With apologies to The Exorcist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the classic that made Michael Meyers famous, it’s easily the greatest Halloween film ever. George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead isn’t the scariest horror movie in the history of cinema—that distinction goes to Sam Raimi’s 1981 bloodbath-in-a-cabin landmark The Evil Dead. And as mainstream cultural touchstones go, Nurse Zombie and Hare Krishna Zombie haven’t exactly unseated Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger when it’s time to play dress-up on October 31.
But what Dawn of the Dead does better than every other horror film ever made is capture the true spirit of the season.
Assuming your favourite celebrities aren’t Hannibal Lecter, Ed Gein, and Albert Fish, chances are pretty good you don’t go to a Halloween party hoping to see someone disemboweled, decapitated, or drowned in the Purple Jesus punch bowl. The key is balancing the frightful with fun, which is why Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead might just be the greatest zombie movie not named Dawn of the Dead.
From the exploding head sequence 10 minutes in, to the great intestines feast just before the end credits roll, Dawn of the Dead took violence to cartoonish extremes. Even the blood was purposely mixed to look like it was from a comic book, the fluorescent-red hue the result of FX legend Tom Savini blending peanut butter with sugar syrup and food colouring.
Dawn of the Dead gave us gore like we’d never seen before. It gave us clever social commentary that still resonates today with anyone who’s ever gotten mall feet two seconds after entering Guildford Town Centre. And most importantly, it gave us the blueprint for what zombies eat, how they behave, and the best way to dispose of them (ie. with a fantastically graphic flourish).
The greatness of The Walking Dead and Shaun of the Dead is the way they follow the rules of Romero religiously. And the failure of 28 Days Later and World War Z starts with the fact that zombies aren’t supposed to run like Jesse Owens after 16 cans of Red Bull.
The point of all the above? That would be to bring us to the greatest Halloween cocktail of all time. Sorry, Vampire Kiss Martini, Skeleton Key, and Children of the Corn, but there’s only one that matters. You know it as the Zombie.
Like zombie films (see 28 Days Later and World War Z), there’s no shortage of folks who’ve happily diverged from the original Zombie cocktail script.
Legend has it—and this is backed up by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry’s indispensable Sippin’ Safari—that Tiki-drink icon Donn Beach concocted the drink in 1934. The story is a customer told him that business meetings were making him feel like a zombie. In reality, before coming up with liquid gold, Beach went through three-and-a-half cases of various rums trying to perfect things.
The payoff? The Zombie quickly become one of the most famous cocktails in North America. And as is often the case, that meant every Tom, Dick, and Trader Vic wanted in on the action. Figuring out a Mai Tai (Martinique and Jamaican rum, Triple Sec, orgeat and simple syrup, and lime) didn’t take a master's degree in mixology. The Zombie did, partly because Beach kept the contents of the drink a closely guarded secret, even from his own staff. Through exhaustive sleuthing, Berry unearthed a recipe that included three kinds of rum, falernum, Pernod, Angostura bitters, lime, grenadine, and something called “Don’s mix”.
It didn’t take long for the Zombie to mutate. By 1954 Don the Beachcomber restaurants were adding grapefruit juice, pineapple, and Maraschino to the drink. Other incarnations called for lemon juice, passion fruit syrup, and brown sugar.
As the first great wave of Tiki bars started to fade out in the late ’60s, the Zombie continued to be a fixture on drink menus, and not just at Polynesian palaces. But as the rise of chain restaurants made volume more important than craftsmanship, versions of the classic that often landed on tables would have made Donn Beach cry.
Despite what your local Thank the Olive Garden It’s Friday at Fuddrucker Applebee’s would have you think, a true Zombie does not consist of Five Alive, Kirkland Signature Spiced Rum., and Rose’s Grenadine.
As for the Zombie today, things have in some ways swung back to the past, which is to say that if you want the cocktail as God intended, make a reservation at the Shameful Tiki on Main.
As for this liquor nerd, I’ll argue that the brilliance of Dawn of the Dead is that, from Nurse Zombie to Sweater Zombie to Gun-Toting Zombie, no two reanimated corpses are totally alike, even though they’re all in the same family. As such, I’ll argue that the Zombie is a drink where you can mess around to create your own spin on it.
Beach’s original tends to be overpoweringly booze-forward, which admittedly is the whole point of a drink that’s supposed to turn you into the walking dead.
When it’s Zombie time in the Ghetto (aka my East Van shit shack), I board up the windows and then tweak a recipe from Salvatore Calabrese’s excellent and endlessly informative book Classic Cocktails. The result is sweeter than the original Zombie, which can be attributed to adding orgeat and swapping in grenadine for the cherry brandy Calabrese’s recipe calls for. It’s also more complexly exotic thanks to the use of papaya, orange, and pineapple juices.
So happy Halloween. And remember that, when there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the earth, which means this is as good a time as any for a drink that packs this classic’s considerable punch.
1/2 oz Bacardi white rum
1/2 oz Appleton Estate Signature Blend rum
1/2 oz Lemon Hart and Son Original 1804 Rum
1/3 oz apricot brandy
1/3 oz grenadine (go the Difford’s or craft route instead of Rose’s)
1 3/4 oz unsweetened pineapple juice
1 oz fresh-squeezed orange juice
2/3 oz Ceres papaya juice
1/3 oz fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon orgeat syrup
1 teaspoon Lemon Hart 151 Proof Demerara rum
Pour all ingredients in a shaker except the 151 rum, shake vigorously, and strain into a glass half-filled with crushed ice. Float the 151 on top, and then cue up Dawn of the Dead.