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Best. Zombies. Ever.

Posted by Christopher Hughes  June 21, 2013 12:39 PM

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Brad Pitt fights back against the zombie apocalypse in "World War Z." (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

Somewhere between "Troy" (2004) and one of those "Ocean's" sequels, I started to have the unhealthy desire to see Brad Pitt's neck lunged at by a member of the walking dead. With the opening of "World War Z," Pitt joins the zombie renaissance that will almost assuredly cake his tussled mane in the pomade of zombie goo and gore.

We're celebrating the premiere of this highly-anticipated summer blockbuster with a list of the most memorable zombies to emerge from the ravenous throng. Television and film are rife with countless, faceless examples, but a few have emerged from the multiplying undead to capture our hearts and brains.

Disclaimer: Some of the videos are violent. Others are downright hilarious. You've been warned.

The zombie who taps Homer's skull like a cantaloupe

Back when "The Simpsons" was relevant, the annual "Treehouse of Horror" episode was consistently the creative high point of the season. In "Dial 'Z' for Zombies," which debuted in Season 3, Bart accidentally unleashes the undead when he checks out a book from Springfield Elementary's gargoyle-adorned "Occult" section. Instead of resurrecting Lisa's cat, Snowball I, the decrepit corpses of Washington, Einstein, and Shakespeare come clamoring for human flesh. The most memorable, though, were these rote zombies who take a pass on Homer's cranial shortcomings.

Gage in "Pet Semetary"

Before Japanese directors made the silent pact to crowd every one of their ghoulish films with cadaverous, blood-thirsty children, Stephen King was pounding beers and throwing them into his novels willy-nilly. Except for Kubrick's adaptation of "The Shining," (1980) most of the movies made from these Reagan-era failures were suited more for that rumored landfill that housed thousands of Atari's "E.T." the video game. But hidden among the "Cujos" and "Silver Bullets" of the decade was Gage, the toe-headed sweetheart who is brought back to existence via a backyard Indian burial ground. The resurrected, scalpel-wielding maniac was two feet of pure evil, capable of taking out any neighboring Munsters. Jud Crandall might have had his Achilles sliced in half by a toddler, but he resurfaced courtesy of Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

Michael Jackson in a red leather jacket

I remember first seeing the "Thriller" video in a J.C. Penney when I was 3, and I almost lost control of my bladder. I've never forgiven John Landis. Now granted, werewolf MJ is far scarier than his zombie counterpart, but however you look at it, Michael Jackson was still a shape-shifting sweet-talker who wanted to secretly take out Ola Ray. It doesn't matter if Michael is normally a lover, not a fighter, he would have ripped apart Macaulay Culkin and Paul McCartney if they had walked onto the set of that video.

The girl next door in "Dawn of the Dead." (2004) Not the sexy kind.

Before Zack Snyder gave us all those greasy, core-obsessed Spartans, he was bold enough to refurbish the house that Romero built. Not since "Scream" (1996) did a horror movie begin with such bravado, as society literally melts into chaos overnight and the neighbor's daughter hungrily bounds down Sarah Polley's hallway like a homicidal heathen. This shocking opening sequence was powerful enough to eclipse most of the following mall action and sneak its way into the exclusive Apatow universe .


Bill Murray as sort of a zombie

"Zombieland" (2009) will forever stand as one of the most refreshing and original interpretations of the zombie genre. Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are horror savants who pieced together the best of every rotting, slathering predecessor for their hilarious, at times frightening, script. As good as scene-stealing Woody Harrelson was as Tallahassee, this cameo by Bill Murray implemented itself in the pop culture lexicon as firmly as Ron Burgundy or Milton's red stapler. Does he have any regrets in his career? "Garfield, maybe."

"Hulk" zombie from "Shaun of the Dead" (2004)

If the zombie apocalypse really does come to fruition, I doubt anyone heeds Max Brooks's advice of traveling by bike instead of a car or organizing a party of goal-oriented assassins. We'll probably sit glued to our television until a limbless carnivore comes barging into our living room. Like Simon Pegg's Shaun from "Shaun of the Dead," we'll then assail it with household knick-knacks and any toasters that might be handy. Hulk makes the list simply by virtue of being the only zombie ever to be slowed by the "Batman" soundtrack and Sade's "Diamond Life."

Bill Hinzman's original vision

"They're coming to get you Barbara." Most of George Romero's original cast in his 1968 film "Night of the Living Dead" had more in common with Frankenstein's monster than any of today's miopic, brain-hungry savages. They were terrified of fire and could usually be found on cemetery lawns lumbering, stiff-limbed, like Boris Karloff. But Bill Hinzman's Zombie, the first of his breed to grace the screen, stalked in silence, an eerie predecessor to Michael Myers. His look was more vagrant serial killer than zombie, looking like a sallow-cheeked J.D. Salinger or Kramer after he turns his apartment into New York's hottest smoker's lounge. Nonetheless, he was absolutely terrifying and belongs alongside Max Schreck and Bela Lugosi in that pantheon of monster greats.


Tarman from "Return of the Living Dead" (1985)

This much-maligned '80s punk vision of the medium gave us the surprising problem-solving skills of Tarman and his now ubiquitous chant for "Brains." This comedic re-imagining still holds up among the torrent of zombies that seem to spill into mediaplexes almost every weekend. In today's CGI-obsessed landscape, I fear we'll never again see the likes of Tarman, dripping sludge across a cement floor and biting into skulls as if they were a waxy Macintosh apple.

What are your favorite zombies?

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