Previously published for Front Room Cinema in 2012...
With The Walking Dead going from strength to strength in its fifth season, here are some film suggestions for fans of the show who are too impatient to wait for their weekly fix of the post-apocalyptic nightmare
Our heroes in The Walking Dead struggle to survive in the aftermath of a plague that has unleashed hordes of zombies upon them but the protagonists in Stakeland face a different kind of danger, a post apocalyptic world inhabited by a deadly breed of vampires. Jim Mickle has crafted a gritty and powerful road movie, despite being restricted by a low budget, that follows a group of survivors seeking respite from dangerous bloodsucking creatures. The foreboding soundtrack and sparse set locations enhance the feeling of dread, and the incredible acting emphasises the desparation of those lucky enough to still be alive. Stake Land was one of the standout horror movies of 2010 and fans of The Walking Dead would be foolish to pass this film by.
Many of you will be familiar with the story of I am Legend, the exceptional novel by Richard Matheson which has spawned three film incarnations but have you seen all three? The first film and closest to the source novel, 1964's The Last Man on Earth is arguably the best, with Vincent Price perfectly suited to the role of a desperate survivor clinging on to every last strand of hope against increasingly dangerous odds. Both The Omega Man and I am Legend make for fun viewing but move too far away from the source material to deliver the powerful impact Matheson was aiming for with his book.
This intelligent horror takes place in a single location; a compact radio station whose inhabitants soon become the target of those infected by a deadly virus. Claustrophobic and creepy, Pontypool is an impressive low budget picture that adds a new twist to the zombie genre whilst still retaining the element of terror as the protagonists escape routes become overrun by the plague-ridden population of Ontario.
Although this adapation of Cormac McCarthy's superb novel does not feature the living dead, the ravaged survivors of a global catastrophe face dangers equally as imposing. A frail man and his young boy head towards a warmer South in the hope of escaping the cruel and merciless gangs who have turned to cannabalism due to the lack of food, whilst the world around them crumbles. Haunting scenes in a dank basement will satisfy The Walking Dead fans as will the desolate landscapes that provide a fitting backdrop to this arresting post apocalyptic drama.
Another entry from Jim Mickle - the promising young director behind Stake Land - Mulberry Street depicts a similar struggle for survival, as an infection breaks out in Manhattan with blood-thirsty creatures that can only be described as part rat, part human, terrorising the streets and sewers. As ridiculous as the premise sounds, this is a taut low-budget horror that deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
Many refer to 28 Days Later as the film that kick-started the surge in popularity of the post apocalyptic genre; not only did Danny Boyle unleash running zombies upon the world (much to the annoyance of Romero purists) but his haunting sequences of a desolate London can easily rival the chilling shots of a ravaged Atlanta in The Walking Dead. This is masterful film-making and 28 Days Later's unfliching portrayal of the hardships suffered by the survivors of a nationwide catastrophe manages to exceed The Walking Dead in terms of sheer horror and brutality despite the stories sharing an eerily similar beginning.
Too much downbeat horror and not enough entertainment? Then kick back with Zombieland which is arguably the most entertaining zombie comedy out there although Shaun of the Dead fans may disagree. Woody Harrelson is pitch perfect as the larger than life tough guy, Tallahassee, who partners up with shy student Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) to help find his family in Ohio. A refreshing take on a relatively crowded genre, Zombieland has a charm all of its own, and decapitating zombies has never been presented in such a fun way.
Romero's final part of the dead trilogy features a group of soldiers and scientists who have taken shelter in an underground bunker, and are trying to stave off the constant onslaught of zombies. Far gorier than his previous entries and less serious in its approach, Day of the Dead still packs a powerful punch. Fans of The Walking Dead should seek out the entire trilogy, but I imagine this is the one that may be enjoyed the most.
Right at your Door
Chris Gorak's name may be tarnished after the release of the unfairly maligned The Darkest Hour but his debut feature, Right at your Door, was a chilling low budget picture that focuses on the after effects of a dirty bomb in Los Angeles. It deals with the immediate after effects of the bomb and whilst the small scale of the disaster could possibly warrant this film's exclusion from a list of post-apocalyptic films, the desparation of an isolated survivor has rarely been so compelling
Further Recommended Post Apocalpytic/Virus Outbreak viewing:
Children of Men
Juan of the Dead
28 Weeks Later
Return of the Living Dead
The Road Warrior
The Andromeda Strain
Le Dernier Combat