The Scariest Movie Zombies of All-Time
Zombies, ghouls, revenants — they’re all undead humans who attack and consume the flesh of the living. Zombies are the most recognizable monsters in cinema, but there wouldn’t be any if it weren’t for George Romero. His 1968 horror masterpiece Night of the Living Dead introduced the world to the hordes of flesh-eating rotten corpses.
Once only relegated to horror, zombies now exist in all forms of pop culture. Now, we have zombie movies for kids, zombie comedies, and even zombie Christmas musicals. But zombies are supposed to be shambling nightmare creatures, and thanks to some of the most talented makeup artists of all time, they always will be. (They’re coming to get you, Barbara.)
Here’s our list of the scariest cinematic zombies of all time. Beware: spoilers ahead!
Don: 28 Weeks Later (2007)
Picking up six months after the Rage virus has decimated London, most of this film takes place within a quarantined zone of survivors trying to get life going again. Robert Carlyle’s Don might be one of the most tragic characters of any zombie film. Between his shame and guilt at what he’s done to survive, all he wants is his lost love. He gets it back but it’s too good to be true because that love ultimately leads to another nightmare of survival for the entire city and for Don’s tragic family. This movie, while not as popular as its predecessor, is still full of good grisly horror. Watch it on Hulu.
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Stephen: Dawn of the Dead (1978)
George Romero’s follow-up to Night of the Living Dead is bigger and bloodier than his first zombie film. Some say it’s a downright masterpiece. The horror mixed with sociological satire makes for a classic zombie movie. There are many notable zombies and gory moments in this, but when David Emge’s Stephen emerges from the elevator doors, it sends an absolute chill down your spine. Part of that is due to special-effects master Tom Savini. This film even features a Savini head explosion; it’s become one of his trademarks over the years.
Zombie Baby: Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Many people remember Zack Synder’s breakout film, which was a re-imagining of the Romero film from a script by James Gunn. Along with giving the zombies an upgraded speed boost, this version distances itself in many ways compared to the original film. One scene involves a pregnant mother who’s been bitten by a zombie and at this point has turned. Most of the audience knew where this scene was going, but it still didn’t prepare us for the screeching little bundle of fear. The less-is-more approach of the theatrical cut versus the extended made it even creepier.
Bub: Day of the Dead (1985)
In George Romero’s third installment of his Dead series, a band of soldiers and scientists work together in a bunker while the world is continually overrun with zombies. One zombie in particular, Bub, stands out from the rest. While Bub is not necessarily the most fearsome zombie on this list, he represents an even greater fear: zombies that can think. Bub has feelings and memories. He may have even started forming affection and friendship. But there’s plenty of other fearsome revenants in this movie and some of the greatest gore effects of any zombie movie to date, thanks again to Tom Savini along with Greg Nicotero, who cameos in the film.
Mum: Dead Alive (1992)
This movie is a zany freak show written and directed by Peter Jackson about a sweet young man whose manipulative mother is bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey. The man dies and comes back to start a zombie outbreak of insanity. If you’re squeamish, avoid this film. If you’re a fan of gore, you’ll be in heaven. Mum is one of the most disgusting zombies in history. She falls apart throughout the movie, but the old girl is pretty spry for being dead and will take your head off or eat your dog in the blink of an eye. By the end, she’s been exposed to all sorts of things and goes full-on “Super Shredder.” The entire movie is a wild ride.
First Zombie: Night of the Living Dead (1968)
When this zombie leans in and grabs Barbara in the opening scene of this classic, history was made. S. William Hinzman is the first Romero zombie of all time, and he started the slow and steady rise of the flesh-eaters. He based his “zombie saunter” and physicality on Boris Karloff’s performance in The Walking Dead (1936). Technically, they weren’t even called zombies in the film. They are referred to as “ghouls” and “flesh-eaters” instead.
Sara Cooper: Night of the Living Dead (1990)
Tom Savini directed the first remake of the original Night of the Living Dead. The story is fairly close to the original, with the biggest change being Patricia Tallman’s portrayal of Barbara. In this version, she’s much stronger and smarter. In fact, she might be one of the first “zombie heroes” in cinema, essentially figuring it all out before the others and becoming a bad-ass survivor. Out of all the zombies in this movie, the creepiest, most nightmare-inducing depiction has to go to Heather Mazur as zombie Sarah. It’s one of the most terrifying and unnerving zombie portrayals of all time, and in this version, she doesn’t even need a trowel. Check out the movie for free on Crackle.
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Tristana: REC (2007)
This film is a truly terrifying nightmare, written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza. It’s a found-footage horror film that takes place in an apartment building filled with demonic zombies. While these aren’t your typical shambling zombies, they exhibit a lot of the same traits. Most notable is this creepy girl in the attic. In fact, the night vision scenes of this emaciated figure are some of the scariest parts of the movie, even when you know what’s coming. For all the found footage horror out there, this one is one of the absolute best. Watch it on Hulu.
Tarman: Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Do you wanna party? This is one of the most fun and scary zombie movies ever made from John Russo and Dan O’Bannon. It’s non-stop laughs, chills, and screams from beginning to end. There are many notable zombies in this film, including the paraplegic zombie and the talking torso. Linnea Quigley is by far the sexiest and most lethal zombie of all time when her character, Trash, comes back from the grave. But the freakiest one of all has to go to Tarman. When he leans out and shouts, “Brains!” children everywhere shrieked in terror. Every kid’s cellar monster nightmare came true. Get “more brains” and check out this movie on Amazon.
Grimsdyke: Tales From the Crypt (1972)
This was a British film based on the same E.C. Comics as the series on HBO. In it, strangers find themselves in a room where a strange man, the Crypt Keeper, tells them awful and ghastly tales one by one. One of them is called “Poetic Justice” and deals with a kind old man played by Peter Cushing who meets a tragic and cruel end but comes back from the grave with vengeance in his heart. Cushing as a zombie might be one of the most frightening walkers of all time, even if it’s brief. It’s the tension leading up to the reveal that makes it all the more frightening.