Zombie movies are, by design, all about death. Zombies kill humans, humans kill zombies, humans become zombies and are killed again, etc. What sets an exceptional zombie movie apart from the brain-munching pack? The gruesome creativity of its death scenes. Here are nine of our favorites.
1. Zombi 2
From the Lucio Fulci masterpiece that brought us the ultimate, grand supreme, best zombie-film moment ever (three words: zombie vs. shark) comes a kill so gnarly they don’t actually show the character dying. You just know she does, OK? Beautiful Paola (Olga Karlatos) is already bummed about living on a zombie-infested island with her doctor husband when she’s menaced by one of the dreaded ghouls in her own house. As she tries to hold the door shut, a rotting hand — attached to a zombie we’ve just seen ogling her in the shower — bursts through the wood and guides her terrified eyeball onto a pointy shard; extra points for giving us a Paola’s-eye-view shot of the approaching object of impalement. The repulsive payoff makes for probably the best mangled-eyeball moment in cinema since Un Chien Andalou.
2. Shaun of the Dead
Sometimes a death scene can be equal parts gloriously gory and narratively satisfying. We spend almost the entire running time of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead loving to hate David (Dylan Moran), the stuffy roommate of Shaun’s girlfriend, Liz; he has his own lady, but still harbors a secret crush on Liz. He pulls the ultimate dick move when he turns the zombie-fleeing group’s sole firearm against them, then threatens to open the door that’s the only barricade between them and the hungry horde thronging just outside. He’s just about to apologize for being an utter douchebag when he steps too close to a window, and is promptly torn to pieces in a death scene that owes as much to Herschell Gordon Lewis as it does to George A. Romero.
3. The Return of the Living Dead
Dan O’Bannon’s cult-beloved horror-comedy classic answers quite a few pressing genre questions. For instance, how can we make possibly make the art of fighting zombies even more awesome? Answer: introduce cartoonish 1980s punk rockers into the fray. The most memorable among this group has gotta be “Trash,” portrayed by legendary scream queen Linnea Quigley. Her death is heavily foreshadowed in an early scene, where the fuschia-haired lass gets so turned on talking about death in a cemetery (“Do you ever fantasize about being killed? Do you ever wonder about what would be the most horrible way to die? For me, it would be for a bunch of old men to get around me and start biting and eating me alive!”) that she rips off all her clothes and starts writhing around on the tombstones.
When Trash’s death wish inevitably comes true (amid muddy, 45 Grave-scored mayhem), she actually doesn’t seem too psyched about it at the time. But though she meets a horrifying end, she later rises for another eye-popping nude scene—this time as a zombie. Trash for the win!
4. Dawn of the Dead
Because not every character who meets a spectacular end in a zombie movie is actually killed by a zombie ...
5. Day of the Dead
...but, you know, that’s just one exception to an otherwise fairly universal rule.
6. Dead Snow
The best (?) Nazi zombie movie ever pits masses of newly thawed, yet still loyal to Hitler, undead against a group of Norwegian students who’ve chosen a most unlucky cabin for their snowy vacation. There are a lot of elaborate fight scenes in this movie, but this shocker of a death is undeniably jarring, not to mention exceedingly splat-tastic. (The Brain Dead T-shirt on the victim is also a nice touch.)
7. City of the Living Dead (a.k.a. The Gates of Hell)
It was a close call to decide which second Fulci film to name to this list after the almighty Zombi 2, but The Beyond is gonna have to sit tight until we rank “Most Mind-Destroying Death Scenes Involving Giant Hairy Spiders” (eek!) City of the Living Dead is exceptional for many reasons, one of which happens to be this scene, in which a making-out couple is visited by the lurching corpse of a damned priest. Dude is so evil he doesn’t need to bite the woman to make her suffer a most stomach-turning (literally) fate; he just needs to stare her down. Skip ahead to 1:40 or so if you want to bypass any creepy build-up, and go directly to what may be the most repulsively excellent, slow-burn death-by-barfing ever committed to celluloid. With bonus brain-smush at the end of the clip!
Because Bill Murray.
9. Dead Alive (a.k.a. Braindead)
Peter Jackson’s early-career zom-com probably holds some kind of movie-production record for gallons of fake blood deployed in a single sequence. (If it doesn’t, we’d like to see the film that does!) Here, our much-beleaguered hero seizes on the single most efficient way to dispatch an angry crowd of rat-monkey-infected undead: a precisely wielded lawnmower.