Well, it is the middle of September. The weather is starting to cool, friends of mine have started decorating their places, and a slew of new and old scary movies are coming out on DVD and Blu-Ray. It must be getting close to Halloween, my favorite time of the year! So, in a way to kick things off, I decided to share with you one of the first movie reviews I ever wrote, and it's for Lucio Fulci's legendary 1980 shocker, Zombie. This was written in May of last year. Enjoy, and don't judge too harshly. :-)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Ian McCulloch, Tisa Farrow, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos
8 out of 10 Stars.
An abandoned boat sails aimlessly into the New York harbor. When the Harbor Patrol comes aboard, they are met with a hungry, and portly, undead creature. A reporter (Ian McColloch) catches wind of the event, and then teams up with the daughter of the boat’s owner (who’s gone missing) to find out what happened to that owner and the crew. Their investigation leads to a remote Caribbean island where they, along with a couple of vacationers, meet a seemingly mad scientist, who’s research into Voodoo has led to the dead coming back to life and feast on the living.
That’s the premise of Italian director Lucio Fulci’s first full-blown stab at horror: Zombie. This is one of those cult horror films that I’ve heard about and read about for years. It was produced in Italy as Zombi 2 to exploit the success of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was released in that country as Zombi), is also known as Zombie Flesh Eaters and Voodoo in some parts of the world, and was labeled as a Video Nasty in the U.K. in the early 80’s. Zombie has an underground legendary status as one of the most violent and bloody horror flicks ever made. I was never able to watch the film without purchasing a copy. What if it was an over-hyped disappointment? Well, four months ago, thanks to Netflix, I finally got a chance to view it, and boy did I have a good time! Zombie is my favorite old-school horror flick so far this year, and I immediately bought it online after seeing it. Entertainment Weekly got it right on the nose when it described the film as “…both terrifying and hilarious.” Zombie has an outrageous plethora of extreme gore, but it also has some unintentionally funny moments that keep it from being unbearable, like a lot of Italian stomach-turners that followed in it’s wake.
I can’t really go into the gore bits much without spoiling the fun (just in the off-hand case you haven’t seen it yet), but what makes Zombie a truly creepy excursion is Fulci’s ability to make it so while setting most of the picture in the daylight. Instead of the usual shadows and fog typically used in films like these, Fulci uses the tropical locales to his advantage, and relies on anticipation (the corpses slowly rising out of their graves, for example) to up that creep factor.
The movie is no masterpiece of filmmaking, make no mistake. The dialogue? It’s pretty bad. Plot? Not much going on, and what’s present is nonsensical. Who, or what, exactly is causing all the title characters to walk around and munch on our hapless heroes is never explained with satisfaction. Fulci tries through the first half of the film to add a sense of mystery, but fails, as one frantic female character spoils that early on (“You won’t be happy until I’m one of your zombies!”). Plus, I mentioned the doctor, played by Richard Johnson, is seemingly mad, because in actuality, he looks rather lost. I don’t think Johnson himself knew why his character was on the island. These things can (and usually do) hurt other movies. However, in the case of Zombie, they provide the aforementioned hilarity that gives the film a quaint charm. Other examples include the gratuitous nudity, women just standing around and/or screaming as the ghouls slowly saunter towards them, and, of course, the famous showdown between a zombie and a shark!
Overall, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie delivers on it’s reputation as a no-holds-barred gorefest, and has the added bonus of being comedic. Zombie’s flaws have actually done the movie some good over its 25-years-plus years, making it more enjoyable, and stand well above, all the imitators that it has spawned.