Italian zombie movies are classic displays of the intense gore for which zombie films are known. In addition to this intense gore, these Italian movies also are entertaining because they are unconventional. They can often be extremely weird, in a good way, and punctuated with comedy. Here is a ranked list of the best Italian zombie movies that succeed in delivering these Italian zombie film qualities.
10 Nightmare City (1980)
Nightmare City, also known as City of the Walking Dead in the United States, is a Sci-Fi zombie apocalypse film released in 1980. It was directed by Umberto Lenzi, who has directed and written over 20 different films. Despite having zombies in it, Lenzi felt the film was more of a radiation sickness movie than a zombie film. The film follows an American television reporter named Dean Miller, played by Hugo Stiglitz. Dean witnessed the fall of a city as it succumbs to the effects of a zombie outbreak after a nuclear accident. Infected zombies who are impervious to bullets attack a runway and then a TV station where Dean is trying to tell the public about the outbreak. The situation deteriorates with Dean escaping the city on a helicopter, leaving behind the characters he has met along the way. However, at the end of the movie, it is revealed that it was all a dream. The film ends the way the film started, implying that the film’s events may actually happen this time.
The film is unique for a zombie movie because the zombies use knives and hatchets and employ tactics like cutting the phone lines. The zombies do have a lust for blood, leading to a movie that is an enjoyable gore fest. It is complemented by a great soundtrack and a well-constructed atmosphere.
9 Two Evil Eyes (1990)
Next on the list is the 1990 Italian horror film Two Evil Eyes. The film is an adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s stories that is directed by Dario Argento and George A. Romero. The first story adapted is called “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar.” In this story, a woman named Jessica visits her husband’s lawyer and discovers Jessica’s husband has a terminal disease. Jessica has come to liquidate the assets of her husband, Ernest Valdemar. Mr. Valdemar dies suddenly, prompting Jessica to hide the body in the freezer. Unfortunately, Valdemar’s body becomes possessed by spirits, and he becomes a zombie intent on killing Jessica and her lover. “The Black Cat” follows a photographer who adopts a black cat, which leads to his life being ruined. This tag-team effort from two of the greatest horror directors of all time is a highly entertaining horror experience. The film features top-notch special effects for the time as well.
8 Hell of the Living Dead (1980)
Hell of the Living Dead is an Italian horror film released in 1980. The film is directed by Bruno Mattei. The film was created to capitalize on the popularity of Dawn of the Dead and features a similar premise. After a science experiment gets out of control at a chemical research facility, a rat gets infected with a virus that brings it back to life. The zombified rat kills a man, who also revives and kills his co-workers. Eventually, the entire plant becomes filled with zombies and they spill out into the local population. A group of commandos is hired to stop some eco-terrorists but quickly get drawn into evading the horde of zombies. The film ends with the main characters dying and the virus spreading across the entire world. This movie has a loud and cheesy Italian charm that makes it an enjoyable B-movie watch. Despite the shortcomings in the film’s production, it comes through in the areas of violence, comedy, and gore, which are all top-notch.
7 The Beyond (1981)
The Beyond is an interesting story-driven horror movie by director Lucio Fulci. It was released in 1981 and follows a young woman named Liza, who inherits a hotel with a history of black magic. Through the course of refurbishing it, she learns it was built over one of the gates of hell. After a plumber accidentally opens a bricked-off area, ghouls and zombies start attacking the people in the hotel. The film ends with the Liza being blinded, just like the old woman who warned her about the hotel, and she disappears.
Director Lucio Fulci excels at visceral gore and this movie uses it to great effect. Every scene is tense, and the film has compelling imagery that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The film is also held up by great casting and fantastic performances that ground the violent realism present.
6 Cemetery Man (1994)
The next film, Cemetery Man, is a bit of a change of pace. While it also features zombies like the other films on this list, it is more of a comedy. The film was directed by Michele Soavi and released in 1994. This is the story of a cemetery worker who must kill the ones he buries a second time because they often reanimate, much to his annoyance. The caretaker goes through life searching for love while also being interrupted by the undead, which causes various problems for his romantic exploits.
The film is surreal and punctuated with moments of humor despite the seriousness and gore of the movie’s scenes. It is a very strange but rewarding film that blurs the lines between horror, romance, fairy tale, and comedy. This movie is self-aware that it is a schlock zombie flick and uses the foundation to be thought-provoking and intelligent when the opportunity arises. In an interview with the film, main actor Rupert Everett remarked how the film is a play on life and death, where the world is dead, but the cemetery is alive.
5 Dead House (2014)
Dead House is a zombie horror film released in 2014. It was directed by Brini Amerigo and starred Danny Cutler, Alex Lucchesi, and Alex Southern. The film follows the Pontecorvo family that becomes the victim of a home invasion by a group of thugs. These thugs break into the house and hold the family hostage, forcing them to do horrible things against their will. The stakes change when it is revealed that the family’s father has been studying zombies. When the basement is broken into, these zombies start to get loose and attack the thugs and the family.
Despite being released in 2014, the film makes good use of practical effects that look believable. As a genre mashup of a zombie film and a home invasion movie, it works surprisingly well. It has a very brutal opening but is a great setup to look forward to the tables being turned on the thugs.
4 Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie is a zombie film with a sci-fi twist. This film was released in 1974 and was directed by Jorge Grau. The plot follows two strangers who become harassed by police in the English countryside. An investigator implicates them in murders in the local area. However, it turns out that these murders have been committed by zombies that have been brought to life by a new farming tool that is meant to repel insects. The film ends with the protagonists taking care of the zombies, but the police shoot them anyway. In the final scene, one of the protagonists breaks into the police sergeant’s room, now as a zombie, with the cycle beginning once again.
The movie is held up by its excellent gore and shocking atmosphere. It also features a fair amount of humor that lands most of the time. It’s a well-made film that takes the focus away from the plot and more on the action. It is a stylish and fun horror masterpiece.
3 Killing Birds (1988)
The film Killing Birds is a zombie film released in 1988 and directed by Aristide Massaccesi and Claudio Lattanzi. The film follows a Vietnam War veteran who murdered his lover when he caught her in a bed with another man, killing the whole family except for her newborn son. Years later, he is searching for a rare bird with a group when zombies from the house attack him. The baby turns out to be a member of his party, and the party leaves the man to be killed by the zombies. It is an enjoyable film that has fun gore scenes and tense scenes.
2 Zombie Holocaust (1980)
Zombie Holocaust, also known as Zombi Holocaust, is a zombie horror movie directed by Marino Girolami that was released in 1980. The film centers on a team of scientists who investigate a stream of weird corpses that leads them to find the mad doctor who is behind them. This doctor performs experiments to turn living people into cannibals and corpses into zombies. The team faces off against the mad scientist’s army, ultimately defeating him once they win over the cannibals on the island.
1 Zombi (1978)
Topping off the list is the classic horror film Zombi, also known as Dawn of the Dead. The film was produced as an Italian and American collaboration and spawned numerous Italian sequels. Dawn of the Dead was re-edited by film director Dario Argento and released to European audiences and was renamed Zombi. The story follows a group of four survivors that hole up in a shopping mall. While in the mall, they experience the fun of a shopping spree while they secure the location and kill the zombies. Eventually, they are forced to flee, resulting in several of their deaths.
The movie is exceptional for its effortless style and revolutionary gore effects. It has a sense of comedy to go along with its dramatic elements, with scenes like throwing pies in zombies’ faces. Argento said in an interview that the film exemplifies the way he approaches filmmaking. The worlds that he creates are stylized but contain a deep core of truth from his nightmares.