Audio of the Dead: The 3 Best Uses of Sound in Zombie Films
25 May 2021 Studio News

Hungry groans, screeching moans and breaking bones - the sound effect staples we have come to love in all zombie movies, but in the category of audio, which zombie films stand out from the horde?

Ryan Williams from the Dambuster audio team has dissected and dismembered the goriest and most gruesome zombie movie soundtracks of all time for you.

Here are are his top picks...

Planet Terror (2007) Dir. Robert Rodriguez

Check our the trailer here:

Robert Rodriguez doubles down in forging a sleaze driven soundtrack full of nostalgic music cues in this highly accomplished, zombie splatter-fest of a movie. Uber stylised and bleeding late 70s cool, Rodriguez heavily leans on throbbing bass lines, smokey saxophone riffs and gouging synth layers, all culminating in a score which has enough personality to stand up as a character by itself. Rodriguez follows the lessons of the master John Carpenter by writing most of the soundtrack himself, helping to create a tight symbiosis between sound and picture.

The sound design and foley team are let loose to inflict a grisly sound layer on the listener, utilising techniques that ape the lo-fi B-movie visuals perfectly. Alongside the gurgles, groans and grue, the Grindhouse aesthetic is played out well as projector burnouts, film scratches and speaker pops exude the authentic retro cinema experience you would expect to have in an American fleapit cinema of the 70s and early 80s.

Our favourite gross-out sound moment: Quentin Tarantino’s terrifying “transformation sequence”

ZombieLand (2009) Dir. Ruben Fleischer

Watch the trailer here:

The brilliantly inventive Zombieland begins with one of the greatest opening scenes in horror movie history. The score introduces itself by unleashing Jimi Hendrix’s twisted version of the Star Spangled Banner, whilst Jesse Eisenberg lays the post-apocalyptic survival rules through his trademarked deadpan vocal delivery.

We’re treated to super slow motion, postcard slices of zombie carnage, all backed by Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (all of this within the first four and a half minutes of the film!). To emphasise the fun factor, the audio continues to match the playful swagger of our main protagonists as they dispatch an almost insurmountable horde of zombies in a Looney Toons-esque manner (i.e. fun set pieces including a masterfully delivered cacophonic piano drop onto an unsuspecting zombie gudgeon).

At the other end of the scale, horror sound elements land effectively, and well-delivered jump-scares are brilliantly realised and effectively scary when they need to be.

Favourite jump scare moment: The appearance of a particularly troubling clown underneath a toilet door. “Why did it have to be a clown?”

Shaun of the Dead (2004) Dir. Edgar Wright

Watch the trailer for Shaun of the Dead here:

Before Baby Driver was a twinkle in Edgar Wright’s eye, Shaun of the Dead impaled itself onto the zombie movie hall of fame by portraying a very British apocalypse. Featuring all the hallmarks of a Wright production, superb music choices are always there to directly support the comedy, (i.e. Chicago’s If you leave me now playing “on random” and a cast of hoodie thugs bobbing along to Blue Wrath by I Monster)

Wright is a master of using sound cues to elevate comedy. His trademark jump cut editing style, is deployed to maximum effect making the most mundane motions seem epic. Never has teeth brushing sounded so huge!

Zombie vocalisations are mostly played for laughs with little in the way of ever trying to be truly scary, but what would you expect from a film that classifies itself as a “Zom-Rom-Com”?

The film crescendos into its final act with a synchronised music-to-action bar fight, using Queen’s Don’t stop me now.

All of these elements result in a brilliant sounding movie which raised the bar amongst the horde of contemporaries at the time.

Favourite comedy-gore moment: Ed winding his camera up after “Bloody Mary” impales herself on a swingball set.

Check out The Sounds of Shaun of the Dead that make the film so unique to the zombie genre, here:

And there you have it, our roundup of the best-sounding zombie movies of all time. Let us know about your favourite sounding zombie movies over on Twitter.