Do you really love a good zombie movie, or are you just a poser? Care to find out?
Zombi 2 is Italy’s answer to Dawn of the Dead, whose Italian title was Zombi. It’s not actually a sequel to anything – its title is merely a marketing gimmick to imply it’s a follow-up to Romero’s film.
A seemingly empty boat drifts into the New York Harbor. It belonged to a mysterious explorer whose daughter conveniently happens to live in New York City, so she charters a vessel to track down her father and learn what’s become of him.
Lucio Fulci’s film doesn’t have the smart character development, gripping plot, or social and political commentary of its much more sophisticated American cousin. What it does have, however, is full-on hardcore zombie action.
If you’re in the mood for Just A Classic Zombie Movie, this is where I would point you. This film has all the necessary ingredients:
1) Awesome classic zombies. So rotten that worms and maggots crawl out of their eye sockets. So decomposed that they have no eyes to compete with the worm holes. So crusty that pieces of them shake off merely from shambling around. And they stumble, lumbering foward slowly like the undead should. No running or crazy acrobatics from these ghouls. In all, Fulci’s zombies look WAY more like walking corpses than painted actors in torn up clothing.
2) Proper zombie setting. George Romero lifted his zombies out of the Haitian isles and instead gave them a modern, sci-fi sensibility. Atomic radiation meets your neighborhood graveyard and all that. Fulci plants his zombies right back into the dirt of the jungle and…
3) Voodoo. To be honest, there’s more talk of voodoo than the real thing. It’s unclear how these zombies came to exist, some witch doctor who we never see is blamed for some reason, and a doctor chooses to “succumb” to the “illness” to help find a cure, whatever that means or entails. A church becomes an appropriate setting for a makeshift hospital, and the fear of the locals adds more color to the proceedings than any real difference. But at least the idea of voodoo gets tossed around a bit.
4) Grave bursting. The iconic image of a zombie uprising centers around a hand bursting forth from the earth, pushing piles of dirt aside as it hoists its decrepit corpse out of the ground and into the night air.
But think about this for a moment: In how many zombie movies lately have you actually seen a full-on commitment to grave bursting? Today’s zombies just sort of show up in a big group, like kids at a rock concert.
Not Fulci’s. Theirs is a proper, natural birth, popping up right and left as our characters stumble around in the jungle. I swear, if you’re a zombie fan at all, the last 20 minutes of the film will warm your heart.
5) Flesh eating. What I really mean here is top-notch special effects. If you have a weak stomach, be forewarned that Zombi 2 lingers in the gross-out moments, lovingly on each rip, tear and blood geyser. You’ll watch a guy scream as a zombie take a bites out of his arm or neck, and then you’ll see the reverse shot of the thing happily chewing away on his mouthful.
But there’s enough restraint here to keep things from getting cheesy. It’s hard to explain, but I’ve seen enough low-budget schlock to appreciate the difference. Nobody’s getting ripped limb from limb like in Dawn of the Dead, nor descended upon by a dogpile of extras pawing feverishly at someone’s clothes. There’s something very balanced about it all.
Everything else in this movie is really just a shallow delivery mechanism for the above elements – and that’s okay. The acting is serviceable, the plot nearly incomprehensible. Nobody, not even the doctor who’s been studying these things, really has the slightest idea what to do, so the characters just walk around furrowing their brows until it’s time to start running.
Far from a major criticism, I think it casts a feeling of inevitability over the proceedings that seems realistic – maybe even documentary-like. You just know in your heart this isn’t going to be an “antidote” movie.
I’ve always thought of Fulci as a poor man’s Dario Argento, and Argento as a poor man’s Mario Bava. This is the one that put him on the map as a horror director. The guy seems to head straight for the visceral every single time – yet, like most Italian films of the era, it’s stylish filmmaking. I’m a fan.
I can’t wrap up without mentioning that Zombi 2 is notorious for containing one of the most cringeworthy scenes in horror, involving injury to the eye. If you’re ever in the mood for something like this, now you know where to find it.
If this intrigued you, check out our podcast episode where we discussed this film in much more detail.