Sunday, October 17, 2004

Zombie (1979)

Italian schlockmeister Lucio Fulci toiled in b-movie limbo making every sort of genre film imaginable: war dramas, comedies, police thrillers, the list goes on and on, and he would may be interesting only in his dogged longevity in the Italian cinema if it weren't for his horror films.

by the 1970s Fulci began his career in horror by tacking himself to whatever was popular. that meant he began making the particular type of Italian thriller known as giallo (Italian for yellow) that took as their source the cheap pulp novels printed with yellow covers that specialized in lurid sex and graphic violence. Fulci's giallos, such as Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971) and Don't Torture a Duckling (1972) were strong visual presentations of themes that would occupy him for the rest of his filmmaking career: sex and violence.

in the vast underbelly of rip-off exploitation filmmaking, no one better steals from other films than the Italians. and Fulci used his considerable talents (or non-talents) in following the horror movie trends and turning out the best and the worst of pastaland gutmunchers.

the consensus of the work of Fulci between, say, 1971 and 1983 is mixed at best. and I don't mean ambivalence, I mean there are rabid Fulci fans or fans of genre films who hate Fulci's guts.

George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead was released in Italy as Zombi, and was a huge hit. Fulci went to work immediately to cash in on Romero's success and made his so-called sequel to Romero's smash film. it was released under the names Zombi II and Zombie Flesh-Eaters. personally I like the second title the best. neither stuck and the movie has been released on DVD with the title Zombie.

the film is perfect for the drive-in because it is so well lit. most of the action occurs during daylight and its slow, smoky pace can afford its viewers several hits of the bong or trips to the toilet without missing much on the screen.

but it ain't a good make-out movie. most viewers would be pretty annoyed by seeing zombies amok in graphic detail tearing out intestines or poking out the eye of pretty Olga Karlatos who plays the mad scientist's, Richard Johnson, wife. the other principals are Al Cliver and Auretta Gay who portray a boating couple on holiday in the Caribbean and take along Tisa Farrow (yeah, Mia's sister) whose doctor father disappeared on the apocryphal island Matou, and newspaperman Ian McCulloch who is investigating the disappearance.

scientists Johnson and Farrow's father have somehow, either through chemistry or native voodoo, awakened the Spanish Conquistadors buried on the island from their slumbers and now are on a foul rampage.

Farrow's father is the first to get it, and the film begins with his unmanned ship entering New York harbor. harbor patrol investigates and finds no one on board, except for one pissed-off and mean motherfucking fat zombie who promptly tears open the throat of one police officer. the zombie is shot by the second officer and disappears in the water never to be seen from again.

but what matter continuity? later we find Gay scuba diving in the waters of the Caribbean only to be attacked both by a zombie and a shark, underwater mind you, where else would a shark and zombie be. who knows where the fuck they came from, but when they attack each other, shark vs. zombie, and I mean a real shark and a stunt double in zombie dress, it is hard not to laugh and choke on your pretzels and beer.

it is also hard not to shake off the sight of zombie and shark. what an image! so our principals do find Matou and Richard Johnson, and let me be plain here, most do not make it out alive. but you expected that didn't you, since this is a cheap-ass Italian exploitation zombiethon.

I mentioned the pace is languid and smoky, the colors are washed-out and the light is grainy. but I think that is by design. it fits the zombie theme: slow-moving killers intent on eating you. the score is a wonderful synth mix by Fabio Frizzi (it really is perfect for the movie) and the fx stuff is done by the brilliant Gianetto De Rossi.

the drive-in crowd might be pleased by the silly ending and hopefully sober enough to drive home without mishap. some of the images, please help me, I can't get out of my head. whether that is because I'm susceptible to such nonsense or that Fulci's magic works, I dare not say.


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