Oct 28, 2010

Written for Varied Celluloid by Prof. Aglaophotis!

The Plot: An unmanned boat is on a collision course along the shores of Stanton Island, New York. After the unseen crew of this mysterious boat fail to communicate, the Coast Guard is forced to board the boat and figure out what went wrong. One of the Coast Guardsmen is attacked and killed by a strange, seemingly undead crewman who is shot off deck. As the boat is docked and investigations are made, it is discovered that the boat is owned by a scientist whose only known immediate relative is his daughter, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow). As Anne investigates the boat on her own one night, she is encountered by NY journalist Peter West who is also snooping around the boat for clues. The two team together and decide to find out the multiple enigmas behind the arrival of the dead ship. Once the two obtain a boat led by a vacationing couple, they follow the trail of the scientist and the island he was last seen on… the island of Matoul… an island where, as of late, the dead have been rising and feasting on the living.

The Review
There’s always been a comfortable place in my heart for Italian Horror movies, zombie movies especially. There’s something about the way Italian directors handle the Horror subject that just destroys the general conception of what Horror is and should be in media while using their own cinematographic style. Everything you expect in a enjoyable Horror movie you can often find in most Italian Horror films: great make-up and gore effects, build-up, dark and somber settings, scenes of intense action, a film length that’s never too long but is long enough to feel important, decent if not mildly enjoyable characters, uniquely unsettling use of colors and a greatly creepy soundtrack. Zombie is a Horror movie by late great director Lucio Fulci that is iconic of the Italian zombie movie. It has everything you would expect in a Horror movie about zombies that cause truly unsettling death scenes and injuries, all of which further push the discomfort required for a great Horror experience.

Zombie is very well shot, especially for an Italian unofficial sequel to an American zombie movie. There are a lot of nice settings on the island of Matoul with the dusty ruins of the village and the dark plagued hospital. Much of the action and scenes are visible and very well presented, good lighting, effective close-ups. There’s nothing really artistic or beautiful, but it looks very good, typical of a Fulci film. The final showdown scene in particular is very exciting and particularly well done. If anything, there is a fair amount of film grain to the presentation, even in Wide Screen. The editing is pretty good, although there’s one scene where coroners are examining the dead Coast Guardsman that I think would’ve been more effective had they put it in later in the movie than when it’s first shown. Plus there’s a little continuity error in the beginning where a zombie gets shot in the head and a character line is spoken… it just doesn’t match up with a recap scene shown later.

The performances in the movie are actually nice. Tisa Farrow plays a pretty likable female lead, but I’ve always liked Tisa Farrow in Horror movies; she’s kind of like what we would’ve gotten if Erika Peters starred in more Horror films beyond The Atomic Brain. She’s very soft spoken and wide-eyed in select scenes and adding to her good looks it makes her appear all the more vulnerable. She actually plays a good Daddy’s Girl character which is a substitute archetype to the Final Girl: if you can’t have one somewhat virginal, comparably innocent Final Girl, just have a beautiful young woman who is willing to look for her father (or in some cases brother) against the chances imposed by zombies and monsters. Ian McCulloch and Richard Johnson give off some pretty good performances, too: one as a bold, determined journalist and the other as a haggard scientist. Olga Karlatos pops up in this as a drunkard wife and the requisite Lucio Fulci eye-gouge victim.

Something to look forward to in any good Zombie movie is the gore effects. Lucio Fulci was a man who knew how to use gore effects well. From simple scarring to straight up throat ripping, Zombie never fails when it comes to fulfilling the gore prerequisites of a zombie movie. The eye-gouge scene in particular is very well shot and is truthfully cringing, but it easily could’ve been stopped if she just put her arms up against the door and pushed back! Still, the gore makeup is greatly effective and makes the death scenes all the more uncomfortable as they are gross. There are a few moments where a shot to a zombie’s head is nothing more than a paint ball shot, but for the most part, you’re in for a slaughter.

As expected for any Italian Horror movie, the soundtrack is great. Composed by the fantastic Fabio Frizzi, the score to Zombie is certainly a haunting one with a very somber theme song as well as an oddly soothing song that shows up during the past and present hospital scenes. I especially like the chilling music used for many of the zombie attack scenes; it has a strange ancient Japanese instrument sound to it that further establishes the mystic Horror theme to the story. The movie is very well-paced with very few zombie attacks in the beginning and the first half of the movie consisting of our main characters traveling to the island and slowly being introduced to the zombies whose numbers increase throughout.

I think what makes Zombie stand out among most films of the genre and even most films in general is that it has a certain moment of camp in it that is wholly unique in any film in history. In a single scene, Fulci presents us with a topless scuba diving scene where actress Auretta Gay strips down to a thong and takes underwater pictures. She’s then attacked by a zombie and her escape is later helped by a lingering Tiger Shark. We are then treated to a fantastic underwater scene of the zombie fighting the shark. The entire scene is brilliantly well shot and is so outlandish in concept its amazing to watch. There is one moment where the zombie tears off a chunk of shark belly, but then the shark comes back to retaliate, but it could’ve easily been a second shark attracted by the first shark’s blood.

What I personally find funny is how throughout the movie we never see any of the drumming, chanting natives supposedly responsible for the dead coming back to life. We never do learn what’s causing the dead to eat the living, but that’s the case with a lot of zombie movies. I suppose it gives the movie a bit more of a supernatural feel to it considering how the drumming and chanting could very well be the sounds of an ancient curse being awoken rather than actual tribes people; Fulci really was more into supernatural zombie origins considering the powers and abilities of his zombies in later films. The more I think about it though, I keep imagining what this movie would be like if it were directed by Luigi Batzella or Bruno Mattei. If it were, there would be scenes worth of stock footage of natives tribes folk taken from various documentaries. Although, I think with Bruno, that all ready happened in Hell of the Living Dead

The Conclusion
I want to call this a Low Budget/Gore-Fest Horror movie, but you know what? Both are exaggerated general opinions. As I noted earlier, the movie actually has a lot of different locales suggesting a considerate budget, the acting is good and the gore is played out and presented so well that it’s genuinely grueling. It’s got a good story arch, decent performances, great gore effects, a nice T&A factor, a great soundtrack and a scene where a shark squares off against a zombie underwater. Zombie is one of the best Italian Zombie/Horror movies made.