Stars: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCullough, Richard Johnson, Al Clives, Auretta Gay, Stephania D’Amario, Olga Karlatos
Writer: Elisa Briganti
Dir: Lucio Fulci
Where, oh where, do I begin with this one? Aside from poor English dubbing, this could possibly the best zombie film aside from “Night of the Living Dead.” Yes, that is a bold statement. And I will stand by it without flinching.
Lucio Fulci, may he rest with the (currently) peacefully sleeping dead, saw the sensation brought about by George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.” Dario Argento, famed giallo maestro of Italy, made a “European Cut” of Romero’s “Dawn” and unleashed it upon Europe and most of the rest of the non-U.S.A. world. It was simply titled “Zombi.”
Fulci felt Italy needed to answer. So, unofficially, he made this tiny film, known in Italy and most of Europe as “Zombi 2.”
While I will go down swinging saying that Romero’s “Dawn” is a superior film overall, Fulci made a far superior zombie film here.
Yes, I just wrote that.
“Zombie” kept simple what us gorehound and zombie fans wanted: basic plot, extreme zombie carnage, likeable characters, and, for the most part, Romero’s rules were left intact. And, he added some visual touches and startling, burn-into-your-brain moments that only Fulci could deliver.
I’m already praising this gem without telling the noobs what it entails. So, for the unfamiliar…
The film opens with a handgun firing a single shot into a rising white sheet, wrapped in rope, in the form of a person. An off-screen voice says, “The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.”
So begins “Zombie.” Said boat seems to have wandered (maybe?) off course and wound up in the New York harbor. As the harbor patrol investigates, they encounter a rather portly man with a taste for neck flesh. As one of the officers empties his gun into the chubster, the fat man falls into the water…
Cut to a “newspaper newsroom,” where ace reporter Peter West (McCullough, an great yet oft-overlooked British character actor) is given an assignment to look into the strange adrift vessel (an assignment he gets from an obvious Italian-speaking Fulci himself). Upon checking out the dock, West encounters Ann (Farrow), from whom he learns the boat belonged to her father. Her father had left for the island of Matool (somewhere in the Caribbean, the best we can tell) and he lost touch with his daughter, aside from a note they find aboard. West and Ann set sail to Matool, aboard a boat chartered by “American” explorers of the deep, Susan and Brian (who are dubbed, at times poorly).
It is shortly after this rendezvous that one of the films first iconic moments occurs: Zombie Vs. Shark. Yes: ZOMBIE VS. SHARK. Susan decides to take an impromptu SCUBA dive and finds herself confronted by both a member of the undead and a member of one of cinema’s other unrelenting predators. I won’t spoil that encounter any further other than to say, again, ZOMBIE VS. SHARK.
Our pleasant protagonists arrive at Matool, the boat suffering a bit of damage from the ZOMBIE VS. SHARK incident earlier. Meanwhile, we are introduced to Dr. Menard (Johnson) and his fed-up-to-her-gills-with-his-obsession-with-the-dead wife, Olga (Karlatos). Menard is trying to figure out why the natives of Matool suspect voodoo in bringing some of the recently deceased back to life, while his gorgeous-eyed wife simply wants to get away from it all (her eyes…her gorgeous, green eyes…so often focused on…sigh).
We learn Menard is simply not willing to walk away from trying to figure out a scientific explanation to the recently dead returning to life (sidenote: the voodoo concept has been derided by some critics of this film. I am sure I am not the first to mention it was prominently brought up as a theory by Ken Foree in “Dawn of the Dead,” leading to a very famous catchphrase from that film).
As our travelers from the U.S.A. meet up with Menard, they learn the fate of Ann’s father, and Menard asks the travelers to check on his wife, whom, after a heated (and abusive argument) had been left home alone without a watchful eye over her (oh, if only she had a watchful eye).
If you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll get that sad attempt at a joke later.
Upon finding Menard’s wife dispatched, the team attempts to reach the hospital and crashes along the way, conveniently into what appears to be a graveyard left by Spanish conquistadors. And, here, yet another iconic (one of about 16 in this film) moment occurs. Can’t spoil that sucker either, but you’ll know it when it happens.
The survivors haul ass back to the hospital with Menard and then wage a standoff the likes Romero wished he could have staged at the Monroeville Mall. Tons of fire, Molotov cocktails, gunfire, blood splatters, surprises, and carnage ensues. But, it doesn’t end there. But there is where it ends here.
Romero Rules Followed: Slow, shifty, shambling, rotting messes of undead meat. Get bit, get dead. Yup, zombies.
Gore factor: One of the goriest of all zombie films.
Zombies or Wannabees? Are you kidding? You fricken better have zombies if you are bold enough to name the film “Zombie.”
Classic, fine, or waste of time: Concrete, unshakable, inarguable classic.
Additional comments: Want to introduce someone into the realm of the zombies? Look no further than this one. And, look, I know, there is a generation gap where if the mouths don’t match the words (it’s called dubbing, jerks), viewers will scream “this sucks!” If they scream that, they are not worth being your friends. Embrace this Italian-made jewel for what it is — a classic zombie entry, and one of the finest films the late, great Fulci ever made. And one of the best horror films ever made.