The second most important zombie movie of all time

That whole "eating your brains"-thing?  Yeah, this is where it came from.
"...braaaaains..." Est. 1985

I’ve often heard the Ramones, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash called the three most important punk-bands of all time because of what they respectively established about the genre. Namely:

  • The Ramones established how punk should sound.
  • The Sex Pistols established that punk should be rude and dissrepectful to authority.
  • The Clash established that punk should be political (specifically, left-leaning political)

In that connection, it is interesting to think about the relative importance of zombie movies in terms of what they established about the zombie-genre (or just the zombie). If people know one thing about zombies (modern zombies, not the “classical” Haitian voodoo kind), it’s that they are reanimated corpses, arisen from the dead and on the hunt for the living. But if people know a second thing about zombies (most do), it’s that they want to eat your brain. Usually, zombies are portrayed as being able to articulate a primitive version of the word: “…braaaaaaaains…”

Based upon these dominant perceptions about zombies, one must conclude (correctly) that the most important zombie film of all time is Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. However, one must also conclude that right behind it at #2 is Dan O’Bannon’s lesser-known Return of the Living Dead.

  • Night of the Living Dead established that zombies are reanimated corpses who are after you.
  • Return of the Living Dead established that zombies want to eat your brains.

I’m continually surprised to find that many zombie fans, even learned aficionados, don’t know exactly where the whole “…braaaaains…”-thing comes from, or if it even had a single origination-point. Well, it did. It was Return of the Living Dead.

Released in 1985, ROTLD features campily-hilarious 80’s stereotypes and great music.  In addition to being canonical to zombie fans, ROTLD is a delightful movie (one of my favorites) and an excellent entrance to the genre for anyone unfamiliar. The acting is surprisingly good (for an unknown cast), and the special-effects are great. The violence is creative, witty, and well-timed. There’s gratuitious nudity, sure, but it feels funny and appropriate to the story, not forced and perv-y. The immortal (to zombie fans) lines “send more cops” and “send more paramedics” are also spoken in this film.

You’ve got to give props to Romero as the originator of the modern zombie.  He’s the “Don of the Dead,” the “Knight of the Living Dead.” Sure. Absolutely.  No question.

But as far as I’m concerned, in order of importance, Dan O’Bannon should be right behind him.

I wonder what the third most important zombie film of all time is?

3 thoughts on “The second most important zombie movie of all time

  1. I, too, am surprised at how many folks attribute the whole “braaaaains” thing to Romero and NotLD. Romero’s zombies were perfectly willing to eat anything they could get their undead appendages on–flesh, spleens, kidneys, whatever. I never saw a zombie with a preference for brains until Return. Can’t say I’m as enamored with RotLD as some people are, but it’s a fun little film (the “send more cops” line still kills me).

    Kudos for knowing the origin of the brain-hungry zombie. 😉


  2. Third? “Re-Animator.” Hands down. It established the premise that anything brought back from the dead, whether accidentally or on purpose, will come back as a zombie, and it will try to kill you and possibly eat you.

    See also: “Pet Sematary.”

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