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Zombie-Italian Horror at It’s Best…and Worst
Tagline: When the Earth Spits Out the Dead, They Will Rise to Suck the Blood of the Living.
The other night, I dreamed of the perfect movie. It was a strange dream, because the perfect movie starred Mia Farrow’s sister and a guy who looked a bit like Jack Elam. It was also Italian-made, so really bad dubbing was a given. And then there were the zombies. But not just normal shamble-around-and-eat-your-brains zombies. No, there were zombies fighting underwater against sharks. That’s right–sharks. And don’t forget about the nudity. Lots of nudity for no apparent reason. Mediocre acting. Mediocre special effects. Truly, the perfect movie was not what I expected it to be.
I awoke in the morning and realized that my dream was actually more of a nightmare. No sane movie fan would actually consider such silliness to be anywhere near perfect. It had all been a terrible, terrible mistake. Then imagine my surprise when I realized my perfect movie actually existed. It’s title? Zombie.
The movie begins as a seemingly abandoned boat drifts into New York harbor. A couple of cops are sent to investigate, and one quickly becomes a snack for the zombie lurking on board. It turns out the boat belongs to a missing scientist, and this quickly brings his concerned daughter, Ann Bowles (Tisa Farrow, sister to Mia), onto the scene. She meets up with Peter West (Ian McCulloch), a nosy reporter looking for a big story, and the pair decide to trek to the Antilles island chain, the last known location of Ann’s father. Shortly after arriving, they meet Brian (Al Cliver) and Susan (Auretta Gay), who are willing to take them to the isolated Matul Island on their boat.
On the way, Susan decides to strip down to just a thong and go scuba diving. She runs into an underwater-dwelling zombie, but, luckily for her, a shark appears to do battle with the zombie, allowing her to escape (I’m not making this up, folks!). Once they reach Matul Island, the foursome meet Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), who’s feverishly working on a cure for the strange disease ravaging the island. It seems that this disease is killing the locals and then causing them to rise from the grave in search of human flesh. From that point on, all hell breaks loose.
I realize that the summary is a little long, but Zombie takes forever to actually get all the characters in the same location. For a good bit of the film, we switch back and forth between the main characters and Dr. Menard. And once they’re finally all together, the climax of the movie is nearly in sight. But by that time, you’ll probably find that you and anyone else watching are in full Mystery Science Theater mode. It’s just one of those movies that’s more enjoyable when you’re making fun of it with your friends.
And believe me, there’s a lot to make fun of. The prime example, of course, being the showdown between an aquatic zombie and a hungry shark. While it’s certainly original, the sheer goofiness of the scenario will no doubt elicit laugher from even the most hardcore zombie fan. But what else would you expect from Italian director, Lucio Fulci? While his films have occasional moments of genuine creepiness, they’re most often just downright silly. Of course, he was always working with a budget of about five bucks, so maybe it wasn’t entirely his fault.
There’s also the fact that everyone in the film confronted with a zombie seems to freeze up and stand there, perhaps even tilting their neck to the side in order to give the fiend a clear path to their jugular. What the hell ever happened to running for your life?! I know the undead would be a terrifying sight, but I imagine the prospect of being eaten alive would be even more horrifying. I know it’s just a horror movie, but I’d like to see some realistic behavior demonstrated from time to time.
On a more positive note, fans of gore and nudity (count me among this crowd) won’t go away completely disappointed. The women in the film are above average, and the violence certainly lives up to the reputation established by Italian cinema. We get gunshot wounds galore, lots of arteries severed by undead teeth, and even a nice scene involving a woman’s eyeball and the jagged wood from a battered door.
But if you’re not a fan of such things, your expectations should probably plummet. Zombie is good for a cheap thrill and not much else. Anyone looking for artistic merit will be left scratching their head (unless you define artistic merit as later adding an opening and closing scene set in New York in order to capitalize on the success of Dawn of the Dead). It’s classic Italian horror cinema, and that’s about the biggest compliment and insult that I can give it.
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