Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Zombi 2 (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters) (1979)

Paola (Olga Karlatos) keeps an eye out for zombies

In this film a zombie fights a shark while a half-naked scuba diver looks on in terror. You might as well stop reading here, as that sentence tells you everything you need to know. Zombi (aka Dawn of the Dead) was a huge success in Italy and Zombi 2 was produced the following year as an unofficial sequel. Taking the reins this time was Lucio Fulci. He was already somewhat well-known thanks to a string of giallo films (including the notoriously violent Don't Torture a Duckling), but this was the film that would put him on the map and cement his reputation for extreme gore and graphic violence.

An abandoned yacht is found floating in New York Harbour. Two members of the coastguard investigate and discover a piano covered in noisy worms, a lot of synthesizer music and a big fat zombie. One cop manages to blast it into the water, but not before the other has his jugular torn out in a graphic fashion.

Enter one young woman, Anne (Tisa Farrow). It turns out the boat belonged to her father, who was conducting research on the remote Caribbean island of Matool. So she, along with the requisite nosy reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), head off in search of her father, enlisting the help of seafaring couple Brian (Al Cliver) and Susan (Auretta Gay). It is around this time that the legendary shark vs zombie scene occurs, and it really is rather impressive, although I imagine naked scuba diving must chafe quite a bit.

Meanwhile on Matool, Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) is trying to discover the cause of the zombie outbreak while his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos), fearing zombie attack, tries to convince him to leave. Her fears are well founded, as she is promptly attacked while taking a shower (of course) and her eye is slowly gouged out on a splinter of wood in one of the most notorious scenes in the film.

Soon the number of zombies increase to the point where the doctor's standard practice of wrapping them in a white sheet and blasting them in the head isn't quite going to cut it. Nearly everybody dies and upon the survivors' return to New York they discover that the zombie infection has spread there too and an army of zombies are munching their way through the city. They didn't have shooting permission for this scene, so this amounts to a couple dozen extras shuffling along a bridge as decidedly nonchalant traffic passes by below.

The plot is wafer-thin, but mostly coherent, which is rare for Fulci. The film comes to life largely thanks to the visual effects of Giannetto de Rossi. The zombie makeup is simple (mostly oatmeal paste applied liberally to the face), but very effective and the gore effects are a work of art. The film was very controversial upon it's release. A huge success in it's native Italy, it was severely cut in many other countries and was placed on the list of "Video Nasties" in the UK. Some theatres in the US went the ultra-gimmicky move of handing out barf bags before screenings.

You'd be forgiven to dismiss the film as exploitative trash, as it is exploitative trash. Fulci's lingering close-ups of pulsing wounds are about as sleazy as they come. However, some of the scenes, such as the sheet-wrapped bodies slowly rising up from their slumber, are genuinely eerie. I'd say it is worth watching, especially if you are a fan of zombie films, if only to see what all the fuss was about. But make sure you watch the unrated version.

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