Friday, March 5, 2010

The Friday Night Late Movie: The Dead Won't Stay Dead in Lucio Fulci's "Zombie"

In New York waters, a boat is discovered floating aimlessly. Two policemen board the vessel and are suddenly attacked by a huge man (who appears to be... uh... decomposing). One officer is killed, but the other shoots the man, who falls into the water. The boat owner's daughter, Anne (Tisa Farrow -- Mia's younger sister), is concerned about her father, who, last she heard, was on an island doing research. She meets a reporter, Peter (Ian McCulloch), and they travel to Matool, the island in question. There they quickly learn that Matool is a place where the natives ceaselessly play drums and practice voodoo. Oh, and the dead stand up, walk around, and have an insatiable appetite for living flesh.

Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) was originally released in Italy as Zombi 2. The Italian release of George A. Romero's 1978 Dawn of the Dead was titled Zombie: Dawn of the Dead (and, for good measure, was re-edited by filmmaker Dario Argento and re-scored by rock band/Argento collaborators Goblin). Fulci's movie was initially conceived as a pseudo-sequel to Romero's popular film, but Fulci's work owes more to Jacques Tourneur's classic 1943 I Walked with a Zombie. Dawn of the Dead, as with many of Romero's films, dealt with people dropped into seemingly impossible situations. If you follow his Dead series, you can see characters fighting for survival, but you will also see them adapt: trying to understand the zombies themselves in Day of the Dead (1985) and making an effort to live among them in Land of the Dead (2005). The "horror" is there, but people can endure. Fulci does not offer such hope in his movie. Like Tourneur's film, Zombie is shrouded in a rich atmosphere: an ever-present wind, a sun that seems to hide itself, the sound of drums coming from everywhere. It's not necessarily the zombies that the people need fear. It's an unseen evil that, sadly, is inescapable. This was a characteristic that would carry over to future Fulci films, such as City of the Living Dead (1980/aka Gates of Hell), The Beyond (aka Seven Doors of Death), and The House by the Cemetery (both 1981).

Before Zombie, Fulci had made a variety of films, from thrillers to erotic comedies and Spaghetti Westerns. Not surprisingly, following the success of Zombie, he began
to focus on horror films. Fulci is notorious among horror fans for his graphic and gory features, and Zombie is no exception. His films are certainly not for the squeamish, but one cannot write off his films as exploitative. He's a talented filmmaker who delivers the frights, as well as the gory parts. One of his best known gore sequences is from Zombie, involving a splintered door and an eyeball. It's undoubtedly memorable, but it's likely remembered because, for many years, it was cut from multiple video versions. Recent DVD releases have included the scene intact.

The tagline for the American release of Zombie was the rather brazen, "We are going to eat you!" Similarly, Zombie was released in the U.K. as Zombie Flesh Eaters. Fulci is credited as the director of Zombi 3 (1988), but he reportedly only directed part of the film, with nearly half of what appears on screen being helmed by an uncredited Bruno Mattei. The Italian zombie film, After Death (1988), was released in the U.S. as Zombie 4: After Death, while Killing Birds, actually released the year before, was given a U.S. title of Zombie 5: Killing Birds. In the U.K., Zombi 3 and After Death were titled, respectively, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 and Zombie Flesh Eaters 3.

Fulci, as he typically did, makes a cameo in his film. He plays the newspaper editor who assigns Peter the story on the abandoned boat. In 1996, shortly after making an appearance at the Fangoria Weekend of Horrors (the director's only time at a U.S. film convention), Lucio Fulci died of diabetic complications.


  1. Eeck! Just the photos are spooky enough, Sark. I've only seen a couple of Fulci's films, but agree agree that his horror pictures lack pretensions--their goal to to frighten viewers...and they succeed. Given his visual flair (as shown in the images above), it's interesting that his stateside fame never rivalled Argento's. As always, a well-written, interesting post!

  2. Sark, looks like Matool is off my list of places to visit. This is a great write-up of a movie I probably will never see. Like the trash bags, I am wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. But I do appreciate you!

  3. Sark, this is an outstanding and interesting review. I don't know if I have ever seen this movie. It sounds just like a movie I would absolutely love!! Zombie movies are one of my favorite kind of horror movies. I think they are creepy and the actors really die gruesome deaths. Why is it that zombies always walk so slowly and yet the victims can never out run them and get caught and consumed??? I will keep this movie in mind. So glad you write this post!!

  4. Sark, I enjoyed your post about Zombie so much I found it on Netflix last night and put it in my queue. After reading your review I will enjoy the movie even more. I look forward to watching it. You mentioned Dario Argento in your post. I enjoy his films also.