With all that screaming and running around, most zombie movies don't require a lot of acting. But the characters in the genre's best films are as believably shaded as those you'd find in any drama or thriller, the better to sell the horror. Here are the five best performances - living or dead - in zombie movies.
1. Billy Connolly in Fido (2006)
Andrew Currie's overly arch comedy posits an atomic-age America that's dealt with a zombie plague by domesticating the dead - encouraging humans to treat them as servants or even pets. Connolly's shambling rotter gets to be both, becoming a confidante to Carrie-Anne Moss's lonely housewife and a best pal to her neglected son Timmy (K'Sun Ray). Connolly invests his mute ghoul with a confused empathy and a pained physicality that makes him the most sympathetic character in the picture.
2. Duane Jones in Night Of The Living Dead (1968)
George A. Romero says he wasn't looking to make history by casting a black leading man in his seminal zombie chiller; Jones was simply the best actor who auditioned. Jones is indeed terrific as Night's ice-cold pragmatist hero, even if most of his decisions don't work out for the best. And his casting gives a powerful subtext to the film's downbeat ending - which makes it doubly daring for the era of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
3. Simon Pegg in Shaun Of The Dead (2004)
Edgar Wright's ingenious debut feature mashes up its creepy zombie apocalypse with a coming-of-age drama about an underachiever shocked out of his complacent state of arrested development. And it all rests on co-writer Pegg's shoulders. As the slack-jawed Shaun, who rouses himself to life as his friends and family fall victim to the massing hordes, he has to swing back and forth between horror and comedy, often in the same breath. He nails it in every scene.
4. Sarah Polley in Dawn Of The Dead (2004)
Zack Snyder's high-intensity remake of Romero's shopping-mall classic gets much of its power from the terrifying sight of zombie hordes sprinting after their scurrying, panicked prey. But then there's the human factor, represented by a terrific cast that includes Jake Weber, Ving Rhames, Lindy Booth, Matt Frewer and a pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell. Polley's suburban nurse serves as our surrogate, repeatedly waking up to a nightmarish new world of stampeding corpses and fraying alliances among the survivors. Struggling to maintain her own humanity throughout, even when it seems like shutting down would be the better way to go, she gives the movie its soul.
5. Howard Sherman in Day Of The Dead (1985)
Sure, whoever played the role of Bub, the first zombie to demonstrate a personality, would be memorable. (And horror fans had been drooling for Romero's third Dead movie since the end credits rolled on Dawn Of The Dead seven years earlier.) But Sherman's subtle acting choices - sharp eye movements to suggest awareness, and prolonged groans that may or may not resolve into words - make Bub a person rather than a plot device, letting his final actions play out with something like dignity. We'd like to think he's still wandering around out there somewhere in Land Of The Dead.