When it comes to discussing zombie films, just using the right terminology can cause an uproar, are they living dead, undead, virus created, or just zombies, however the debate goes further when it comes to George Romero’s creation of the dead slow motion to that of speed demon quickness. Then mix that with Lucio Fulci’s legendary 1979 horror flick Zombie it opens another bloody wound, as many describe the movie as a rip-off to Dawn of the Dead (1978), well that is not exactly correct. Now, I know some will note that George’s DOTD movie was released in Italy as Zombi, and yes, the Italian producers called Fulci’s movie Zombi 2 to cash in, but other movies in the horror genre seem to do that too. Let’s start there, the dead seem to be rising due to a voodoo curse against the medical experiments occurring on an island, hence it harkens back to White Zombie (1932); it also contains a scene of an underwater zombie, hinting back to Shock Waves (1977) and then there’s the over-the-top gore; each of these shall be discussed in more detail in this article and review.
Director Lucio Fulci, who made beautifully crafted, but twisted perverse at times thriller flicks such as A Lizard in Women’s Skin (1971) and Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972) was hired to create one the goriest of zombies movies, before embarking with the unholy trilogy of films The City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), and The House by the Cemetery (1981). He delivered a legendary zombie movie with the single intention to present a nasty and gruesome atmospheric horror that please any true gore-hounds, splatter punks and zombie fanatics with extreme delight. They truly don’t make zombie flicks like this anymore, with the incredible jarring music score, with a box cover art that screams gore and unrelenting imagery which all has helped this movie achieve cult status. This voodoo madness and undead beings hatch from a screenplay by Elisa Briganti (Manhattan Baby ).
It is from opening moments that the audience knows the ride on unbelievable portions that is presented upon them. First, a man standing in darkened profile a gun aimed towards the camera, then firing to what one thinks is a zombie recently rising up, before issuing the command the “boat can leave…” after the opening credits, the audiences see an abandoned boat floating around in New York close to landmarks such as the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty (a trivia all done without permits), narrowly passes by the Staten Island Ferry, all while appearing like that from Nosferatu (1922) both that carried their own plagues. Two New York Harbor Patrol officers (Martin) and (Bill) are sent to investigate the derelict yacht dead helm; (of the officers one appears a stand-in, his looks so unbecoming an officer). Soon enough humanity starts to unravel, with Martin viciously attacked by a large rotting zombie (portrayed by Captain Haggerty (Night of Dark Shadows )) giving him a grotesque love bite on the neck. Bill shoots and topples overboard; Martin arrives at the morgue only to unleash more horror. However, a cut to the introduction of Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow (The Initiation of Sarah )) questioned by the police because the boat belonged to her father (Ugo Bologna (Wild Beasts )) who left for a tropical island for medical research. Meanwhile, reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch (Zombie Holocaust aka Doctor Butcher M.D. )), is assigned the case by his editor, which is a cameo by Fulci, placing him trail of the boat, meets Anne and soon enough join with Bryan (Al Cliver (The House of Clocks )) and his girlfriend Susan (Auretta Gay) to guide them to the island of Matool (St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.)
A treat is part of Fulci and the screenplay neither cares of the plot holes and just ramp the film for the big stars the ZOMBIES, and why not, it is the reason the fans are partaking in the enjoyment of the movie. Herein, one of the three classic scenes occurred in the movie, Susan takes the time for a dip near the island, topless, and while diving, she encounters a shark, however avoiding it successfully, a zombie attacks it. Therefore, the underwater zombie (Ramon Bravo (Leviathan )) versus shark battle, with the zombie taking a bite out of the shark, which rips off the arm of his opponent and each go their separate ways and Susan returns to the boat, visibly upset and concerned. What truly makes this scene incredible is it involves a real tiger shark, that one of the crew was supposed to fight with it, but on the day of filming, he was nowhere to be found (I Wonder WHY?), and hence Bravo got selected as he was an Olympic swimmer, and later studied/photograph sharks. He took the time to over feed the shark and used sedatives which make the shark very lethargic, as it is one most dangerous species of sharks.
Matul becomes a cursed island, where rumors of the dead rising and Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson (The Haunting )) works on a cure, while his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos (The Sins of Dorian Gray )) desperately wants to leave the island. All around David and his nurse (Stefania D’Amario (Nightmare City )), agony, turmoil, anger spiral madly and various stages of zombie wretchedness overwhelming the living start increasing the ride of the rollercoaster ride for the viewers.
In fact, a key difference concerning the zombies in this film, is their appearance, appearing like those of the Haitian legends, they shuffle about, with their heads hung downward, eyes shut and severely decayed (something that appeared often in Italian zombie movies), raising their arms outward when grasping onto their prey. The other two classic scenes of reference that most horror fans recognize first comes from the voyeur zombie, that observes Paola, fresh from a shower, even though insanity goes on around her, shown in multiple angles, the scene incorporates Hitchcock techniques as it builds for about 6-miuntes in a tension filled explicit scene, complete with her trying to barricade a door that won’t close properly. Often, filmmakers before Fulci and many still do, did a cut-away scene ruining the moment for die-hard fans, however that’s not the case here. This scene involves the piercing of Paola’s right eye with a large splintered piece of wood, pulling the eye out, while battling a zombie. The film Lost after Dark (2015) recently noted this scene with a shadowy homage to it, and yet the zombie edition still stands the testament of time. Some have compared it to a suggestive exploitation porn shot with the wood acting as a substitution for the male organ, and violation of soft opening on her body, especially since the zombies have a firm grip of her head pulling her towards it, i.e. forced-penetration. A tidbit for the gore hounds Paola does have the undead over for a late night dinner that must be witnessed to enjoy the savor of the feast.
Lastly, the scene in the Spanish cemetery, in which the most poster and box cover represent, a worm-infested conquistador (Ottaviano Dell’acqua (Vampire in Venice )) rises up slowly scaring Susan into a motionless state and with full hunger attacks her gnawing on her neck, while thrashing it apart (quite rubbery) unleashing a huge amount of blood. One wonders if the zombies are not in fact vampires for all the neck biting they do in the movie, perhaps they sense that a primary artery for their feasting to center upon, either way the entire moment well worth the wait.
The film to some is overdone, but it does contain straightforward horror with the intention to freak out, and satisfy the emphasis on importance of location, music for the dreading tempo and most importantly the vivid special effects, that pride themselves on the practical and believable richness capturing everyone’s attention. The battle near the end only strives to show perhaps an undercurrent of passion for life versus death and the hope of eternal life, the desperation for life, with bullets, blunt objects and Molotov cocktails, the raging fires, and blood splattering on white for maximum effect.
Fulci’s movie definitely is not without flaws, the pacing seems slightly off in the middle, rather focusing on a proper story, worrying less on why it is happening and more on what to do now, and simply surviving against the dead. This avenue takes the correct path, for this flick, the audience cares more on the gore and violence, and less about silly acting moments and therefore pumps up the production values with cinematography of the island, by Sergio Salvati (The Wax Mask ), who worked often with Fulci, the wardrobes, and the endless flow of blood. Neither do the horror fans, in fact the movie now achieving the level of cult status, has had more DVD versions released and that it starts to match that of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and the VHS clam cases have become wanted collector items. The sought after original posters become worthy treasures and Trick or Treat Studios has at least two masks representing the film. Although one of the most influential elements comes from the composition score by Fabio Frizzi (Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich ), worked on 5-films of Lucio’s, his work has reaped praise from numerous musicians and other composers. The movie’s cultural impact is becoming increasingly shockingly, musical artists have referenced the movie such as Send More Paramedics with the track “Zombie versus Shark”. Also, one can’t omit the influence upon filmmakers who least show the poster for the movie such as The Monster Squad (1987) to the more extreme of eye gouging in Demons (1985), Planet Terror (2007) and most recently Brightburn (2019). In November of 2018, Blue Underground re-packaged and gave an exquisite Blu-ray release of Zombie, that had three different 3D lenticular slipcover on the first pressing only, it included 2 Blu-rays, the Soundtrack CD, a booklet, combining special features from previous releases in 2004 and 2011.
Many have stated that the movie’s appeal exists for those attracted to violence and that statement finds itself with a ludicrous laugh, the world and society have their own levels of reality violence, far more degrading than this movie. This movie does contain grotesque shots of bloodlust in memorable scenes, adding in the right measurements of sexual appeal, violence of both life and death and impending doom and read of society overall, while it’s all captured across the screen in wonderfully displays of passion for horror. Now in the 40th year since the release still finds itself in the high rankings with genre, after all the title strikes fear and gory passion to all: ZOMBIE!
Followed by :
Zombie 5: Killing Birds (1987)
Zombie 3 (1988)
After Death (1989)
- New York has a new problem
- When the earth spits out the dead, they will rise to suck the blood of the living!
- If you loved ‘Dawn of the Dead’, you’ll just eat up ‘Zombie’!
- We Are Going To Eat You!
- The dead are among us.
- They will rise to suck the blood of the living!
- When the earth spits out the dead…..They will return to tear the flesh of the living. [U.K Video Release.VIPCO Label]
IMDb Rating: 6.9/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.5/10
The Three Different Blu-rays: