Zombi 2, released as Zombie in the USA and as Zombie Flesh Eaters in the UK, is an Italian made exploitation horror which, due to it’s gratuitous scenes of gore, ended up getting caught up in the ‘Video Nasty’ nonsense of the early 1980’s. It’s directed by the respected Lucio Fulci, who made a few decent Giallo films and Spaghetti Westerns before dedicating his time to horror and gore. The original screenplay that this was adapted from was designed to serve as a sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead
The film tells the story of a zombie outbreak on a Carribean island, possibly caused by voodoo, or possibly by infection. This is unfortunately never really resolved anywhere in the plot. It begins with a seemingly abandoned boat intercepted in New York harbour. During the search of the boat, two patrolmen are attacked by a zombie – one is killed and the other manages to open fire on it and force it over the edge and into the sea. A girl is questioned by the police and claims that the boat belongs to her father, who is conducting research on the Carribean island of Matul. The girl, along with a reporter, travel to Matul to seek out her father after she discovers he’s allegedly suffering from a strange illness.
It’s perhaps best to start with the parts of the movie that worked before moving on to its flaws. The scenes that are most likely to spring to mind when remembering the film are the ones containing the excessive gore that led to the video nasty label – and of those, the one that will stay in memory the longest will be the eye splinter scene. No discussion of Zombi 2 is complete without mentioning this little work of art. A zombies arm smashes through a flimsy door and grabs hold of a woman’s head whilst she pointlessly attempts to barricade the door with an extremely small, yet apparently very heavy cupboard, pulling her slowly, inch by inch, towards a large wooden splinter nicely positioned in line with her eye. The splinter eventually penetrates her jelly-like eyeball. It’s a scene that would make most viewers wince and is certainly up there in cinemas top ‘eye trauma’ moments. As is to be expected, the effects have dated a little but, considering the age of the film and the low budget that it was made on, it does still look very good and I’ve seen much worse in more modern movies with bigger budgets.
This, incidentally, is where the film succeeds; excellent make-up effects and gore. In many old movies of this genre, you see zombies that look relatively normal, as if they only died a few hours ago, except for the fact they have tatty or dirty clothing and pale skin, and maybe a bit of blood smeared around the mouth. Not in this movie! The zombies here look properly decayed, rotten and putrid. Worms and maggots are visible in tattered clothing, and in open eye sockets. They move very slowly, one painful and awkward step at a time, the way you’d expect if their muscles had wasted away. The make-up techniques that produce the gore effects are also done very well and, for the most part, work flawlessly. They’re completely and necessarily over the top, and certainly have the effect of making you wish you hadn’t eaten just before watching – especially the many scenes containing chunks of flesh being bitten greedily out of arms, necks, or any other easily accessible part of the body. Before I move onto the films flaws, it’s also worth mentioning the excellent score from Fabio Frizzi, which did a fine job in adding some much-needed atmosphere to the film with it’s creepy, undulating, synthesised tones.
But… gore scenes alone don’t make a good movie. The acting on show here, and especially the awkward dialogue, is pretty darn terrible. The whole drama might as well have been investigated by Scooby-Doo and the Mystery Gang, who would have felt more at ease with the incredibly corny, ham-fisted lines. The film also contained a huge amount of gaping plot holes and continuity errors; so many that it was virtually on a par with Schwarzenegger’s Commando – and that takes some doing! This unfortunately transformed what could have been a quality horror movie, into something that would be better described as ‘so bad, it’s good’. An example of this is the zombie in an imaginative underwater fight with a shark; a wonderfully unique scene for sure and not the easiest thing in the world to film, but the fact that the zombie was managing to swim so elegantly and had air bubbles escaping out of its nose and mouth did not go unnoticed. Another example is the scene with the highly inefficient Molotov cocktails that produced lots of very temporary flames; each time a new one was thrown, the flames from the previous one seemed to have vanished.
Of course, we do expect a certain level of ‘badness’ to the dialogue and acting when it comes to Italian exploitation cinema and its atrocious dubbing. Argento’s movies were no different in that respect, but where the two directors differ is in creativity behind the camera. Argento makes up for the flaws by treating the audience to an audio-visual master class, along with some wonderfully inventive camera work. Fulci, on the other hand, is far less creative. His direction, particularly in this film, feels rather flat and uninspired, and the camera work, which largely entails slow pan after slow pan, feels one dimensional. Many shots just seem to linger that little bit too long and would have benefitted from some subtle trimming in the cutting room. The film is rather dull between the gore scenes, lacking any real tension and relying totally on the score for atmosphere, and the film seems to take too long to really get going. When it does, it becomes difficult to take seriously – which brings me to my main issue with this type of movie.
How do you make a zombie, that’s half rotten and can only move at a speed of a metre per minute, dangerous? There are only two possible ways: either have hundreds upon hundreds of them, all tightly packed, making them very difficult to escape from. Or failing that – if you only have a few zombies available and probably no more than fifty spread across a whole island – make sure all the characters are totally inept. It’s that second route that Zombie 2 decides to travel down. A good example of this is the “I’ve bust my ankle in the middle of escaping from zombies, I’d better take a lie down in this ancient graveyard to recuperate” moment. Or the moment near the end where the woman sees two zombies moving across the room towards her, so she backs up against the wall and screams pointlessly for at least a couple of minutes, despite the fact that the zombies are shuffling towards her at the speed of an arthritic centenarian with a Zimmer frame, and the woman clearly has an open doorway right by the side of her to escape through.
So in summary, I feel that the success of the film is possibly more to do with the brilliance of Frizzi and the skill of make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi than it is to do with Fulci’s work behind the camera. It’s probably worth watching for the excellent make-up effects, the eye splinter scene, the laughably inventive zombie vs shark fight, and maybe also for the unintentionally amusing dialogue and plot. But it’s not the best zombie movie out there and it doesn’t work in any way, shape, or form as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead. It’s not even Fulci’s best film, and it’s most certainly not the masterpiece it’s sometimes purported to be.
Here’s the trailer for your convenience:
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