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The best zombie movie scene there is

January 12, 2012

There are some mighty fine zombie movies out there. There are lots of great scenes in them, too. Funny scenes, scary scenes, touching scenes. However, there is one scene for me, that will always stand head and shoulders above the rest: the Day of the Dead opening one.

It’s a very, very simple scene: a helicopter with four survivors lands in a deserted city, looking for survivors. Two of them run outside while a third one operates the helicopter radio, calling for any possible survivors. Outside, a military man calls desperately into a bullhorn: “Hello! Hello! Is anyone there? Hello!” You can see from his face and hear from his voice that he’s near a breaking point.

We are shown shots of a deserted city. There’s an alligator at a bank’s doorway. Palm leaves, abandoned cars and newspapers (with the classic “The Dead Walk!” headline) litter the street. A wind whips dollar bills around.

Slowly the survivors’ calls are answered, as zombies start to shuffle from inside and between the buildings. A few at first, then more and more. The survivors flee to their helicopter as the street fills with the walking dead.

And that’s it. Simple, elegant, effective and amazingly bleak. This five minute clip manages to convey the horror of a zombie apocalypse better than many full movies on the subject. It’s not the zombies that are the horrific thing. Sure, they are bloodthirsty monsters, but that’s not it. The horror stems from the emptiness.

“Hello! Hello! Is anyone there? Hello!”

There isn’t. It’s a bright sunny day, it’s a decent sized city, they’re calling into a bullhorn in the middle of the main street, and yet there is no-one answering. The abandoned paper money lets the viewer know there hasn’t been anyone for some time. Never mind the buildings or the cars, the loose money is the best indicator. The palm leaves and the alligator suggest that nature is slowly taking the city over and it’s falling into ruin – an entire city. Its new occupants don’t care anymore. The sheer desperation of the survivor’s calls bleeds through heavily. He’s hoping for someone to answer, but there’s just a faint echo.

If ever there was a zombie movie scene to burn itself into your mind and epitomise the genre, it’s this one. Forget the eviscerations or the scares, this is truly terrifying. It sets the mood for the rest of the film. Day of the Dead is probably the most depressing zombie movie I know. While many zombie movies suggest that there are isolated pockets of survivors all over the world, weathering the crisis, Day does away with this idea. No such respite can be found.

When I was a kid, I used to be very anxious about going to bed at night. There was a feeling of loneliness as the world quieted down, as if there was no-one around. I got rid of that anxiety by reading a children’s book detailing what’s going on in the world while you sleep. I realised that I wasn’t alone: there were mailmen going around, plenty of people at the airport, cleaners, truck drivers, partygoers and parents kept up by babies. The opening scene from Day of the Dead triggers some of the remnants of this childhood anxiety. The survivors truly are alone in the world, there’s no safe idea of others to cling to.

This might explain my fascination with the zombie genre. For me it’s not really about the zombies, but about loneliness. Out of Romero’s original trilogy (Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead), Day has often been seen as the weakest link. There is some reliance on gore effects and a couple of truly repulsive characters. There is the idea of an intelligent zombie, found near-heretical by some. These aspects should be overlooked, however. Day is a movie about loneliness, desperation and the last moments of the human race.

After we’re gone, the dead have their day.

This is a guest editorial that I wrote for the new service StreamUniverse.tv. It’s a service providing legal, licensed streaming movie and TV content for free – including Day of the Dead. I definitely suggest you check out their site – see especially the section “Chaos”, as there are some nice movies on offer.

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5 comments

  1. Zombie Flesh Eaters – The scene when a chick gets here eye impaled on splintered wood… this will stay with me forever!.


    • Arghh, that one IS terrible. Still sends shivers down my spine just thinking about it.


  2. I have to agree, this is a good one. The feeling of despair & loneliness in a movie is much more important for me than any gore and violence.

    My favourite scene is from”28 weeks later” – if you count that as a zombie movie. It’s at the end of the opening scene, when Don (Robert Carlyle) sees his wife fighting for her life and he suddenly decides to run away instead of helping her. Understandable human reaction, selfish…and tragic, especially after all that “how lucky we are to survive as a couple, with our kids being in a protected location” stuff just a few moments before. I was really, really stunned.

    Whiteface / Oliver


    • That’s a fine scene, one of my personal favourites as well! There are lots of unnecessary/unrealistic heroics in many zombie films, I think. That makes Don’s reaction all the more special!


  3. +1 on that deserted feeling.

    One of my favorite scenes is from 28 Days Later, when Jim wakes up from his coma, wanders through the deserted hospital and steps out on the empty streets of London. That makes my neck hair raise. All alone, having absolutely no idea of what have happened. Finding more and more clues, like the billboard full of small notes with people seeking their lost relatives. That is eerie!

    Fantastic soundtrack by the way… I like to use it as background music when playing zombie games.



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