Fright Fest: Zombi (1979)
George Romero is the father of the zombie movie, but Fulci’s ZOMBI takes the monster to it’s most gruesome level. ZOMBI is glorious with scene after scene of rotting, putrid flesh being ripped off, and pumping blood geysers. And, of course, there’s the shark vs. zombie scene. This film is all about imagery.
ZOMBI is also known as ZOMBI 2, without Fulci’s consent. It was called that not because it’s a sequel, but to cash in on Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, released a year earlier. The closing scenes filmed in New York, with the radio voice over, were added because of the earlier film. It was originally released with an X rating, and later labeled “a video nasty” in 1984 by the Video Recording Act.
Co-written by Elisa Briganti and Dardana Sacchetti (uncredited), the film takes the zombie back to the Caribbean, as a result of Voodoo and black magic, as opposed to Romero’s undead ghouls. Dr. Menard, (Richard Johnson,) is racing to save his small uncharted island from being overrun by monsters created by the local practitioners. Anna Bowler,(Tisa Farrow,) and journalist Peter West, (Ian McCulloch,) make the unfortunate decision to travel to the island in search of Anna’s father after his derelict sailboat ends up in the New York Harbor, complete with hungry zombie. They trace her father back to the island, and the mysterious Dr. Menard. Vacationing couple Brian Hull, ( Al Cliver,) and Susan Barrett, (Auretta Gay,) give them a lift to the island, too bad for them.
ZOMBI is a classic due, in a large part, to editing (Vincenzo Tomassi) and cinematography (Sergio Salvati.) From the opening scene looking down a gun barrel as it shoots a sheeted body and then rapidly cuts to the sailboat, to the final scene of a crowd of zombies making their way across the Golden Gate Bridge, ZOMBI is full of iconic horror images. Fulci was a master of camera angles and focus. One of my favorite scenes involves Dr. Menard’s wife played by Olga Karlatos. Fulci spends a lot of time focused on her beautiful green eyes, and then proceeds to show one of them being slowly impaled by a piece of wood, eye jelly everywhere. Near the end of the film, the four main characters are running across the island, looking for safety. Unknowingly, they stop to rest amid old graves of Spanish Conquistadors, very shallow graves at that. One throws off his layer of dirt and chomps down on poor Susan, tearing open her throat. This zombie is the wonderful maggot-eyed zombie on the posters. The last season of The Walking Dead paid homage to Fulci and this particular zombie by having a similiar one crawl out of a sand pile and attack main character, Tara.
As great as those scenes are, none will ever compare to zombie vs. shark. On the way to the island, the main characters take a break on the boat so Susan can do some snorkeling and take pictures, topless, of course. She sees a shark and tries to hide, only to be attacked by a zombie. She gets away and the zombie fights the shark, taking a chunk out of it. They go their own ways, leading one to wonder, is it now a zombie shark?? What makes this scene even better, is that it’s a real shark. Ramon Bravo, the shark trainer, took over the role as underwater zombie at the last minute. The tiger shark was well fed and doped up before the scene was shot. No CGI here, a man actually fought a shark in the pursuit of film making.
The film ends with Peter and Anna stuck on the boat with an infected Brian, listening to the radio from New York and realizing they can’t go home. ZOMBI is one of the best examples of why most people love horror, it’s gruesome, gory, and fun to watch.
Kim McDonald is a contributing writer on Machine Mean, having reviewed for us during last year’s Fright Fest series , The Thing (1982). And this year’s Creature Features series. Kim lives in Charleston and loves all things horror, especially foreign horror. Kim also publishes reviews for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrospective and often introspective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and much more. As you can see, she is no stranger to the art of movie reviews. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.