Greatest Zombie Films

Greatest Zombie Films

1985 - 1989

Greatest Zombie Films
(chronological by time period and film title)
Introduction | 1930s-1950s | 1960s-1970s | 1980-1984 | 1985-1989
1990s | 2000-2006 | 2007-2009 | 2010s

Greatest Zombie Films: 1985 - 1989
(chronological by time period and film title)
Title Screen
Zombie Films

Day of the Dead (1985)
d. George A. Romero, 103/96 minutes, United Film Distribution Company (UFDC)/Laurel Entertainment

Tagline(s): "This spring, the dead will rise!" and "The darkest day of horror the world has ever known."
Setting: Florida, in a claustrophobic underground bunker, with two competing groups: a military-industrial complex consisting of trigger-happy soldiers, and mad scientists experimenting with hostile, specimen zombies.
Story: In this sci-fi disaster film, 'undead' flesh-eating zombies had taken over the world (at a ratio of 400K to 1). Human survivors, including scientists and the military, were trapped inside an underground missile silo installation. Fascistic, megalomaniac Captain Rhodes (Joseph Pilato) was in charge. In an era of Reaganite militaristic politics obsessed with science, this claustrophobic tale told of sadistic experiments performed on zombies in a subterranean bunker. Dr. Matthew Logan (Richard Liberty), known as "Frankenstein," was experimenting with the domestication of zombies, while scientist Dr. Sarah Bowman (Lori Cardille) was struggling to find a cure for the apocalyptic plague and epidemic of undead swarming throughout the country. Its climax was non-stop dismemberment, disembowelment, and beheadings, as the zombies took over the complex. Rhodes was ripped apart at the waist by the undead creatures. He defiantly yelled out with his intestines exposed: "Choke on 'em!"
Notable: Part 3 of Romero's original zombie trilogy. This third film was regarded as the most dialogue rich and the goriest in the original trilogy. The film cleverly set the genre on its head again, showing how the living dead were misunderstood and oppressed. With the character of semi-intelligent, humanized zombie "Bub" (Sherman Howard). Although not well received originally - and the lowest-grossing film of the three - it has since become a cult classic after revisionist thinking. Remade by Steve Miner as the direct-to-video Day of the Dead (2008), with little plot resemblance to the original - a box-office flop. There was also an "illegitimate sequel" direct to video - Day of the Dead 2: Contagium (2005).

Lifeforce (1985, UK/US) (aka Space Vampires)
d. Tobe Hooper, 116/101 minutes, Golan-Globus Productions/The Cannon Group/TriStar Pictures

Tagline(s): "In the blink of an eye, the terror begins," and "The cinematic Sci-Fi Event of the Eighties"
Setting: London's European Research Centre, and throughout the surrounding area of London.
A British-American H.M.S. Churchill space shuttle mission to intercept and study Halley's Comet discovered a 150-mile long derelict alien spaceship within the comet's coma (tail or atmospheric cloud). Inside were thousands of giant dead bats (prehistoric-looking and dessicated) - and three humanoid creatures ("two nude males and one female") "perfectly preserved" within clear, coffin-like suspended-animation crystalline sleep cases. The astronauts regarded the female specimen as "perfect." Upon its return 30 days later, the interior of the ship had been gutted by fire and the crew were dead, presumably drained of their 'lifeforce.' The aliens in the cases were about to be dissected. Suddenly, the energy-sucking, humanoid 'space-girl' vampire (Mathilda May) awakened, sat up, slipped off the examining table, and smiled/glared at a guard. The beautifully naked, human-looking creature removed the guard's helmet, and kissed him - sucking the energy or 'lifeforce' out of the guard, and turning him into a dessicated, shriveled-up mummy corpse with leathery withered skin. All infected or zombified victims could then regenerate or transform themselves after two hours and continue the exponential, chain-reaction cycle of draining others (with a two-hour time limit until they needed a new energy transfusion), before becoming dessicated (a pile of dust) a final time. The naked "Space-Girl" calmly walked out of the facility by subduing other guards in the main lobby and blowing out the large window panels with her supernatural powers. She and the other two male alien creatures would soon terrorize London and further, seeking more life-energy and turning its inhabitants into zombies. Like "vampires of legend," the three alien creatures were spreading infection like a plague (even infecting the Prime Minister), causing the streets to be overrun with zombies. With martial law ineffective, a thermonuclear device delivered by NATO might need to be detonated to sterilize the area. In the finale, one of the Churchill astronauts - chosen one Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback), was psychically-linked to the alien female. He wished to be reunited or "mated" with the "Space-Girl." On a cathedral altar, he gave her back the energy she had originally given him by accepting her entreaty: "Be with me. Come with me, Carlsen." During an ecstatic nude embrace and kiss, she admitted: "You're one of us. You always have been. You're like me. Be with me. Just a little more." Self-sacrificially, he then skewered both of them with a leaden stake mid-coitus, as electric red and blue rays and swirls emanated from their bodies. Their souls merged together into a gigantic blue column of light that ascended and funneled into the umbrella-shaped alien mothership above, before the vessel departed.
Tobe Hooper's Alien-like sci-fi/horror film had the working title Space Intruders or Vampires from Outer Space - similar to the name of the original 1976 novel "The Space Vampires" upon which the film was based.

Re-Animator (1985)
d. Stuart Gordon, 86/95/104 minutes, Empire Pictures/Re-Animator Productions

Tagline(s): "H.P. Lovecraft's classic tale of horror...It will scare you to pieces," and "Herbert West has a good head on his shoulders...and another one on his desk."
Setting: University of Zurich Institute of Medicine in Switzerland, and Miskatonic Medical School in Massachusetts.
Story: After controversial medical experiments in Zurich, Switzerland, where nerdy medical student Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) was suspiciously involved in the corpse-reviving death of his professor, Dr. Hans Gruber (Al Berry), West transferred to Miskatonic Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts.
He resumed his obsessive experiments with bringing corpses (and body parts) to life, with the help of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a fellow co-worker/student and his apartment roommate. West had developed a glowing green serum or reagent to regenerate life, first successfully demonstrated on Dan's dead cat Rufus. Dan reported Herbert to Dr. Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson), the Head or Dean of the medical school, and promptly had his student grant suspended and Dr. West was expelled from the school. Now under cover, Dan joined Herbert to prove the formula worked, using bodies from the school's basement autopsy room. However, the reanimated corpses became violent, frenzied and blood-thirsty zombies. And one of them savagely attacked and killed Dean Halsey, when he found the two students trespassing. Now that Halsey was a zombie, West's jealous and blackmailing superior and rival, brain surgeon Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), operated on the Dean's zombie corpse with a lobotomy, discovered Halsey's reanimation, and attempted to plagiaristically steal West's work. In the climactic ending, Dr. Hill was decapitated by West, but then after reanimating - Hill sexually forced his headless self upon Dan's kidnapped fiancee, Megan Halsey (scream queen Barbara Crampton), daughter of the Dean, who was strapped nude to an operating table. In the amazing scene, the decapitated Dr. Carl Hill (carrying his own disembodied head) had oral sex ("head") with Megan. A free-for-all battle of reanimated, mind-controlled, beserk zombies led to the death of Megan (who was injected with the reagent and brought back to life).
Notable: A low-budget, horror comedy, and cult film favorite, similar to the Frankenstein tale. An adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's early 1920s serial novella Herbert West: Re-Animator. Many variations existed on home video (R-rated, unrated, and extended). With two sequels: Bride of the Re-Animator (1989) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003).

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
d. Dan O'Bannon, 91 minutes, Hemdale Film/Fox Films Ltd./Cinema 84/Orion Pictures

Tagline: "They're Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!"
Setting: Louisville, Kentucky, in 1984
Story: The film began with the premise, told by Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse foreman Frank (James Karen) to new teen employee Freddy (Thom Matthews) that George Romero's cultish 1968 hit was based on a real-life incident. Frank described a chemical spill at a VA hospital that leaked into a morgue and reanimated all of the dead bodies. He then told how there was a military cover-up, and the reanimated bodies were shipped off for storage, and because of various blunders, the bodies accidentally came to their warehouse. When showing Freddy an old Army military drum of deadly toxic gas (that caused the dead to rise up) in the basement, Frank accidentally ruptured it - and released a deadly toxic gas, and animated a frozen cadaver in the facility. Boss Burt Wilson (Clu Gulager) recommended that they kill the cadaver, when Frank asked about the inherent difficulty in killing something already dead. Frank responded: "It's not a bad question, Burt." When they cremated the attacking, carnivorous, brain-hungry zombie (now in dismembered parts) at the nearby Resurrection Funeral Home, ashes from the fire caused acid rain that fell on an adjoining cemetery - unleashing more hordes of zombies onto the unsuspecting town, and upon the punkish teens who were partying in the graveyard.

Notable: An enjoyable, original parody or black-humor satire (O'Bannon's directorial debut film) on the zombie subgenre, based loosely on George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968), about ghouls rising from the dead. With a heavy-metal punkish soundtrack. Created variations or new "rules" for Romero's zombies - the creatures could talk, walk at normal speeds, and they were more indestructible. Followed by inferior sequels Return of the Living Dead II (1988) and Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), and two more films in 2005, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005) and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave (2005). With "Scream Queen" Linnea Quigley as death-obsessed Trash, a leather goddess and sexy teen punkette performing a memorable nude graveyard dance on a tombstone.

Night of the Creeps (1986)
d. Fred Dekker, 88 minutes, TriStar Pictures/Delphi V Productions

Tagline(s): "The good news is, your dates are here. The bad news is... they're dead," and "If you scream... you're dead."
Setting: 1959 (prologue), then 1986 at Corman University.
Story: A dating college couple at a lover's lane parking spot, Pam (Alice Cadogan) and Johnny (Ken Heron), witnessed a meteor-like object falling to Earth, landing near an insane, axe-wielding mental patient escapee. As Pam was being attacked and bloodily hacked to death in the car by the maniac, a parasitic space-slug was ejected from the space alien object and shot into Johnny's mouth. In 1986, two sex-obsessed, nerdy college freshmen, lovesick Chris Romero (Jason Lively) and his handicapped friend James Carpenter "J.C." Hooper (Steve Marshall) decided to become fraternity pledges, so that Chris could win the heart of sorority girl Cynthia Cronenberg (Jill Whitlow). They stole Johnny's frozen cadaver from their campus cyrogenics medical facility - one of their pledge-prank requirements. When the body was thawed and reanimated, they inadvertently released creepy space-leeches (parasitic slugs), dormant since the late 1950s, which infested the bodies of the townsfolk (by incubating and laying eggs in the brain). The host bodies were turned into living-dead, homicidal zombies. Hard-boiled ex-cop police detective Ray Cameron (Tom Atkins), (known for saying "Thrill me") - who had been dating the female who was killed in 1959, investigated.
In the fiery conclusion, a sorority house was burned to the ground - gas-ignited - the only way discovered to kill the spreading, lethal parasites.
Notable: A fast-paced, campy, schlocky horror-comedy thriller with some nudity, underappreciated when first released, and discovered only after its video and cable-TV releases. The directorial debut film of writer/director Fred Dekker was a mix of zombie film, alien invasion, and slasher. With reverential homage to many horror film classics and B-movie cliches, including its setting (Corman University), and the names of its characters (Cameron, Hooper, Cronenberg, Landis, and Raimi, etc.) - all famous horror directors.

Evil Dead II (1987) (aka Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn)
d. Sam Raimi, 84 minutes, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)/Renaissance Pictures

Tagline: "Kiss Your Nerves Good-Bye!"
Setting: A woodsy Tennessee cabin.
Story: This gruesomely funny, zany horror film 'remake' or sequel retold (or recapped) what occurred in the first film, in the film's opening. At the remote cabin, incantations again unleased demonic forces from the dark woods outside, zombifying Ash Williams' (Bruce Campbell) girlfriend Linda (Denise Bixler) and nearly possessing him as well. After beheading and burying her, she was reanimated and her headless body attacked with a chainsaw. When his right hand was bitten, it became an evil body part and needed to be amputated - with the chainsaw. New arrivals at the cabin included the professor's daughter Annie (Sarah Berry), her partner Ed Getley (Richard Domeier), and other local rednecks - which led to more confrontations and possessions. Eventually, all of the characters were killed except Ash, who had clamped the chainsaw to his severed wrist and twirled a sawed-off shotgun into his backside-holster (and then exclaimed: "Groovy!"). Ash was sucked and propelled into a whirling portal or rift, along with his '88 Oldsmobile and other objects, into a time-travel journey to the Middle-Ages, ca 1300s - a set-up for the third film.
Notable: An exceptionally well-done sequel, a horror parody with an intense kinetic tone and quick edits, including incredible special effects, including stop-motion animation, reverse motion, lengthy tracking shots. Included the spectacular scene of Ash Williams attacked by his own hand. This was the second of three Evil Dead films in a trilogy, from 1981-1992.

I Was a Teenage Zombie (1987)
d. John Elias Michalakis, 90 minutes, Periclean/Horizon Films

Tagline(s): "I was young, reckless, and in love. Then... I was DEAD, young, reckless, and in love," and "Now the girls are dying to go out with him," and "A Killer Party You Won't Forget."
Setting: The 1950s.
Story: Six Woodbridge High School seniors including hunky baseball jock Dan Wake (Michael Rubin), his goofy friend Gordy (George Seminara), and other nerds were shopping for hard-to-get marijuana before a big spring dance. Mexican drug dealer Mussolini or "Moose" (Steve McCoy), who sold the buddies poor quality weed (sprayed with pesticide), was confronted and Dan killed him with a baseball bat. The boys dumped Moose's body in water where a radiation leak from a nearby nuclear power plant had caused the river to become toxic. Moose came back from the dead as a green-faced, vengeful zombie seeking retribution, including ripping out a tongue and other gory special effects (including the graphic tearing apart of a teen's face, and the rape and body-splitting mutilation of Hilda (Lynnea Benson), the girlfriend of one of the nerds in the group). After Dan was killed, the remaining teens dumped his corpse into the contaminated river, in order for him to return on their side and face off against Moose in a machete battle, and awkwardly attend the dance with blonde girlfriend Cindy Faithful (Cassie Madden).
Notable: A low-budget, campy, cheap parody of John Hughes' high-school romance films - now a satirical zombie romantic comedy, crossed with Teenage Zombies (1960) and Troma's cult classic The Toxic Avenger (1984). One of many black comedy/horror films in the wake of the popular Return of the Living Dead (1985). The sole feature film of director John Elias Michalakis. With a title track (featuring the Fleshtones) and a hip New Wave soundtrack (featuring Los Lobos, the Violent Femmes and the Smithereens) often played on MTV. Following in the tradition of other mid-1950s youth exploitation titles, such as I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957) and I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957).

Zombie High (1987) (aka The School That Ate My Brain)
d. Ron Link, 93 minutes, Cinema Group/Palisades Entertainment Group

Tagline(s): "I used to be normal...happy...well-adjusted...but that was before Zombie High", and "The incredible story of a hard-working student and the warped way of life that made her go wacky."
Setting: Prestigious Ettinger Academy, a boarding school.
Story: Pretty, scholarship-winning, smart young teen Andrea (24 year-old Virginia Madsen) attended Ettinger, an all-male boarding school recently becoming co-ed. She was striking out on her own, leaving her public HS jock boyfriend Barry (James Wilder). At her new school, her wild, boy-crazy roommate was Suzi (Sherilyn Fenn). Soon, Andrea suspiciously noticed that her normal-acting classmates were becoming strange, lifeless, robotic, homogeneous, and unusually distant - lacking distinct personalities. The 'zombified' students were now star pupils, model citizens who were dressing alike, subscribing to the Wall Street Journal and studying Latin. Andrea's tall friend and schoolmate Emerson (Paul Feig) quipped: "It's like dullness is a contagious disease around here." She discovered a sinister plot by some of the school's administration, faculty and Ettinger's evil Dean Eisner (Kay E. Kuter) - actually centuries old. They had plotted to develop a serum, derived from chemicals extracted from the brains of the students (during lobotomizing medical brain operations performed in the school's infirmary), in order to attain eternal youth. It had the effect of making the brain-washed students seemingly "perfect," obedient, and bland. Crystal microchips implanted in the students' brains were used to stabilize and control them, with subliminal messages hidden in taped classical music that was broadcast all over the campus. Andrea rushed around to be saved, somewhat, from the fate of the others by a sympathetic and admiring Biology professor named Philo (Richard Cox).
Notable: A mis-titled, satirical teen rip-off of The Stepford Wives (1975), and not a conventional Romero-styled zombie film (with flesh-eating undead) - it was more a horror-thriller hybrid. It came over ten years before a similar film, Disturbing Behavior (1998), starring James Marsden and Katie Holmes. This was Ron Link's sole feature film.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)
d. Wes Craven, 98 minutes, Universal Pictures

Tagline: "Don't bury me...I'm not dead!"
Setting: 1978 (in the Amazon Basin jungle, Boston and Haiti), and in 1985 (seven years later) in the capital Port-au-Prince of Haiti, the land of voodoo.
Story: A shaman in the Amazon jungle gave Harvard ethnobotanist David Alan (Bill Pullman) magic mushroom juice, causing visions. The president of a Boston pharmaceutics industry drug company, Andrew Cassedy (Paul Guilfoyle), sponsored Alan to travel to Haiti in 1985 (during a revolutionary period) to investigate the 'death' of Christophe Durand (Conrad Roberts) in 1978 seven years earlier, who apparently came back to life after his funeral. He was to look into a powdered "zombification" drug used in Haitian voodoo and black magic rituals - a possible new re-animating, anesthetic super-drug that rendered one paralyzed yet conscious. He met with Haitian-born psychiatrist Dr. Marielle Duchamp (Cathy Tyson), her helpful father Lucien Celine (Paul Winfield) and villainous, torture-loving witch-doctor Capt. Dargent Peytraud (Zakes Mokae), head of the TonTon Macoutes - the Haitian secret police. The evil and menacing Peytraud tortured and used the zombie powder on Alan, then buried him alive in a coffin (with a tarantula), before he was resurrected and faced off with Peytraud.
Notable: Wes Craven's first and sole film about supernatural voodoo zombies, supposedly "based on a true story" (and I Walked With a Zombie (1943)), with some surreal dream/hallucination sequences, and an excruciating torture scene (nailed scrotum).

Pet Sematary (1989)
d. Mary Lambert, 103 minutes, Paramount Pictures/Laurel Productions

Tagline(s): "Sometimes dead is better," and "A Pet Isn't Just For Life."
Setting: Rural Ludlow, Maine.
Story: The Creed family had moved from Chicago to an old farmhouse in rural Maine - next to a busy highway (filled with trucks). The Creed family consisted of: husband Dr. Louis Creed (Dale Midkiff), his wife Rachel (Denise Crosby), their daughter Ellie (Blaze Berdahl), and toddler son Gage Creed (Miko Hughes). Creed often experimented with the resurrection or resuscitation of the dead - first hinted at via a pet sematary (built on the remains of an ancient Micmac Indian burial ground) behind the house. When the Creed family's cat Church was killed by a truck and buried in the pet sematary, it was resurrected as an undead zombified creature - with a foul stench and glowing eyes. Two other zombie rebirths also occurred: (1) the grotesque corpse of patient Victor Pascow (Brad Greenquist), a college student and highway accident victim with a nasty head injury, was suddenly reborn. And (2) toddler Gage, after a truck tragically killed him on the highway, was also transformed into an evil undead, soul-less stalker, after being buried in the sematary. He began murdering people with his father's sharp surgical scalpel, including taking the life of elderly neighbor Jud Crandall (Fred Gwynne). In the film's haunting climax, Gage also killed his own mother Rachel. Louis gave his son a lethal injection of chemicals to stop him from any further misdeeds. And he buried Rachel in the pet sematary. However, his bloodied and dirtied undead wife (moaning "Darling") returned as a resurrected zombie. She entered the kitchen where Louis was playing cards. He unwisely kissed her as she was about to murder him with a long knife - when the credits began to roll.
Notable: A supernatural-psychological horror film, also known as Stephen King's Pet Sematary, due to its adaptation from King's 1983 horror novel of the same name. The film's title was deliberately mis-spelled as Pet Sematary. Followed by the sequel, Pet Sematary Two (1992).

Redneck Zombies (1989)
d. Pericles Lewnes, 84/90 minutes, Troma Entertainment

Tagline: "They're Tobacco-Chewin', Gut Chompin', Cannibal Kinfolk from Hell!"
Setting: Backwoods of Maryland.
Story: Tyrone Robinson (Tyrone Taylor), a lone, dope-smoking soldier from Fort Henry Dicker, Maryland was driving on a dirt road in a Jeep, when he lost a barrel of chemical warfare toxic waste. It ended up rolling down a hill, where he was confronted by fat backwoods hillbilly-redneck Ferd Mertz (Bucky Santini) wielding a shotgun. Then, outnumbered by the Clemson family, consisting of Jed "Pa" Clemson (E.W. Nesneb), Junior (P. Floyd Piranha), Jethro (William Decker), and Billy Bob (or "Elly May") (director Pericles Lewnes), Ferd fled, while the dimwitted group used the barrel as their moon-shining still to make whiskey. They also opened up the barrel, mixed the contents with their own corn mash in a damaged still, and drank its green contents - turning them into insane, flesh-eating, body-melting zombies, who distributed the mason jars with jello-green contents to townsfolk to contaminate them too. Pot smoking hikers/campers in town, included 'final girl' Lisa Dubois (Lisa M. DeHaven), token black dude Bob (Anthony Burlington-Smith), Bob's girlfriend Theresa (Darla Deans), Sally (Boo Teasedale), and Wilbur (James H. Housely). Theresa, Sally, and Andy (Martin J. Wolfman) were the first victims of a zombie attack. The campers found they could fight off the zombies with deodorant spray.
Notable: A tongue-in-cheek, comic splatterfest zombie movie, cheaply made video, badly-acted, gory and bloody (with disembowelments, eyeball munching, etc.), with rip-offs of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and stereotypical, offensive, non-PC jokes.

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