Saturday, November 6, 2010

Naked SCUBA! Zombie vs. Shark! Splinter-in-eyeball! It's Lucio Fulci's "Zombie"

Hot on the shambling heels of Dawn of the Dead (1978) came Lucio Fulci in 1979 with the imaginatively titled Zombie (sometimes titled Zombie 2 to confuse European viewers into thinking they were seeing the sequel to Romero’s film, which was titled Zombie in European releases). 

An abandoned boat (or is it?) drifts into New York Harbor.  It belongs to the vanished father of Ann (Tisa Farrow, Mia’s sister).  A note (“due to my morbid curiosity, I have managed to contract a strange disease”) points to the Caribbean.  Soon, Ann is on her way, joined by reporter Peter (Ian McCulloch, who went on to star in a different role in 1980’s Zombie Holocaust, a film which is unrelated to Zombie other than being filmed on the same sets, and alternately titled Zombie 3, apparently to confuse viewers even more).

The two convince boat bums Brian and Susan (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) to take them to the supposedly cursed island of Matul, the home of Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson).  A zombie outbreak is underway, with no explanation for the cause other than some mumbling about voodoo. 

The highlight of Zombie occurs before the protagonists reach the island, as Susan goes naked SCUBA diving and is witness to a zombie eating a shark.   

It’s difficult to top that.  Fulci tries to do so with gore, giving up on the scanty plot for face-eating, arm-rending, flesh-ripping, splinter-in-eyeball mayhem.  In general, the special effects are realistically stomach-turning.  Gallons of blood are spilled, bright 70’s movie blood like tomato sauce (maybe it was tomato sauce?).

It’s surprising more zombie films aren’t set in the Caribbean, where, after all, zombies originated.  Zombie has pretty island scenery and brightly-colored villages where the zombies roam, and the soundtrack includes both cheerful island music and voodoo drums.  The film even includes a sort of tropical recreation of the cemetery awakening scene from The Plague of the Zombies and many others.

Although more gross than frightening, and not the most intelligent zombie film ever made, Zombie is undeniably entertaining and well worth a look.

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