Zombies have become so trendy in the past ten years. People who barely know what the undead are about will tell you that they just love zombies. There are YA novels about zombies; there are bumper stickers that reference the zombie apocalypse. But, most people that profess an undying love for these revenants know little or nothing about zombie cinema, prior to 28 Days Later. Obviously, we think that lack of knowledge is totally uncool.
As any good horror fan knows, George A. Romero was instrumental in popularizing zombie cinema and deserves most of the credit for the ‘zombie mania’ that exists today. However, there is a veritable plethora of zombie cinema that came out of Europe in the ‘70s and ‘80s that the casual horror fan may not be intimately familiar with. Being the altruistic and well-informed people we are, we have opted to drop some knowledge. We’ve put together a list of five of our favorite retro European zombie films. Who knows? You may even find a title or two on our list that you haven’t yet seen.
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue
The story plays out something like this: A couple of strangers, brought together by fate, share a drive to Manchester. And true to form, the pair meets with unexpected consequences
The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue, a Spanish/Italian co-production, has been known by countless titles. To some, it may be better known as Let Sleeping Corpses Lie. Regardless of what title you know the film by; it is an excellent zombie film.
The zombie carnage is not in every scene, but it does not hold back when it is called for. The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue offers organ removal and a bit of the old ultra violence, here and there. Manchester Morgue’s sometimes understated approach to on screen violence allows the film to focus a bit more on the story and it even delivers a touch of social commentary. Some viewers have criticized Manchester Morgue for being slowly paced, but I didn’t get that. For me, it’s more like slow burn, leading up to a very dramatic conclusion.
The ending is pretty great. It would have been nice to see a follow up. The final scene provided a potential set up for a second film, but audiences never got to see another installment.
Nightmare City really hits the ground running. Not even ten minutes in to the film, we see police officers, with machine guns, waging full-blown zombie warfare. Most zombie films have a scene like this in the last thirty minutes of the film, but to get that kind of action right after the opening credits is a nice change of pace. I remember being pleasantly surprised, the first time I saw Nightmare City.
There is plenty of camp for camp sake in Nightmare City. We see girls doing disco aerobics attacked by zombies, which is farcical enough on its own. But, the camera is slowed down to display the carnage in slow motion for this scene. It’s ridiculous fun. We see zombies cutting off body parts with maniacal facial expressions that you will have to see to believe. Nightmare City vacillates between campy and serious, throughout the course of the film and it walks the line well.
The film doesn’t hassle much with character development. A lot of the film is just introducing characters to kill them off. Though that can be a risky move, Nightmare City more than pulls it off. Most of the characters that do stick around for the long haul are witty and deliver some clever and snarky bantering throughout the less eventful scenes.
The only downside Nightmare City is that the effects haven’t aged very well. In some of the scenes, the zombie makeup looks like mud. However, since the movie is already quite campy, I wasn’t bothered too badly that some of the effects didn’t stand the test of time. The actual scenes of carnage don’t look as bad. And, there is a fair amount of carnage. There are plenty of impalements, exploding heads, and the like to keep the average gore hound happy.
One key difference between Nightmare City and most other zombie films is that the zombies in this film actually crave blood instead of the human brain. The plus side to that is that we get to see liberal use of stage blood.
The ending will probably polarize viewers. It’s a love it or hate it kind of ending. Although, it wasn’t perfect, I loved it.
In Burial Ground, an ancient crypt is opened at the same location a group of couples have identified as a vacation spot. We soon find the undead appearing as uninvited party guests.
The couples in this film have an insatiable appetite for sex. They all want to screw their brains out, every chance they get: inside, outside, in public, in private. They don’t care. They just need sex and they need it now. What they really don’t want is to be distracted from their constant fornication by vexatious zombies. They just want to get their swerve on without interruption. But, who doesn’t love a film about sex-crazed couples being systematically picked off by the undead?
The characters aren’t very likable, but that makes it more fun to cheer for their ultimate demise. And, there are some truly fantastic demises in this film. The carnage in is epic. We see zombies grazing over a human corpse and mining the organs as if they were at a supermarket; also, maggots, worms, bad dubbing and a boy who looks old enough to vote biting his sexually generous mother’s nipple off.
There is some absolutely outrageous dialogue that would never fly today. (“You look just like a little whore. But, I like that in a girl.”)
All in all, Burial Ground is a really fun film. There’s enough sex and gore to keep viewers glued to their television for the entirety of the film.
One of two Lucio Fulci title to make our list, Zombie is one of Fulci’s most celebrated films. It is a well-loved film, amongst cult audiences, and even gets recognition in some mainstream circles. Guillermo del Toro is a huge champion of the film. Zombie is every bit as grotesque as one would expect from a Fulci film. Towards the beginning of the film, we find the coast guard investigating a seemingly abandoned and mysterious boat. Of course, the officers find much more than they were expecting. We see severed hands, arterial spray, worm-like creatures, and, of course, zombie attacks during their investigation. These events are just a precursor to what’s to come.
For the connoisseur of gratuitous nudity, Zombie has plenty to offer. There are bare nipples in the shower, bare nipples on a boat, and bare nipples under water.
Zombie may just hold the distinct honor of being the only zombie film to feature a zombie attacking a topless female scuba diver. Making the scene even more bizarre, the zombie tussles with a shark after the unsuccessful attack on his underdressed victim. I must say that they don’t make movies like they used to.
Zombie is noteworthy for exploring a zombie outbreak by way of voodoo, rather than some of the more typical methods of reanimating the dead. It is one of only a few films to take this approach, Wes Craven’s The Serpent and the Rainbow being another.
Liza, a New Yorker, learns that she has inherited a hotel in New Orleans. The renovations for the hotel exhume problems she would never have expected, even in her most depraved dreams. Liza, The hotel’s sassy new proprietor, seems to think that if you’ve come in to a property that is situated over a gateway to Hell, it’s best to just pretend like everything is fine. Because, really, what could go wrong in that scenario?
One of the main reasons we love The Beyond so much is because it is so different from its contemporaries. It’s part ‘haunted house’ tale and part ‘zombie film’. The pairing of the two sub-genres goes off without a hitch
The Beyond is really The Godfather of Gore at his grotesque best. Lucio Fulci treats his audience to more than one scene of good old-fashioned eyeball popping fun as well as a segment where a man is pulled apart by a cluster of irksome and blood thirsty arachnids. We even bear witness to a blind woman getting her neck ripped out by her companion dog. There’s a lot to see, here. Gore hounds will not be disappointed.
The Beyond is not particularly cohesive, but very few Italian horror films have ever been accused of cohesion. Though, it lacks a strong plot, this movie still scares me, to this day. Between the premise and the ample jump scares; The Beyond keeps me on my toes.