Movie zombies haven’t always been what they are now: rotting corpses who eat the living.
Before George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, cinematic zombies were more steeped in their original voodoo lore. They were the result of witchcraft and bad juju, not viruses and teethmarks. If you really want to see zombies as they were before The Change, check out White Zombie, starring Bela Lugosi, where a witch doctor holds a young woman using magic and the like.
After Romero, cannibalistic undead were all over the place. His original series, Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead are perhaps the most influential on the genre, with Dawn of the Dead being widely regarded as the best zombie movie of all time.
Once zombies were considered profitable in the box office, they began to show up everywhere, with cheap foreign knock-offs and spoofs abounding. Fulci’s Zombie, the only zombie movie to depict a zombie fighting a shark, even went so far to imply that it was a sequel to Dawn of the Dead. The Return of the Living Dead, an over-the-top splatter comedy from the 1980’s, introduced the notion that zombies are really after our brains.
Zombies have made a resurgence in recent years. Romero is cranking them out still, with sub-par offerings like Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead. Zack Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead , is nothing special, but with its fast zombies introduces a new freaky element and is definitely worth watching.
Shaun of the Dead, a loving spoof of the entire zombie genre, is definitely something you should check out, though maybe after you’ve watched a few of the classics first, if only so you can get all the jokes.
Lastly there are the movies that aren’t technically zombie movies (instead of the undead, it’s just crazed, infected people), but they have the same spirit, so what the hell. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later are great, post apocalyptic flicks, with the former being more of a tense survival picture and the latter being more an extremely tense action movie. Zombieland is also, technically, not a “true” zombie movie, but only purists would think to complain about that. It’s a dark and grim comedy with limbs a-flyin.