(Directed by Lucio Fulci)
(Written by Elisa Briganti)
(Starring Tia Farrow, Ian McCulloch and Richard Johnson)
Plot: Anne (Tia Farrow) teams up with a reporter (Ian McCulloch) to find her missing Father. Their investigation leads them to an isolated island, which has become infested with the walking dead. Will they stop this mysterious disease or will they become zombie food? Also known as “Zombie Flesh Eaters“, “Zombi 2” and “Zombie 2“.
“Zombie” holds a special place in my rotted, undead heart for being the first zombie flick to make me appreciate these walking corpses. Before Hollywood Video was murdered by the likes of netflix (I wonder if it became a zombie!) and VHS had lost the war of the invasion of DVD’s, a lone VHS tape caught my attention. At the time, I thought the whole concept of zombies was stupid…stupid, not scary and stupid. I remember respecting “Dawn of the Dead” for its well written characters and story, yet even I believed that classic was overrated for relying on such an unscary menace. But the creepy cover and the promise of ‘Zombie-on-Shark’ action seduced me into a reluctant affair and suddenly…zombies were awesome. I had a whole new appreciation for the subgenre, re-evaluating all of those films I had previously discarded. “Zombie” did the impossible: Make its titular monster kind of scary. Their nasty appearances and the grotesque ways they’d kill people got under my skin. It also just happens to be a really cool movie, delivering a memorable atmosphere, endearing score, awesome gore effects and my beloved ‘zombie vs shark’ sequence. This experience also began my exploration of Italian Horror, so I was introduced to the benefits of two different genres thanks to “Zombie“. When VHS started to die, Hollywood video sold all of its library for $1, so I tried finding the copy that had such an impact on my cinematic life. Unfortunately, someone must have snatched it away before I could get to it…I did end up buying “Slashed Dreams” though, so…I guess this tale had a downer ending.
There are many legitimate complaints directed at “Zombie” and I do understand them, while sometimes even agreeing with them. My feelings towards the flaws tend to change with each viewing. One of the criticisms is the pacing, as the first half is often described as ‘plodding’. When I first watched this, I believe I had braced myself for the awkward pace, so it didn’t seem so slow to me. When I saw it again, I did feel that it tended to drag. This lingered throughout my next few watches, but for my most recent viewing? I didn’t mind it. I thought the characters were interesting primarily because of the actors playing them, which is funny because the acting in itself isn’t very good- although there are exceptions. I thought Ian McCulloch was charming enough to redeem his thinly written role. I liked how Richard Johnson’s Dr. Menard was being built up as a potential villain due to some observations made by the protagonists and even his own wife, but then it leads nowhere. That sounds like a criticism, but I thought “Zombie” resisted a cliche and just painted the doctor as well meaning, but somewhat troubled and drunk as a result of what’s going on. I’ve always really liked Brian (Al Cliver; who isn’t a good actor, but his shortcomings don’t stand out here) for simply outshining McCulloch’s Peter as the hero. He’s just too cool! Yeah, “Zombie” takes its time and I understand why some would complain about this, but it didn’t bother me. If anything, it helped build suspense for the second half. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t great character writing. They aren’t fleshed out and developed like the cast from Romero’s more respectable zombie flicks. I merely liked them, even if they occasionally did something ass retarded like make out in a graveyard during a zombie uprising… The supporting cast tend to do the worst in terms of acting, not helped by the stiff dubbing. But this is not only the horror genre, but the Italian horror genre…This isn’t that bad compared to some of the shit that I’ve witnessed.
One of the reasons I’m okay with the slow burn first half is that it helps set up the atmosphere. Those on the island are becoming increasingly more paranoid, obviously terrified of this mysterious plague which has inflicted the villagers. I might criticize the acting in “Zombie“, but I felt everyone conveyed fear and repulsion perfectly. What they feel starts to rub off on you. Lucio Fulci also restrains from showing too much of the zombies at first, instead keeping them as an unseen menace lurking around the corner. He utilizes zombie POV’s, strange noises, moody music and the characters facial expressions to clue us into their presence, which actually leads to some scary moments. In fact, what we don’t see is definitely scarier than what we do see and that is pretty damn impressive- considering how frightening these monsters are. I always loved the camera placement and the use of zoom-ins, which always magnified the tension or provided some amazingly haunting shots. Fulci loves his slow pushes, but it works and always managed to make me shiver. When we finally do see the walking corpses, we see the most disgusting, undead creatures to ever grace the genre. While I’ve seen more advanced zombie effects, these zombies just look more gut wrenching. The skeletal frames are more pronounced, the rotting flesh literally hangs off them, worms have nested in their eye sockets and their slow shambling…These zombies are even slower than normal zombies, but there’s something very creepy about seeing one stumble around through a deserted village. The makeup is very good and the sound design compliments it. You can hear the flies buzzing around them and added to the actors wrinkling their nose in disgust in response to being around them, you can practically smell the decay. The violence they inflict upon others is very nasty too and Fulci is sure to give plenty of closeups. Even simple kills like bites to the jugular, which I’ve seen many times before, are very gross to behold. The actors might not be very good when delivering their dialogue, but they sell the pain they are feeling like pros. There are plenty terrifying scenarios, like when the doctor’s wife is in peril. The pay-off is one of the most brutal moments in film history, but not ONLY because of the gore effects, but because of that…damn…scream. That change of pitch…Ouch!
The village is a nice setting and the ambiance was pretty powerful. The dust and wind give it kind of a western vibe, which adds another layer to the atmosphere. The second half might show more of the zombies, but it becomes more of a survival, action horror film. It’s very exciting and a lot of fun watching the zombies get killed in brutal ways. A nice touch was stressing how these characters aren’t great shots. The majority of the cast never even figures out that they must target the heads, but as they were never told, it made sense and added to the tension. Sometimes the characters can be frustrating, which is especially noticeable whenever they freeze during an attack. I could buy that, as it can be argued that they are going into shock. Plus, it does successfully engage the audience, even if you’re yelling at the screen. But “Zombie” can be argued as both misogynistic and racist- and for once, I kind of agree with these accusations. The women are only there to provide fanservice, scream a lot and die while standing around so the men can do everything. The blacks are consistently presented as servants to the white men. Even their deaths aren’t treated as a big deal, while a random white dude who is introduced as he’s dying gets the emotional send-off. This can make the experience somewhat awkward for some. I don’t think it was intentional, but I don’t think most films condemned for racism or sexism really mean to be offensive in those ways, so it’s up to you whether these complaints have any merits. Fabio Frizzi’s weird, synthesizer score is both chilling and cheesy, but I love, love, LOVE IT. I also adore the many random ideas that show up for no reason other than to be FREAKING AWESOME. Why did the zombie fight the shark? Who knows, but it’s amazing- even if the zombie acts more like a professional shark trainer than a zombie. Why are people driving normally during the outbreak in the final shot? Well, I do know…Fulci never had a permit so they had to resort to gorilla film-making and those cars had no idea they were being filmed…But even if it’s a goof, it’s still an epic moment.
I personally think Lucio Fulci- when he cared- was a masterful director. But in this case, the stars aligned to provide a cult classic. He had the right screen-writer, SFX team, set designers, (main) actors, cinematographer and most importantly of all: the right time to make his beloved zombie opus. If this was made any earlier, I doubted he would’ve gotten this budget. If it was made any later, it may have been a bit too safe. I loved this movie, although I can’t say I cared for any of its sequels. I’m glad I got to re-review this gem, as my opinion has approved over time and my original writing was rather sloppy. I look forward to tackling more of Fulci’s (better) works. His immediate zombie-themed followups were just as awesome. “City of the Living Dead” and “The Beyond” are among my favorites from the Godfather of Gore, maybe even surpassing this one…Let’s just hope the likes of “Ghosts of Sodom” won’t start haunting me anytime soon…
Violence: Rated NC-17 worthy. This is VERY graphic and there’s a roughness to the gore that makes it more unsettling. These days, gore tends to look too clean and CGI-ish.
Nudity: One character goes topless and there’s some sexuality.
Overall: “Zombie” is my personal favorite zombie flick, even if it’s not the best.
DISCARDED MATERIAL: The Original Review
Zombie did two things for me on my initial viewing. It introduced me to the wonderful(?) world of Lucio Fulci, whom is arguably my personal favorite director of all time. It also was the beast that got me into liking zombie films, which I formerly detested. Regardless, this unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead enjoys/suffers a love/hate relationship among fans and is trounced by the critics. To all of that, I have to say this: IT S A FREAKING MOVIE ABOUT ZOMBIES! WHAT DO YOU EXPECT!?
Zombie basically created the template that Italian zombie films would try to be and fail miserably. Oh, wait, it did succeed in being bad in certain areas. Zombie has its many flaws. The choppy acting, poor dialogue, uneven dubbing, stupid character moves, dispensing logic for the sake of scares, uneven pacing, and obvious budget restrictions are all aspects that the many clones have succeeded in matching Zombie . Of course, now that we ve determined that Zombie is a bad film, let us see why its worth watching.
Lucio Fulci did something for me that I thought was never possible. He made gore scary. Now, either films are scary, or gore is used to make up for it. Somehow, the explicit gore and the superb buildup of suspense make the death scenes surprisingly frightening in their gory goodness. Fulci is actually fairly restrained here in terms of style (he still keeps the zoom-in/out fetish going though), but he keeps things constantly creepy. The makeup is disgusting, the score is eerie(go Fabio Frizzi!), and I the atmosphere is astounding. The film looks like a raw, western-zombie epic. The use of fog and dust was so eerie and memorable. The action sequences are intense, and you feel like you are part of the film. Finally, the expert uses of sound adds to the creepy factor of the film. Wonderful job, Mr. Fulci.
On a more subjective note, there are a few questionable criticisms. For one, why does everyone keep stating there is something suspicious about the doctor? It s never really clarified. Also, the characters often just stand there and scream while the zombies get closer. On one hand, its pretty frustrating. On the other, it makes the scene that more involving. While the characters are all wooden, you somehow sort of root for them anyway.
The acting is often off by the supporting cast, and the dubbing is bad as well. Tisa Farrow (Anne) does okay. She doesn t have much to do expect act scared. Ian McCulloch (Peter) is credible. Richard Johnson (Dr. Menard) is the best here, and is a very endearing character. Al Clive r(Brian) isn’t a very good actor, but somehow he makes quite an endearing character and you route for him anyway.