Monday, March 18, 2013

Mainstream Directors Who Started their Careers Making Zombie Movies

Horror movies, and more specifically zombie movies have had a pretty rough time gaining respect over the years.  And, to be perfectly honest, it is a reputation that it rightly deserves, in many cases. 

With the constant parade of bubblegum horror and constant sequels and rip-offs, it is no wonder that many people have become jaded.  Like fast food, it has created a whole generation of sedentary movie goers that don't know horror from a hole in their head (even if there's a knife handle sticking out of it).  And, as so many movies push only the technological barriers (can you say CGI blood?) instead of the terror barrier, few people know that many famous directors got their movie making careers started by making the lowly and completely under-appreciated zombie movie. 


Sam Raimi...  (1978)

Sam Raimi's "modern" claim to fame is, of course, "Spiderman (2002-07)." But many years prior to that successful series, Raimi was better known for seat-of-your-pants horror.  One of Raimi's earliest films was called "Within the Woods (1978)."  This was a proof-of-concept short, created to raise the necessary funds to shoot what would become the cult classic "The Evil Dead (1981)."  "Within the Woods" was created 3 years before "The Evil Dead," but had many of the elements and traits in it that made the 1981 film the classic it is today. Raimi followed up "The Evil Dead" with "Evil Dead II (1987)," "Army of Darkness (1992)" and more recently "Drag me to Hell (2009)."

Peter Jackson... (1992)

Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson might very well be twins in another universe, when it comes to their careers. Everyone knows Peter Jackson from his epic take on "Lord of the Rings (2001)" and more recently, "The Hobbit (2012)."  But what you may not know is that he started his career doing horror.  Among other "critically" acclaimed titles, was the zombie classic, "Braindead" aka "Dead Alive" aka "Monkey Island" (1992).  Pushing the envelope when it comes to blood, pus and gore (all together now:  "LAWNMOWER"), it's hard to believe Jackson created "Braindead" only 10 years before "Lord of the Rings." What a difference a bazillion dollars makes!

Robert Rodriguez... (1998)

In 2007, Robert Rodriguez teamed up with Quentin Tarantino to produce the homage film "Grindhouse (2007)," a double-bill of shock and horror, in the early "grindhouse movie" tradition.  Rodriguez's half of the film was "Planet Terror (2007)," and turned out to be an awesome, bloody disgusting zombie flick worthy to take its place among the classics. But what many people don't know is that the idea for the film started back in 1998, when Rodriguez was directing the film "The Faculty (1998)."

"The Faculty" is a Sci-fi/ Horror tale set in a High School where the students suspect the teaching staff of being aliens; ones who are intent on making the students their victims.  Undertones of the undead (as we know it today) run throughout this film. "I remember telling Elijah Wood and Josh Hartnett, all these young actors, that zombie movies were dead and hadn't been around in a while, but that I thought they were going to come back in a big way because they’d been gone for so long," recalled Rodriguez, "I said, 'We've got to be there first.'"  Well Rodriguez was not there first of course, and by the time he did decided to hop on the undead bandwagon, he was working with Tarantino on the Grindhouse project.  The rest is history.  PS: Rose McGowan as Cherry, made our "Top 10 Weapons of the Living Dead" with her ingenious machine-gun/prosthetic leg!

Zack Snyder... (2004)

Two years before Zack Snyder made the comic book adaptation of Frank Miller's "300 (2006)" (and three years before Robert Rodriguez made HIS awesome comic book adaptation of Miller's "Sin City (2005)"), Snyder took a stab at remaking a George Romero classic "Dawn of the Dead (1978)." Snyder's "Dawn of the Dead (2004)" was a very modern day action-movie "remake" of Romero's tale. It had very little of the social commentary of the original but was nonetheless a wicked ride!  Read our review of this fine film HERE!

Honorable Mention
Tobe Hooper... (1979)

An honorable mention goes to Tobe Hooper.  Hooper is most famous for "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)" and "Poltergeist (1982)." (Interesting factoid: Sam Raimi has signed on to produce a remake of "Poltergeist"). Hooper is not as well-known and/or famous as the previous directors listed, and is mostly known for horror already.  That is why he gets listed only as an honorable mention here.  What is his zombie connection?  In 1979, Tobe Hooper was brought on to direct "The Dark (1979)," about a mysterious alien that is killing and mutilating people in a city. The movie was originally supposed to be a zombie movie, but most of the zombie footage was removed in an attempt to salvage the film. The production proved to be such a stinker that Hooper apparently left after one day (and is now "uncredited" in the movie -- which I am pretty sure he is OK with).  Another interesting factoid: the film was produced by Dick Clark, who we were pretty sure was a zombie until he died in 2012.

And finally, Tobe Hooper was initially hired to direct the classic "Return of the Living Dead (1985)," but was caught up in another movie called "Lifeforce (1985)" about a space shuttle mission brings back a malevolent race of space vampires who transform most of London's population into zombies. Hooper was ultimately replaced on ROTLD by Dan O'Bannon (who wrote the screenplay based on the novel written by John Russo ("Night of the Living Dead" fame)).


  1. Nice article. Love Rodriguez.

  2. Love the evil deads and army of darkness is the best. Crazy he went from those to something like Sumperman. He created some great classics.

  3. Zack Snyder had nothing too do with Sin City.

  4. Did you read the article? And I quote from above:

    (and three years before Robert Rodriguez made HIS awesome comic book adaptation of Miller's "Sin City (2005)")