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Night of the Movies Romero Didn’t Make

As a fan of horror, and specifically the zombie sub-genre, it’s hard not to be a fan of George A. Romero. He not only breathed new life into an already-past-its-prime monster, but gave it the lore and rules that are still being followed to this day. His first three entries into the cycle work not only as gorefests, but as sophisticated satires of a society bent on self-destruction long before the dead started rising. Unfortunately, since the first three, Romero has made three other films bearing “of the Dead” that few could deem sophisticated. His latest, the totally nonsensically-titled “Survival of the Dead,” made me wish I didn’t watch it, so I thought I’d mention some of the entries into the genre that don’t bear Romero’s name or myth at all. These are the Top 6 Romero-Free Zombie Movies.

This Spanish/Italian film from the pre-Dawn era of undead flesh-eaters is an under-appreciated gem. It tells the story of long-haired hippie George (Italian heartthrob Ray Lovelock) accompanying pretty Londoner Edna (Spanish actress Cristina Galbo) through the countryside in her tiny little English car. Along the way they are attacked by people who just plain don’t look right. It’s probably because they’re reanimated corpses. Obviously. Unfortunately, when the youngsters go to the police, they are immediately suspected of the grisly murders themselves by the youth-hating Inspector (Arthur Kennedy). The Manson Family murders had just recently been committed so this movie definitely sought to point out the backlash the counterculture felt shortly thereafter, and to offer some kind of revenge against the squares. This movie is noteworthy also for having a number of completely unrelated titles. The original Italian title is “Non si deve profanare il sonno dei morti” or “Do Not Speak Ill of the Dead,” which no one on screen really does, nor is that the reason they rise. Another title is “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie,” which, again, is not something anyone is disagreeing with. I think George and Edna would have happily left the dead fuckers alone the whole time. The most absurd one is “Don’t Open the Window,” despite there not being a single instance in the film where someone befalls any harm after opening a window.  Nor does a scene exist where someone opens a window. Nor is there a scene where there’s a window. The best title is the “Manchester Morgue” one, even though that only explains something like 30 seconds of screen time.

This movie is, to put it mildly, one of the weirdest fucking movies I’ve ever seen. Long before he made “Porky’s,” and “Baby Geniuses,” director Bob Clark used to make interesting horror movies. The year after this, he made both the slasher archetype “Black Christmas” and another zombie movie “Dead of Night” (aka “Deathdream) about a boy killed in Vietnam who returns home as an decaying bloodsucker. Both are interesting in their own right, but it’s his first that is the most notable in my book. It follows an irritating theatre troupe as their leader tries to raise a dead body. They go to a cemetery and play pranks on each other and argue for most of the film as they dig up a body, named Orville, and say some phony magic words. A little over two-thirds of the way into the movie, something unprecedented happens: the other dead bodies in the graveyard begin to rise. It then becomes a genuinely scary and bleak zombies-attacking-a-house story where the annoying people get their comeuppance and Orville has a “coming out party.” A remake was in the works until Bob Clark’s untimely death from a car accident in 2007.

Director Jean Rollin was known for pornographic vampire films in his native France when he was approached by producer Claude Geudj to make what became this film. It began as a desire to cash in on the American disaster movies like “Earthquake” and “The Towering Inferno,” but when finances proved prohibitive, they decided to modify the format of a group of people hindered in travelling from point A to point B by various problems (every four minutes) into the horror oeuvre Rollin was used to. The premise is what makes this movie interesting. A certain vineyard is using a hazardous pesticide on its crops which gets made into wine. But instead of just making people sick, drinkers of the vino made from the Grapes of Death start to rot from the inside out, making them mindless and bloodthirsty ghouls who stalk the French countryside. Displaying a good amount of a gore, and even R-rated versions of Rollin’s X-rated roots, “Les Raisins de le mort” is a worthy entry to the non-Romero group.

It’s rare to find an understated horror-comedy in any capacity, least of all one of the zombie ilk, but this Italian outing manages to be just that. It’s a film full of romance and heartache as well as misunderstandings and silliness, but there’s also a fair amount of head-shooting and throat-tearing. It’s the story of Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) who is the proprietor of the local mortuary/cemetery. This particular cemetery seems to bring people back to life, so on top of all his normal duties, Francesco also has to put the residents back down once they get up. He falls in love with a young widow and in a particularly ill-conceived instance, has sex with her on her husband’s grave. Go figure, ol’ hubby gets up and is pretty pissed about this whole thing and bites his wife, forcing Francesco to shoot her before she becomes an undead creature herself. Of course, she didn’t die from the bite and he shot her when she was alive. Francesco is wracked with guilt and starts killing the townsfolk BEFORE they die to save him the trouble of dealing with them later. The film ends with probably the bleakest and most existential of finales, proving that there really is nothing beyond our own little worlds.

Part “Frankenstein,” part “Braindead,” Stuart Gordon’s 80s monster classic “Re-Animator” is the perfect mix of grossness and hilarity. One of the themes of these movies I’ve chosen (with the exception of the previous one) is that the zombification is explained as opposed to the Romero model of having zombies appear due to God knows what. In “Re-Animator,” it’s all there in the name. This guy, Dr. Herbert West, is TRYING to raise the dead, and breaks all kinds of ethics laws to do it, even resorting to murder. That’s how you get the freshest specimens, after all. Full of black humor and memorable lines, “Re-Animator” also has one of the most shocking images in all of horror, where a dead body holding its own decapitated head attempts to perform oral sex on a kidnapped co-ed. It’s so insane that you wonder why no one thought of it sooner.

I – SHIVERS (1975)
David Cronenberg is often hailed as the king of body horror, which started early with this Canadian horror classic. In “Shivers,” also known as “They Came From Within,” a semi-mad scientist is experimenting with parasites in an attempt to aid in transplants (?) but really he thinks people have lost touch with their instincts and flesh, so the parasite is actually part aphrodisiac and part venereal disease. He infects his teenage mistress and sets her loose in an enormous ultra-modern apartment complex in Montreal. The effect of the parasite on the host is to create a sex-crazed maniac, hell-bent on spreading the disease to everyone in the vicinity. It’s up to a physician and his assistant to stop it before the city is lost to mindless lust. Some of the images from this film were copied by Romero in “Dawn of the Dead,” and even though the premise sounds like a porno, “Shivers” actually works as a pitch-perfect allegory to the AIDS epidemic, which was just in its infancy back in the 70s.

One of my goals with these lists is not only to entertain but to educate and I would definitely recommend all of these movies to anyone who hasn’t yet seen them. You might also notice I didn’t include “Return of the Living Dead.” The reason is simple: I fucking hate that movie. Happy viewing!

You’re welcome.


Images: Hallmark Releasing Corp, Anchor Bay, Synapse Films, October Films, Empire INternational Pictures, Cinepix Film Properties Inc.

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  1. tuffhippy says:

    Going way back here to an oldie starring the MAN HIMSELF, Vincent Price, called (I believe) “The Last Man on Earth.” Seriously creepy, kick-ass ending, makes you think. Triple threat. “Tokyo Zombie” is a kung fu riot, and although technically not a zombie movie, “28 Days Later” gives me nightmares every time. Every time. My terror is only ever slightly tempered by the fact that Cillian Murphy also often appears in these nightmares. Shirtless.

  2. dreamstones says:

    How about Fido? What a fun twist on the zombie genre.

  3. smartbunny says:

    Return of The Living Dead. Love it. James Karen is an American Treasure. Part 2 is also pretty great and you can spot our pal Doug Benson as a zombie (if you know where to look, which I do). Mua-hahaha!

  4. WonKa says:

    Night of the Comet…. seriously. Why are all my favorite culty type movies never on lists like this? colon frowny parenthesis

  5. Kyle Anderson says:

    Dead Alive is fantastic, but I went with ones people might not have already seen. Plus, I was avoiding ones that were too much in the Romero-style.

  6. Ezy Action says:

    Dead Alive! Hell yeah! I forgot about that one. How do you forget about one of the greatest nonRomero zombie films of all time?

  7. indie says:

    Dead Alive?

  8. Good choices, although I couldn’t get through “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”. Those kids were too irritating to bear and it moved at a snail’s pace. It’s also PG, so there’s hardly any gore.

    And the original “Black Christmas” is Bob Clark’s best horror film. It’s one of the best slashers and still holds up today.

    Anyone seen “Demons”? Zombies invade a movie theater in this Italian horror gem. It’s worth checking out just to watch a scene in which a guy on a motorcycle dismembers zombies with a samurai sword…in a theater.

  9. boylorne says:

    Heavy disagree with “Shivers”.
    It was partially funded by a federal arts grant, so (as a Canadian), I’m allowed to say I hated it since my parents helped pay for it. (kidding – I heart the National Film Board)

  10. Frank Rodriguez says:

    I love your list. I own or have seen all but “Grapes Of Death”. I actually saw “Don’t Open The Window” at a Drive-in as a kid (Yes, my parents were twisted) in the Bronx. It stuck with me for years, and, as an adult I felt compelled to find it and “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead things” on DVD.
    Might I also suggest, while not completely Zombie related, “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires” AKA “The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula”

  11. travis says:

    I’m definitely old school ZOMBIE,what about Shaun, Zombieland,and not technically zombies like 28 Days?

  12. the_benj says:

    Couldn’t agree more with this list, especially Dellamorte Dellamore. Satre + Romero = DR.

    Michelle Soavi is an underrated genre director. For those who haven’t seen it, check out StageFright (aka Deliria). You can’t half tell he cut his teeth working with Bava and Argento.

  13. Something not on this list (which is great, BTW) that I highly recommend are the Blind Dead movies out of Spain, starting with La Noche del Teror Ciego/Tombs of the Blind Dead. Really excellent horror movies, really excellent zombie movies, I recommend watching the Spanish versions (admittedly because they’re gorier).

    Also, Re-Animator is based on the H.P. Lovecraft story ‘Herbert West- Reanimator’, which is why its so good.

  14. Jeremy says:

    Excellent list! Still need to see a couple of them!

    While on the subject of zombie flicks lemme be a media whore and mention “The Stink Of Flesh” (cause I helped make it)

  15. Gary Rolin says:

    Tokyo Zombies… A Must must see…

  16. Ezy Action says:

    Great list! Glad to see some love for DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE . I love that movie!! Re-Animator is also an under appreciated classic.

  17. Kijan says:

    you are my new favorite person! I own all of these and my friends hate me for it. If you haven’t seen May (2003) I think you should rent it. Hope you like it

  18. Brian says:

    “He not only breathed new life into an already-past-its-prime monster” Huh? Zombies were past their prime before the mid-60s? Zombies were hardly zombies before Romero dropped Night of the Living Dead. The term was loosely defined and they were a pretty obscure monster.

    That quibble aside, I’m always down for a good zombie list!

  19. courtney says:

    i couldn’t get to nextflix quick enough after reading this.

  20. Kyle Anderson says:

    “Shaun,” while one of my favorite movies, is heavily influenced by Romero.

  21. Jon says:

    List lacks “Shaun of the Dead”