Italian ‘Maestro of Gore’ Lucio Fulci canvassed a wide array of genres. Not unlike his colleague Mario Bava, his filmography resists being pigeonholed, seeing as his career eclipsed the movements in which he became prominent and eventually notorious. While some may revere his giallo masterpieces such as A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971) or Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), it would be his gory horror films in the 1970s and 80s which really branded him, especially items such as The House by the Cemetery (1981) or the flame-torching face sequence of the unlucky sex worker in Contraband (1980). But his 1979 cult classic Zombie (aka Zombi 2) remains one of his richest visceral experiences. Without the frills of a kooky narrative or even the exaggerated acting styles popularized in other titles, his 1979 odyssey of the undead plays like a throwback to H.G. Wells punched up with unforgettable set pieces.
When an abandoned boat arrives in New York carrying a zombie, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow), the daughter of the scientist who should have been on board the vessel, becomes concerned. After being questioned by authorities, she divulges her father had been conducting research on the Caribbean island, Matul. With journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch) in tow, they hire a boat guided by Brian (Al Cliver) and his wife Susan (Auretta Gay) to take them to the island, which they seem immediately leery about. Once on the island, it seems Anne’s father (Richard Johnson, of Wise’s The Haunting, 1963) and his wife Paolo (Olga Karlatos) are aware of and have been researching zombie reanimation among the native populace. However, the condition has now overrun the island.
It comes as no surprise to find Guillermo Del Toro providing an introduction on this new 4K Ultra HD release of Zombie, a visual feast for aficionados of gore. And yet, there’s something which remains somewhat classy in Zombie—considering its narrative, the terror and violence don’t seem gratuitous (at least not in the sense of his later attempts at shock value in something like 1990’s Cat on the Brain) and is arguably as sumptuous (and more garish) than another of his masterpieces of this period, 1981’s The Beyond.
The cast and characters of Zombie are all a tad underwhelming and without any real depth, which makes the focus on Tisa Farrow’s (sister of Mia; daughter of John Farrow and Maureen O’Sullivan) Anne and Ian McCulloch’s Peter (who seems a bit ripe and unstimulating for even the cookie cutter damsel-in-distress Farrow’s forced to play) a bit curious. Fulci himself seems bored with them, having a lot more fun with showcasing the nude assets of Auretta Gay’s unabashed scuba diving, who is part of the film’s most show-stopping moment when a zombie battles with an actual tiger shark underwater. The comely Greek actress Olga Karlatos (Purple Rain, 1984) also is a standout for her eye-popping demise.
Scripted by Elsa Briganti, who would also pen the much more disturbing The House By the Cemetery, Zombie was marketed in some territories as a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), but Fulci’s creation is its own creature, a prototype for what Danny Boyle would later concoct with 28 Days Later (2002). Say what you will about its simple narrative, but the potent cinematography from Sergio Salvati (of Contraband, 1980) and a haunting, eerie score from Giorgio Cascio (which includes uncredited composers Adriano Giordanella and Maurizio Guarini) allows for Fulci’s Zombie to nestle in the brain.
Film Rating: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Rating: ★★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆