Four years ago, horror fans screamed with joy over Train To Busan, a brutal zombie movie splattered with blood, dripping in scares and throbbing with emotion. So it’s with nail-biting anticipation we await Train to Busan: Peninsula. Writer-director Yeon Sang-ho returns with a fresh crop of characters, who drive us deeper into the untamed realm of this zombie-infested wasteland.
If the approach of Peninsula has you craving more zombie horror, consider a world tour of this savage subgenre and its vicious variations. Whether you’re looking for something pulse-pounding, heart-wrenching or side-splitting, we’ve unearthed an undead offering that is both sensational and streaming.
Representing South Korea
Seoul Station (2016). Obviously, we highly recommend Train to Busan (now on Netflix.) But do yourself a favor: DIY a frightening franchise marathon. Pair it and Peninsula with the too-often overlooked prequel, Seoul Station. Released shortly after the first film, this animated thriller doesn’t follow the same characters as Train to Busan. Instead, it reveals the war of the living and the undead that raged all night before the heroes of the first film set foot in that fateful station.
In Seoul Station, Sang-ho offers a sharply political story by focusing on characters clinging to the fringe of society. Forget the posh businessmen, chipper teens and bickering grannies of Train to Busan: Homeless people and sex workers are the heroes here. When their cries for help are ignored by a sneering police force, these outcasts must band together to survive the night. And zombies won’t be the only threat they face in this visually striking adventure. Be warned: This cartoon isn’t for kids, as it gets very grim. — Available on Shudder
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017). This Scottish gem is a fabulous Frankenstein’s Monster of genre mash-ups. The teen-comedy collides with holiday horror and musical numbers for a zombie movie unlike any we’ve ever seen before. Ella Hunt stars as a high school senior who leads a motley crew of classmates in a battle against the undead horde that’s overtaken their quiet village during the Christmas season. When they’re not kicking zombie ass, these kids are cracking jokes, dancing in graveyards and singing their hearts out.
Critics have described Anna and the Apocalypse as Shaun of the Dead meets High School Musical, but just because this zombie movie brandishes catchy pop songs doesn’t dull its edge. Director John McPhail relishes in gore, doling out gooey wounds, extravagant carnage and hilarious kills, like a playground decapitation that causes a festive fountain of blood. His zombies represent the snoozy complacency of small-town life, which can devour the dreams of ambitious youth. So, it’s up to Anna to fight back for her future. Hunt proves a pitch-perfect protagonist, swinging an oversized candy cane as a deadly weapon and belting out songs as she bashes in zombie brains. Goofiness, gore, horror and songs galore, what more could you ask for? — Available on Hulu
Blood Quantum (2020). Strange things are happening in the Red Crow Indian Reservation in Quebec. The Mi’qMaq tribe has noticed dead animals are springing back to life, violent and wrong. Next, the white men follow suit, becoming snarling zombies with an infectious bite. This vicious sickness spreads like wildfire, yet the indigenous community remains immune. The power dynamic of a racially divided town shifts dramatically as the living colonizers must now rely on the good graces and protection of the indigenous people to survive.
Like zombie-horror pioneer George A. Romero, writer/director Jeff Barnaby slathers his political themes with plenty of ghoulish gore, from perturbing prosthetics to zombie slaughter by way of sword, shotgun and thresher. His moody horror is grounded in earnest family drama of paternal disappointment, sibling rivalry and pregnancy woes. Yet, this film stands out chiefly for its unique vision of zombie apocalypse, where the question isn’t how to survive, but how we choose to live. — Available on Shudder
Dead Snow 2: Red vs. Dead (2014). What’s more wicked than zombies? Nazi zombies! Writer/director Tommy Wirkola reteamed with Vegar Hoel and Ørjan Gamst for a direct sequel to 2009’s Dead Snow. In the first film, a ski holiday among friends becomes a nightmare when long-dead Nazis resurrect to cause havoc. The second follows a survivor as he readies for a bigger battle with an undead Nazi officer, who is slaughtering civilians to add to his army of darkness. Humanity’s only hope is a harried hero, a local history buff and a trio of American nerds, versed in zombie lore, homemade-weaponry and Star Wars.
The first film offered scrappy scares, irreverent humor and some eye-popping gore, which was plenty to grab the world’s attention. From there, Wirkola went absolutely wild, spinning a story that grows the mythos, gives its zombies more horrifying powers, livens up the cast and leans into the outrageousness of it all. Dead Snow 2 is proudly packed with WTF moments, including a friendly zombie sidekick, Satan’s child-bursting arm and the best use of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in all of movie history.
[Rec] (2007). Be careful what you wish for or you might just get it. Ambitious news reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco) was hoping she and her trusty cameraman (Pablo Rosso) would catch something exciting when they followed firefighters on a distress call. They weren’t prepared to be trapped in a labyrinthine apartment building populated by infected persons who desperately want to bite out their throats.
Co-directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza set their zombie movie apart from the horde by combining this classic ghoul with the thrill of found footage. The audience experiences the whole film through the lens of Pablo’s camera, which binds us to he and Angela through perspective and empathy. We only know as much as they do as they dodge the bloody maws of the infected, uncover clues and scramble for a way out. This POV device dovetails with a reel-time execution to bring a fresh and frenetic edge to a claustrophobic tale of zombie attack. Little wonder then that [Rec] went over big with horror fans: Not only did this $2 million movie make 16 times its budget at the box office, it also spawned sequels (Rec 2, Rec 3: Genesis, Rec 4: Apocalypse) and the 2008 American remake, Quarantine. — Available on Crackle
The Night Eats the World (2018). What if you slept through the end of the world? That’s the jolting predicament the hero of this French film suffers. After an ill-fated trip to his ex-girlfriend’s apartment, Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) awakes in a home that is not his own, but is trashed. Outside the window, he can see the streets littered with blood and bodies. The Paris he knew is gone, and now he must struggle to survive. Alone. Without losing his mind.
Most zombie movies center on a quirky crew, driven together by the need to survive. While there are attack scares in The Night Eats the World, its most chilling aspect is the deep-boned isolation of its heartbroken hero. We’re embedded with Sam as he scavenges for supplies, scouts his surroundings and turns to music-making to stave off stir craziness. Director Dominique Rocher sinks us into this suffocating solitude with a sparse soundscape of aching silence. Even his zombies are quiet. With slow-burn tension and a restrained yet evocative performance from Lie, the film slyly suggests that zombies are just another excuse for Sam to hide away from the world. To survive, to live, to love again, he must battle both. But will he dare? — Available on Amazon Prime Video
Cargo (2018). The trope of hordes of the undead means many zombie movies are set in urban environments, where contagion can spread to a massive population at a frightening speed. This Australian entry shrewdly rejects that convention, following a father who has taken to the outback to protect his child from flesh-eating masses. Martin Freeman stars as a backpacking parent in search of sanctuary for his baby daughter. In his quest, he’ll cross paths with shuffling zombies, a heartless hunter, a curious shaman and a brave Aboriginal girl named Thoomi (Simone Landers), who needs a friend as much as he does.
Directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, Cargo takes the zombie movie into new terrain. Abandoning the standard surroundings for such a story frees it from the predictable trappings of the genre. Yes, there will be gore, ghouls and bites, but the main focus of the film is the blossoming bond between a lost father and a found girl at the end of the world. With powerful performances, a thoughtful representation of the people of the outback and a focus on character, Cargo creates a surprisingly tender and nuanced tale of love, loss and sacrifice. It may make you jump. It will make you cry. — Available on Netflix
One Cut of the Dead (2019). This zombie movie drove film festival audiences wild with its daring and demented spin on the scary subgenre. Critics were so in awe of writer/director Shin’ichirô Ueda’s inventive surprises that their reviews were almost infuriatingly spoiler-free. It might be best to go into this one knowing only that it’s frightfully fun and a must-see for any zombie movie devotee.
Okay, be warned: Spoilers lie in the trailer and after the jump.
At first, One Cut of the Dead seems like a cheap [Rec] ripoff, a shaky-cam found footage jaunt with B-movie worthy acting, and painfully unrealistic looking gore. Its premise is that an over-the-top director unleashes real zombies on his cast to make the scariest movie ever. But just when you think this movie is wrapping up — bizarrely at the 37-minute mark — One Cut of the Dead reveals its game: It’s a comedy about the making of the one-take zombie-movie-within-a-zombie-movie. It’s Noises Off for the horror set, showing in its second half a dedicated film crew scrambling to make a cinematic masterpiece, no matter what unpredictable slip-ups — or spit-ups — might hit. The result is a fascinating and wildly funny film that only gets better on rewatches. — Available on Shudder