Army engineer Lieutenant Brian Murphy is the sole survivor of a plane crash, finding himself washed ashore on the African continent. He's far from home, low on supplies, cut off from all contact with the outside world, in one of the most dangerous places on Earth, and he just wants to get back to America and be with his family. Unfortunately for him he's found himself trapped in the middle of the Zombie Apocalypse, making Africa all the more dangerous for him.
At the time of its release it was considered just another sub-par zombie movie but the fan reaction was intense making it highly popular and successful.
The Dead is unique compared to other zombie movies not so much for what it features but what it doesn't feature. Gore is kept to a minimum and the slow and agonizing build up of tension is utilized instead of cheap and cliche jump scares, and before the movie is over the audience is practically begging for the random zombie to pop up with an accompanying scare chord.
A less successful sequel The Dead 2: India was released in 2013.
The Dead include examples of:
- America Saves the Day: Averted. The film opens with America and the rest of the world abandoning Africa, pulling out their aid workers and leaving everybody else to their fate. At the end, it's revealed that the Zombie Apocalypse has enveloped the entire globe, and America is no better off than anywhere else, meaning that Brian's chances of rescue are nil.
- Apocalypse How: The end of the movie suggests the Class 3 category.
- A-Team Firing: Most African soldiers appear to be shooting from the hip, though they mostly stick to single fire rather than laying down copious amounts of rounds downrange. And to their credit, they do have a fairly high rate of critical hits.
- Black Dude Dies First: Justified, as the movie takes place in Africa.
- Black Cloak: Brian invokes this trope as he's crossing the desert portion of Africa, though it's more for protection from the sun than anything else.
- Big Damn Heroes: Daniel pulls this off magnificently when he arrives just in time to save Brian from being eaten after his truck gets stuck.
- Boom, Headshot!: As per usual, the only way to really kill a zombie.
- Bottomless Magazines: Averted. All players are careful not to expend ammunition freely, and by the end both Brian and Daniel are running out of ammo and relying on Daniel's machete.
- Car Fu: Brian resorts to this to take out a zombie in order to gain access to its canteen and possibly other supplies. Later on, it's averted when he says he's worried he'll bust the truck's axle.
- Darkest Africa: This trope is toyed with a lot here. While trucks, electricity, and radio equipment are all present, a lot of the scenes still take place in remote villages that look untouched by the modern world.
- Downer Ending: Brian Murphy learns that he's not getting out of Africa, his family is dead, and the zombie outbreak has reached America. And right after that, the walls of the refugee center he's taken shelter in collapse, and the undead horde forces its way in and begins killing everyone. Although it isn't shown it's implied he dies with the rest of the refugees.
- Fanservice: Daniel and Brian are both featured shirtless and muscular (and even glistening) as they refresh at a watering hole.
- Foreshadowing: The opening scene features an infected man dying and reanimating aboard the plane. It can be inferred that infected aid workers returning home is how the zombie outbreak reached America.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Blood and gore is kept to a relative minimum considering the context of the film.
- Infant Immortality: Played completely straight.
- Jump Scare: Almost nonexistent.
- Machete Mayhem: Brian and Daniel each take turns dispatching several zombies with a machete, to save on ammo and to keep the commotion to a minimum.
- Made of Plasticine: Averted for most of the film, but played straight near the end as Brian hacks and slashes his way through a horde of zombies to get over the walls of the refugee center.
- Mercy Kill: Brian does this to a severely injured woman who's about to be eaten.
- No Indoor Voice: Daniel deliberately invokes this to force Brian to turn on the truck's headlamps so they can see their surroundings.
- Not a Zombie: The zombies present can easily pass for humans as there are few telltale signs of their status. The only clues to their true nature are whited out irises and whatever injuries they may have suffered.
- Our Zombies Are Different: The exact cause of the undead outbreak is never explicitly stated. Bite transmission suggest the plague variety, but the planet being overrun would suggest the Romero variant is at work.
- Room Full of Zombies: Encountered by Daniel and Brian in one of the villages.
- Zombie Apocalypse: Whatever the cause of the undead plague has caused the entire world to be overrun, not just Africa. America has fallen as has everywhere else, and there's nowhere safe left to fall back to.
- Zombie Gait: And how. The zombies present move so slowly that Romero's zombie can easily cover more distance. However, this slow pace allows them a greater degree of stealth as they search out a meal, and makes them almost undetectable in terms of audio cues. Plus, they don't have to sleep, so as slow as they are, they can still catch humans at night.