Film Inquiry Recommends: Non-Romero Zombie Films

Night of the Comet zombie

Over at our official Facebook page, we are currently posting daily film recommendations, with each week being a different theme. This is a collection of those recommendations! This week’s theme is focused on zombie films not directed by George A. Romero.

George A. Romero is a hugely influential horror film director, best known for bringing the zombie genre into mainstream fame with Night of the Living Dead, a bleak black-and-white feature film which not only introduced the idea of the zombie as a horror villain, but using an African-American protagonist was quite groundbreaking at the time. Rounding off Romero’s well-known Dead trilogy were Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. These films are just some other well-known and great zombie films that weren’t directed by Romero.

1. Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979, Lucio Fulci)

source: Variety Pictures
Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) – source: Variety Pictures

Zombie Flesh Eaters could possibly be one of the most re-titled films of all time, with its various titles including: Sanguella, The Island of the Living Dead, Zombie, Zombie The Dead Walk Among Us, Gli Ultimi Zombi, Woodoo, L’Enfer de Zombies, Zombie 2: The Dead Are Among Us and Nightmare Island.

As the film was one of the more high profile titles on the UK’s banned film list from the 1980’s (The Video Nasty List), the film was released repeatedly through different distributors in an attempt to bypass censoring in the UK. Another reason was that distributors were trying to make a cheap buck off gullible customers by retitling a film they had already bought, a tactic used by many grindhouse outlets in the 1970’s.

A low-budget feature by Italian horror director Lucio Fulci, the master of making effective exploitation pictures, which mixed brutal imagery and dream-like atmospheres, where Fulci’s knack for shock put him above his other grindhouse peers at the time. When a ship turns up in New York with a zombie on-board, it is revealed that it is the reanimated corpse of a famous American scientist.

Due to the lack of answers by anyone, the daughter of the scientist, Anne (Tisa Farrow) decides to team up with an eager journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch) to go the tropical island where she lost her father. Once they arrive to the once-lively island, they discover it has been overrun by zombies. Finding the only human survivors, Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) and his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos), who are desperately trying to find a cure for the zombie virus. As the zombies momentum starts to gain, the four must band together to attempt to cure the virus and escape the island in time.

The film’s most infamously known for the “Zombie Shark” scene, which occurs early on in the film, where a random zombie encounters a shark in the tropical waters and fights it. The craziness of this scene is that its all done practically, a man in zombie makeup is wrestling a real-life shark underwater, which will amaze you in how they managed to get away with it at all. A terrifically exploitative zombie film, which throws away any sense of political correctness for the sake of cinematic fun, Zombie Flesh Eaters is a crazy, tropical riff on the overdone zombie genre.

2. Dead Snow 2 (2014, Tommy Wirkola)

source: XYZ Films
Dead Snow 2 (2014) – source: XYZ Films

Dead Snow 2 is one of the few horror sequels that is superior to the original film. The original Dead Snow sounds like a gimmicky film: People encounter Nazi zombies. The mix of Holocaust imagery within the horror genre is not uncommon, dating all the way back to the Video Nasty film Shock Waves and the wave of Nazisploitation films in the 70’s-80’s.

Dead Snow was a competent film, but ultimately quite generic. It’s a standard zombie film which doesn’t do much new nor does it thrill enough to let you overlook its heavy flaws. Dead Snow 2 succeeds due to the film’s much more playful nature; it doesn’t take itself as seriously as the original did (a seemingly weird decision due to the film’s outlandish premise) and the action is much more ramped up in a stylistic fashion.

Martin (Vegar Hoel), the sole survivor from the horrific Nazi zombie attacks from the first film, awakes in a hospital after a narrow escape attempt. After removing his arm to stop a zombie infection, Martin’s arm has been replaced with that of Herzog’s – the leader of the Nazi zombies, that was also removed. As the police don’t believe Martin’s story of zombies and think they he simply killed all his friends, Martin escapes the hospital and goes out to stop the Nazi zombies once and for all with his new supernatural limb in tow.

Made five years after the original, the higher budget has allowed director Tommy Wirkola more room to up the ante in terms of scope, characters and special effects, which really give the film a much more epic feeling. The inclusion of English-speaking American characters (including comedic character actor Martin Starr) make this film much more internationally-relatable, even though their characters are quite superfluous to the plot.

A film which really celebrates its grindhouse roots, Dead Snow 2 is definitely worth checking out if you want a genuinely fun time watching a movie.

3. City of the Living Dead (1980, Lucio Fulci)

source: Anchor Bay Entertainment
City of the Living Dead (1980) – source: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Lucio Fulci stands as one of the kings of Italian horror, sitting beside Dario Argento, Mario Bava and Michele Soavi, with his hits including Don’t Torture a Duckling and the Gates of Hell Trilogy. The Gates of Hell Trilogy include The Beyond, House by the Cemetery and City of the Living Dead. All three films are incoherent nightmares, films lacking any character or plot, but working on a dream-logic which creates some bizarre and grotesque death scenes.

City of the Living Dead starts off with a priest hanging himself, which opens a gateway into hell, unleashing various spirits who go around and kill people in gruesome ways. As the film is working with a bizarre dream-logic, there is no proper coherent narrative. The closest thing to a plot in the film concerns a news anchor Peter (Christopher George) and a woman who was buried alive (Katriona McColl), who start tracing all the crazy deaths happening in their town and attempt to put a stop the zombie-driven curse before more people are killed.

Whilst not a traditional zombie film, due to the film’s mixture of demons, zombies and possessions, the film deals with zombies in a unique fashion. The film is infamous for demonstrating Fulci’s ability to create some incredibly effective gory set-pieces which mix practical effects with giallo camera-work, which induce queasiness still today.

The most memorable scene in the film is seemingly referred to as “The Intestines Scene”, so you already know what you’re getting into. An innocent couple is making out in a car, when the woman spots an image of the hanging priest, who spots the couple. As soon as she makes full eye contact with the priest, his deathly gaze fixes on her, which leads her eyes to start bleeding, frothy white sludge to arise from her mouth and then there’s the worst part. Her entire guts (lamb organs were used) come out of her mouth, the overt bloody imagery mixed with the misery-inducing music, makes for a kill scene which is still effective today, in a world dominated by CGI setpieces and computer-generated blood.

4. Night of the Creeps (1986, Fred Dekker)

source: TriStar Pictures
Night of the Creeps (1986) – source: TriStar Pictures

Fred Dekker is a terrific director on the verge of a cinematic comeback. With Night of the Creeps as his debut feature, Dekker showed himself as a director to watch out for, and the film has gone on to become a cult classic. His blend of old school horror knowledge with self-aware comedy that celebrates its grindhouse roots demonstrated a keen directional and writing skill.

After this, he made the child-friendly horror film The Monster Squad (alongside frequent collaborator Shane Black) which has also become a cult classic. After several writing gigs, he directed the infamous Robocop 3, the faded sequel that did poorly both commercially and critically, which subsequently put him in ‘director jail’, and he hasn’t had a feature film since. Lately, it was announced that he’d be teaming up with Shane Black to make a Predator sequel, which, if successful, hopefully gets Dekker back into the directing game.

In 1959, an alien lifeform crashes down to Earth and is found by a young teenager. It infects his body, transforming him into a flesh eating zombie. Caught by the cops, he is kept frozen and kept in a cryogenics lab. Cut to modern day, two drunk teenagers break into the cryogenics lab and accidentally unthaw the body in an attempt to fulfil a frat hazing game. This unleashes the zombie unto the unsuspecting public which start to infect a party-filled frat. It is up to humble teenager Chris (Jason Lively) and bitter Detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins) to save the day.

Night of the Creeps is a glorious B-Movie which is proud and bombastic in taking on the zombie genre. Detective Ray Cameron is one of the coolest protagonists seen in the horror genre, with Tom Atkins giving some much-needed style and gruff to the typical burnt-out cop role that was written for him. Whilst the film plays out like a typical zombie film, the film has enough humour and style which elevates it from similar movies of its ilk. A film which deserves its cult status, Night of the Creeps is a great zombie/sci-fi cop thriller which blends the genres together successfully.

5. Nightmare City (1980, Umberto Lenzi)

source: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Nightmare City (1980) – source: Anchor Bay Entertainment

In an unnamed European city, a large passenger plane lands anonymously, with no communication from the cabin crew or passengers. As the army, airport staff and reporters approach the plane to find out, the doors open and a horde of scab-faced zombies (caused by radioactive material) come out, attacking the awaiting group. A reporter, Dean (Hugo Stiglitz, the name sound familiar?) narrowly escapes and decides to team up with his nurse wife to escape the city as it is slowly overrun by the zombie virus.

The film has gone onto become a cult classic, as it is one much more enjoyable to watch in a party atmosphere rather than on your own. Bursting with non-stop violence, gory practical special effects and an old school synthesiser score gives the film its classic grindhouse charm, as the movie forgoes plot or depth in favour of extreme visuals and providing pure violent entertainment. The film is set to be remade this year by zombie film icon Tom Savini, but will probably lack the goofy charm of this movie.

6. The Battery (2012, Jeremy Gardner)

source: Magnet Releasing
The Battery (2012) – source: Magnet Releasing

Made on a budget of only $6000, Jeremy Gardner’s The Battery is an extremely fresh take on the zombie genre and proves that audiences will always respond to a slow-burning character study if they are written and executed well.

Gardner wrote, directed and stars in the film about two baseball players, Ben and Mickey (Gardner and real life friend Adam Cronheim), who are forced to become friends as they travel across a vast zombie-filled wasteland. Gardner uses aspects of the ‘mumblecore’ movement and enough horror elements to keep the plot moving, supported by the script which is very well-written, which makes the characters very entertaining to watch.

The film is packed with original ideas and it understands that sometimes less is more. The dialogue drives this film, which strives for realism and feels improvised, which adds some dimension to the character and elevates the film above its budget restrictions. Christian Stella’s crisp cinematography really helps the film to not look low-budget, as does the catchy soundtrack provided by Rock Plaza Central. A big recommendation for this film, for anyone that wants to make movies or who want to see a fresh film in a sea of predictable schlock.

7. Night of the Comet (1984, Thom Eberhardt)

source: Atlantic Releasing Corporation
Night of the Comet (1984) – source: Atlantic Releasing Corporation

Best known for being one of the first mainstream titles to receive a PG-13 rating, Night of the Comet is an excellent female-led sci-fi tale which feels like a mix of I Am Legend with Romero’s original Day of the Dead.

Director Thom Eberhardt made quite a few genre pictures in the 80’s, including Sole Survivor, this and Without a Clue, before getting himself into director jail after the critical and commercial failure of the Kurt Russell comedy Captain Ron. Eberhardt had created Night of the Comet as a vehicle for strong female protagonists, a subversion on the standard mainstream approach to women in sci-fi, who are usually resorted to love interests or ‘final girls’; characters who manage to survive by pure luck or chance and defeat the villain at the end.

One of the film’s strongest elements is its treatment of the female characters, who defy the standard tropes and become independent protagonists who can fight for themselves without depending on a male character. It’s a shame that the American marketing for the film undermined this: “They came. They Shopped. They saved the world!”

Two sisters, Regina (Catherine Mary Stewart) and Samantha (Kelli Maroney) are both displeased about their controlling step-mother and the new boyfriend she has introduced into their lives. In seperate attempts to escape their step-mother, the older Reggie goes to the movie theatre to hang with her projectionist boyfriend Larry (Michael Bowen) and Samantha hides in her room.

Due to being distracted, they both forgot about the worldwide event that has everyone pre-occupied – the passing of a comet for the first time in 65 million years, the last time it passed was when the dinosaurs were extinct. The next morning, the sisters discover that the comet has caused some form of armaggedon, with the cities completely empty and a red haze in the air. Not for long, they discover zombies lining the streets, which kill anything they see. Teaming up with a radio DJ who also survived, the ladies decide to fight back in an attempt to save humanity.

Much like many films on this list, this is another film which has become a cult classic. Despite commercial and critical success on release, the film has slowly been forgotten by mainstream audiences, now only appreciated by die-hard genre film lovers. One outspoken fan of the film is director Joss Whedon, who mentioned that the character of Samantha was one of the inspirations behind the character of Buffy. Between the strong leading performances by the two sisters, an original take on an overused sci-fi story and the terrific cinematography, Night of the Comet is one sci-fi heavy take on the zombie film which still delivers today.

Any other non-Romero directed zombie films that you can recommend?

Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.
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Alex Lines

Alex is a 24 year-old West Australian who has a slight obsession with film. When he's not frowning at Australia's slack attitude towards film and film-making, he's attempting to crack into the prestigious business of show, by making amateur comedies with his friends. With his DVD collection and wealth of film knowledge in tow, Alex continues to write about film, something he knows gets the ladies.