1979 saw the release of a film titled Zombi 2. It was suppose to be an unofficial sequel to Romero’s own Dawn of the Dead which was released in Italy under the title of Zombi. many thought this pseudo-sequel was a way to cash-in on the success of Romero’s film in Italy. This wasn’t true for the fact that it’s director and producers had already been working on their own zombie film as Romero started on Dawn of the Dead. It was by coincidence that both were released within the same year and in order to try and tie the two films together their titles reflected it.
Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 (or just plain Zombie in the US) has no connection whatsoever with Romero’s own Dawn of the Dead except for the zombies and the rules governing their destruction. This is not to say that Fulci’s Zombi 2 wasn’t good. In fact, I would say that Zombi 2 was, and still a great horror movie that’s been unfairly compared with Romero’s ultimate zombie classic. The two films tell different type of stories even when sharing similar plot devices and rules. Where Romero used the backdrop of the zombie epidemic as a damning visual commentary on the growing consumerism culture in the United States, Fulci’s film eschews any such social observations and goes for pure horror instead.
Zombi 2 helped begin the Italian cinema’s love of zombie movies and Fulci’s film still stands as the best of the lot. Starring Tisa Farrow as Ann, the daughter of a missing doctor working in the Carribean, and Ian McCulloch as reporter Peter West who helps Ann try to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance in one of the Carribean Islands. The only clue they have being the mysterious reappearance of a boat belong to Ann’s father. A drifting yacht which, when inspected by NY Harbor Patrol, a disfigured, obese man violently attacks one of the patrolmen before falling overboard into the city harbor. From that moment on, Ann and Peter head off to her father’s last location on the Carribean island of Matool. Once on Matool, Ann and Peter discover that one of her father’s colleagues, a Dr. Manard, has been trying to solve the mysterious disease, or curse as the native islanders call it, which her father became afflicted with. A disease which seem to kill those it infects and then return them to life to attack the living.
These two are soon joined by a vacationing couple who seem to have arrived on Matool at the worst time. Ann and Peter soon enlist the aid of Brian and Susan, but before they could solve the island’s deadly mystery the island’s dead, both past and recent, rise up from their resting place and doom the remaining inhabitants. One sequence involving these zombies has gone down in horror history as one of the most cringe-inducing scenes on film. It involves the torturously slow sequence where a woman’s head is dragged forward toward a door splinter aimed directly at the woman’s eye. This gore-sequence in addition to the scenes of the zombies attacking and feeding on the visiting Westerners and the remaining living islanders were very well done and all due to make-up FX master Giannetto de Rossi. There’s even a spectacular sequence where a zombie tries to attack and feed on a live shark. Even to this day I still marvel at whichever stuntman volunteered for that action shot.
Zombi 2 has been called a dumbed down attempt to capitalize on Dawn of the Dead. I wholeheartedly disagree with this obeservation. Zombi 2 was never meant to be socially relevant, but one whose only goal was the scare, disgust and disturb its audience with scenes of extreme violence and gore. In this respect Fulci succeeded with the final cut of Zombi 2. The acting itself was very well done considering that half the cast spoke in English as their natural language while the other half were saying their lines in Italian. The dubbing of the Italian-spoken lines were done particularly well. A rarity when it comes to dubbed films.
The final few minutes of Zombi 2 where the Matool survivors make it back to New York through its harbor makes for a great ending. With a city radio station recounting the growing zombie crisis which seemed to have begun while Ann and Peter were on Matool, the final shot of zombies walking on the pedestrian level of the Brooklyn Bridge with cars below them seeming to be rushing out of the city to escape the crisis still makes for a haunting scene. Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 might not have been the iconic, cultural and societal masterpiece that was Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but it more than holds its own when seen as a pure horror film.