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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Retro Review: Zombi 2

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.


Nick said...

Timely choice! I believe this is doing the rounds at the moment on the big screen - I saw it a couple of weeks ago in Edinburgh and Ian McCulloch was there to hold forth before and after. He tells some great stories about the production and aftermath, and he's very popular with the young ladies - they gave him a birthday card (due to an imdb error) and so he bought them a bouquet.

He's not so keen on Fulci himself, who he found to be a terrible bully (though he did add that his castmates' recollections are generally kinder).

Sadly it was just a DVD copy being projected (uncut at least) but it was still wonderful to see it as nature indented, the format revealing some excellent camerawork.

Good post! I'd agree that it's probably the purest zombie film - that tagline alone is enough.

gord said...

Sadly I've tried twice to watch this movie and haven't made it through. It's not that I didn't love it, I just didn't feel compelled to keep going.

Though I'll chalk it up to the mood I was in since I've had no trouble watching other similar, and infinitely worse films, like Zombie Holocaust. (plus I've now seen the slow moving beginning of the film twice, and never anything past the halfway point)

I think I'll give it another go today, and then follow it up with Living Dead at Manchester Morgue.

Also I hope this Retro-Review becomes a fairly regular thing because I'd love to be introduced to films I haven't seen before, or perhaps have films I've seen painted in a different light. Looking forward to the rest.

Scott said...

This is one of my favorites, too, for lots of the same reasons you cited. I did a review on it on my blog last October.

Nice work!

B-Sol said...

Thanks guys. Yeah Gord, the plan is for Retro Review to become a weekly thing. I'm pleased you're giving Zombi 2 another go. Yes, it can seem slow if you're not in the right frame of mind for it, but stick with it--you will be rewarded!! Also, Living Dead at Manchester Morgue is almost as good, you have quite the double-feature awaiting you...

Anonymous said...

Zombi 2 Shark VS Zombie Legendary

John said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you. As a new horror fan the VHS cover kept me at bay for quite a while in my youth as well, as I mentioned in my comment on your VHS cover post. The "fever dream" quality as you put it is dead. If Argento was surreal and dreamlike, than Fulci created the kind of fucked up dreams you only experience when you have the flu. Great observation.
While I think City of the Living Dead is my favorite Fulci picture, Zombi 2 will always bring back fond memories and holds a special place in my horror collection. Indispensible.

Samuel Wilson said...

When I was a kid I saw the TV campaign for the original US release. I didn't know what to make of the film, but that music drove a nail into my head that throbs to the present day. When I finally got around to seeing the film, that bit with the shark made the whole thing worth the time.

Pogo said...

Nice review, sir. Zombi 2 was the first Fulci film I ever saw and help me fall in love with his work and made me want to check out other Italian horror films. Look forward to reading more.

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