10 Essential Zombie Movie Ingredients

A good zombie movie can be hard to find. This is because a surprising amount of horror film producers are blind to the things that make a zombie movie work. For them and you horror film lovers, we’ve come up with our list of essential ingredients for a successful and exciting zombie movie.

zombie2 horror

10 Essential Zombie Movie Ingredients

1. Brains

Interestingly, brains were only identified as a zombie staple in Return of the Living Dead. Prior to that, zombies weren’t fussy about what they ate, as long as it was fleshy.
Although brains still aren’t the only thing that zombies eat, it has become widely acknowledged that it’s their favourite snack and the ‘brains’ moan is now commonly associated with them – though examples of the phrase being used in the zombie classics come few and far between.
Brains are the zombie’s weakness in more ways than one though, as destroying a zombie’s brain is the only way to stop them – but you knew that already.

2. Entrails

A zombie film needs lots of biting, smashing and exploding, but to reach iconic status it’s important to also have entrails.
The tried and tested method to incorporate this is to have a group of zombies tearing out a human’s intestines as they writhe in agony. This can be seen in Day of the Dead (1985), The Walking Dead Season 2 (ep. 11) and The Dead Next Door.
Zombie entrails may even have a mind of their own, as displayed in Brain Dead, when during one scene the main character has to wrestle with zombie innards to survive.

Day of the Dead zombie movie

3. A hard-ass bigot

There’s one thing worse than meeting a bigot and that’s having to rely on them for survival in a post apocalyptic nightmare.
Unfortunately though, these guys invariably make it down the last few in these situations, mainly due to their heightened sense of self importance and self preservation (no matter what the cost).
These people often make living with the zombies seem quite appealing as they care little for anyone alive or dead (or undead for that matter). Fortunately though, it’s this selfishness which inevitably leads them to a sticky and painful end.

4. Guns

You can use a number of objects to kill a zombie. As long as you can get at those brains, a screwdriver, shovel, lawn mower or even vinyl LP’s (Shaun of the Dead) can do the trick.
Guns are by far the most effective method though. The only downside being that they’re noisy (thus alerting zombies to your whereabouts) and there’s never enough ammunition. They’re also dangerous in the hands of some zombies, as seen in Land of the Dead when Big Daddy figures out how to use an automatic rifle, and with Bub using a revolver in Day of the Dead (1985).

Day of the dead bub gun

5. Someone hiding a zombie bite

So our group of survivors finally manages to find sanctuary – for the time being at least. But the lack of food and levels of mistrust aren’t the only problem. There’s always a quiet member of the group, looking a little feverish and perhaps walking with a bit of a limp or constantly clenching their wrist. They’ve been bitten and will usually get very defensive if anyone wants to tend to the wound.
The most dangerous examples are when the infected is vulnerable, like a child (Night of the Living Dead – 1990) or pregnant woman (Dawn of the Dead – 2004).
“She just has a cold” – don’t believe it for a second.
Inevitably this person will turn, and always at a crucial time, like when the zombies outside decide to mount their full assault.

6. Attractive women

Attractive women have a better chance than most of surviving during a zombie outbreak. This can be attributed to the fact that a heroic male might be more inclined to risk his life for a hot lady – or it could just be that every movie, even a zombie movie, needs its sex factor.
Sarah (Day of the Dead – 1985), Francine (Dawn of the Dead – 1978), Ellie (DeadHeads – even the zombies find her sexy) and Wichita (Zombieland) are all attractive and are irresistible enough to stop a man from running franticly from the undead and think “Hey, I’ll save her first”.
Sadly for the hero, his dreams of maybe re-populating the world with this female partner often fail to materialise. In a majority of cases it’s only the attractive woman that makes it out alive.

Resident Evil Milla zombie movie

7. A means of escape that’s frustratingly placed beyond the zombie horde

“Let’s get in my truck and… Oh wait, it’s right over the other side of the yard…” We’ve all seen that one haven’t we? For some reason, although most zombies are bereft of any intelligence, they always seem to know the perfect way to cut the humans off.
As seen in Night of the Living Dead (1968), in haste, survivors tend to leave their vehicles in silly places – like a good 100 meters from the house that they’re going to hole up in.
When things get spicy and it’s time to leave, the only way out is to run at the zombies face on, something that usually ends terribly for the humans. That’s why a secret tunnel/hatch is always a better option.

8. A secret tunnel/hatch

When all else fails and the attempt to get to the car/truck/bus has failed with explosive consequences, it’s time to remember that secret tunnel or hatch that you could escape through.
A ventilation shaft can work (Day of the Dead – 2008) as can a sewer (Resident Evil: Afterlife), but don’t go thinking that a bit of water will put the zombies off following you down there. They’ll happily swim in the sea and even attack sharks (Zombi 2).
These secret escape routes often look horrible and the least appealing direction for you to run in, like the mine in Day of the Dead (1985). But when the alternative is an unbeatable mass of flesh eating creatures, it has to be done.

9. A zombie missing the lower half of its body

Return of the Living Dead, Return of the Living Dead Part 2, The Walking Dead season 1 (ep 1), actually, probably every zombie film or programme has a zombie that is missing its lower half. This key ingredient is vital to any self respecting zombie movie.

The look of disbelief on the faces of the humans is probably priceless from the zombie’s perspective. If he still had a diaphragm, he’d laugh,
as when the hapless heroes split him in two with a shotgun blast, his top half still hungrily chases them, crawling across the floor.

Half zombie bicycle girl walking dead

10. The mercy killing

So your buddy has been bitten. The best thing that you can do is put them out of their misery right now, as you don’t want them to have to suffer the fate of being a zombie.
It’s a choice that many have to make, as sometimes amputation of the affected limb just isn’t enough. Such mercy killings can be carried out clinically (Survival of the Dead), but if the bond between the imminently re-animated and the one with the gun is strong, the situation can be too much to bear.

The only other option? If you really can’t pull the trigger, keep them chained up in the shed!

Shaun of the Dead Ed shed

You can see many of these essential zombie movie ingredients in the forthcoming re-release of Return of the Dead and Juan of the Dead both out 4th June 2012.


Tom Atkinson

Tom is one of the editors at Love Horror. He has been watching horror for a worryingly long time, starting on the Universal Monsters and progressing through the Carpenter classics. He has a soft-spot for eighties horror.More

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  • I love this post. The only thing I don’t agree with is that “brains” are essential. I think the whole brains-as-a-favorite-snack refers to a particular type of zombie, and is at the same level as the fast/slow zombie debate.

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  • A terrific article! Now if you had only done a spell check….

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  • We’re glad you enjoyed it. As for the spelling, it’s one of the perils of using zombies for content I’m afraid.
    We’re always on the lookout for contributors/editors. However, we can’t guarantee your safety.

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