Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #62
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: August 25, 1979
Sub-Genre: Zombie Horror
Country of Origin: Italy
Budget: ITL 410.000.000
Box Office: ITL 614.000.000 (Italy)
Running Time: 91 minutes
Director: Lucio Fulci
Producers: Fabrizio De Angelis, Ugo Tucci
Screenplay: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti (uncredited)
Special Effects: Giovanni Corridori, Giannetto De Rossi
Cinematography: Sergio Salvati
Score: Fabio Frizzi, Giorgio Tucci, Adrianno Giordanella, Maurizio Guarini
Editing: Vincenzo Tomassi
Studio: Variety Film Production
Distributor: The Jerry Gross Organization
Stars: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Stefania D’Amario, Olga Karlatos and Ramón Bravo as Underwater Zombie
Suggested Audio Candy
Fabio Frizzi “Main Theme”
I often wonder whether George A. Romero had any idea of the can of worms he was opening when presenting Dawn of The Dead to the masses. Back then, the undead didn’t have their own Wikipedia page or organized walks arranged in their honor. They simply decomposed beneath the top soil like any other festering cadaver. A lot has changed over the past forty years and I wouldn’t be at all surprised we see our first zombie president in my lifetime. They’ve achieved celebrity status now and I’m sure this is just the beginning of their bid for global domination. Nobody is scared of them anymore, sooner or later it will be deemed acceptable to integrate them into society and, when that happens, Romero will have rather a lot of blood on his hands.
Who can blame them for exploiting their new-found popularity? It sure beats pushing up daisies and people conveniently forget that zombies have feelings too. Granted, said feelings consist solely of an overwhelming desire to feed on fresh meat but who are we to deny them this most basic of human rights? After all, they’re still human at the end of the day, albeit a dash past their prime. So you see, while Romero is considered as something of an innovator, that can just as easily be translated to evil mastermind. Mark my words, when the undead decide to wipe out the planet’s entire population, he will be the first to drop off the radar. Indeed, he probably has his own lavish underground bunker fitted with cable television so he can watch his creations run amok from the comfort of his own recliner.
No sooner had Dawn of The Dead shuffled onto the scene, than the Italians caught whiff of the commotion and decided to jump on his coat tails. Dario Argento’s involvement in getting the project off the ground was critical and his localized cut Zombi went down a storm on his native shores. Soon afterwards, the floodgates opened and another of his countrymen capitalized on this fast-growing trend. In 1979, Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 rose from its shallow grave and the zombie apocalypse was now in full swing. Moreover, it marked a distinct change in direction for Fulci who, after twenty years in the industry, was still unsure of his special purpose.
Fulci actually decided to take a rather obstinate approach when introducing his unofficial follow-up by not classing it as one. It was his opinion, and an astute philosophy, that the undead had actually originated from Caribbean culture and walked the earth for hundreds of years before George dug them up. Thus, he decided to defy Romero’s political-metaphor stance and set his film in a more exotic climate, with voodoo undertones as opposed to social. Of course, cheeky little scamp that he was, he shrewdly renamed his film Zombi 2 in order to ride the slipstream of his American counterpart. That is not to say that he didn’t tip his hat to Romero, indeed, he remains faithful to much of his template. It remains ambiguous; offering neither cause or solution to its outbreak and, when you dig a little deeper, has a political agenda all of its own: European colonialism and its exploitation of the West Indian slave trade.
In a way it was reminiscent of John Carpenter’s The Fog; an observation that may have you scratching your heads but allow me elaborate. The ghouls there felt decidedly short-changed and only desired to wreak a dash of bloody revenge to even the scales a bit, choosing the descendants of those who wronged them as the target of their gruesome appeals. Here, the decomposing stiffs had similar intentions though, where in Carpenter’s film there was a cap to their reprisal, Fulci’s flesh crawlers had no intention of stopping numerically.
Romero’s creations could only really pose a threat with either a stealthy bite of an unaware victim (tough when you’re given away by your shuffling right leg and groaning belly) or en masse. In Zombi 2, one attacker could really do a number on you. They were portrayed as sturdy, ferocious, incomprehensible forces of nature gone horribly wrong with no notable cognitive function, other than an overwhelming urge to maim and kill. With Fulci commanding this brutal battalion, things were bound to get decidedly messy.
Our story begins in New York as an abandoned vessel drifts into the harbor. When officials discover a ravenous zombie aboard, local reporter Peter (Ian McCulloch) is assigned to the case. The following morning, he flies to the Dominican Republic with the daughter of boat’s missing owner, Anne (Tisa Farrow) and there they meet American couple Brian (Al Cliver) and Susan (Auretta Gay). After a little gentle persuasion, Brian reluctantly agrees to take them to the island of Matul, where Anne’s father was last seen. There they meet Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson) and his contemptuous spouse Paola (Olga Karlatos), who informs them that Matul is not quite as idyllic as it first appears.
The vacationers are soon left ruing their decision not to invest in holiday insurance. Truth be known, they probably should’ve turned their ship around the moment they spotted an amphibious zombie wrestling a tiger shark and taking it out with a TKO that Kimbo Slice would be proud of. Speaking of which, the one-sided brawl in question is as staggering now as it was way back then and features underwater choreography that has still not been bettered almost forty years on. It sure as shit beats swimming with dolphins which, whilst vaguely life-enriching, is also rather overrated. However, the real meat and potatoes here takes place back on terra firma.
Fulci provides numerous money shots once the dead start to rise and it is here that he finds his true calling. The gore is literally off-the-chart and, it has to be said, of all the films brandished as video nasties in 1983, it doesn’t take a great stretch justifying its inclusion on the naughty list. At the time, the majority of western movies were far more restrained with their bloodletting but Fulci knew he was onto something and wasn’t about to compromise his vision. Whether it traveled well across the pond was irrelevant as $30 million in home-grown box-office receipts represents a job well and truly done. Indeed, the phenomenal success of Zombi 2 in its native country bankrolled his similarly gruesome Gates of Hell Trilogy and, with Sergio Salvati adding his inimitable gloss to Fulci’s undercoat, horror folklore was about to be written.
Meanwhile, the climactic scene remains one of Fulci’s finest achievements. It depicts droves of zombies trudging across Brooklyn Bridge and imparts an incredibly bleak closing statement about the colonization of civilization that leaves a pungent taste in the palate. With that, Zombi 2 shuffles to a close. Further into his career, Fulci would become increasingly fixated with appealing to an American audience but here his approach is unashamedly Italian and all the better for it. Indeed, it remains one of his finest movies and still holds up to this day. Moreover, the footprint it left is almost as significant as Dawn of The Dead itself and there can be no greater compliment than that.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 5/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: While Fulci was never timid with regards to gushing grue, rarely was he quite as magnanimous as here. The notorious eye gouge still ranks a one of most unflinching atrocities ever committed to celluloid and, where most filmmakers would cut away, his lens revels in drawing the anguish out to unbearable levels before delivering its knockout blow. No less masterful is a freshly torn throat cavity complete with jutting windpipe that will likely encourage you to wear a polar neck for weeks afterwards…in fucking August. Elsewhere, intestines spill and the undead take more than their fill, making Zombi 2 a Gruehead’s wettest dream. There’s naked flesh too courtesy of the obligatory shower scene although you’d better get your kicks fast as moments later you’ll be straight back to retching your guts up.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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