We’re a year away from the 50th anniversary of the release of George A. Romero’s seminal classic, Night of the Living Dead (October 1, 1968). It really is hard to believe that an entire lifetime has passed since this groundbreaking, low budget masterpiece changed the horror genre and gave birth to not only our modern concepts of the living dead but created an entire zombie subculture. I still remember the gray, drizzly afternoon when I was introduced to those shambling, cannibalistic monsters and how they became such an important archetype in my mind. In honor of this approaching anniversary, here are five of the best zombie movie endings of all time. They range from hilarious to tragic with elements of unsettling social commentary hidden in the all-out disaster of a violent epidemic. 5) Dawn of the Dead (1978) – Fade to Black The original Dawn of the Dead opened up an entirely new world for zombie fans and it’s only fitting that it should start my list as one of the best ending sequences in a zombie movie. As the zombie horde lumbers up the stairs in the make-shift home of our survivors, Peter has a last minute change of heart and instead of shooting himself, takes out the nearest ghoul and does a pro-football push through the crowd to reach Fran on the rooftop getting ready to take off in the chopper. An extremely pregnant Fran points out that they have very little fuel left as the helicopter floats off into the early morning sunrise in a somber farewell to their dead friends and the refuge that had been so promising for so long. This cuts almost immediately to the end credit sequence, a montage of zombies frolicking through the blood splattered mall to the lighthearted, comical theme “The Gonk.” It’s an unsettling shift given the overall tone and ending of the film as the overly cyanotic looking cadavers shuffle across the indoor ice rink, up escalators, and in front of storefronts in their mindless pursuit of human flesh. As the last of these credits roll the music ends, the screen fades black, and you can hear the helicopter blades seemingly sputtering out. It’s a chilling thought to consider with no hope of closure or consolidation. 4) Dead Snow 2 – Total Eclipse in the Car And moving on from tragedy to the more unusual and socially awkward forms of comedy, we have a story of redemption, conquering adversity, and blatant acts of necrophilia. Dead Snow 2 was replete with laughter, horror, and sex with dead people. This movie causes a lot of contention with horror fans and there’s really no middle ground. Either you love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it. A horror comedy about a man who survived a tragic and terrifying encounter with the undead only to be labeled a mass murdered and endowed by supernatural forces with the ability to now raise his own undead army, I’m going to fast-forward through some of the more cringe-inducing moments brought to us by a group of American “zombie hunters” who appear in the film and we’ll pass by the undead Nazi/Soviet smack down (though I will come back to that in another article, I swear!) and go straight to the end here. At the end of the original Dead Snow, our protagonist Martin has lost his girlfriend Hanna and all of their friends in an orgy of violence and mayhem. Being the true hopeless romantic, he travels to the cemetery and resurrects his lady love. Together, they climb into the back of his station wagon and, to the epic ballad of “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” make sweet, passionate, undead love. 3) Return of the Living Dead – Who Needs Louisville Return of the Living Dead is the perfect 80s horror comedy. It has the slow build up, letting you get to know the characters and sympathize with them as much as anyone could possibly sympathize with punk rock teens. The movie has laughter, gore, full-frontal nudity, and some surprisingly creepy moments from a schlocky parody of the zombie genre. As the surviving group separates, Ernie and Tina barricaded in the attic of the morgue while Burt and the other teens flee to the warehouse to call for help, we see zombies swarming the police barricade and slaughtering every responder in sight. Thinking he’s saving the day, Burt does the one thing he’s encouraged everyone to not do all night long and calls the number stenciled on the barrel of Trioxin that started the whole mess. As Freddy is beating in the attic door, psychologically brutalizing Tina the way you’d expect an abusive boyfriend to do, Burt is being reassured by the army that everything is going to be fine. To quote the movie M*A*S*H “God damned army.” In Colorado, a young soldier sits in a large, strange looking piece of artillery where he receives a call. He confirms the codes, loads a shell with a radiation warning emblazoned on the casing into the cannon and launches it. As the shell whistles towards its destination, the zombie infested Louisville, Kentucky we’re treated to one last glimpse of our cast. Burt and the gang in the basement by the phone asking each other what the hell that whistling noise is. Ernie and Tina in the attic as Freddy crashes through the door professing his love for her brains. A blood-soaked Trash and her zombie horde staring up into the sky before the flash of a mushroom cloud obliterates a residential neighborhood. As the smoke and fire create yet another mixture of toxic acid rain laced with Trioxin from the burning bodies, you can hear the officials talking about “optimal placement” and the “acceptable” loss of life. This may be the most frightening thing considering it isn’t that far-fetched of a notion to believe that our government (or any government for that matter) would readily obliterate an entire metropolitan area than take responsibility for their own mistakes. The notion of creating an atrocity to cover up an atrocity ends an otherwise funny and exciting film on a chillingly somber note. 2) Zombie (Zombi 2) – The Original Zombie Walk While Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (Zombi 2) was a stand-alone film that was marketed as a sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (Zombi in Italy) I’ve always chosen to view it as a prequel. Set between New York City and a nondescript island in the Caribbean, the film follows a news reporter trying to get to the full story about a mysterious derelict ship that has appeared in the waters along Manhattan and a woman seeking the truth about what happened to her father. What they find is a mysterious force, the result of some curse or black magic acting as a disease that has begun killing the islanders and resurrecting their corpses as violent, cannibalistic horrors. As our heroes fight for their survival against an army of the undead, we’re treated to the stylized violence and terror that made Fulci a master of his craft during the horror renaissance of the 1970s and 80s. As our surviving protagonists take to the ocean once more, fleeing the overrun island, they turn on the ship’s radio in search of solace and distraction. Instead, they hear the emergency broadcast signal followed immediately by a newscast advising that the living dead have begun to invade New York City. The scene cuts to the Brooklyn Bridge where hundreds of rotting, mutilated bodies are shambling across the pedestrian walkway over the bridge coming into the city. The body that had been aboard the derelict ship at the start of the movie and had fallen into the harbor had clearly been busy as the main story progressed. It’s a chilling scene as the camera pans out to see the city moving about its daily business, not knowing the horror slowly bleeding into the heart of their home. Add this to the thought that Romero’s Dawn of the Dead takes place about three weeks into the horror of the zombie apocalypse and it offers an unsettling glimpse into the potential origins. 1) Night of the Living Dead (1968) – Ben’s Looking Out the Window Blues Nothing can compare to the original. After half a century Romero’s groundbreaking zombie movie (which never used the word zombie once) redefined a genre and created an entire subculture that is thriving more today than ever before. With a small budget and a largely volunteer cast and crew, they worked tirelessly to tell a story about social and racial intolerance masked behind a horrific twist on the disaster movie trope. A world ending plague, a hurricane or a wildfire could have told the same story of panicked survivors of varying backgrounds coming together to save themselves but it wouldn’t have been as memorable or effective. Watching as the good, the bad, and the truly gruesome elements of human nature come to life –especially in the power struggle between Ben and Harry- as they try to come to grips with the monsters who are quite literally themselves beating down the door. As dawn rises over the now devastated remains of the farmhouse, the horrors of the previous night feel like some far forgotten bad dream. Ben is the sole survivor as groups of cops and volunteers continue to scour the countryside looking for survivors and cleaning up a mess of ravenous corpses. As Ben skulks cautiously towards the window, the group of rescuers outside notice the motion and, in possibly the most shocking and surprising instant of the entire film, kill Ben where he stands. But the shot is more than just taking out another roving cadaver as they drive meat hooks into his flesh and haul him to the funeral pyre. But in a time of racial and social upheaval like the 60s, it was more than just a tragic mistake perpetrated by well-intentioned people trying to protect their homes and families. Night of the Living Dead is a story about American culture clashing, about the steady erosion of common decency and humanity inside us all in an era when no men were considered equals and one of the greatest offenses possible was the blending of races and social backgrounds with one another. The Coopers are depicted as a middle-class family on the verge of divorce, a social taboo in itself even today depending on the region you’re from. Meanwhile, Tom and Judy are a romantically involved couple from the backwoods who aren’t married at all and represent (though never explored in depth) the fears of loose morals the psychedelic movement had brought into being. Ben is a black man ordering about and leading a group of white people which could possibly have been the greatest sin of all at the time and, in the original outlines that Romero had for the story, Barbara was meant to be a strong, independent woman who was equally take-charge alongside Ben. Meanwhile, our cadaverous army beating down the doors and the seemingly futile fight to survive them was analogous of the ongoing war in Vietnam and the growing sentiment that it was a fight we shouldn’t have been having to fight nor one that we could ultimately win. But the thought that Ben, of all those characters, had survived the night unscathed seemed too good to be true as he climbs out of the basement and walks to the window. The seemingly pointless, tragic killing at the end can be viewed two ways. First, it can be seen as a bitter irony, surviving the horrors of the night only to be gunned down in a case of mistaken identity. The other, more telling interpretation is a final barb about the racial intolerance of the 60s as a white man guns down a black man with cold indifference. I’ll take a moment as that ending marinates in your mind to mention some other endings I didn’t cover but should definitely be considered. Train to Busan offers to eviscerate every last emotion you have to the tune of Aloha Oe while Queen provides the soundtrack to the video game playing, buddy comedy ending of Shaun of the Dead. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.