28 Days Later (2002)
For decades, the zombie movie had been defined by George Romero and his "Dead" series. While Night of The Living Dead wasn't the first zombie movie, there had been quite a few before it, it was one of the most iconic and the most memorable for what it made zombies into. Before this film, zombies were based in the voodoo origins of the word, a corpse that is brought back to life through a voodoo spell and used as a servant to the witch doctor that raised it. There was never any viruses, space worms, or radiation to cause their reanimation and certainly no eating of living flesh. Between Romero's introduction of the shambling ghouls, and Return of The Living Dead convincing us all they wanted were BRAAAAAAAAIIINSSS, there hadn't been much of a change to zombies for about 25 years or so. That is, until Danny Boyle and Alex Garland took a crack at it.
Yeah, these guys. (Note: This is the happiest Alex Garland has ever looked)
2002's 28 Days Later is the story of a bike courier named Jim who wakes up in an abandoned hospital to discover London is deserted (Yes, many people have already commented on the similarity to the beginning of The Walking Dead.) He discovers a group of people in a church who attempt to attack him and flees, being rescued by Selena and Mark, who fire bomb the crazies chasing after him and blow up a gas station. They lead him to a metro station where they have been holed-up in a small convenience store living off of candy bars and cans of soda. Here, Selena breaks the news to him. The world as he knew it is gone. The apocalypse has come at the hands of the cracked out freaks that chased him. "The blood," she informs him, "It's something in the blood." This is where 28 Days Later changed things...forever. Zombies that RUN! Sure some movies before this had faster zombies, hell even The Night of The Living Dead has a zombie run after a car, but this was different. These guys were like Usain Bolt on bath salts.
...I got nothing more to add to this one.
Ok, so here comes the battle of all battles in zombie nerdom. Do the "zombies" in 28 Days Later actually count as zombies? Zombie nerds love to argue that they are "infected" and not "zombies" because they are not undead and they are not eating people. They are instead infected with a rage virus (rabies on steroids) and are spreading the disease by vomiting infected blood on people. I don't know about anyone reading this, but I personally find that some much more terrifying. The infected brought an entirely different form of fear into a sub-genre dear to my heart. For decades zombie movies were based in the gore-factor of a person being eaten alive and the chilling horror of a slow-moving horde of ghouls. While they seem easy to get away from they are relentless. Like the tortoise and the hare, these ghouls will catch up because of how over confident you are that you can outrun them. This is the exact opposite. The hare is coming down on your tortoise a*s quick and you have not time to react. Pure adrenaline-fueled terror. Ask any geek what his zombie apocalypse survival plan is and they will detail it point-by-point for you. Ask them what they would do in a situation like 28 Days Later presents, AND THEY HAVE NO CLUE. I say this with confidence because I, being a geek who even plays on a paintball team that calls itself Zombie Defense Force, would have no clue what to do in this situation.
Wait...is that the wife from Breaking Bad?
Zombies are a representation of our own mortality, and having a literal representation of death slowly coming to get us is a great commentary on life itself, it wasn't scary anymore. It was this adrenaline-shot-straight-to-the-heart-after-overdosing-on-heroin-like "zombies" that brought about a renaissance of the zombie horror genre. Even, Romero's own legacy would be tied to the emergence of the fast-zombie in 2004's remake of Dawn Of The Dead. A new millennium had a new monster to fear and horror finally realized there is a better mode of chasing then lumbering slowly hoping someone trips.