e-mail:Smokey X. Digger
1979, Dir. Lucio Fulci
This movie features a scene in which a zombie fights a shark. If you're anything like me (and if so God help you) that should be all you need to hear in order to be convinced that this is worth the rent. The story of Zombie is oft-told, but let me run through it quickly. After the release of Dawn of the Dead in Italy, where it was retitled Zombi, Lucio Fulci hopped on the bandwagon and cranked this flick out as a pseudo-sequel, calling it Zombi 2. It doesn't come within a country mile of Dawn in terms of pretty much everything, but it has aged to become a cult classic in its own right. People's reactions to Fulci range from fanatic devotion to extreme distaste; he is truly a flawed filmmaker with talent enough to be frustrating. He's at his best when presenting nightmarish, non-linear (be it intentionally or not) stories as in his masterpiece The Beyond, but his attempts at other genres such as the giallo snooze-fest Schizoid are painful. So where does Zombie fall?
In between of course. Unlike Umberto Lenzi's godawful City of the Walking Dead Fulci doesn't foolishly aspire to the level of Romero. He just presents an hour and a half of filmed excuses for people to get eaten by zombies. It starts, as most of these films do, in New York, where something happens that causes people to go to some remote tropical island. In this case, a boat floats into the harbor carrying only a fat zombie and a lot of trash. Said zombie attacks and bites one of the investigating policemen, and is shot into the water by the other one. When Ann Bowles (Tisa Farrow) discovers that the boat belonged to her doctor father, she and investigative reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), who is covering the story, take off for the island of Matool, where her father was working. They hitch a ride on a boat with Brian (Al Cliver) and Susan and they're off for Matool. There they meet Dr. Menard, Mrs, Menard, the doctor's assistant Lucas, and a nurse. People get killed, people get mutilated, people get eaten. Yes, it's really that simple.
There is one word that describes this film perfectly: nasty. Zombie is gory, gritty, and filthy but most of all nasty. The zombie effects, while top-notch in some cases and haphazard in others, usually do the trick. Ol' worm eye has become a zombie poster boy, and the infamous eye scene gets ya every time. Even more disgusting is the condition of the "hospital" in which Dr. Menard works. The patients, who are lashed to their beds, are covered in snot and phlegm and pus, moaning and wailing unsettlingly.
Like most Fulci films, you just have to sit back and go with the flow. If you think too much you'll just ruin it for yourself. Never mind the fact that zombies aren't amphibious and that one fighting a shark is too much for your suspension of disbelief to take. It's an amazing scene, and an absolute hoot. Never mind the fact that the 400 year old corpses of the Spanish "conkweestadors" (as Brian insists on calling them) should not be in such good condition, much less clothed. Just giggle at our heroes as they screech and try to runaway.
There's not much to say about the acting here, except for that it sucks. No one gets any character development, so all the better when zombies eat them. There is a great deal of stupidity going on, par the course for a B monster flick. Unless they're just really nice, why would Brian and Susan give passage to two wierdos who want to go to an island that they both know is bad news? Why, when you're barricaded in a small, rickety wooden building and besieged by zombies, would you start throwing molotov cocktails around? So now, as opposed to being trapped in a building with limited ammo and encroaching zombies, you're trapped in a building that's BURNING TO THE GROUND, etc. But this is a dumb horror flick so that kind of thing is just going to happen. People are also not going to shoot zombies in the head until after two wasted bullets, even after ample evidence that one to the brain does them in. Oh yeah, and women are to be menaced after gratuitous boob shots, but you knew that already.
The other notable thing here is the lack of atmosphere, due in large part to the bad acting. The score detracts mightily as well, especially when it falls into pseudo-porn and 70's travelogue music. Something a little more menacing than what they play in between sets at Jimmy Buffett show should've accompanied the outset of the voyage to Matool. The opening theme works for about four seconds; the first notes on the synth manage to be ominous and haunting.
Zombie isn't really a good movie. I'm unsure of how strongly I recommend it, even to horror enthusiasts. Anyone who has watched a good deal of Italian horror knows that it is an entirely different beast than what most people are used to, and therefore takes a certain mindset to fully enjoy. It's extreme nastiness, in my opinion, lifts it out of MST3K and drinking movie territory. Zombie movie fans will enjoy this, as will fans of Fulci. But this is not a good starting point for someone who wants to join either of those ranks. Watch Romero's trilogy, then watch The Beyond. Then you'll be ready forZombie.