The zombie film that grossed me out the most, which is really saying something, was Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. As a kid, I used to hate looking at the VHS cover with the iconic, rotting, worm eyed, conquistador zombie (Ottaviano Dell'Acqua). I wasn’t scared; I was repulsed. Being a growing boy on the verge of puberty, I didn’t think it wise to be turned off to protein, either. And so, the tape just sat on my movie shelf, after only being watched once, collecting dust, never to be touched again for quite some time.
Needless to say, I eventually overcame this sort of appetite-loss problem and no longer felt sick after watching zombie films. I don’t know if it is enhanced mental discipline or desensitization, but I can now eat pizza while watching movies like Zombie and Burial Ground without getting nauseous.
Anyone who may have read my article for The Beyond during last year’s gore-a-thon may recall that I wasn’t a fan of Zombie for a while. It took seeing The Beyond for me to re-evaluate what was my negative stand on Zombie. I was guilty of hoping for another Dawn of the Dead, ignorantly overlooking every one of the film’s strengths.
The film’s biggest strengths would have to be the gory set pieces, the tropical setting, and the zombies themselves. I like the way Fulci’s zombies appear to be sleepwalking, hardly moving at all, with eyes closed. They’re more like nightmarish monsters rather than a satirical reflection of us, as is the usual reasoning behind the modern fascination with zombies. Makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi utilizes a resourceful method of combining dried mud, blood, slime, and worms to give an elaborately gruesome look to the monsters.
The post edited groans and heavy breathing from the zombies are terrifying and do sound peculiarly inhuman, and the noisy eating sound effects are unnerving. In fact, while re-watching Zombie, I noticed that sound is a major contributing factor to the suspense.
For me, what is being heard is more disturbing than what is being seen during the infamous eye splinter scene with Olga Karlatos. The splinter piercing the eye is very visceral and a wonderfully excessive display of ocular trauma in detail, but what makes it more exciting is the distorted, bloodcurdling scream that’s heard as the splinter pierces the eyeball. After the splinter breaks off the door, we see the victim still alive and very much in agony, and, as some kind of calming contrast, the narrative jumps abruptly from highly intense brutality to a calm visual of a yacht near the shore of the island, possibly to give viewers a chance to comprehend and respond to what they just saw.
Fabio Frizzi’s melodic and haunting zombie waltz is catchy and memorable and does contribute to Zombie’s epic feel, with the thumping beats always popping up at just the right time, particularly when the theme accompanies the rising dead in the conquistador graveyard. With the near-static way the zombies slowly arise during this part they almost seem like they are on display, but it’s still ultra-creepy and would make a nice zombie exhibit for a theme park.
The underwater cinematography is a delightful plus. Some say the unforgettable zombie vs. shark scene is overrated, while others can’t stop talking about it. I thought it was original, well done, and entertaining. Some also feel it’s a little too random, but the zombie appearing underwater has significance because it’s an indication that the characters are close to the island of Matool, and it’s not that unlikely that two carnivorous predators would cross paths and not get along.
Many of the actors in Zombie have made a surprisingly big name for themselves in the underground cult movie world with their roles in this film. Some have a higher pedigree than others, such as Richard Johnson and Al Cliver, but would we still have known Ian McCulloch, Olga Karlatos, and Auretta Gay as well as we do without this movie, or that Mia Farrow has a sister, Tisa Farrow?
I do like all of the actors and the characters they play in this movie, but Johnson, as Dr. Menard, seems to out-act everyone, doing a lot with very little to work with. With some of the conversations on the island, there’s a lot of insinuation of voodoo, zombies, and other odd happenings on the Island, and Johnson’s grave devotion to the role helps make a lot of this believable. There is also a subtle amount of pathos in Dr. Menard having to keep shooting his patients and friends, before or just as they’re coming back, who pass away in his care.
Another disturbing aspect that brought out an ever present threat of disease and death is how convincing the sick patients in Dr. Menard’s hospital/lab were. The ill bed-ridden natives look terribly sick in a way that’s discomforting.
The sunny, sweaty setting on the island that most of the movie takes place on lends an exotic flavor to Zombie that I think is responsible for a lot of the movie’s enjoyment, aside from the gore and zombies. It’s a fun zombie jungle adventure as well as a gross out horror movie with a pretty cool final showdown between humans and zombies in a flimsy wooden church/hospital, with enough Molotov cocktails and flammable zombies to make one hell of a Fourth of July celebration. The only parts that remind me a little of Dawn of the Dead are the opening and closing scenes in New York City, but it’s more like a reminiscence that feels more nostalgic and endearing, rather than an inferior imitation.
Although it was generally flamed by critics at the time of its release, Zombie eventually became a fan favorite and one of the most important and definitive zombie films of the twentieth century. Watch it again and share it with a loved one or that someone special in your life. It’s a great date movie, but you might want to warn them a little before the ocular trauma, and have dinner before not after the movie.
© At the Mansion of Madness
Anyone remember this Windows 7 commercial that features footage of the zombie vs. shark scene from Zombie? I remember the surprise I felt when I first came across this commercial on TV. I was excited but also a little perplexed since I couldn’t help wondering what Fulci had to do with Microsoft. I also can’t tell if they’re making fun or not.
Don’t forget that this article is part of the 2014 Gore-a-thon, and I hope you all find some great splatterific material on the participating sites. Show how great the horror blogging community is and really make the traffic stats to these great sites skyrocket.
90s Horror Movies
Blood Sucking Geek
Candy-Coated Razor Blades
The Info Zombie
Movies at Dog Farm
Wide Weird World of Cult Films