WE ARE GOING TO EAT YOU!
When the dead rose for George Romero, they must have sent a telegram to their Latin cousins. Night of the Living Dead spawned The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue, and the phenomenal success of 1978's Dawn of the Dead left the crypt door open for, arguably, Romero's most notorious contemporary gut-muncher, Zombie Flesh Eaters, which followed on almost immediately in 1979 … and almost beat him at his own shocking game. Known as Zombi, Zombi 2 (in order to capitalise, rather cheekily, on Romero's shopping-mall killing spree that was known as Zombi in Italy) or Zombie, as we see it here, in this glorious uncut 2-disc Ultimate Edition from Blue Underground, this was a gorehound's delight that came from perhaps the greatest exponent of Grand Guignol slaughterhouse splatter that the genre has ever celebrated – the unstoppable, irascible, Benny Hill-alike Eurotrash bullyboy, Lucio Fulci. Getting itself banned in Britain and gaining cult status around the globe, Fulci's skin-shredding nightmare is sitting right there at the top of every genre buff's bloody bucket of guts.
Although Fulci had worked in every genre conceivable – most notably with Peplum, Westerns and thrillers – he would ironically seal his own fate with the success of Zombie. After his little “rip-off” of Romero went stratospheric (easily fending off protests from Dario Argento and his father Claudio that the title of “Zombie”, however it was to be spelled, was copyrighted) he would be offered nothing other than gruelling horror projects for the rest of his very troubled life. Yet, for someone who claimed to be disinterested with the genre, he was an extremely proficient and, indeed, prolific exponent of it.
I remember seeing the incredible quad poster for this at our local flicks, The Phoenix, with the classic hand coming out of the earth in the foreground as legions of dishevelled undead herd towards the cityscape of Manhattan in the background, all beneath a very sick looking sun. It remains one of the greatest pieces of horror artwork that I've ever seen. They tried to emulate as recently as 28 Weeks Later, but nothing has the lasting impact of this image of complete Armageddon. I caught it upon its initial videotape run in its infamous “Strong, Uncut Version” from Vipco – I still have the copy – at the tender age of 11. Although even then I knew that Romero was the chief of the living dead, I couldn't help but fall hopelessly, head-over-heels in love with this nasty little beauty. Right around then, the shelves of video libraries were literally heaving under the weight of unclassified movies. Maniac, The Evil Dead, Absurd, Nightmares In A Damaged Brain, The Last House On The Left, Blood Bath, Cannibal Ferox amongst a smorgasbord of other luridly packaged titles. But Zombie Flesh Eaters always stood out from the pack. It was brazen, bold and immediately striking. It promised a lot … and even when you first watched it, perhaps expecting more of the urban comic-book vibe of Dawn and finding, instead, a semi-exotic adventure yarn, it seemed to deliver far more than you ever imagined. It was, in many ways, even more of an E.C. Comics fable than what Gory George was providing.
It was excessive. It was powerful. It had imagery that hit you in the face … and kept on hitting.
Sounds familiar ...
The film commences quite brilliantly with a provocative pre-credits sequence. To the accompaniment of voodoo drums, a mysterious, indiscernible character raises a revolver and blows a shrouded head apart before then issuing the gruff and enigmatic command, “The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.” After the titles, and our first introduction to Fabio Frizzi's compelling and irredeemably catchy Carpenter-inspired synth-fuelled main theme, we find “the boat” sailing adrift into New York's busy Hudson Bay. Narrowly missing other vessels – the chopper pilot who spots the derelict aptly claims it is “on a collision course with every other ship in the Bay.” - and clearly skippered by a “turkey”, two Harbour Patrol officers board it and begin to investigate this queer Mary Celeste. As one wrestles with the listing sails, his companion goes below to discover chaos, sinister slime and worms, a severed and severely nibbled hand … and the only inhabitant left aboard – a ravenous zombie who comes through a locked door liked a rampaging rhino to overpower him.
Much screaming and torn jugulars swiftly ensue … and New York, it would appear, is about to become host to the coming apocalypse.
When investigative journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch) senses something amiss with this crime-scene boat, he does some detective work and finds that it came from the Caribbean island of Matul. Thus, knowing there must be a good story in here somewhere, he tags along with Ann Bowles (Tisa Farrow), the concerned daughter of the boat's missing owner, and they head off to the Caribbean. Meeting up with an adventurous couple, Brian (the great Italian supporting bodybag, Al Cliver) and Susan (the simply jaw-droppingly beautiful teenage-wet-dream of Auretta Gay), they stumble upon the island and find that all is not well. The dead are rising and attacking the living. Anyone bitten by a zombie and not completely devoured will succumb to the plague and will also return as a zombie. Pretty soon, the hands thrusting up from the ground are as thick as the weeds all over the island, and only a handful of survivors make a final stand against the hordes of the undead in a dilapidated shanty hospital. Voodoo, bacteriology, virology, even radiology … who knows what's causing it? Certainly not Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson, who is having a ball with the Italian crew) that's for sure. He spends his time divided between giving bogus hope to a wife (Olga Karlotos) far too lovely for him, and wrapping up the heads of those who have given in to the mysterious plague in sheets … before putting a bullet through them.
It's not a happy place. But then this wasn't a good period to be vacationing in the Caribbean. If there weren't nefarious smugglers and monstrous Moray Eels out to get you in The Deep, then you ran the risk of being slaughtered by bloodthirsty pirate throwbacks from The Island. And, after Fulci's arterial graffiti-spraying of the environment, things would only get worse for the Caribbean Tourist Board.
A family affair.
Critics love to denigrate the performances in these Italian splatter-classics, and the copious use of ex-pat has-beens and never-weres. But this smacks very loudly of double-standards. When held up against the Romero “Dead” cycle, which these films invariably and unavoidably are, they probably had much more recognisable talent in them than their Pittsburghian forebears, which were all populated by complete unknowns, amateurs and friends and family. Still, dragging up the dregs of British television, with Ian (Take The High Road/Survivors) McCulloch, and the ill thought-of relative of an already famous US star, in Tisa (sister of Rosemary, herself, Mia) Farrow is something that you sort of expect from Spaghetti exploitation – cheap, but vaguely familiar faces and names to help sell the picture to foreign markets. But Fulci landed something of a coup when he got Richard Johnson on board. Already an established and highly regarded character actor, with Antony and Cleopatra and Khartoum to his credit, Johnson was also a known commodity to fans of classic horror, as his turn as Dr. John Markway in Robert Wise's awesome The Haunting and appearances in The Monster Club and Sergio Martino's wild and weird Island of the Fishmen will attest. Oddly enough, he didn't get on all that well with McCulloch, who was, by McCulloch's own admission, too straight-laced to fully integrate with the gang and enjoy himself. Johnson had worked in Italian productions before and he took to the whole thing like a duck to water. He even admired the ever-shouting, fist-waving Fulci who had, at least, got “a passion” for what he was doing, even if the cast couldn't make head nor tail of the story, or their characters' motivation.
And yet McCulloch would go beyond Fulci and venture into the inept lunacies of Luigi Cozzi's Contamination and the incredibly low-rent Zombie Holocaust for Marino Girolami, that would even steal footage from his first splatter-pic to pad its length out a bit. So either the pay got better, or he found a way to smile over the pasta. And the pay certainly couldn't have gotten any worse.
Starring in this, Joe D'Amato's equally banned Antropophagus (1980) – a really gleefully nasty slasher pic – and the wonderful Grindhouse Vietnam actioner for Antonio Margheriti, The Last Hunter (1980), seemed to put paid to what had once appeared to be a promising acting career for Farrow. She is terrible, though, and quite the worst thing in the movie. She gave up acting to become a nurse, but rumours did circulate that she even resorted to driving a cab around New York for a time after her taste of Spaghetti. Far better is Auretta Gay. Now, I'm obviously biased – I've been in love with her since she went swimming and forgot to put the top half of that bikini on – but despite the lack of depth afforded her character, she offers one of the best examples of “being terrified” that I've ever seen. When that bedraggled Conquistador sloughs off the earth of his grave and rises to embrace her, she is rooted, convincingly I should point out, to the spot in heart-stopping shock and fear. Yes, of course, we all think that if we found ourselves in the same predicament we'd simply leg it – but this is one of those accepted staples of the Horror film, and has been a trademark of the genre for over eighty years now. But, most importantly, Gay makes this seem completely credible, certainly more so than Dee Wallace gaping and gawping as a psycho takes over four minutes to transform into an eight-foot-tall werewolf in The Howling. And, when the grizzled paramour nibbles her neck, I'm still heartbroken to see her go.
Al Cliver (Pierluigi Conti), in his Daily Planet tee-shirt, beard and floppy hair looks like King Kong-era Jeff Bridges has just washed-up on another dangerous island. Solid and dependable, Cliver provides the necessary backbone to this odd little party of explorers. He would end up with a face-full of glass shards in The Beyond, and work for Fulci on several other lurid pot-boilers, including Murder Rock, which reunited him with Olga Karlotos and even had an appearance from Ray Lovelock, star of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue. Fulci, himself, would make his customary cameo as Peter's scowling boss at the paper … and is strangely reminiscent of Bob Parr's bullish midget overlord at the insurance company in The Incredibles!
It is important to remember that before Zombie, Fulci's films weren't considered as non-linear or illogical. This was just a trait that he became fascinated with during his horror-glut, when he sought to create the surreal sense of a waking nightmare decorated with a comic-book style of colourful set-piece mayhem. And Zombie is actually far more coherent than anything he made afterwards. Yet critics are wont to describe him as nothing more than a hack, a rancid little exploitation-master envious of both Romero and Argento. This is cruel and very far from the mark. Although Dawn of the Dead and Suspiria are two of my all-time favourite movies, I often find myself far more in-the-mood for a Fulci than anything from either of those two “once tall, now laughably small” genre legends. Fulci was a ratty little ogre with a very mean and misogynistic streak – he made it his mission to erode Auretta Gay's self-esteem on this production - but his films have a massive sense of fun to go alongside the gore, the violence and the often idiotic patchwork quilt of storytelling devices. The production values, for each of his world-renowned genre classics, are nothing short of magnificent, and technically, they are peerless examples of immense style and ingenuity. The cinematography, something so often overlooked in his canon, is frequently extraordinary. And Zombie is a great case in point. More on that later. But for now, let's ...
Meet the Dead-heads.
Before Greg Nicotero's superbly rendered zombies in The Walking Dead, the best and most realistic dead-heads were those crafted by Giannetto De Rossi for Lucio Fulci. The ones he created for Zombie Flesheaters, The Beyond and The House By The Cemetery are the grungiest, bloodiest, and downright scariest that the screen had ever seen. De Rossi clawed into the visages of shallow-cheeked extras, carving away the semblance of living tissue. He caked on the blood and decayed latex flesh, and in a bizarre makeup choice, even plastered his undead with a coating of clay, to provide the older ones with the heavy patina of putrefaction. And, of course, this being a Fulci picture, you couldn't forget the maggots. One of the most famous zombies of all time, and the film's iconic poster-boy, is the grim Conquistador whose remains rise from his tropical grave and put the bite on the transfixed-with-horror Susan. Ottaviano Dell'acqua, the stuntman who plays the worm-ridden Conquistador, is now a celebrity on the fan-circuit, and yet we never see his face in the film … and his grim character is only on-screen for about five minutes. But he is such a messed-up and disturbing sight that any sudden recollections of Romero's zombies will reduce you to tears of laughter.
But this is Horror-Italiano!
And things have to look as unpleasant as possible. When Tom Savini slapped on the blue and green paint he was attempting to give his zombies the look of the “recently deceased” … and that's okay. But it hardly made them a frightening image, especially when we could often see where the paint-job ended and the normal skin began. De Rossi's cadavers loll under the collapse of wasted sinew and emaciated muscle. Their horrific shuffle is beguiling – you can actually imagine just standing there and ridiculing them before realising that you've left it too late to escape their clutches, rather like mocking the incoming tide. A great touch is that some of these corpses actually operate with their eyes shut. Now, this isn't a reference to the patchy but cool Blind Dead series, but merely a weird stylistic choice. And, man, is it eerie! They seem to home-in on victims with a sort of infernal sensory perception gained from beyond the grave, and suddenly pounce upon fresh meat with a savage lust. And have a gander at the look on the face of the female zombie who gets a last supper in the ward of the hospital – she is almost orgasmic with the taste of sheared flesh, almost religious with delight. What's that then, folks? It's voodoo. Just like that, Fulci nails a centuries-old belief with one startling image.
I love that German poster with the fat zombie from the derelict boat rising out of the Hudson River. He's one sick dude … and I think that would have been a great little throwaway shot of impending doom had it made it into the finished cut. But kudos should also go to Fulci's fantastic depiction of the dead hauling their carcasses out of their graves in the old Spanish cemetery. Not only does he stage the sequence in sunny daylight, but he renders it almost calm and serene, completely unusual for this type of thing. It is almost beautiful to watch.
To top any of this though, we even have the startling inclusion of the underwater zombie. Played by Mexican-born stuntman and shark-wrangler Ramon Bravo. Whilst it is safe to say that nobody had ever seen anything like this before, it is perhaps even more amazing to consider that nobody's seen anything like since, either. We can't count Thomas Jane going for a ride on a CG and animatronic Mako in Deep Blue Sea, because what we have here is a real man wrestling with a real Tiger Shark. I've heard how they did it, but I simply don't believe it. Whilst Fulci oversaw the footage topside, the stunning underwater material was handled by Bravo, himself, and his own team. Bravo was also the man who allegedly trained the shark, although its training comprised of baiting it and then trying to wear it out (!), but he was forced to step into the watery ring when the man originally slated to fight the fish fell ill. Fed on a diet of horse-meat and sedatives, the shark doesn't actually put up much resistance to Bravo's relentless mauling. But even so, it would take a real nutcase to get in the water with a nine-foot Tiger Shark. Bravo certainly is that, all right. But, if you look – and the editing rather foolishly gives us a nice long opportunity to do so – you'll notice that the shark has no upper teeth. Hmmm … now how did that happen, I wonder? A convenient dental anomaly? An Actors' Guild shark who obligingly took out his dentures for the scene? They've removed his teeth, haven't they? It may be understandable, but that's still wrong.
Admittedly, this is one agile zombie, moving about the sea like an pasty-faced penguin. And just what he's been doing down there in the briny, God only knows. But this is still an amazing sequence, majestically filmed and spellbinding with Frizzi's ominous synth-'n'-moan soundtrack throbbing away. I also love the way that we don't get a conclusion to the duel. Both shark and zombie receive wounds, but we never find out who gets to eat who in the end. One thing's for certain, this dead-head got a lovely grip of Auretta Gay's skinny-dipping Susan. Jammy sod.
Pass the sauce, please.
Gore! What is it good for?
Absolutely everything in a Fulci-flick, and you know it. Let's not make any bones about this – the liberal splashing of the claret is the single most tempting ingredient in any self-respecting zombie-broth of this type. The eerie, mesmerised melancholia of the reanimated corpses in White Zombie and I Walked With A Zombie has no place here. The shambling undead have woken up with rotted but rumbling tummies, and they like their chow red, raw and dripping. It would appear that vegetarians don't bother returning from the grave, because these guys, to a one, are voracious flesh-eaters with quite disgusting table-manners.
Once again, you've got to go for the head. A well-aimed bullet – which obviously lets you out, Peter, you couldn't hit the Moon if it was dangling two feet above your comb-over – through the skull, or a mighty smash to the bonce should do the trick. Check out Brian's and Peter's terrific response to a couple of zombies trying to sneak into the church/hospital through the windows – Brian blows a ghoul's head entirely apart with his shotgun, whilst Peter clubs one in the mush and then hacks off half of its scalp with a follow-up move. They also go up in flames pretty well.
But it is one sequence, alone, that sums up the grisly delirium of Zombie Flesh Eaters. You all know what it is … and the effect is, quite justifiably, eye-popping.
Mrs Menard finishes her shower and, her bodyguard having hopped-it in terror, is left at the mercy of a visiting zombie who no doubt sniffed the aromatic body-wash. Her barricade seems to keep the thing at bay, but then its arm smashes through the door and grabs her by the hair and then, slowly … slowly … really slowly … drags her through the wooden wreckage, her fear-widened eye getting punctured on the most vicious splinter in the history of joinery catastrophes. The scene ranks right up there alongside the shower death in Psycho, David Warner's decapitation in The Omen, the opening double murder in Suspiria, the chest-burst in Alien and the head-explosion in Scanners.
Fulci loves his ophthalmic violence. All his best films serve it up with relish. Eyes frequently bleed (City of the Living Dead), or are pushed out (The Beyond), bitten by pipe-cleaner spiders (also The Beyond) or sliced with razor-blades (The New York Ripper). There is a subtext here that goes beyond the mere thrill of such excess. Fulci, following on from classic imagery in both Cinema and literature, is punishing us for our own morbid adoration of such powerful depictions of wanton cruelty. It is clearly a double-edged sword – I mean it always makes for a terrific special effect and a guaranteed audience-squirmer – and Fulci knew he could manipulate it with aplomb. But when the luscious Olga Karlotos is dragged towards a splinter the size of a harpoon, his statement becomes defining. Even if she cannot get away, she still keeps her eyes open as the point gets nearer and nearer, stubbornly refusing to flinch, blink or to avert her vision. She is mimicking us. We want to look away, but we can't take our eyes off it either. Even those people you forced to watch this sequence when you were younger – in some sort of torture-by-proxy, or group initiation (I know that I did sort of thing – if you can take this, you're okay) – become elementally hypnotised by the imagery, by the sound of it, and by the excruciating and suspenseful inevitability of the scenario. The camera never halts and never pulls away, Fulci doesn't want to cut away, or edit at the last second. We reach the crescendo, with the sickly puncturing of the orb, that awful gaseous expulsion of ocular juice just as hideous as the visual depiction, going on for a lot longer than we ever anticipated. The shard then breaks off, scything deeper into Mrs. Menard's face as she is hauled out to be devoured by some more uninvited guests. And we have just witnessed special makeup FX history being made.
Should've gone to Specsavers!
Now, we need to analyse the man behind all this carnage a little more closely. Giannetto De Rossi (which, very appropriately, actually means “Red Giannetto”!) got his big break applying bullet-hits and wounds for Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West, but he first rose to infamy when he delivered the gory goods for Jorge Grau's amazing Spanish/Italian co-production of The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (1974 – and still one of the best zombie movies ever made). Here, he made the dead look dead, and he supplied very realistic disembowellings and mutilations. If they'd taken the time to look beyond the moral outrage, the witch-hunters in the UK of the early 80's would have probably had his name at the top of the DPP's list of Most Wanted – as it was De Rossi's talents that would ensure the most, ahem, “worthy” titles to be sought-after from the banned roster. His work on Zombie Flesh Eaters would foster a very close and dynamically charged relationship with Fulci, who shared the same giddy love for the gruesome. They would work together on all of Fulci's most acclaimed quintet of Nasties. But, this is where it all gets a touch confusing. I know I've discussed this before, but we may as well have a recap. De Rossi, as it turns out, has a veritable doppleganger working in the very same industry – the equally bloody-minded makeup-man Gino De Rossi, who would also perform special effects duties on this movie. Credits for the two have taken on a sort of wacky interchangeability. Films that one has worked have been credited to the other, and there are even occasions, such as this one, when the pair have apparently worked on some of the same movies. And yet, for a long time, our boy claimed ignorance of his almost namesake. As the rasta-gangster in Predator 2 puts it, “F*ckin' voodoo-magic, man!” How is the genuine fan supposed to give his praise to the right person, especially as Gino's work is actually rather inferior to Giannetto's? You have only to look at some of the poor FX in Zombie Holocaust (Dr. Butcher MD.) for proof of that. Gino De Rossi actually doesn't recall even working on that film, his material was obviously that poor!
The fact is that Giannetto worked on Zombie,The Beyond, House and Ripper for Fulci – but he was the star make-up supremo only on Zombie, The Beyond and House. His curious rival was the main honcho on City and Ripper, although Giannetto can claim uncredited supervisory status. Welcome to the wacky world of Italian Cinema.
Besides the splinter-in-the-eye gag, for which he also supplied the grabbing zombie hand (shades of Argento's black-gloved hand in all his cinematic slayings, there) De Rossi would also cater for some impromptu picnicking. The intestinal banquet that our heroes take a pass on when they discover what had befallen the good doctor's wife is a delicacy to be sure, but it is the throat-ripping that he drenches the screen with that have remained absolute favourites of mine over nearly thirty years of enjoying the film. The copper who gets it in the neck below decks in the harbour is truly ghastly, the camera lingering long enough to capture his death-wheezes as his life-blood spurts out of the gaping hole. But the most impressive, by far, is when the achingly gorgeous Auretta Gay gets the hickey-from-hell from a peckish Conquistador, who should really just be dusty bones, and we see her stringy latex skin spring back to unleash a deluge of thick, deep red blood that simply doesn't stop pumping out in a gushing torrent. As warped as it sounds, Fulci and De Rossi do create a form of grisly art with such bloody theatricality. These deaths are a tableaux of atrocity that can be studied and even admired in a purely abstract and surreal sense.
Fulci faces-off against Romero in a bloody Duel of the Dead.
Nobody is ever going to say that Fulci has made a better film than Romero in his prime. Dawn, especially, is an important societal statement and a sombre reflection of morals and attitudes in the bleak, uncertain 70's. It is also a powerful and intelligent satire of consumerism crossing the great divide between life and death. Zombie is none of those things. It is how my eldest brother sees me – a roguish, delinquent chancer out for a laugh and intending to shock. On the surface, it doesn't want to be taken seriously. But dig deeper and you'll unearth a prescient and incontrovertible depiction of the coming storm. For Romero, the collapse of civilisation is allegorical, and often blackly amusing. For Fulci, it is real and it is coming. His four zombie flicks are all apocalyptic, yet all completely different in tone and character. When Romero allowed his undead to evolve, he humanised them and made them less of a threat. He always asserted that it was us who were the real monsters, and they were really just the victims. Fulci maintains that we are the downtrodden who are facing the ultimate sacrifice. The continuing thread in his “dead” cycle is one of the fantastic, the supernatural. In many ways, the little Italian goremeister is the more optimistic of the two filmmakers despite his frequent finales of total annihilation. He implies that there are more things going on than just shooting zombies in the head and hoping to make it through to the next day.
Romero's nightmares were born out of anger. Fulci's were born out of a desire to push beyond and see what was out there … no matter how terrible what he found might be. He doesn't give any answers. Nor does Romero. But he does ask questions in his own chaotic and often clumsy way … and he leaves the door open for us to think about such grim notions. Yet you don't have bad dreams from a Romero zombie film … but you sure can from a Fulci flick.
As we've seen, the zombies here are infinitely better than what we encountered in Dawn. But the film itself – a little low-budget exploitation flick with absolutely zero aspirations – is technically superior in other ways too.
Gone is the static and bland photography of Romero, replaced with a fluid, evocative style, lots of comic-book aggression and an exotic finesse by Sergio Salvati, whose cinematography is sublime and memorable. His camera movements are terrific and hugely involving, the effect not unlike a jacked-up Mario Bava shooting a gaudy Hammer Film. And then there's the music. Barring a couple of tracks from Goblin, Dawn was covered with library cues. Zombie gets its own amazing full score from Fabio Frizzi, and the guy really goes for it too. I know some people who come fresh to the movie think that the synth stuff is jarring and horribly dated. But I adore it. His main title theme is splendidly ominous and doom-laden. A blighted Gregorian chant permeates it like slow-seeping rigor-mortis, against a dirge for vintage synthesiser. His electro-adrenalised “hand-theme” - heard when zombie paws move, spider-like, across that gloriously wide frame to sneak up on people – is astounding in its intensity. And Fabio even acknowledges the location and the mythological background to the zombies with some intense voodoo-flavoured cues of pounding drums and lots of ethnic percussion.
In short, apart from Night Of The Living Dead, Romero's zombie cycle aren't strictly speaking “Horror Films”. Dawn, especially, is a big, bloody cartoon of slapstick and set-piece action. But, taking all of his stylistic ideas and imagery and sound design together, Fulci makes an incredible, all-out, take no prisoners Horror Film in the classical sense of being committed to scaring the bejeezus out of you, and delivering visions that a large portion of you doesn't actually want to see. Visions that become utterly indelible.
The script is abysmal, though. I can't argue with that. But it does provide a few unintentional chuckles along the way, such as this dazzling exchange between a sweaty Brian and Dr. Menard, after Brian has just spent ages barricading the entrance to the shanty hospital -
Brian: “Do you think that'll hold them?”
Menard (without hesitation): “Not a chance.”
Oh, cheers, mate. Could've told me that earlier before I wore myself out for nothing.
And the oft-repeated shot of Brian and Peter hurling Molotov cocktails at the approaching horde is quite comical too. As are McCulloch's desperate attempts to aim properly at a target. And the sequence in the morgue in New York is stupefyingly idiotic, as two medical buffoons argue over what is very clearly a massive bite-wound in the dead (but slowly reviving) cop's neck. They can't even agree on what scalpel to use.
Everyone goes on about that apocalyptic ending, and the shot of the zombies heading across the Brooklyn Bridge, looking incredible and being so haunting. Personally, I've always found it quite ludicrous. I love the fact that it almost depicts the wonderful poster art that I mentioned earlier … and that it was achieved with purely guerilla-style filmmaking, sans official permits or even backhanded permission ... but having the cars simply rumbling by on either side (and honking their horns at the weirdos on the bridge) just informs us that life, as we know it, is still going on despite a dozen or so zombies making slow progress in their own rat-race towards the City. And don't even get me started on the radio broadcast that plays over the top. Oh, sweet Jesus, I love this movie to bits, but this horribly contrived warning about the plague of the living dead sweeping across New York, and then the subsequent tearing-apart of the newscaster is a massive, roll-your-eyes, what-were-they-thinking slap in the face of the outrageous nightmare we've just been through.
“I've just been informed that zombies have entered the building. They're at the door. They're coming in … AAARGGHHHHH!!!!!”
It's like me suddenly typing that I can hear a sound in the hall outside, that someone with a knife is coming towards me ... and that
Ahhh, gotcha. Tell you what though, how cool would that be on a podcast recording? Maybe it wasn't so bad a gimmick, after all.
Food for rotting thoughts.
Although it is was a sly cash-in on Romero's films, Zombie actually posits how the living dead got to the cities and civilisation in the first place. A small outbreak on an isolated island, a drifting boat with a deadly cargo … and the Big Apple is soon rotten to the core, the epidemic spreading like wild-fire.
Another important thing that Fulci's zombies have over Romero's, and just about everybody else's for that matter, is that they are genuinely scary. Only the deadsters in Darabont's The Walking Dead have a similar aura of purely malevolent threat and intimidation about them. The fat zombie on the boat crashing through the door to get the cop. The athletic shark-eater. The determined invader who likes his food on a skewer. The Conquistador. Even Dakar, as the Doctor's once loyal assistant, Lucas, makes the skin crawl when he returns from the dead. And look at that big tall, dark-haired one who comes stumbling like Frankenstein's Monster through the flames during the final siege, his own feet ablaze. Yes, Fulci's ghouls are the creepiest, by a long, long splinter.
I love this sick little movie dearly, and if you've read this far then you probably do too.
Fulci rules by breaking the rules.
Zombie Flesh Eaters is awesome. Don't bother with a knife and fork. Or a bib. Just tuck in.
Our Review Ethos