The Dead Don’t Die, opening Friday, is indie icon Jim Jarmusch’s first foray into zombie movies, but it’s by no means the first indie zombie movie—as fans well know, the horror genre is full of low-budget movies that still manage to make a huge impact. As Jarmusch’s take on the undead shuffles into theaters, here are 10 other movies that mix brraaiinns, action, and storytelling without breaking the bank.
In this 2017 Australian-made Netflix film from Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, Martin Freeman plays a desperate father who must protect his infant daughter from the “diggers” who’ve rapidly overrun the world—with a ticking-clock element making things even more frantic after he’s bitten by his own infected wife. “Australian-made” is important here because Cargo is ultimately an allegory about Australia’s troubled colonial history, lending an extra layer of depth to what’s also a gripping, emotionally involving tale of survival...or not-survival, depending on the character.
What Ryuhei Kitamura’s 2000 film—which the director, who went on to make Godzilla: Final Wars and Midnight Meat Train, claimed cost just $10,000—lacks in technical polish, it makes up for with some wonderfully nutty ideas and impressively energetic performances. Yes, Versus is a zombie movie, but it’s also a samurai movie, a Yakuza movie, an action comedy, a Western, and a few more genres sprinkled in there too, what with the reincarnations and mystical portals. Plus, more than a few stylistic hints that Kitamura is a huge Mad Max fan. Most movies couldn’t do that with a million bucks, but most movies aren’t Versus. It’s no cinematic masterpiece, but it is possibly the next best thing: a bona fide cult classic.
Andrew Currie’s 2006 comedy imagines a very different sort of post-zombie apocalypse world than we’re used to seeing. In picture-perfect 1950s suburbia, humans are still in charge, having figured out how to control zombies with special collars—but there’s no real freedom for anyone, living or undead, with megacorp ZomCon calling all the shots. This comes into sharp relief when a little boy must fight to rescue his beloved pet zombie after some unsanctioned chomping occurs. Fido is a weird one—very deeply committed to its 1950s setting and themes, complete with Lassie homage and hefty helpings of Douglas Sirk-style melodrama—but it’s weird in a fun way, with a strong cast that includes Carrie-Anne Moss and Tim Blake Nelson, as well as Billy Connolly as the title character.
Jeremy Gardner co-wrote, directed, and stars in this 2012 road movie about former baseball teammates who are doing their best to avoid the ravenous herds in zombie-infested New England. But while Gardner’s more practical, action-oriented character insists they need to accept their new reality, his buddy (Adam Cronheim) can’t resist clinging to remnants of the way things used to be. While there are definitely some classic zombie encounters in The Battery, the movie’s really more concerned with these two traveling companions, whose survival narrative ends up feeling strangely realistic. In any extreme crisis situation, there are bound to be clashing coping strategies—so why should the zombie apocalypse be any different?
Chances are, you’ve already seen Tommy Wirkola’s 2009 Norwegian horror comedy, which pits a group of vacationing skiers against treasure-hoarding zombie German soldiers who’ve been frozen since World War II. Chances are, you’re probably due for a re-watch. Dead Snow’s action, gore, and likable (non-zombie) characters still hold up, though it is a little weird thinking that 10 years ago, Nazis still seemed like a historical horror, rather than something that would be making headlines with alarming frequency.
What if certain words in the English language suddenly had the power to turn people into monsters? Filmmaker Bruce McDonald’s 2008 film, which takes place during a blizzard in a small Canadian town, explores that very strange and surreal circumstance. It’s set mostly at a radio station, as an on-air personality played by Stephen McHattie and other employees start to realize what’s happening and, horrifyingly, watch as colleagues who hear certain words and phrases turn violent before their very eyes. Writer Tony Burgess adapted his own novel for the screen, and the end result is proof that zombie stories can still be told in truly unique ways.
We’ve made no secret of our love for this delightful UK import, but just in case you haven’t succumbed to it yet yourself, here are the bullet points: High-school drama. Christmas. Zombies (and all the gore and horror that goes along with that, plus a pretty funny Shaun of the Dead shout-out). And it’s a musical, with spontaneous singing, choreography, the whole nine. There’s a lot going on in Anna and the Apocalypse, but it’s all tied together with impressive levels of charm and enthusiasm. It’s too recent to have achieved cult-classic status, but it may someday—and in the meantime, Anna did manage to crack io9's top 10 movie list for 2018.
George A. Romero’s black-and-white classic—famously made for a hair over $100,000 in the decidedly un-Hollywood environs of Pittsburgh, PA—is the one that started it all. No list of indie zombie movies would be complete without it, but even more importantly, Night of the Living Dead is a 51-year-old movie that still manages to be potently eerie, even after the gobs of zombie tales that followed in its wake. Its most indelible moments include the jokey (but then, horribly accurate) announcement that “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”; the realization that a child has “turned” and pounced on her own parents; and what’s still one of the most unexpected and devastating endings in all of horror.
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