Halloween Havoc!: ZOMBIE (Variety Film 1979)

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I’ll admit, I’m a latecomer to the Lucio Fulci bandwagon. I viewed my first film by The Maestro, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY , earlier this year, and absolutely loved it! I’ve been looking for more Fulci films to discover ever since, and recently recorded his most famous, ZOMBIE, off the El Rey Network (which I highly recommend to Grindhouse fans out there). ZOMBIE goes by many names, but this is the title I watched it under, so we’ll stick with that.

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From that opening shot of a gun pointed at the camera, then blasting the head of a rising corpse, I knew I was in for a good time! After the credits roll, we see a derelict ship floating in New York harbor. The harbor patrol boards it, and find it deserted, with rotting food and supplies strewn everywhere. One of the cops investigates further, and is killed by a zombie, who jumps overboard. The boat is owned by Dr. Bowles, and his daughter Anne is questioned by the police. Anne is played by Tisa Farrow, who looks like her sister Mia but isn’t quite as talented. Later that night, Anne sneaks onboard to look for clues, when she’s startled by reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), who has found a letter from her dad to her, telling of contracting a “strange disease” on the Caribbean island of Matul. West’s paper pays for the pair to fly to St. Thomas and make their way to the mysterious, unchartered island.

Meanwhile on Matul, we’re introduced to Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson of THE HAUNTING ) and his alcoholic wife Paola (Olga Karlatos). Menard’s the guy behind the gun in the prolog, and Paola is pretty bitter about what’s going on. It’s seems the good doctor’s experiments involve native voodoo, and she wants to leave this island of terror, but Menard insists on staying. Paola rants and raves at him, earning herself a punch in the face!

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Peter and Anne meet a couple, Brad and Susan (Al Cliver, Auretta Gay) about to embark on a two-month fishing vacation. Peter tells them his and Anne’s destination, and Brad responds that Matul is “not a cool place to head, natives claim it’s cursed, avoid it like the plague”, but reluctantly agrees to drop them off. Susan decides to take some underwater pictures while out at sea, and strips down to a thong before putting on her scuba gear. Topless scuba diving… sure, why not! While below, Susan encounters a shark, and then an underwater zombie, and now comes my favorite scene- Zombie vs Shark in the deep blue sea! I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s handled well, and I got a big kick out of it.

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Meanwhile back on Matul, the zombies are running rampant. Paola, alone in the house, tries to fend one off, struggling mightily to KEEP THAT DOOR SHUT as the undead thing attempts to break on through to the other side. Smashing the door panel, the beast grabs her hair and pulls Paola closer, hungry for some flesh. As it pulls her closer and closer, we see a large splinter of wood heading straight for her eyeball… then get jammed right through it in a terrifyingly gruesome scene that’s as gross as it sounds!

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Our intrepid quartet has finally made it to Matul, where Menard informs them of “the disease” ravaging the isle. The natives call it voodoo, but the doctor believes there must be some kind of scientific explanation, and is determined to find it. He lends them his Jeep to go check on Paola, where they find the living dead feasting on her corpse. They hightail it out in the Jeep and hit a zombie in the road, knocking them off the road and wrecking it. Making their way through the jungle, they stop to rest in what turns out to be an old Spanish Conquistador graveyard, where the rotting corpses begin to rise from the dead. A worm-eye-filled zombie snatches Susan and rips her throat out. Our remaining heroes have no choice but to leave her dead body in the graveyard and flee for their lives.

The zombies have now overrun Matul, and everyone holes up in Menard’s makeshift hospital, a former church. Now the gorefest truly begins, as the zombies keep coming in droves, the heroes battle back with guns and Molotov cocktails, and things escalate to epic proportions. Zombified Susan takes a chunk out of Brian’s arm before the whole enchilada goes up in flames, and Peter, Anne, and Brian make it back to the boat. They lock him below and head for New York to warn the populace, but it seems they’re a bit too late, as a radio broadcast alerts them the zombies have taken over The Big Apple: “They’ve entered the building… they’re at the door… ARRRGGGHHH!!”

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ZOMBIE is beautifully shot and framed by Fulci and DP Sergio Salvati, with some breathtaking photography amidst all the carnage. The pace is frantic and exciting, and you’ll be glued to your seats following all the action. Fabio Frizzi’s score sets the tone, and those incessant voodoo drumbeats add to the overall mood. Anyone new to Lucio Fulci should start with ZOMBIE, which many claim is his masterpiece. But I wouldn’t know, being fairly new to him myself. I’ve got much more Fulci to discover… CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD is sitting in my DVR even as we speak!

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