, and we’ll leave the world (if we’re lucky) not knowing the answers.

The effectiveness of films like those above gave birth to the sub-genres of zombie films. Dawn of the Dead (both the original and the remake) shows us how much fun it can be to be the last man alive, for example. It introduces a light tone into the genre. That led us to Shaun of the Dead, a comedy which shows us the only people equipped to deal with the zombie apocalypse are video game playing slackers in their mid-twenties. The characters from Shaun, however Рwith their devising of zombie killing strategies and their indulging in zombie killing sprees Р gave rise to the action zombie films.

An important thing to remember about these films is that they are gory. Wait, don’t turn your nose up at that! A lot of people think gory = not scary but gross, but gore does have a place in horror. It’s how you validate your fears. Think of this…. If I were to tell you, “Hey, the Titanic sank,” how would you feel? You probably wouldn’t collapse in tears, even though it was a tragedy. But, if you were to watch the Titanic movie – and actually see the stories of the doomed passengers, then see them die – suddenly the tragedy hits home, it has emotional impact. The same idea applies to zombies, When a movie tells¬†you, Hey, zombies eat people,” you aren’t going to be scared if the camera turns away. But, if you watch a gory zombie movie – and actually see a zombie tear the throat out of someone, then¬†disembowel¬†that same someone right before your eyes – suddenly it strikes home that “Zombies EAT people!”

If it helps those of you who are squeamish, just go into it with the intention of admiring some of the best special effect makeup ever done.

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13 crucial movies ‚Äď for zombie lovers ‚Äď at Halloween (or anytime.) By The Beau.

First, honorable mention to the TV series The Walking Dead. I know it’s not a movie, but if you want the best example of a great zombie story, go to that.

Dawn of the Dead (1978, original)
– One of the best and most influential movies of the genre. Special acknowledgement for best performance by a mall in film.
Zombie aka Zombi 2 (1979)
– Best of the foreign zombie films. Special acknowledgement for best fight scene: Shark vs Zombie!
Return of the Living Dead (1985)
– Splatstick comedy. Historically significant; the movie that started zombies saying “Brains!”
Day of the Dead (1985, original)
– Sequel to the much-loved Dawn of the Dead. A military bunker is the safest place in the world of the dead, but can the civilian population get along with the military leaders?
Night of the Living Dead (1990, remake)
– An updated and more action oriented version of the original that started it all. Special acknowledgement for best change of an ending.
Wild Zero (1999)
– Not going to make a list without putting a movie on it you’ve never heard of. Japanese zombie film starring a rock band that battles zombies using the power of rock. DVD comes with a built in drinking game, drink when: a head explodes, fire shoots out of something, someone says Rock N Roll, someone combs their hair, and many more.
28 Days Later (2002)
– Best zombie movies with no zombies in it.
Dawn of the Dead (2004, remake)
– Same premise, but different direction, than the original. Strong movie that stands side by side with the original, not in front or behind.
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
– British comedy that is a lovesong for the genre.
Land of the Dead (2005)
РInteresting premise that falls apart with cliché characters and action sequences. Still stands up better than many other movies.
The Zombie Diaries (2006)
– A shaky-cam documentary-style take on the zombie apocalypse. Surprisingly good, better than Romero’s Diary of the Dead.
Planet Terror (2007)
– A modern homage to the cult films of yore. Extra gore, extra cult.
Zombieland (2009)
– Survival comedy that walks the line between homage and parody. Good entry movie for the genre, though it may make earlier films less scary.

Best for Halloween night: Night of the Living Dead (1968).

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Courting Creepy: 13 iconic movies – for those in need of a horror foundation – at Halloween (or anytime.)

Introducing Courting Creepy:

The Paranormalist blog, when it comes right down to it, is all about luring a wider audience to my beloved horror genre. This month, I am introducing a new feature – Courting Creepy – which I hope will make the world of the dark and paranormal a little more attractive and accessible to non-hardcore, non-typical fans.

Click to go to the page ‘o lists.

In his book about the horror genre, Danse Macabe, Stephen King wrote about the distinctions between (1) the gross-out, (2) horror and (3) terror:

‚ÄúThe Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm.¬†The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm.¬†And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…‚ÄĚ

Though we still call this genre horror, many recent horror movies (including torture-porn films like Hostel) seem more inclined to slop some gross-out our way rather than to strive to terrorize us Рwhich is profitable, I guess, but not for me. I prefer to pursue terror and settle for horror. With that in mind, Courting Creepy is intended to be a catalog of movies (and other media) for people who enjoy the fantastic, the darkly beautiful, the suspenseful, the eerie and, yes, the creepy, even as they (generally) avoid gratuitous violence, gore or splatter. (Bloody films will occasionally appear, but I will warn you.)

Each list in Courting Creepy will have a suggested audience right in the title of the post. All the lists will be gathered onto a page,¬†accessed¬†via a tab, on the main page of my blog. As the lists appear, please let me know if I’m hitting my targets squarely, and feel free (even compelled) to make suggestions for inclusions. (Just remember that 13 is the magic number … for every one that needs to go on, one will have to come off. Delightfully brutal, yes?)

Note: Some films will appear on multiple lists, because some films are awesome that way.

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13 iconic movies – for those in need of a horror foundation – at Halloween (or anytime.)

To kick things off, on this first day of October, I thought I’d put up a sort of primer for those that are new to horror … and for those who missed some of the older films that are absolutely essential to appreciating the evolution of the genre. (These movies are where the horror tropes came from, folks.) Working your way through these classics will enable you to understand – even be “in on” – later examples of homage and parody.

For the most part, the following films will not gross you out, horrify you, or terrorize you. Some of them are much slower paced than our modern¬†sensibilities¬†are accustomed to. They are ideal for evenings of making Halloween costumes or carving pumpkins … or even drifting off to sleep.¬†(Except Alien. Alien is freakin’ scary.)

Special note for film and history buffs: If you can find a copy which includes commentary by a film historian (for those very early films especially) you might be delighted by all that you learn.

Frankenstein (USA, 1931)
— Take a good look at some of the surreal settings.
Dracula (USA, 1931)
— Special acknowledgement for creepiest secondary character: Renfield.
Bride of Frankenstein (USA, 1935)
— Special acknowledgement¬†for¬†villain with the weirdest hobby:¬†Dr. Pretorius.
The Wolfman (USA, 1941)
— Some damn sharp dialog goes on here:
Jenny Williams: Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
Larry Talbot: [after hearing it twice already] You know that one too ah?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
— Special acknowledgement¬†for worst mom:¬†Sally Withers.
Psycho (USA, 1960)
— Special acknowledgement¬†for best performance by an inanimate object: TIE¬†Taxidermied Birds and Dangling Light Bulb.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
— You doubt me? Watch it again. It’s all there: children too often left to their own devices, disturbing sexual subtext in the backdrop, the scary house just down the block, a Halloween pageant, a scary walk through the woods, and a ghost named Boo.
The Haunting (1963)
— Watch for the ridiculously creepy scene involving the bedroom door … and for the house, which is amazing.
Night of the Living Dead (USA, 1968)
— Don’t lump this one in with the graphic zombie films that follow. This movie is the very definition of horror … and well worth watching, for the wonderful early graveyard scene and the girl in the basement, if for nothing else. ¬† Even if you have to cover your eyes through the few gross (really gross) scenes.
Halloween (USA, 1978)
— The plot of this movie is almost beside the point. (Though Micheal is the blueprint for many who would follow.) This film is about the music and the seasonal visuals. (Some blood and gore.)
Alien (Great Britain, 1979)
— Special acknowledgement¬†for best performance by a cat: Jones.
By the way, this is not a sci-fi movie; this is a classic, genuinely frightening, monster movie meets haunted house movie … in spa-a-a-ce. ¬†(Remember, it is gruesome in parts.)
The Shining (USA, 1980)
— Special acknowledgement for strangest apparently non sequitur scene in any of these films: the guy in the dog suit with the other guy. (It only seems random in the film. It’s straight out of the book, guys.)
A Nightmare on Elm Street (USA, 1984)
— Special acknowledgement¬†for most over-achieving,¬†unnecessarily¬†creative villain: Freddy Kruger. (Some blood and gore.)

Best bet for Halloween night: Halloween

Photo credit: What I am (classic movie posters) by Damian Gadal
The image has been cropped, converted to black & white, and layered under an information block.