by Chauncey Telese
Happy Halloween everyone! As you all know this Sunday is Halloween which means parties, trick or treating, costumes, eating enough candy to wake up on November 1 (my friend Katie’s birthday, by the way) with type two diabetes and the premiere of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” I’m not lucky enough to see it until Sunday (there will be a review of it next week), so for now I decided as part of my own contribution to Halloween (that I’m allowed to write about) to rank the 10 best zombie moments in pop culture.
This not only spans movies, but TV episodes, music videos (gee, I wonder what video that could be), video games, books, and other areas where zombies have been used to their fullest potential. So enough preamble, let’s get on to the brain-eating goodness.
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10. Randall Skeffington-Comedy Central’s “Ugly Americans”: Our traditional idea of the zombie is either a stumbling classic Romero zombie or a swift “28 Days Later”-style zombie. Randall Skeffington is neither, he used to be a human until he wanted to hook up with a chick and found out she was into zombies, so naturally he became one. Well, the girl was into warlocks instead, leaving Randall stuck as a zombie which doesn’t bother him really except for the fact that he had to move from New Jersey to New York because New Jersey is bigoted towards his kind. He lives with the show’s main character, Mark Lilly, and is still very much a ladies man hooking up with anything that moves (I mean anything). Randall is very sarcastic and when he isn’t having random cravings for flesh (they make snack food for zombies but it’s not the same) or going to the store to replace various parts of his body, he helps Mark with whatever problem he is facing. He is probably the funniest zombie I’ve seen in awhile and I hope that Comedy Central continues to keep making episodes.
9. The Zombie Cocktail: Popularized at the 1939 Worlds Fair, this drink invented by Donn Beach who gave it that name because of its effect on those that drink it. The recipe for it goes like this: One part white rum, one part gold rum, one part dark rum, one part apricot brandy, one part pineapple juice, one part papaya juice, one part 151 proof rum, and a dash of grenadine or other syrup. Then you shake it and serve over ice then garnish it with a cherry. This drink has been mentioned in various songs and movies through out the ’40s and even today.
8. Seth Graham-Smith’s “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”: The old joke is that men won’t watch anything without violence, explosions, or nudity. This book proved that by turning Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” into a romance with a zombie breakout subplot weaved throughout the book. Smith has since adapted more stories into this model and then went on to write “Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” which will now be made into a movie produced by Tim Burton. This is one of the most unique books I’ve read and almost makes me want to read other work by Jane Austen, then I found out that she didn’t put zombies in any of her stories. Oh well.
7. “House of the Dead”: Aside from “Marvel vs. Capcom,” “Mortal Kombat,” skeeball and pinball, my favorite thing at an arcade growing up was “House of the Dead”. It was always a treat to put in my 50 cents, grab my gun, and start shooting at all of the zombies, worms, and gargoyles that you would have to shoot in order to save the day. It was always frustrating when one would throw an axe at you out of nowhere or you ran out of ammo then had to decide whether it was worth sacrificing popcorn money to continue. Andrew, Bryan, and I would play it all the time and it was sometimes the best part of going to the movies. I beat it only once because I had about an hour and a half to kill before a movie started (if memory serves, it was “The Scorpion King”) and it probably cost $10 in quarters. That game would later be turned into a terrible movie that was almost too terrible to make fun of. While “Resident Evil” was fun to play back in the day, I never really got into all of the sequels. Both games would be influential in many of the video games that are developed today.
6. “South Park: Pinkeye”: Back in 1997 during “South Park’s” first season, they did the first of several Halloween episodes. This one was about a zombie epidemic that the town assumed to be pinkeye though its real origins were mixing embalming fluid and Worcester sauce at a funeral home. Kenny, of course, was the first one infected and Cartman assumed that he had pinkeye because he was poor. Every time the boys would go trick or treating, Kenny would attack everyone at the door much to the boys’ chagrin. The ending culminated in Chef becoming a zombie and coming up with a dirty re-creation of “Thriller.” Stan and Kyle end up calling the Worcester sauce hotline which is not surprised at all by this incident as apparently it happens all the time. They kill the head zombie which means, of course, killing Kenny.
5. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”: I became a little tired of all of the “Thriller” tributes that were done after Michael died. It was annoying as it wasn’t my favorite song (that distinction goes to “Billie Jean,” “Rock with You,” and “The Way You Make Me Feel”) and just seemed so played out on YouTube. That being said, the actual video is one of the most groundbreaking music videos of all time and really emphasized Michael’s vision of music videos being short films. This is the quintessential Michael video and the video helped make “Thriller” the best selling album of all time so I’d say its impact on pop culture was pretty big. John Landis (who made some of the best comedies ever) did a spectacular job directing the video, the choreography is amazing, and the make up is incredible.
4. “Shaun of the Dead”: Edgar Wright’s 2004 send up of zombie films is one of the funniest movies of the last decade. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost enjoy one of England’s greatest bromances, and even make music with a zombie. Shaun is a salesmen whose life has no direction and his girlfriend breaks up with him. He wakes up hung over and doesn’t realize that the world has been taken over by zombies. It is one of the most gruesome comedies of all time and it does a wonderful job paying tribute to the old George A. Romero films. The film’s climax is hilarious as Shaun and Liz carry on with their lives using the zombies as cheap labor and entertainment. Shaun is still friends with Ed who he tethers in the backyard which is fine by Ed because he gets to play “Time Splitters 2.”
3. “28 Days”/”28 Weeks Later”: The 2002 original movie directed by “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Trainspotting” director Danny Boyle reinvented the zombie genre. Cillian Murphy plays Jim who wakes from a coma (common theme, but who cares) to find London deserted and taken over by zombie-like creatures who were infected by a virus. Boyle would make the zombies agile and much more aggressive and threatening then their old school counterparts. The movie was gritty, gory, and full of intimate moments that are not usually seen in horror movies. While the first one was good, “28 Weeks Later” was better. The story takes place obviously 28 weeks after the events from the first one and London has essentially become a police state. A child and a woman who take him in are all that are left after the victims of the Rage virus destroy their rural London cottage. The boy is found out to be a carrier of the virus, though he is immune, so the British government (led by a U.S. NATO force) tries to extract his blood but his female caretaker won’t let that happen. This movie had a lot more action then the first and is far more brutal. It features Stringer Bell (Idris Elba) from “The Wire” and Jeremy Renner from “The Hurt Locker.” Both movies did a wonderful job making the film relatable on a personal level as well as making strong political statements. My friend Jordan has seen this movie at least a thousand times and is always seen at least once a year around Halloween.
2. “The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror III – Dial Z for Zombies”: In one of my favorite “Simpsons” Halloween episodes ever, Bart finds a book of spells and offers to bring Lisa’s first cat Snowball I back to life. They inadvertently raise the dead and turn the town into zombies. The family is attacked by Krusty, Skinner, Sideshow Mel, and historical figures such as Shakespeare. The best moments are when Homer sacrifices himself to save the family only for the zombies to determine he didn’t have enough brains to eat. Also when Homer shoots the zombie version of Ned Flanders and Lisa says “Dad you shot the zombie Flanders” only for Homer to respond “Ned was a Zombie?” It ends in typical Simpsons fashion with Marge being happy that the family didn’t become a race of mindless zombies only to act like zombies while watching Fox.
1. George A Romero: Without Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead,” “Dawn of the Dead,” and “Day of the Dead” establishing all of the zombie rules that Romero learned from 1950s comic books, the list would not exist. His films commented on the conformist nature of society and inspired a plethora of other filmmakers to build upon the mythology that he created. His “Dawn of the Dead” would be remade in 2003 by “Watchmen” director Zack Snyder who would add in a zombie taking over the world montage to Johnny Cash’s “When the Man Comes Around.” Romero still makes zombie films to this day and some are good, though most are not very good. Romero is revered by people of various ages and that goes on to demonstrate the timelessness of his films as they resonate with people in their 50s and high school kids alike.
I hope you found at least part of this list fun and I’m sure that I left off a lot (I’m well aware of that) so if I left off something you cherish, I’m sorry. This concludes part one of my Halloween programming. In part two, I will break down the greatest Halloween TV specials of all time.