Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Elisa Briganti
Starring: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver & Olga Karlatos
Reviewed by: Brett H.
“Father of my father always said, 'When the earth spits out the dead, they will come back to suck the blood of the living!'”
After a decade of collecting horror films, it’s always exciting to relive the movies that proved to be the aphrodisiac that would lead to years and years of seeking and searching some of the best, outrageous and explicit celluloid ever shot. By the time I first laid eyes on the cover art of Zombie, thanks to a relatively new, handy tool called the Internet, I had already been watching horror movies since I could remember. Over the years, mom and pop video stores couldn’t possibly stock everything, but the Internet could find – and inform on – whatever you may need. It made digging through used bins a highlight of my day rather than a tedious guessing game. I suppose the time it took to scan hundreds of used titles in hopes of finding the one with the Pulp Fiction-like glow is what separated the novice film fan from the clinically obsessed. Lump me in with the latter; if it was possible, I’d still be digging for obscurities like Frenchman’s Farm and Into the Darkness every week. The (barely) teenagers at the counter wouldn't have a clue what these tape things were I was digging for, but I wouldn't mind at all. I think if there was a single determinant to my collecting days, it’d trace back to the day that I found a widescreen VHS of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie at a local music store. To me, it was like finding a needle in a haystack; if there was one movie I never expected to find but would have sold your soul to get my hands on, this would have been the one. Like a junkie jonesing for a fix, I wanted to relive this feeling again and again.
A pistol raises and the trigger is pulled. Someone… something wrapped and tied tightly in white cloth catches a bullet to the head. The man who pulled the trigger tells his assistant that the boat may be sent back. In New York, an unmanned sailboat is coming dangerously close to collision with ferries and ships and thus the police are sent out to tackle the matter. The two cops board the ship and discover nothing… except a large, decayed, living corpse that decides it’s lunchtime. One cop manages to survive and fires rounds into the behemoth before it falls into the water on the edge of the city. Unfortunately for the world, he should have aimed just a little higher.
The man who owned the boat is missing, and his daughter, Anne (Tisa Farrow) decides to investigate. She meets up with a reporter (Ian McCulloch) sent to cover the case and they find a note aboard the ship written to her by her father. Turns out he had caught a contagious disease and has died on the island of Matool in the Antilles. Not satisfied with this, the two set off for Matool to find out exactly what happened to her father. After catching a ride with a couple on the island, they just make it to Matool before their boat breaks down. There, they meet up with Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), who tells them exactly what happened to her father… who died… but still lived! Voodoo, zombies and head splattering effects wreak havoc on your senses before a fiery finale that can only be summed up with one word. Classic.
Zombi 2, which will forever be known to me under its North American title, Zombie, is a film unlike any other to come before it. If there ever was a trendsetter that set the mark for cinematic excess in the years to come, this is it. Despite the fact that he was no stranger to a quality horror film before its production, Lucio Fulci gained worldwide acclaim on the strength of this monstrosity of menace, which helped catapult him to the status of horror icon in the years to come. If I could compare Fulci’s work on Zombie to that of any other filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino would be the only man to come to mind. Combining a keen visual eye with outrageous sensationalism, Fulci set the tone for the great eighties Italian horror that would follow that was able to appeal to a more commercial crowd while still pleasing the hardcore audience.
Although the movie originated as a sort of sequel-in-name-only to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, Fulci’s epic is anything but a hack job of the, at the time, flavor of the week. Instead, it harks back to the Val Lewton days and pays tribute to voodoo oriented living dead as seen in the classic of the silver screen, I Walked with a Zombie. The zombies aren’t pale and blue, rather shuffling and haunting figures of strength and rot, a companionship that constitutes what I firmly believe to be the best living dead to ever chow down on humanity in the history of cinema. Technically speaking, Fulci’s direction borders on near perfection; it’s not flashy and it shouldn’t be, but the framing is tremendous and the tropical islands are used to their full beauty, which only makes the beastly zombies all the more effective. Using a wide array of shots, Fulci makes Zombie into something much more epic and grand than the ideas on paper.
As with so many Fulci movies, Zombie combines a great score (done by frequent collaborator, Fabio Frizzi) with some of the most reactionary scenes in horror history. The awe-inspiring scene in which a zombie actually goes to battle with a shark is absolutely monumental in the genre and it is this combination of visceral horror and Jaws-inspired suspense that a guy like Tarantino must have been influenced by to slowly cook the coolest parts of various movies of all types of genres into one aromatic and tasty stew… complete with all the excess. The lovely Olga Karlatos’s eye slowly meets a serrated wood spike and we see every second of it in its uncut glory alongside a brain splattering effect of a heavy wooden cross being brought down on the skull of a zombie that’s not seen the sunshine in a century. It’s not just the gore, there’s the stunning end shot, an early scene where the big fella zombie steps up to the top of the boat with the NYC skyline in the background, and the rotted zombie from the cover rising from his musty old grave is just as groundbreaking as the violent mayhem that follows and precedes. I could go on and on (particularly regarding a shot I was especially interested in this time around that is shot wonderfully long and wide involving zombies in the background rising before a zombie sits up from his grave right in front of the camera and right up in our grills), but you’re just going to have to witness the rest for yourself.
Over the years, Zombie was brought to life famously in the eighties by Wizard video (which, compared to the current Shriek Show and Blue Underground DVDs, probably is as awe-inspiring as the transition from black and white to color) and the Anchor Bay VHS proved to be my first introduction. The picture on my widescreen tape is said to have been worse than the much-maligned DVD, and I was shocked at the beauty of the new transfers. I remember Zombie as muddy and murky, and I must admit that in a way it gave and took from the overall quality. I am a bit nostalgic when it comes to poor VHS transfers and their overall effect on a horror film. The zombies looked especially soggy on my old VHS, which did make them seem stinkier, but it came at the expense of the explosive colors of the tropical scenery. With the Shriek Show disc, the zombies are dustier instead of mucky, but still just as effective and it’s not contest that it is the way you’re going to want to see the film. Also included is a pretty impressive 5.1 track for a film so old and a 98 minute documentary that covers the history of the movie with interviews with many of the people involved. There are the usual trailers and short featurettes rounding out a package that’s worth every penny. It is said that the Blue Underground DVD may look a little bit better, but the supplemental material on the Shriek Show 25th Anniversary Edition won me over. Zombie is an enormous overdose of mayhem with head-shattering effects that no horror fan should be without. Essential!
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