George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead hit theaters in 1968 and kicked off an independent horror renaissance that still inspires budding directors. Romero created an aesthetic that was more dark, nihilistic, and gruesome than anything that had come before. Living Dead was a sleeper hit around the world. These are just a few of the lesser-known works it inspired.
Director Umberto Lenzi prefers Nightmare City to be known as a film about the dangers of “radiation sickness” rather than as a monster movie. Regardless, the opening sequence, in which dozens of hideously mutated men burst out of a military plane and attack people at random, bears the unmistakable look of a zombie flick. The plot concerns a TV news reporter’s desperate search for his wife in a city that is rapidly being overrun by blood-drinking creatures.
The gore is pretty subdued in this one, but the general mayhem is in full effect, with plenty of scenes of monsters chasing down civilians by the dozens, the reporter hero mowing down monsters with an Uzi, and a thrilling final chase set in an abandoned amusement park.
Lucio Fulci is arguably the most famous name in Italian zombie horror, and the monsters in Zombi 2, created with the aid of makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi, are some of the best ever put on film. The plot follows Italian scream queen Tisa Farrow, who teams up with a reporter played by Ian McCulloch to investigate a mysterious illness that is bringing the dead back to life.
Fulci’s well-composed shots and an Ennio Morricone sound-alike musical score by Fabio Frizzi almost bring a touch of class to the proceedings. Fortunately, the movie is rarely more than a few minutes away from a “zombie fights a shark” or “horrific eye gouging” sequence to make you jolt in your seat.
This video nasty from Joe D’Amato is a pretty grim affair — even by Italian horror standards.
Scenes that depict an auto-cannibalizing ghoul and an unorthodox “child delivery” are just some of the gory treats that await viewers brave enough to seek out this Italian classic. The movie follows six tourists exploring an idyllic Greek island and being terrorized by a deformed creature.
The cast, including Tisa Farrow in her last role, surprisingly has quite a bit of chemistry, which puts Anthropophagus a cut above most other Italian zombie movies in the acting department. However, it’s the creative kills and over the top gore that make this one for the international horror history books.
City of the Living Dead
Another bleak, haunting, and criminally underrated film by Lucio Fulci, City of the Living Dead has a plot heavily inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, in which the suicide of a priest unleashes a plague of zombies on an unsuspecting small town. Only a psychic played by Katriona MacColl can stop the terror.
Fulci is in full force here, alternating giallo-inspired close ups, off-kilter camera angles, and bright splashes of color with scenes of intense violence. Effects directors Gino de Rossi and Franco Rufini create some of the most memorable on-screen deaths of all time, including a murder committed with a hand drill and a girl who vomits her own intestines. Catch it on El Rey Network some Friday night (more details here)…if you have the stomach, that is!
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
The Jorge Grau-directed beastie bears a much closer resemblance to Night of the Living Dead than some of the other Italian greats. The plot is mannered and socially conscious, concerning a pair of tourists who are framed for murders committed by zombies awakened by pesticides being used in the area.
Slow to get going but delightfully weird when it does, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie has a couple of standout scenes, including a claustrophobic zombie fight in a crypt and a massacre at the local hospital. Also of note are the zombies themselves, played by actors who aren’t wearing a dab of corpse makeup and are all the creepier for it.