For my first installment of Retro Review, I've selected a movie that is now one of my absolute favorites, but which I put off watching for years: Lucio Fulci's exploitation epic, Zombi 2 (a.k.a. Zombie).
Let me explain a bit. I had been hooked on zombie flicks ever since age 15, when I watched Dawn of the Dead in my best friend's girlfriend's house while said best friend was busy georging said girlfriend's romero in the other room. You could probably go back a couple years earlier, when The Return of the Living Dead first tore through my pre-teen psyche. But the one movie I kept avoiding was Zombi 2.
I think it was that horrifying box cover I had seen glaring at me for years in the video store. Or all the heinous things I had heard about it, how it made Day of the Dead look like Fried Green Tomatoes and such. Back in those days, I really did have the benefit of a much more visceral reaction to horror movies than my more cynical, world-weary self can muster up these days. And zombie movies in particular drew me in with all the power of a five-car pileup on I-95 that you can't help but stare at, despite the fact that it would really mess you up. In short, I absolutely loved them at the same time that they filled me with legit dread.
I knew Zombi 2 would be the ultimate adventure. And when I finally crossed paths with it, I turned out to be right.
It happened about ten years ago, when this cheesy, third-string pay-per-view provider I used to have presented a Halloween double-bill of Zombi 2 and I Spit on Your Grave (trick or treat, kids!!). Having the movie all but dropped in my lap, I knew I simply had to tape it. The time had finally come to confront Fulci.
I don't think I can understate the sense of raw terror that filled my gut as I sat there watching it for the first time, completely alone in my newlywed apartment. From the second that astounding Fabio Frizzi score kicks in, I was off to the races. Easily one of the most powerful horror scores of its era.
Yes, it was filled with all the cheesiness we've come to expect from exploitation flicks of this ilk. A plot that often bordered on the irrelevant. A pace that might pose a challenge to the more attention-span-deprived viewer. But, truth be told, I was drawn in by the "fever dream" quality of Fulci's work, the effortless way that the man created atmosphere, zealously throwing all his efforts into grabbing hold of your emotions in that very Italian way--logic and continuity be damned!
Richard Johnson delivered pure, bleak desperation in his performance as Dr. Maynard--and this was years before I would come to love him as another doctor authority figure in The Haunting. And Tisa Farrow--boy did it screw with my mind trying to process the fact that the sister of Woody Allen's leading lady was the girl fleeing from cannibal corpses in a Euro-trash grindhouse flick!
There are so many aspects that have been discussed ad nauseum, but which were all new to me. The breathtaking zombie vs. shark scene, which to this day impresses me for the sheer ballsiness of it. The nearly impossible-to-watch eye impalement scene, a prime example of Fulci's innate ability to locate the core of what revolts the average viewer and poke at it relentlessly with all the ardor of a little boy pouring salt on a slug.
And then there was that moment I had seen bits and pieces of, and dreaded most of all--the conquistador graveyard scene, in which one of our heroines has her voicebox torn out in lovingly graphic detail by a worm-eyed zombie who--despite his extreme groadiness--had actually held up quite well for being dead and buried for 400 years. Maybe I'm just a big detail person, but I can never get over the way that Fulci's makeup genius Giannetto de Rossi went to the trouble of simulating mucus spewing forth from Auretta Gay's severed trachea. Blood is one thing, but that, my friends, is what you call going the extra mile.
God bless the Italians and their twisted Roman Catholic fixation on the perverse horrors of the undead. Because the gore is really what it's all about when you sit down to watch a Lucio Fulci picture, isn't it? And Zombi 2 delivered beyond my wildest dreams. Stripped of all the pesky social commentary and humor that Romero peppered throughout his films, Zombi 2 is instead a veritable orgy of mercilessly graphic and unspeakable violence. I always hear about the small budget they had to work with, and the corners they cut, but I'll be damned if this still isn't some of the most terrifyingly realistic looking stuff I've ever seen in a horror movie, period.
Fulci is definitely an acquired taste, and he isn't for everybody, no question about that. But I'm here today to declare whole-heartedly that he is for me--and it all goes back to my discovery of this 1979 classic. Now, there are those who will point to his later "trilogy" of City of the Living Dead, The House by the Cemetery and The Beyond as being all superior, but I disagree. While I enjoy those films very much, particularly House by the Cemetery, Zombi 2 will always be my favorite Fulci. It could very well be, plain and simple, the purest zombie film ever made.
"QUITE SIMPLY, THE BEST HORROR-THEMED BLOG ON THE NET." -- Joe Maddrey, Nightmares in Red White & Blue
**Find The Vault of Horror on Facebook and Twitter, or download the new mobile app!**
**Check out my other blogs, Standard of the Day, Proof of a Benevolent God and Lots of Pulp!**