Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Favorite Era: Zombie (1979)

While Lucio Fulci's The Beyond (examined in this series earlier this year) was a surreal nightmare with some creepily Lovecraftian overtones, Zombie (known also as Zombi 2 in order to cash in on Dawn of the Dead) is more of a good old fashioned barf bag movie.

The plot is simplicity itself as Italian horror vet Ian McCulloch plays Peter, a British reporter who tries to help Anne (Tisa Farrow, another Italian horror flick regular) find her missing father.  They get help from a young couple played by Al Cliver and  Auretta Gay who have a boat and travel to a mysterious island where Anne's father has been working with Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson in a solid character role).  Naturally, something has gone terribly wrong (your island turning into ground zero for the zombie apocalypse generally is a crappy day at the office) and there is much gore, mayhem and the occasional bit of silliness.  Let's take a closer look.
  • I have sort of an amusing history with this one.  I had a great aunt who was even more of a film buff than I am and for some ungodly reason, a friend of hers decided to give her the following: Two Steven Seagal films (Above the Law and Out for Justice), Evil Dead 2 and this film.  Needless to say, she gave me those four in what I would imagine was the easiest decision of her entire life.
  • I love the cast here, it's just the ultimate in terms of Italian horror in the late 70's/early 80's.  McCulloch is a solid lead, Farrow is okay, Cliver plays the dumb guy fairly well and Auretta Gay has a very  We'll go with that for now.
  • Fulci gives us a great opening with a creepy, deserted boat pulling into New York Harbor.  The harbor patrol running into our first zombie is a nice moment as well, f/x whiz Gianetto de Rossi does outstanding work here, maybe even better than Tom Savini's stuff in Day of the Dead.
  • The great thing about this film is how well its paced.  While a lot of Italian horror films tend to go for sort of a slow burn, this one gets you right into things and really does a surprisingly nice job of giving the characters some depth.  It can be a little slow here and there but for the most part, it works just fine for me.
  • On a lighter note, there is a great, cheesy disco song playing at the start of the scene where Peter (Ian McCulloch) meets Anne (Tisa Farrow).  It's "There's no Matter" by Linda Lee and is hideously catchy.  To give you an idea of how it sticks in the brain, I first saw this film in 1999 and I finally discovered the damn thing in its entirety last year.  Maybe it's just me, though.
  • The stuff on the island with Richard Johnson is wonderfully creepy.  He's stubbornly trying to find out why the island natives are dying and coming back as zombies, his wife Paola (Olga Kartalos) is drinking heavily and wants to leave and everybody else is warning him to get the hell out.  It's nicely atmospheric and creepy.
  • Another touch I enjoy is how the film is vague about how much Dr. Menard is to blame for the problems.  About the only thing he's definitely responsible for is the death of Anne's father and that;s just because he dies and turns into a zombie; we see the death both at the beginning of the film and later as Menard explains.  In an interesting touch, the two times this is shown differ in certain ways, an enticing mystery that is never delved into, sadly.
  • Al Cliver and Auretta Gay are fun as Bryan and Susan, the young couple Peter and Anne rent a boat from.  The highlight of the trip to the island is the infamous shark vs. zombie scene.  It's a gloriously silly, ridiculous showstopper (though the shark was more than likely doped to the gills to get the scene done, unfortunately this is par for the course in Italian genre flicks from this period).  I think that's about the only way you could possibly top Susan swimming around topless.
  • Equally impressive is Paola's protracted death scene.  Needless to say, having my face pulls slowly towards a jagged piece of wood until it pulps my eyeball is fairly high on my list of ways I'd prefer not to die.  It's pretty excruciating.
  • The last thirty five minutes or so are a rush of gory zombie attacks as the undead (including the wonderful cover ghoul that became a sort of VHS icon back in the day) make their way to Menard's hospital.  We get tons of gross f/x including the usual gut munching, flaming zombies, bullets to the head, the requisite guy dying because one of his loved ones is now a zombie and he's too dumb to do anything about it (Bryan though in this case he's only bitten and for some reason he is taken along in the escape) and a narrow escape.  We also get numerous instances where it would seem that our natural fight or flight instinct shorts out.  How else do you explain simply standing there getting scared while an undead Conquistador rises from his grave as slowly as possible?
  • The capper is a nice twist as it seems that harbor patrol guy killed in the beginning of the film came back to life and started an outbreak so now, our heroes return to New York only to find the zombie apocalypse has reached the mainland.  I gotta say that having a bunch of zombies on the Brooklyn Bridge as traffic goes past is one hell of a way to end your movie.
Whereas The Beyond is Fulci at his most assured, Zombie is sort of his big, over the top bit of excess to get his feet wet.  It's decently paced, wonderfully disgusting and the acting is exactly what it needs to be.  If Dawn of the Dead is a fine steak dinner, Zombie is the greasy chili cheeseburger with chili cheese fries.  You may get more out of the former, but the latter can be just as rewarding.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.