We love a good zombie movie - and ever since George Romero's 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead, we've gotten plenty of them. From the standard zombie survival movies to zombie romantic comedies and even zombie musicals - and everything in between - there is no shortage of great movies and TV shows about the undead out there.
But over the years, we've also gotten plenty of zombie moves that aren't really about zombies at all. We don't mean that in a thematic way, either. We aren't referring to movies that are really about the "human condition" or something. We mean movies that are, for all intents and purposes, zombie movies, but aren't about the undead. Maybe the "zombies" are just people who've been infected with a virus. Maybe they're vampires, or parasites, or alien robots, or things that cause you to take your own life if you look at them.
Whatever they are, they fulfill the same function that zombies usually fulfill in movies. They're implacable, unreasoning, and often aggressive. Most of the time, they come in swarms and overwhelm survivors with sheer numbers. They cause societal breakdown - usually on an apocalyptic scale, but sometimes more intimately. And they usually reveal that the most terrible monsters of all are within our own worst natures as survival drives us to unthinkable extremes.
Released four years before George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, The Last Man on Earth was the first screen adaptation of Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend, which was a big influence on Romero's zombie opus. The film obviously was, too, as the black-and-white images of lifeless figures swarming the house where Vincent Price, as the eponymous last man on Earth, hides out from them at night pretty clearly prefigure the boarded-up farmhouse of Romero's classic.
The difference is that in The Last Man on Earth - and Matheson's original novel - the undead are vampires, not zombies.
- Photo: Cambist Films
After George Romero pioneered the modern zombie movie with Night of the Living Dead - but before he continued that trend a decade later with 1978's Dawn of the Dead - he made a film that combines much of what he had done (and would continue to do) in his zombie films with a cautionary tale about a biological device called "Trixie" that accidentally taints the water supply of a small town in Pennsylvania.
Those who are exposed to Trixie either perish or become exremelty aggressive, while the uninfected locals must contend not only with the "crazies," but also with government troops in hazmat suits and gas masks who have been ordered to aggressively contain the outbreak.
- Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures
One of the movies credited with the cinematic rise of "fast zombies," 28 Days Later plays something like a "greatest hits" mix of George Romero's iconic films. There's just one thing: The "zombies" in 28 Days Later aren't actually zombies at all. They're people who have been infected with the incredibly contagious "rage" virus, which makes them extremely aggressive.
The virus gets loose when some activists attempt to free infected chimpanzees, and spreads throughout England in a matter of days - 28 of them, as you may have guessed from the name - leading to widespread societal collapse.
- Photo: Momentum Pictures
Brian Taylor is the writer/director of Crank, so it should come as no surprise that his contribution to the "zombie" movie subgenre is wild and frenetic. However, it also adds a surprisingly fresh angle. An unknown sort of mass hysteria causes all parents to turn on their children for 24 hours - but they have no inclination to hurt anyone else, and will even defend them.
By limiting the aggression to those we would normally count on in the event of an emergency, the film changes the dynamic of the "zombie outbreak" scenario in ways that are fascinating to watch as they play out in the background of a story about one family falling apart in the face of insensible aggression. Mom and Dad also features a classically madcap performance by Nicolas Cage.