In case you were one of the dangerously unaware, May is Zombie Awareness Month, as designated by the Zombie Research Society. While many would probably cite October as the more apt choice, it’s apparently a mistake to lump flesh-eating zombies together with the usual Halloween staples like vampires and sexy Spongebob Squarepants. According to the ZRS, “[m]any films important to the evolution of the modern zombie are set in the month of May, from the original Night of the Living Dead, 1968, to the well received Dawn of the Dead remake of 2004.” In order to promote awareness of the coming undead apocalypse and to share some knowledge that might come in handy when you are facing your own brain-hungry hoard, we’ve compiled the five best death scenes in zombie movie history. Perhaps you will learn from these fallen comrades’ fatal mistakes.
Captain Rhodes gets torn apart, Day of the Dead (1985)
Director George A. Romero’s third film in his Living Dead series is different from the others in that it uses gore sparingly; for most of the film, Romero teases the viewer with intermittent scenes of violence spliced between long sections of dialogue and context. Yet Romero’s delicate hand in Day of the Dead pays off in this scene that sees Captain Rhodes, one of the ultimate movie villains, getting literally torn apart by a pack of zombies. With both the terrifying image of an intelligent and armed zombie and Rhodes’ cries of “choke on ’em” as the undead feast upon his enlivened flesh, this demise is pretty much the definition of “horror.”
Paola loses an eye, Zombie (1979)
Zombie (also known as Zombi 2 and by various other titles) is the film that launched the career of director Lucio Fulci and turned him into a horror movie icon. Its story focuses on the cursed island of Matool, where the dead rise to attack a group of young visitors sent to explore the island’s dark secrets. While Zombie is filled with iconic death scenes (a zombie fighting a real, live tiger shark!), it is the unfortunate meeting of neurotic Paola and a wooden splinter that embedded itself firmly in our nightmares, thus winning a place on this list. The film cuts back and forth between a shrieking Paola being helplessly dragged by her hair to her impending doom and a stationary spike that promises to bring it. Even before Paola’s eye meets the pointed wood, we were squirming in our seats and begging Fulci for mercy.
A rather unfortunate amputation, Dead Snow (2009)
A great zombie death doesn’t necessarily have to be frightening or even gory — sometimes all that is needed is the element of surprise and an unlucky crotch placement. Dead Snow is Norway’s answer to Shaun of the Dead, with director Tommy Dirkola creating a fantastic comedy horror film and discovering one of the best zombie combinations since Fulci’s zombie-shark: zombies and the SS. It was inevitable that a memorable death scene would come out of this hybrid, and one moment in particular delivers. After Martin, one of the last students still alive after a Nazi-zombie attack on a small cabin in the mountains, is bitten on the arm by a zombie, he amputates his own limb with a chainsaw to halt the zombification process. What happens next is much better seen than explained — just know that Martin’s cries of exasperation and horror will make you feel guilty about how hard you’re laughing.
Zombie punks, Dead Alive (1993)
Speaking of comedy-horror movies, Dead Alive is a classic of the subgenre, simultaneously one of the goriest horror films ever made and one of the most comedic, including many moments of pure slapstick in its 104-minute runtime. Long before he was committing the tale of Frodo to celluloid, Peter Jackson directed this cult zombie classic that had to be heavily edited before playing in US theaters. Dead Alive is so fast-paced it is often easy to lose sight of all the gloriously goofy and violent moments. But these few minutes involving zombified youth straight out of The Outsiders, the line “I kick ass for the lord,” and a priest’s impaling on a gravestone are worth slowing down to appreciate.
The brain-crushing makeout scene, City of the Living Dead (1983)
Why yes, this is Fulci’s second appearance on a five-item list — but that’s because he’s the master of the form. City of the Living Dead is Fulci’s first installment in the Gates of Hell trilogy, and it contains one of the most vile moments in the zombie canon. Logically, following the suicide of a priest, the gates of hell open and zombies equipped with otherworldly power descend upon an unsuspecting town. A couple’s intense necking (note that the term “necking” is entirely appropriate here) is interrupted by the appearance of the priest, who wills the breathy female character to cry bloody tears, vomit up her entrails, and crush her boyfriend Tommy’s skull with her bare hands. This scene also features a flagrant example of zombie denial. When her fearful plea for him to leave interrupts him mid-breast-fondle, Tommy teases her: “You don’t really believe in that stupid Salem witch stuff, do you?” Yes, Tommy, she does — and if you were wise, you would’ve too. Maybe if you did, her intestines would still be inside of her body, instead of lying on your dashboard, and your brain wouldn’t be lodged beneath her fingernails.