directed by Lucio Fulci
starring Ian McCulloch, Tisa Farrow, Richard Johnson
The sounds of distant island drumming is heard signaling a tropical location. The barrel of an old, battered revolver aims directly at the camera, out of a shroud of darkness. The close up of this weapon is intercut with a figure with a pillowcase tied around it’s head attempting to sit up on a squalid bed. The pistol fires one shot into the hooded figure’s head. A silhouette of a man intones “The boat can leave now, inform the crew” and the screen cuts to black, Fabio Frizzi’s pulsating synthesizer score replacing the diegetic drums and Zombie, one of the most notorious horror films of all times, begins.
Lucio Fulci’s Zombie aka Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters is the Italian gore master’s quickie cash-in on George Romero’s zombie epic Dawn of the Dead. Romero’s film was titled Zombi in Italy and this film was made quickly and cheaply to cash in on the success. It was titled Zombi 2 in Italy to market it as a direct sequel to Dawn of the Dead. Despite its humble roots the film has withstood the test of time. It is curious that it is set up to be a Romero zombie knock-off it is at its core an old fashioned, pre-Night of the Living Dead style zombie movie. Fulci’s film has more in common with the creaky zombie movies of the late show like Revenge of the Zombies (1944) or I Eat Your Skin (1964) than with Romero’s new take on the re-animation of corpses. Set on a fictional Caribbean island with voodoo causing the reanimation of corpses, including the long dead remains of Spanish Conquistadors, is hardly a sequel to the real world, cynical, anti-consumerism film George Romero had made. It didn’t matter. Lucio Fulci’s take on zombies was even gorier and more pessimistic than Dawn of the Dead and became a cult classic in its own right. Between its inclusion on Great Britain’s “Video Nasty” list and the tagline “We are going to eat you”, dreamed up by US distributor Jerry Gross (fitting), Zombie was destined to be sought out on VHS by every horror kid with the nerve to try.
A large sailboat floats past the Staten Island Ferry into New York harbor. The boat appears abandoned when two members of the Harbor Patrol board the craft to investigate. The boat is not in fact unoccupied as a large zombie attack the cops killing one before being shot and plunging overboard. Fulci starts off letting the audience know he isn’t playing around the first zombie attack is gruesome with rotting flesh a throat ripped out, complete with spewing jugular vein, and all of it taking place in broad daylight. There is to be nothing hidden in the shadows or left to the imagination, and the gore and horror is just getting started.
We soon have a meet cute with our two protagonists; reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch, Doctor Butcher M.D.) and Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia Farrow). She’s looking for her father and he’s looking for a story. They are soon on the trail of Anne’s father last heard from on the Caribbean island of Matoul. From the Bahamas they hire a boat to take them to the island. While en route to Matoul they party decides to stop so Susan (Auretta Gay) can go nude scuba diving (like one does). In the film’s most famous scene, she is menaced by a large shark in the crystal blue water. While evading the shark she is attacked under the water by a zombie who decides the shark is a better meal and goes after it instead. The scene has become so viral that it was even used in a Microsoft Windows TV commercial. The scene was clearly inspired by the Jaws vs shark climax of the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me.
On the island of Matoul Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson, The Haunting) and his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos, Purple Rain) are trying to find a scientific explanation for the reanimation of the dead as opposed to the locals’ explanation of a voodoo curse. Paola is left at home while the good doctor heads back to the hospital. Following the requisite shower scene zombies attack the house and in a Lucio Fulci signature shot Paola’s eyeball is impaled on a large jagged splinter of wood.
The boat damaged in the shark attack lands on Matoul. From the shark attack on there is very little narrative drive and absolutely no relief from the horrors and sense of dread on the island of Matoul. You can almost feel the heat and humidity and smell the dead and rot coming off the screen. The day and night spent on Matoul is as delightfully grueling as any in a horror movie history. The zombies, including revived Spanish Conquistadors, are played totally straight and the humans aren’t required to be stupid to be put in danger. The fiery climax with a seemingly endless advance of the undead into the church turned hosptial ends the action on Matoul. By the time of the shock ending with zombies taking over New York City you feel you have really been through hell and back with Anne and Peter.
As perfect a horror film as Zombie is, it still isn’t close to the greatest zombie film ever, or even the best zombie film from Lucio Fulci. Both of those honors may go to Fulci’s 1981 epic, The Beyond. Like most of his contemporaries in the Italian film industry, Fulci, worked in a studio system that cranked out endless cheap movies based on whatever had recently been successful. They worked on every genre of film often clustered in bunches. Between 1979 and 1981 alone Fulci made four zombie films (Zombie, City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetary, The Beyond), another non-zombie slasher (The Black Cat), a Euro-crime picture, and a documentary. During his long career Fulci made westerns, sci- fi movies, comedies, spy films, giallo, but his legacy is gore.
Zombie, regardless of which title, has been released on basically every home video format. The early releases like VHS, Betamax, and CED were terrible pan and scan abominations of Fulci’s 2.35:1 scope compositions. Things got better with Laserdisc and DVD but the world saw what it had been missing when Blue Underground released the movie on Blu-Ray in 2011. Blue Underground has now released a new Blu-Ray of the film that somehow improves on the high standards set with their 2011 disc. The three disc Limited Edition boasts an amazing new 4k transfer that is as gorgeous as any film on the market. It doesn’t merely look good for a forty year old Italian zombie movie, but for anything released on Blu-Ray. Everything except Ian McCullouch’s bald spot benefits from the restoration. The gore and fire in the climax at the hospital jump off the screen in orange and crimson. Blue Underground imported all the special features from their previous release, most of which are on the second Blu-Ray, and paired them with a half hour interview with cult film writer Stephen Thrower, who also contributed extensive liner notes and a new audio commentary from Lucio Fulci biographer Troy Howarth. The third disc is a CD of Fabri Frizzi’s iconic score. Blue Underground’s Zombie is not only a great presentation of a horror movie but should be the standard for all collectible special editions of any film, any genre.