In The Dead Don’t Die, writer/director Jim Jarmusch enters the realm of the monstrous by dramatizing a zombie uprising in the small town of Centerville. Despite the efforts of the local cops (played by Bill Murray, Adam Driver, and Chloë Sevigny) and local citizens, a rising tide of the undead threatens to engulf their little village, and then the world. In taking up the zombie banner, Jarmusch runs riot with the monster genre. The film comically realizes both the zombie film's timeless appeal and how it can be used to deliver timely political and cultural barbs. For The Telegraph, the film “embraces the genre’s satirical heritage that dates back to George A Romero…but without the knowing smirk or self-important scowl.” Like other great film artists, Jarmusch lets his monsters show us what makes us human—in all the best and worst ways.
With The Dead Don’t Die in theaters on June 14, we’re showcasing some of our other favorite creature features. Over the years, many talented directors have had fun making monster movies. From vampires finding God to vegans munching on human flesh, these films makes us scream in laughter as much as in fear.
Shaun of the Dead | Making zombies fun again
In 2004, Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead introduced the world to the zom com, a hilariously loving send-up of a classic horror genre. When Shaun (Simon Pegg) and his best mate Ed (Nick Frost) realize that zombies are taking over their neighborhood, they take their friends and families to their favorite pub for protection and a pint. Co-writers Wright and Pegg, who’d initially bonded over their obsession with George Romero’s 1979 Dawn of the Dead, decided to make a zombie film after they played with the idea in their TV show Spaced. Although originally titled Teatime of the Dead, the film was not pitched as a joke. “We didn’t want to parody zombie movies,” explains Pegg. “We wanted to parody the rom-com.” In the end they created something special. “It wasn't a remake, it wasn't a videogame-turned-movie, and it wasn't a sequel,” explains legendary makeup artist Greg Nicotero. “It was wholly its own entity—and is frightening, funny and inspiring at the same exact moment.”
A Monster Calls | An unexpected friend
While the creature—an uprooted yew tree with burning eyes—in J. A. Bayona’s A Monster Calls might appear as a violent, terrifying spirit from some fantastic realm, it actually turns out to be the opposite. In the film, Connor (Lewis MacDougall) is struggling with his all too-human monsters. At school, he is bullied. At home, he bristles at his overbearing grandmother (Sigourney Weaver) while his mother (Felicity Jones) struggles with a life-threatening illness. In such extreme situations, Bayona explains, “we need fantasy to understand reality.” For Connor, a great tree rises up in his imagination to save him. “The Monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) is all he has at the moment to help him make sense of his world that is becoming more difficult to navigate and understand,” explains The Playlist.
Raw | The monster inside
While Julia Ducournau’s coming-of-age horror film Raw doesn’t really have monster, it certainly strays into the monstrous. When a young vegetarian (Garance Marillier) enters veterinarian school, she is put through a series of humiliating initiations that ignites in her a strange hunger for human flesh. For Ducournau, the film’s blood and guts are not just about gore, but a shrewd exploration of hunger itself. “For me when you talk about the body, you talk about much more than the body—you talk about the human condition,” Ducournau explains. For Rolling Stone, Ducournau—who “knows how to make the vocabulary of horror filmmaking either finesse or bludgeon with a frightening degree of facility”—has created a “Modern Horror Masterpiece.”
Thirst | An unquenchable desire
With Thirst, celebrated Korean filmmaker Park Chan-wook reworks the classic vampire story into a provocative tale of love and faith. When an experimental vaccine trial turns a young priest (Song Kang-ho) into a vampire, the man of the cloth must now deal with the human body as well. He finds his faith tested as a new lust for life, along with a need for human blood, usurps his previous devotion to God. Park explains, “I wanted to tell the story of a character who doesn’t belong to one world but who is torn between these two different worlds, and about the dilemmas that creates.” Park, however, never loses sight of what makes vampire films so delicious in the first place. For Time Magazine, Thirst will “make audiences sit up in startled pleasure, as if they'd just received the most luscious neck-bite.”
Greta | The human monster
As Neil Jordan’s thriller Greta entertainingly demonstrates, some monsters come in human form. After discovering a stylish handbag on the subway, Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) tracks down the owner, a charming, older French woman, Greta (Isabelle Huppert), living in a small house at the end of an alley. At first, Frances finds in Greta a much needed maternal friend. But when things go south, Greta turns on Frances in terrifying ways. For Huppert, “she’s a real evil character. She’s a real monster. There’s nothing to save her, nothing to justify her behavior except maybe her quest for friendship, for love.” In giving the monstrous human form, Huppert’s remarkable performance remains, as The New Yorker notes, “mad, bad, and delectable to know.”