With all of my recent posts on Yoshihiro Nishimura’s latest masterpiece Helldriver, and my 6-part Romero Retrospective in between, I thought that it was high time to take a look back at one of the other great directors of flesh-ripping fantasy, the inimitable Lucio Fulci (1927 – 1996). Born in Rome, Lucio Fulci got his start in the comedy genre and later earned a name for himself with his shocking giallo features, perhaps most notably Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971). It wasn’t until 1979, however, that Fulci truly took the international spotlight with his seminal horror masterwork, Zombi 2. Known alternately as Zombie or Zombie Flesh Eaters in the US and UK, the film was marketed as a loose sequel to George A. Romero’s successful Dawn of the Dead (released simply as Zombi in Italian cinemas). This connection is strictly denied by the filmmakers, but the fact remains that the opening and ending sequences were inserted later in an attempt to cash in on Romero’s Dawn, and the name was clearly a ploy to ride on the coattails of that masterpiece. Marketing trivia aside, however, Zombi 2 represents a very different take on the zombie genre, with unique special effects and unforgettable sequences that have gone on to become the stuff of horror cinema legend among horrorphiles across the globe.
With Zombi 2, Fulci claimed that he meant to explore the very origin of zombies, looking to Voodoo rituals on cursed isles in the Caribbean. A derelict yacht drifts into New York Harbor in the opening of the film, and the police who investigate discover that the vessel is not quite as abandoned as they suspected. One neutralized zombie and a dead patrol officer later, we find that the ship is owned by the father of Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow), who insists on going to find him on the tropical island where he was claiming to conduct research. She is joined by newspaper reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), who has been sent by his editor (played by Lucio Fulci himself) to investigate the ghost ship and its origins. Their search takes them to the cursed island of Matool, where the dead rise from their graves to feast upon the living, and a lone doctor (Richard Johnson) is driven to unlock the mystery behind the plague of revivified corpses. The film builds up perfectly to its explosive conclusion, and is chock full of enough violence and gore to earn it censorship in multiple countries and an enduring place on the UK’s list of “Video Nasties.”
Openly deriding the “blue-faced” shamblers of Dawn, Fulci and his team used a unique mix of clay and various makeup products to create the numerous prosthetics for the ghouls in the film, lending them a putrefying decrepitude that remains chilling to this day. Even if one hasn’t seen the film, the ubiquitous image of a cannibalistic Conquistador corpse (Ottaviano Dell’acqua) is surely recognizable, with living worms still slithering out from one of its hollow undead eye sockets. Zombi 2 also marks the first instance of Fulci’s trademark eyeball gag, as a woman is brutally pulled by her hair ever closer to a large wooden splinter, with suitably excruciating results. Often incorporating a clever use of mirrors and first-person camera views, Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati solidify methods in this film that would go on to become the signature style of their later collaborations, and Fabio Frizzi’s haunting score sets the perfect macabre tone for the morbid proceedings. And who could forget the famous underwater scene, where an aquatic ghoul faces off against a massive tiger shark? Zombi 2 is a film that must be seen to be believed, and certainly deserves a place on the shelf of any self-respecting zombie fan.
And on that subject, it sounds like bloody good news is on the horizon for fans in the US, as according to horror documentary filmmaker Michael Felsher, Blue Underground intends to release both a Blu-ray and new DVD edition of Fulci’s classic, including brand-new, never-before-seen extra features. This exciting version is slated to hit the shelves on October 25th this year, just in time for Halloween!
Check back later, when I take a look back at some more of my favorite films from Italy’s “Godfather of Gore.” Until then, sweet nightmares!