I could not imagine there being an October Horrorshow without a zombie flick. REC got close, but that and other recent movies are from the new wave of zombie fare — i.e., the bad guys aren’t zombies, they’re infected by some nefarious viral agent. But Halloween just couldn’t be Halloween without a horde of the classic lumbering undead making an appearance on my screen. Enter director Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, the 1979 Italian sequel/non-sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.
In many international markets, Dawn of the Dead was released under the title Zombi. In Italy, the success of Romero’s film led producers to title Fulci’s movie Zombi 2, even though the film has no relation whatsoever to Romero’s. In the United States, since there was no film called Zombi, Zombi 2 was released as Zombie. Another title in the U.K., Zombie Flesh Eaters, is my personal favorite. If that doesn’t make sense, it gets worse. Zombi 2 had a pile of sequels, all still unrelated to the Romero film, and their numerous titling schemes are notorious in the horror world. (Internet filmmaker James Rolfe made a video about being chronologically confused by movie and video game titles, including the Zombi series. I mention this because I straight ripped off his idea of doing horror film reviews in October. Thanks, James.)
Titling shenanigans aside, there is movie to be watched in Zombi 2.
The film opens upon a grisly scene. A shroud-wrapped corpse slowly rises from a bed. A figure in the shadows aims a pistol and shoots the zombie in the head, releasing a torrent of gore on the screen. What an introduction. This film isn’t overloaded with gore, but this opening shot sets the stage for what is to come. Zombi 2 is a gross little movie.
Following the credits, the action moves to New York City. A wayward sailboat has drifted into New York Harbor. Seemingly abandoned, the NYPD shows up on scene to investigate, and one of the police officers is attacked by a zombie. A few gunshots later, a cop is dead and a zombie is taking a dive in the East River. Just another day in the harbor patrol.
It turns out the sailboat belongs to a wealthy socialite. He sailed the vessel solo to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, and somehow the boat made its way all the way back to Manhattan with a zombie onboard. How or why this happened is no matter — the movie certainly doesn’t bother to explain it effectively. Its strange reappearance is just enough impetus to give the movie’s two main characters, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow) and Peter West (Ian McCulloch), an excuse to fly down to the Caribbean to get the plot moving. You see, Anne is the daughter of the boat’s owner, and Peter is a reporter on the trail of a hot story. It’s not the clumsiest of ways to move things along in a movie, but it’s still sloppy.
Down in the tropics, Anne and Peter recruit vacationing couple Brian and Susan (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay, respectively) to take them to a remote uncharted island where they hope to find Anne’s father, alive or dead. Unfortunately for them, but fortunately for the viewer, the island is currently in the grips of a zombie outbreak. No one knows for sure what’s causing the outbreak, but émigré physician Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) has an idea. He’s sure voodoo is the cause. This is yet another plot element left unresolved, but its validity is hinted at by the sounds of ominous drums in the background for much of the movie (at first, I couldn’t tell if the drums were soundtrack or atmosphere — helpfully, one of the characters made that clear).
Many bad things happen on the island, many zombies appear, many people are killed and turn into zombies, and much of the main cast does not survive to see the light of day. In that, Zombi 2 is pretty typical as far as zombie flicks go. There aren’t all that many surprises, but there are a fair share of genuine frights. Among the highlights is an underwater scene where a zombie attacks Susan as she scuba dives...in a g-string. Just the logistics of the scene makes it worthy of note. Another highlight is Gianetto De Rossi’s makeup work. The zombies are excellent. They look quite dead. The f/x in attack scenes are just nasty, but never oppressive. Zombi 2 does have its moments, but it’s a shitty movie for a reason, and not because of its commitment to quality filmmaking.
Besides the numerous discarded plot elements, there are other hallmarks of shitty cinema. The underwater attack scene, for instance. Despite it being one of the most effective scenes in the film, it also delves into the absurd when the zombie ends up tangling with a shark. Still technically superb, owing to the demands that were placed on the actor, once the shark fight begins, this scene turns into a real howler.
Much of the sets look cheap and thrown together, which they were. The cast is able, I guess. It’s hard to tell since all of their dialogue is dubbed. This isn’t surprising considering Zombi 2 is an Italian film. But look at their mouths and it’s clear most of the cast is speaking English. Zombi 2 was filmed like a spaghetti western. English-speaking cast members read their lines in English, and the entire film was rerecorded in post. It’s a weird way to watch a film for those not used to it, but directors like Lina Wertmuller made overdubbing part of the art of filmmaking. Not so much here.
Little failings aside, what makes Zombi 2 a shitty movie more than anything else is its feel. It just feels like a shitty movie. It embodies everything great about the idea of a movie being shitty, without it being just another bad movie. And Fulci saved the best for last. It turns out the zombie outbreak has spread throughout New York City. As the final credits begin to roll, the viewer sees a zombie horde slowly rumbling its way across the Brooklyn Bridge towards Manhattan. The skyscrapers of downtown rise majestically towards the sky, and below the pedestrian walkway of the bridge, cars whizz by, unconcerned by the pilgrimage of the undead only feet above their heads. You see, Fulci and company didn’t have the budget to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge so they could get their shot, but that didn’t stop them. Now THAT is what shitty filmmaking is all about.
Lucio Fulci, you have taken a run at the making the best shitty movie I’ve ever seen. That alone makes Zombi 2 better than Alien: Resurrection.