The first word that comes to mind when someone mentions zombies is most likely not “lovable.” But lovable zombies there most definitely are. The line that best defines this breed of zombie comes from Shaun of the Dead when the character of Dianne – an actress trying to teach her human friends how to act like a zombie – describes the undead like this: “Just look at the face: it’s vacant, with a hint of sadness. Like a drunk who’s lost a bet.” It’s that hint of sadness, that hint of humanity that reminds us they were once human, they were once us. That’s a pretty powerful notion and it’s hard not to feel connected to these reanimated corpses when you think of them as distant relatives. So here’s a list of zombie characters that will appeal to your heart even though they are still after your brains. (Please note there are some spoilers contained in the descriptions.)
1. Bub in Day of the Dead (1985)
Bub, played by actor Howard Sherman, is hands down the most endearing zombie ever to grace the screen. He turns up in the lab of George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead and immediately wins us over with his drooling charm. Romero’s films are always fueled by social commentary: Night of the Living Dead tackled racism, Dawn of the Dead consumerism, and Land of the Dead corporate America. Day of the Dead looked to vivisection, and criticized research that paid no heed to what it used as test subjects or how those subjects were treated. Bub provides the perfect argument for looking to test subjects with a little more compassion.
Dr. Logan, who has been slicing and dicing zombie “lab rats” without hesitation or conscience, is very proud of Bub. He uses Bub as an example of a potentially trainable zombie. The scientist provides items from daily life – a book, phone, tape recorder – to see if they can elicit any glimmer of recognition from Bub. And they do, like a faint but still not retrievable memory. Bub poignantly reminds us that zombies may be a terrifying threat but they were also us and some shred of humanity may still be buried inside all that decaying flesh. He lays the groundwork for the self-aware zombies that are gaining prominence now.
2. Fido in Fido (2006)
Billy Connolly plays the title role in Fido and how can you not fall in love with him? The film is essentially Lassie with a faithful zombie rather than a dog. It looks like a Technicolor TV show from the 1950s with an antiseptically clean white picket fence façade masking the ominous big brother agenda of Zomcon.
Fido becomes the loyal pet of little Timmy, and the two become fast friends. But Timmy is bothered by the prejudice Fido faces and by nagging questions about what it really means to be a zombie. Meanwhile, Timmy’s alluring mom (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) finds herself falling for the reanimated Fido and preferring him to her living husband. Connolly is long suffering and hilarious and quickly wins us over since he has to put up with so many brainless humans.
3. Ed in Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Shaun of the Dead may be the most lovable zombie movie of all time so you shouldn’t be surprised to find a huggable zombie shambling around its plot. Edgar Wright’s film serves up the perfect mix of comedy, gore, social commentary, and sheer cleverness. It also gives us Ed (Nick Frost) as the title character’s best friend and that doesn’t change – SPOILER ALERT – even after Ed dies and reanimates. Their friendship goes beyond the grave and the film ends with Shaun (Simon Pegg) heading off to the shed to play some video games with a chained-up Ed as Queen’s “You’re My Best Friend” plays on the soundtrack and carries us cheerily into the end credits. The post-apocalypse doesn’t look so bad if you can face it with a friend – living or reanimated.
4. R in Warm Bodies (2013)
In Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio damns the warring Capulets and Montagues by saying, “A plague o’ both your houses. They have made worms’ meat of me.” Maybe Shakespeare’s mention of plague and worms’ meat fired up some synapses in Jonathan Levine’s brain and prompted him to turn Romeo and Juliet into a romantic zombie comedy. So the zombies can be seen as the plague and the two houses are the humans and the worms’ meat of the living dead.
Julia (the Juliet of the story) is of the living and her Romero is R, one of the reanimated. R is one of the new breed of self-aware zombies. He narrates the story and constantly contemplates his situation with self-deprecating humor and irony. It doesn’t hurt that he’s played by the adorable and a bit emo Nicholas Hoult. His struggle to reconcile what he has become with what he vaguely remembers he used to be is both funny and poignant making him thoroughly lovable.
5. Carrefour in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
Carrefour (played by Darby Jones), an impressively tall, thin, and bug-eyed voodoo created zombie, is not exactly lovable but you can’t help but embrace his character. Unlike the Romero-style zombies that die and rise because of some infection or there being no more room in hell, a voodoo zombie is in some ways creepier because it is a living person controlled by someone else. Voodoo zombies address the notion of enslavement and loss of free will, which reflect their roots in Haiti with an influence from Central and West African.
Carrefour is one of the most memorable and visually striking zombies to ever appear on the screen. Silent and blank, he causes no harm to anyone but he thoroughly mesmerizes us. He casts a spell we simply can’t shake.
6. Father McGruder in Dead Alive/Braindead (1992)
I might have to make this a family shout out. But let’s start with the character of Father McGruder (Stuart Devein) who gets to utter the delicious line, “I kick arse for the Lord” as he fights off the undead. SPOILER ALERT But that’s just moments before he’s turned into one of the living dead via a plague borne by the infamous Sumatran Rat-Monkey. This turns him into one of the zombies kept in the cellar by poor Lionel. Once Father McGruder turns into a zombie he conveniently forgets all about his vow of celibacy and gets it on with a zombie nurse, and ends up fathering a zombie baby. This family unit just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and gooey inside.
7. Big Daddy in Land of the Dead (2005)
Okay, you might not find Big Daddy (Eugene Clark) warm and cuddly but the dawning of a revived consciousness in this zombie is something to cherish. He shows signs of grief, rage, and even compassion as he realizes the suffering and persecution of his fellow – and as of yet still unaware – zombies. You want to cheer him on as he starts to feel a revolutionary urge rising in him. And who wouldn’t when faced with the greed and larceny of Dennis Hopper’s Dick Cheney-inspired performance as a corporate land baron. Humans like him are just demanding to be eaten alive. Big Daddy also earns points for leading an underwater assault on the elite Fiddler’s Green luxury complex. The revolution will be reanimated.
8. Hare Krishna Zombie in Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Most people don’t find the Hare Krishnas that might solicit you at the mall or airport endearing but George A. Romero made this zombie Krishna quite charming. The incongruity of him shambling along with all the other zombies at the mall and mindlessly continuing to do what he did in real life provides some unexpected humor in the film. And he really is quite adorable.
9. Bill Murray in Zombieland (2009)
This is a bit of a cheat but Bill Murray, playing himself, is so sweet, funny, and tragic that you have to love him. SPOILER ALERT The cheat is that he never really gets to be a zombie in the film, he just pretends to be one as a practical joke he plays on the main character (Jesse Eisenberg) and ends up getting accidentally shot. That may not sound funny but it plays out as hilarious in the film, mainly because Murray is so good and the gag is so unexpected. As a comedian, there’s also something endearing about dying in the line of duty, just trying to get a laugh in the post apocalyptic wasteland of Hollywood.
10. Beth in Life After Beth (2014)
Life After Beth scored a hit at Sundance. It stars Aubrey Plaza and was written and directed by her real-life boyfriend Jeff Baena. She plays a character who comes back from the grave but doesn’t realize she’s dead so she keeps trying to date her grieving boyfriend (Dane DeHaan). Baena says the movie is a metaphor for breakups and for what happens when the person you broke up with tries to get back together with you. Oh, undying zombie love!
– Bonus: Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright in Land of the Dead
Uber zombie fans and ridiculously talented, Pegg and Wright not only resurrected the zombie film with their Shaun of the Dead but they scored a cameo in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead. Seeing these geeks get a part in their idol’s film provides joy and zombie hugs all around.