Review by Bob Ignizio
announces its intent to be a completely unrepentant gore fest. Dr.
Renard (Richard Johnson, Dr. Markway in THE HAUNTING)
shoots a man wrapped in a white sheet in the head. The camera
immediately zooms in to give us a nice, long, unflinching look at the
various hunks of bloody flesh and bone exploding from the wound, and
Renard informs someone offscreen, “The boat can leave now. Tell the
The action then moves to New
York City as said boat drifts into the harbor, no one at the helm.
When a couple of harbor patrolmen investigate, they soon learn that
the reason Renard shot the guy in the head is that he was a zombie.
They also learn that Renard must not have been too thorough, as
another zombie on board (presumably the one who ate the crew) attacks
and kills one of the patrolmen.
So begins one of the most
successful rip-offs in movie history. Released in Europe as ZOMBI
2 in an attempt to convince
moviegoers that what they were seeing was a sequel to George A.
Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD,
which played pretty much everywhere but America under the title
quickie imitation nonetheless manages to distinguish itself in a
number of ways, even if it can't hope to hold a candle to its
inspiration in traditional terms of cinematic quality.
Unlike Romero's siege-based
zombie films, Fulci's utilizes more of a mystery/intrigue plot. The
daughter of the owner of the boat from earlier in the film, Anne
(Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia), wants to find out what happened to dear
old dad. So does Peter West (Ian McCulloch), a reporter at a New York
paper. After a meet-cute while surreptitiously checking out the boat
at night, the two team up and head off to find the tropical island of
Matool, last known whereabouts of Anne's father. There aren't any
commercial boats available, but Anne and Peter manage to convince
vacationers Bryan (Al Cliver) and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay) to
give them a lift. On the surface, everything looks like sun and fun,
but death and horror await.
And boy, what a catalog of death
and horror ZOMBIE has
to offer. We've got an underwater zombie attack that turns into a
battle between the zombie and a shark; we've got a great big hunk of
jagged wood jammed right into a woman's eyeball by a zombie; we've
got heads split open so thick, chunky cranberry sauce can spill out;
we've got zombies with live worms crawling in their eyesockets and
mouths; we've got great bit bites of flesh taken out of multiple cast
members; and of course, plenty more gory head shots. Cinematographer
Sergio Salvati's camera never flinches, and unlike Romero's
fast-cutting style, Fulci prefers long, lingering takes to allow his
audience to better savor the special effects work of Gianetto Rossi.
Subtle it ain't. That said, the
narrative is actually pretty strong, especially given the usual
nonsensical “nightmare logic” scenarios found in most of Fulci's
other horror films. While there's no doubt this is a film intended
for the bloodthirsty exploitation market of the seventies, there's
enough character development and at least passable dialogue to give
the strong cast of veteran, if B-list, actors something to chew on.
Fulci's admirers have a tendency
to oversell the filmmaker's virtues. He's no maestro of the macabre
like Mario Bava or Dario Argento, but he is a competent filmmaker who
knows how to deliver the goods in an entertaining way, and can
usually be counted on to generate considerable atmosphere in his
horror films. At the end of the day, though, if you're not a
gorehound, there isn't much to his work, ZOMBIE
included, that can be called exceptional. Provided you're not too
squeamish, though, ZOMBIE
has much to offer in terms of fun and thrills. 3 out of 4 stars.