A man with a pistol shooting a shrouded body in the head. A yacht, seemingly abandoned, floats into the harbour at New York. The harbourmaster investigates and finds a zombie on board. After biting and killing one of the harbour guards, the zombie is dispatched. But where did the zombie plague originate? Naturally, somebody has to go and find out.
Known in some circles as Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters is an unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, known as Zombi in European territories thanks to Dario Argento (ahh, the penny doth drop).
Ian McCulloch is Peter West, our dashing English lead and a reporter for a newspaper in New York who heads off to a remote tropical island along with the daughter (Tisa Farrow) of the man who owned the yacht. From New York they head out to the tropics where a scientist (Richard Johnson) is messing about with things that he shouldn’t.
Quite apart from all of Fulci’s usual techniques, which include crash zooms, excessive amounts of blood and gore, and the obligatory “person being pushed very slowly towards something that will pierce an eye/face/head” sequence, we have a vast array of sequences where we get to watch a director in his element. This comes at the expense of believable performances, which have never been a strong point of his features. On balance, the practical effects in both the gore and the make up (mud masks are your best friend if you want to create zombies) are generally superb.
There is a brief amount of almost standard Euro nudity (a woman strips down to go diving, watched with some vaguely uncomfortable intensity by McCulloch. It’s almost as if he hasn’t seen a topless woman before. Maybe he hadn’t?). But top of the list is the absolute insanity that is a zombie fighting underwater, to the death (or undeath) with a shark. It’s a bonkers highlight in what would otherwise be a mostly by the book zombie feature.
Trying to explain the origin for Romero’s zombies, in particular linking them to the voodoo origin of the zombie legend, isn’t the best of routes to follow. There is more power in not knowing where they came from. It also feels a little weaker than Fulci’s other horror films, mostly because he’s limited to playing in a world that somebody else has created, not able to introduce the supernatural element that he would use to great effect elsewhere. Zombie Flesh Eaters does work best when considered on its own merits rather than as a Romero sequel. Luckily the link between the two can be easily forgotten.
His zombies are gruesome in appearance, much more grounded and realistic than Romero’s blue skinned undead. The island setting is chilling, as is the film’s ending. It is an iconic shot in itself, one that I won’t spoil here.
The soundtrack works well, all Euro synths and impending threat. It works as well in isolation as it does within the context of the film, where it is just as likely to give you cold chills as it is to subtly ramp up the tension.
It’s not a high class film, but it was never intended to be. It may have been a video nasty, but in the context of the era and the moral panic that ensued, this is understandable. In either case, it is a film that is a worthy entry in the zombie canon and ticks all the boxes a fan of the genre could hope for. And, again, there’s that zombie versus shark moment underwater.