Rotting flesh can be delicious, if served in the right way. You might not want it festering next to your carrots and potatoes as the basis for a pub’s ill-advised lunchtime special, but on screen or splashed across the pages of a book? Yum. Yum.
In fact, zombies just plain work in just about any entertainment format, whether it’s videogames, films, or books. We’ve sewn together a Frankenstein-esque patchwork quilt of the best bits from each format.
In order to comply with the pesky rules of zombie classification though, we’ve had to declare some obvious choices null and void, much as we’d like to big them up. No 28 Weeks Later because they’re not zombies, they’re ‘infected’. No Resident Evil 4 for the same sort of reasons. The list goes on, but this is meant to be a Top 10 of Zombie, not a Top 10 of Not-Quite-Zombie.
Night of the Living Dead Trilogy (1968, 1978, 1985)Film
Let’s get this one out of the way first of all. There’s no way you can make a zombie list that includes films without bundling George A. Romero’s original zombie trilogy in there. The series has been re-animated once more in recent years with the release of Land Of The Dead and Diary Of The Dead but, in spite of Romero’s direction, they don’t hold a candle to the original three zombie classics: Night Of The Living Dead, Dawn and Day Of The Dead.
Now more than 30 years old, Dawn Of The Dead is generally considered to be the strongest of the three in horror circles. The story of a group of zombie apocalypse survivors that barricade themselves into a shopping mall, it’s proved an inspiration for a great many zombie-influenced greats since, including fellow zombie Top 10 inductees Dead Rising and Dead Set, the superior TV mini series from Charlie Brooker. Oh, and Zack Snyder’s remake was surprisingly good, too.
Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn (1987)Film
Evil Dead 2 is the film that really brought Ash, the ultimate B-movie poster boy, to life, in turn cementing Bruce Campbell as a demi-god of genre film-making. Although similar in story to its predecessor, Evil Dead 2 is bigger, faster, gorier and- if the term was to exist- zombie-r than the original Evil Dead.
Ash Williams takes his girlfriend to a cabin in the woods, but when he finds and plays a tape of an academic reading from the Necronomicon, all hell- as you might guess- breaks loose. Both a sequel and a remake of the original Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 runs at a much faster pace, with scenes such as Ash vs his own zombie hand proving to be an all-time highlight of the horror comedy genre.
Dead Rising (2005)Game
Not for the feint of heart, Dead Rising pits you as an intrepid photojournalist who flies into a disaster area sealed off by the military. A case of curiosity killing the cat again and again and again, Dead Rising‘s difficulty curve demands hiking boots. You can wander relatively freely around the mall the game’s set in, but the place is absolutely full of zombies, not to mention the boss character psychopaths that you’ll stumble into.
Full of filmic reference points, Dead Rising‘s zombie cred is watertight. Plus it lets you wield just about anything to take out the undead masses, from lawnmowers to parasols. It’s a title more suited to experienced gamers, with quests timing-out quite ruthlessly and an unforgiving save system. You’ll have to play through it more than once to reveal anywhere near the full story too, but your character improves as you re-play, making the extra effort worthwhile.
Left 4 Dead (2008)Game
Gaming’s latest great undead export, Left 4 Dead is a first person shooter geared towards multiplayer and co-op play. In the latter, or in plain old single player, the ‘AI director’ takes over the action, choosing when to throw the zombie hoards your way, and indeed what sorts of zombies they’ll be. Left 4 Dead features several special types of zombie, from the Smokers with their 50-foot tongues to the Tank zombies that are simply as powerful as they sound.
The best part is that you even get to control these otherworldy zombies yourself in the multiplayer mode. Designed to feel like a film in the way the action lulls just before a gang of slavering zombies burst through a door, Left 4 Dead is about as exciting as multiplayer gaming gets, zombies or no.
Resident Evil 2 (1997)Game
Improving upon the formula that the original survival horror classic setup in 1996, Resident Evil 2 represents the series’ pinnacle before it veered off into other directions, culminating in the wonderful, but arguably zombie-free Resident Evil 4.
A relatively slow-paced game where you walk slowly around pre-rendered backdrops, trying desperately to conserve ammo so that you’re not left with just a knife to defend yourself against the zombie populace. Creepy and lurching, the early Resident Evil games were imbued with a sense of dread that’s waned in more recent instalments as the games upped their pace to combat criticisms that the Resident Evil games were as slow as the zombies themselves.
Stubbs the Zombie in “Rebel Without A Pulse” (2005)Game
By contrast, Stubbs the Zombie is a light-hearted and irreverent take on the zombageddon. You play as the eponymous Stubbs, stumbling around ‘converting’ any nearby humans to your cause. In doing this, you can amass a zombie entourage until it looks like you’re trying to re-create the Thriller video in-game. Although it received a decent reception at launch, Stubbs the Zombie’s cultish fame has slow boiled over the past few years, making it now one of the most popular downloadable original Xbox games on Xbox Live.
It has a great score too, featuring hits of the 50s and 60s re-recorded by bands such as The Walkmen, The Flaming Lips and The Dandy Warhols. Although a great deal less serious than the other Top 10 candidates, Stubbs has its own brand of B-movie credibility and is a blast to play.
The Walking Dead (2003-Present)Comic
A true epic, the ongoing The Walking Dead comic series by Robert Kirkman now spans over 1000 pages. It follows the life of Rick Grimes and the other survivors he meets on the way as they try to stay alive, lopping off hundreds of zombie limbs and heads along the way. Black and white all the way through, there’s no oozing pools of red, even though the gore factor’s certainly present and correct.
It suits the story though, which is more about the characters and how they relate to each other than pure, all-out action. Not that there’s not enough zombie carnage, The Walking Dead just takes its time to let its inhabitant settle in before setting their homes alight, so to speak. It’s an addictive read and, if you can wait until May, there’s a 1088-page compendium out that’s the most cost effective way to read the first eight volumes.
Marvel Zombies (2006)Graphic novel series
A series penned by The Walking Dead author Robert Kirkman, Marvel Zombies took an initial idea used by Mark Millar in the Ultimate Fantastic Four comic and ran with it over five special edition comics. The central conceit is that just about all the superheroes of old have been turned into flesh-eaters, radically turning the tables on the norms of the superhero graphic novel.
Great writing mixed with the great artwork of Sean Phillips and Arthur Suydam make Marvel Zombies a must-read for any zombie lover with a penchant for superheroes.
Day By Day Armageddon (2007)Book
Originally released in bits on the author’s website, who himself was serving in the Navy while writing the book, Day By Day Armageddon plays out as a series of functional, even prosaic at times, diary entries. They’re not just concerned with the blasting of zombie brains, but the day-to-day realities of survival against significant odds.
It may sound dull to some, by J L Bourne’s account of a zombie apocalypse is hypnotic and rather moreish.
World War Z (2006)Book
Probably the best known of recent zombie novels, and quite possibly the best, World War Z is a fantastic account of a zombie-related end of days, told through a whole host of narrative viewpoints. From the soldier, fighting against the zombie masses with ineffective high power explosive weapons to the teenager roaming the land with a samurai sword, World War Z’s world slots together remarkably well considering how disparate some of the accounts are.
At time moving, at others exciting, World War Z is worth a read whether you’re a zombie fan or not. Having cut his teeth writing The Zombie Survival Guide, Brooks upped his game even further with this novel. Keep an eye out for Recorded Attacks, Brooks’ next zombie book. If his previous work is anything to go by, it should be a corker.