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Ten truly memorable zombies


There's more than a lurch and a chomp to these icons of the undead...


Are zombies really that memorable? When you think about it, today’s undead munchers are not exactly an interesting crowd since all they do between meals is wander around in a trance. The pre Romero vegetarians are even worse, as they spend most of their time under the thumb of a zombie master, although on the odd occasion they do rebel against their tyrannical leader.

Zombie movies are a dime a dozen these days, and apart from a few moderately successful variations, they haven’t progressed beyond the flesh-eating antics of Night of the Living Dead (1968). But on the odd occasion a couple of zombies stand out from the faceless crowd of walking corpses, and what some these ghouls lack in personality, they make up for in other ways.

So here’s a list of ten memorable zombies that stood out for me, as an avid horror movie fan.

The Man - Carnival of Souls (1962)

Herk zombie

An interesting and thought-provoking zombie movie that must have influenced George Romero when he made Night of the Living Dead. Despite its many faults and obvious low budget, Herk Harvey’s dreamlike chiller is fascinating to watch. When a car carrying three women crashes into a river, only Mary (Candice Hillgross) survives, but has no memory of what happened. When she takes up a job as a church organist in another state, she finds herself drawn to an abandoned seaside amusement park and menaced by a well-dressed ghoul known as The Man (played by Harvey). This particular zombie is some kind of other-world messenger out to claim Mary, who should have died in the crash. His increasing presence in Mary’s ‘life’ adds an air of uneasiness that echoes vividly in the climax, where she joins The Man in a creepy dance of the dead with his fellow ghouls. With his dark suit, pale face and wild tightly curled hair, The Man is one of horror cinema’s first truly frightening zombies.

John Martinus - Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Martinus zombie!

Hammer’s only stab at the zombie genre is regarded as amongst the studio’s finest work. In a small Cornish village, several young men have died from a mysterious epidemic. This is the result of the village’s evil squire, Clive Hamilton (John Carson), who uses black magic to bring them back as zombies to work in his tin mine (no need to pay them!). These zombies are a grotesque lot, the most memorable being John Martinus (Ben Aris). Martinus is first seen looking quite dead in his coffin. But in zombie form, his appearance is strikingly effective, not because of how he looks, which is suitably mouldy but because of his witch like cackle as he casts the dead Alice Thompson (Jacqueline Pearce) from the disused mine shaft. Not often zombies have a good laugh at their situation!

Alice Thompson - Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Jacqueline Pearce as Alice

The film’s second memorable zombie features in an all time classic Hammer horror moment. When we first see Alice, the wife of Dr Peter Thompson (Brook Williams) she is pale, distant, and clearly unwell. Not surprising - she too is under the spell of Squire Hamilton. After being lured to her death by the squire, her husband and his mentor Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), suspecting foul play, watch over her grave. They get distracted enough to leave the graveyard so the squire’s goons can dig up the grave and open the coffin, but are interrupted by the heroes before they can remove the body. This leads to that moment when Alice changes colour and opens her eyes. “Zombie!” exclaims Sir James as she rises from the coffin. As she walks towards them, she gives a slight but extremely creepy smile before Sir James quickly beheads her with a shovel. Pearce gives a brilliant double-sided performance as Alice. Both living and dead, the latter, although brief, is equal to her unforgettable performance as The Reptile (1966).

Graveyard Ghoul - Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Hinzman, the zombie

Thanks to the master of all zombie films, George Romero, The Graveyard Ghoul (Bill Hinzman) is the first flesh eating zombie to make an appearance, although you don’t see him eating anyone! The Ghoul’s gaunt face, cropped hair and shabby suit vaguely resembled Boris Karloff’s John Ellman in The Walking Dead (1933), who Hinzman based the Ghoul on. His first scene wandering around the graveyard in the distance is unthreatening, until, without warning, he attacks Barbara (Judith O’Dea) and kills her obnoxious brother Johnny (Russell Streiner). Chasing Barbara to the farm-house, he’s a lot more nimble in his movements, giving the impression that he just died and rigor mortis hadn’t quite set in! By the time Barbara gets to the farmhouse, the Ghoul is joined by several zombies, and the terror really begins. What makes the Graveyard Ghoul such a stand-out is the fact we know nothing about him when he was alive. What was his name? What did he do? Was he a good person or a bad person? It’s that aura of mystery that makes him all the more unnerving, although some years later, modern footage was added (with a much older Hinzman) giving the Ghoul a past as a child molester. Despite destroying the mystique somewhat, the Graveyard Ghoul is the most interesting of Romero’s early zombies.

Karen Cooper - Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Kyra Schyon

From Romero’s first screen zombie to the film’s most famous mascot, made all the more disturbing by the fact this flesh-eater is played by a little girl. It’s also notable that Karen Cooper (Kyra Schon) is the first human character to turn into a zombie after being bitten by one some time before, although nobody finds out until it’s too late. For the early part of the film, Karen is in the cellar of the house where her parents and other assorted individuals are battling against an increasing zombie force. Her first appearance in zombie form is quite shocking as her mother Helen (Marilyn Eastman) retreats into cellar when the zombies break in, only to find Karen munching her dead husband (Karl Hardman). Karen then picks up a trowel, and repeatedly stabs Helen, whose maternal instincts prevents her from defending herself. It’s an unsettling moment that still packs a punch today.

Arthur Grimsdyke - Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Cushing zombie

The anthology films produced by horror specialists Amicus were basically creepy fairy-tales with a moral message, and the story of Arthur Edward Grimsdyke (Peter Cushing, giving his finest film performance) is saddest of them all. Mr Grimsdyke is an elderly dustman who lives alone in a small house situated in a snobbish middle class village. Although widowed, he spends his free time collecting stray dogs and making toys for the local children. The one person who dislikes him is snotty-nosed neighbour James Elliott (Robin Phillips), who regards the old man as an eyesore in the village. The fact that Grimsdyke’s house has a certain land value prompts James to start a hate campaign to force Grimsdyke to sell up. Firstly he digs up a neighbour’s garden and blames it on Grimsdyke’s dogs. Then he uses his influence in the council to put him out of a job. James even spreads gossip among the residents, claiming that he’s a paedophile in order to stop the kids from visiting. Finally he sends a load of cruel Valentine cards that breaks the old man’s heart (and mine too!) and drives him to suicide. What James failed to realise throughout his hate campaign was the fact that Grimsdyke practised spiritualism. A year after his death, Grimsdyke, now looking suitably skeletal, rises from his gave to pay James a visit. The following morning James’ father finds his son dead at his desk, beside him a poem written in blood. “You were mean and cruel right from the star. No you really have no……“ James' heart finishes the poem in gruesome style.

Guthrie - The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974)

Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue

Jorge Grau’s interesting, if flawed chiller brings out a few inventive twists that compensate for the bad dubbing and appallingly misunderstood geography of the UK (although the locations are well used). It tells the story of George and Edna (Ray Lovelock and Christine Galbo) who journey to the Lake District to visit Edna’s drug-addicted sister, only to find themselves contending with zombies and a bigoted Irish cop (Arthur Kennedy) who refuses to believe their story. The way the zombies are revived is unusual; a sonic device, used by farmers to make unwanted pests and bugs to eat one other, also causes the dead to rise. The zombies themselves are not that creepy bar one, a tramp called Guthrie who had previously drowned. Perfectly played by Spanish actor Fernando Hillbeck, Guthrie makes an excellent impression when he first attacks Edna. Hillbeck’s impassive stare and imposing figure gives Guthrie a mysterious other worldly menace that wouldn’t look out of place in a Romero movie. It’s just as well as he’s the only zombie to feature in the first half of the film. Hillbeck’s presence throughout the beginning is truly horrifying; it’s such a shame he gets killed off again as the other zombies simply haven’t got that sense of danger about them.

Boat Zombie - Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Haggerty zombie

Lucio Fulci’s overrated zombie ‘masterpiece’ manages to achieve some classic moments, the infamous eyeball scene, an unsettling music score, a zombie eating a shark, the hilarious climax (“They’re at the door! They’re coming in! Aaaaaagh!”), and an evocative opening scene in Manhattan Harbour that equals anything Woody Allen has ever put on celluloid. It also boasts an unforgettable zombie who became the film’s mascot. An abandoned boat sails into the harbour, where it is apprehended by a police patrol. Two policemen board the boat to investigate. One goes below deck to see various disgusting things, including a grossly obese zombie, who, judging by the size of him, looks as though he’s devoured the entire crew. After killing the policeman, he climbs on deck, where he’s gunned down by the other cop, the force of the bullets pushing him overboard. It’s a pretty good start, made all the more interesting by the fact there is a deleted scene of the zombie rising from the water and walking onto land. To be honest, Fulci’s remaining zombies do not come close to the imposing presence of this ghoul, who is played by a chap called Captain Haggerty. As point of interest, Fulci filmed the New York scenes near to a bar that attracted punks, goths and other assorted oddballs, and Captain Haggerty, in full zombie make up and costume, popped into the bar for a drink – no one batted an eyelid! Guess he was a great deal scarier on film!

Bub - Day of the Dead (1985)


Romero’s brilliant sequel to Dawn of the Dead (1979) included an interesting comment from a scientist (Richard France) stating that the undead had no intelligence or reasoning power, although some had remembered behaviour from their previous existence, including the primitive use of tools. This explains how the zombified Stephen (David Emge) still knew about his former friends’ hiding place. With his next film, Romero takes this further with the introduction of Bub (Howard Sherman) a zombie in the care of potty Dr Logan (Richard Liberty). Not only does Bub respond to music, he can speak a few words, sees Logan as a father-figure instead of dinner, and even remembers his past life in the military when he salutes mad Captain Rhodes (Joe Pilato). However his ability to operate a pistol is a little too close for comfort. Unfortunately Logan’s decision to reward him with human flesh turns out to be the scientist’s undoing, when Rhodes guns him down. Bub’s reaction to seeing his dead ‘mother’ is both sad and poignant, and brilliantly conveyed in Sherman’s subtle performance. Of course being a horror film, Bub, pistol in hand takes suitably gruesome revenge on Rhodes, not forgetting to salute the nutty captain as he’s torn apart by zombies.

Big Daddy - Land of the Dead (2005)

Big Daddy

Following Bub’s initial success in evolving into something more than a flesh eater, Romero took it a stage further with the introduction of Big Daddy, brilliantly played by Eugene Clark. In Land of the Dead, human society has collapsed, with the survivors walled up in a city ruled by sharp suited executive Kaufman (Dennis Hopper), who watches over his kingdom from his plush apartment building like a ruthless dictator (albeit of the civilised kind). However, life in the big city is about to change, thanks to a zombie invasion force led by Big Daddy. A gas-station attendant in his former life, Big Daddy has not only attained Bub’s awareness of the world around him, he’s developed communications skills with his fellow ghouls, problem-solving intelligence and leadership abilities. He even feels anger at the atrocities of the humans and sadness when a zombie is killed. Big Daddy is the cinema’s most enigmatic zombie and Clark’s performance adds warmth and personality. It leaves the question as to whether Big Daddy will ever come face to face with Bub. Interesting thought!

That’s it, well not quite. Might as well leave it with Linnea Quigley’s zombie Trash doing her famous nude dance in Return of the Living Dead (1985)! Need I say more!

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