Format: Internet video on laptop.
How a film gets made and marketed is often almost as interesting as the film itself. In the case of Zombie, Lucio Fulci’s answer to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, there’s a lot to consider. Is it a sequel? Well, Romero’s film was released in Italy reedited by Dario Argento and with a new score by Argento’s frequent collaborators Goblin under the name Zombi. Fulci’s film was fast-tracked for release the following year and released in Italy as Zombi 2. However, Fulci himself seemed to think it was its own thing. While the idea of reanimated ghouls devouring the living is a common element, Fulci’s zombies are much closer to the Caribbean voodoo zombies of folktales. Sure, these ones eat the living, but they are otherwise similar in manner to those raised by a houngan.
Zombie, like a lot of Italian horror movies, has both the strengths and weaknesses of its genre and that genre specifically in its country of origin. My own experience with a lot of Italian horror movies is that they tend to have some tremendous set pieces and moments that are truly memorable, but often lack in having a coherent plot. Things often seem to happen because they happen and there aren’t always solid connections from one moment in the story to the next.
Zombie makes a point of having its flesh-eating ghouls different in specific ways from Romero’s. They tend to walk with heads down and eyes closed with their arms at their sides, for instance. They shamble along like the traditional zombies, though, and since this is an Italian horror film, there’s going to be plenty of red paint-colored blood splashing all over the place. Fitting in with our theme of Caribbean zombies, most of the action is going to take place on a remote island, although we’re going to start and end in New York City.
The start involves a boat floating into New York. The Coast Guard investigates and, to their surprise, finds a zombie on board, which fairly quickly kills one of the agents. We soon show up in a morgue where the dead agent is starting to show signs of reanimating while a couple of coroners dicker with each other. We’re not going to come back to here until the very end, though, because the scene is going to shift dramatically.
The rest of the film is going to concern Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow), whose father owned the zombie boat. When she learns of its appearance, she finds a way to sneak aboard to investigate and discovers Peter West (Ian McCulloch), a journalist investigating the mysterious craft. They figure out that Anne’s father was on a remote island called Matul, and they set out to find it. Eventually, they meet Brian Hull (Al Cliver) and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay), who are vacationing in the area. Anne and Peter convince them to help them find Matul.
Meanwhile, on Matul, Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) is dealing with the outbreak of whatever is turning people into zombies. As they die in his clinic, he finishes them off with a bullet in the head, a scene reminiscent of Roger’s reanimation in Dawn of the Dead, and one we’re going to see replayed time and time again. While he’s attempting to keep a lid on the rising corpses, they’re starting to appear around the island, as his wife (Olga Karlatos) discovers.
So, eventually, we’re going to get larger and larger groups of zombies attacking the island and the people who live there as well as the clinic staff are going to be whittled down over time until we’re left with just a couple of them. Those who do get killed are naturally going to have that happen in spectacularly bloody ways, and a good number of them are going to show up as zombies as well.
Zombie does a lot right. It keeps up the gore at a steady pace and once the zombies show up, it keeps them coming. There are two specific scenes that are noteworthy in terms of horror. The first involves an underwater sequence where Susan goes diving and encounters both a shark and a zombie. While she gets away, we get a short duel between the shark and the zombie, and it’s actually pretty fun. The second moment comes shortly after this when Menard’s wife is attacked and pulled slowly into a wooden spike.
There are real issues with the film, though. It sets up a specific set of rules and then conveniently breaks those rules whenever it feels it needs to for plot purposes. For instance, Mrs. Menard gets attacked, and, hours later gets discovered still dead with a group of zombies eating her. Other people killed by the zombies animate almost immediately. And toward the end of the film, Anne, Peter, Brian, and Susan wind up in an ancient graveyard where, because the plot needs it to happen, ancient corpses suddenly reanimate, and despite this being a graveyard for conquistadors, they still have flesh on them.
I get why people like this. It’s got a lot going for it. But it’s still got its problems and really could have used another pass through rewrites to make the damn thing consistent.
Why to watch Zombie: Lucio Fulci does Romero.
Why not to watch: The editing is frequently disjointed and a lot of scenes just end.