Friday, June 20, 2014

Zombie / Zombi 2 (1979)

I used to not be able to stomach gory zombie films very well. Despite being excited and thoroughly fascinated after watching zombie films in my youth, I suffered from a loss of appetite for a while. Anytime I was trying to eat, my brain would be like “you know what’s a good movie? Dawn of the Dead (1978),” and images from the scene with zombies eating in the cellar would pop into my mind, and I would be turned off to eating meat or anything savory for that matter. Sweets or French fries were fine, but my mind just would not cease to relate the taste and consistency of anything else, especially if it was slimy, to what it was the zombies were chomping on. I was disgusted by zombie carnage but still thought it was so cool.

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 

Craft Fear 

Disturbing Films 

The Info Zombie 

Love Horror 

Midnight Cinephile 

Movies at Dog Farm 

Slasher Studios 


Wide Weird World of Cult Films 


  1. I got pretty excited about that ad, too, but I was the only person in the room who recognized the clip. Closet Fulci fan in the upper echelons of Microsoft, maybe?

    I'm so fortunate that my first viewing of Zombie was at the drive-in. If ever a movie was tailor made for the drive-in, it's this one. It sealed my love of the movie right off the bat and made me a lifelong fan of Fulci's work. I got to see The Gates Of Hell aka City Of The Living Dead at the same drive-in. The girl vomiting up all of her insides was a life changer. lol

    1. That scene you mention certainly is a life changer. There are so many films that were revelations to me when I first saw them, but nothing was as big a life changer for me then when I started exploring Fulci’s “Gates of Hell Trilogy” and gained a new found love for Zombie.

      I would have liked to have seen Zombie at the drive-in, but I did see it twice, in 2003 and 2011, at one of those local artsy movie theaters that had, and currently still have, Midnight Movie Madness deals every few Fridays. Zombie works real well in that, almost Grindhouse-like, atmosphere.

  2. I don't usually get too grossed out by Zombie movies, but I had a chance to see Zombi on the big screen a couple of years ago, and with it blown up so big I actually had to look away during the scene where the zombies are eating Olga Karlatos like a buffet in her living room.

    1. Hi Erin! That has to be the most powerful scene. It's gross but also has shock value and a tragic impact too. It's a disgusting abomination, to be devoured in your own living room like that, and a buffet is such a clever way of putting it. Thanks, Erin!

  3. This was one of the first Euro-horror films I watched and I fell in love with it right from the start. Many years later it remains an all-time favorite that is always fun to revisit.

    The first time I watched it was through the cut Vipco version under the name ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS but it still packed a punch. It says a lot about the effectiveness of the glorious eyeball-splintering sequence that it works even when the point of impact is cut. It's just so masterfully edited and put together! And Fulci certainly managed to find the actress with the most beautiful eyes in Italy, didn't he?

    In spite of a few FTW moments (such as the notorious shark vs. zombie sequence) I'd say that ZOMBIE is a coherently plotted film that plays by the rules, and as such it appeals to a much wider audience than Fulci's subsequent zombie efforts with their often incoherent plotting and confusing "dream logic". In fact, I was initially disappointed by his later zombie films but I quickly grew fond of them and their different and unusual approach.

    1. ZOMBIE was my second Euro-horror film. My first Euro-horror was Troll 2, although I didn’t know it was a Euro-horror at the time (I rented it on VHS as a kid). Like I said in my introductory story, I loathed Zombie at first and didn’t come back to it until several years later, when my interest in Euro-horror was piqued after seeing THE BEYOND, which is a shame because I probably could’ve gotten an earlier start had I not been so quick to dismiss it (and had a better stomach for it).

      The eyeball-splintering sequence is one of the most brutal Fulci set-piece, alongside Doria’s intestine upchucking and Florinda Bolkan's mob attack, and maybe Sweik's crucifixion. Something else interesting about the scene is the way Olga Karlatos’s character just seems to give up the struggle shortly after the zombie hand grabs a handful of her hair and, while still clearly showing facial signs of distress, slowly seems to allow the zombie hand to guide her eye into being penetrated by the splinter. It’s unrealistic but brilliant and makes it even more disturbing, and it could even be a slight sign of the different and unusual approach employed in Fulci’s later Zombie films.

      I agree that Karlatos has the most beautiful eyes, as they well should be for their role in ZOMBIE. The only other film I’ve seen her in was Fulci’s MURDER ROCK, a different kind of role to be sure and an interesting contrast since I had only known her as Dr. Menard’s frantic wife in ZOMBIE.

    2. I've seen a couple of other films with Olga Karlatos but I feel that she was rarely used as effectively and memorably as she was in ZOMBIE. You should check out DAMNED IN VENICE, though. It's a flawed but very interesting and stylish rip-off of ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE OMEN and it puts Karlatos to good use in a very mysterious role. I don't really want to say anything more but I definitely recommend you to check it out.

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