Beginning with the sight of an unmanned ship drifting intoBoston harbour, this Italian production has gained notoriety for its bizarre use of sound, and slipshod vocal dubbing. Nonetheless in terms of gore it remains one of the greatest examples of the flock of Italian zombie movies produced over the 70s and 80s, a true credit to director Lucio Fulci.
At first we follow Ann, whose scientist father owned the boat and hasn’t been heard from for over a month. An English reporter, Peter, decides to help her get to the tiny island where her father was last living and find out what has happened. It emerges that Ann’s father died of the zombie infection himself, but is it a biological matter or a voodoo curse? The remaining doctor on the island, and his assistant, deal with an increasing number of sick and dying, having learnt that to truly dispose of them, they must be shot in the head. The doctor’s wife, left to her own devices, also meets a grisly fate.
The movie mixes human drama with a steadily increasing amount of zombie gore, and packs a lot into its hour and a half of mostly understated action (and imperfect acting). There is a ‘woman goes scuba diving wearing only a gas tank and string thong’ scene, a stereotypically Italian touch. It’s this mixture of gratuitous topless scenes followed by contemplation that does seem to say something about the human condition. And of course, if you’re starting to get bored, there is the infamous moment where a zombie fights a shark: the shark begins to look quite cute and innocent compared to the decaying zombie.
Add to this a few vague racial slurs in the form of the Westerners’ angry dismissal of the local belief in voodoo and you’ve got a full gamut of racist, sexist, badly dubbed, gory insanity which relentlessly builds to a hideous climax. The film constantly turns up the tension by delivering increasingly horrific shocks. It also adheres closely to the ‘they aint dead til there’s a bullet in they head’ adage which has kept us so well all these years of fighting the undead. So who was right, the locals who seem to simply give up in the face of some kind of greater power at work, or the Westerners who try to understand and combat a disease which must have a natural explanation?
This is all before Romero started slinging his ‘social revolution’ sledgehammer around, and was released as ‘Zombi 2’ in Italy purely because ‘Dawn of the Dead’ had already been released as ‘Zombi’.
The wonderful twist at the end of the film, after a crescendo of fire and gore, paints the same brilliantly bleak picture as many of its genre. But even if you’ve seen them all, this low-budget, iconic work packs in a bit of everything, and even with the horrific sound quality and disjointed dubbed dialogue, has a realistic punch that modern special effects can’t quite capture.
Review by Nicole Holgate
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