by Brian McKay
They really don't make them like they used to. Although I enjoyed the recent "Resident Evil" movie (against all expectations), it is sad to see how the zombie movie has gone downhill over the past couple of decades. Today's zombie movie is a kinder, gentler zombie movie. The camera oh-so-nimbly cuts away in time, lest you see any offensive grue. And the women in the new generation of zombie flicks are strong and capable, unlike their limp-dishrag sisters from the seventies who merely screamed and waited to be rescued by the man folk. That I don't mind, but on the downside, they just don't run around with their baps out as much as they used to. For all of its many flaws (emphasis on MANY), Lucio Fulci's 1979 B-movie near masterpiece "Zombie" (a.k.a. a slew of other titles) has enough worm-ridden zombie flesh, horrendously fake yet appalling gore, and completely superfluous female nudity to make this a winner."Zombie" was made in an effort to cash in on the success of George Romero's "(insert time of day) of the Dead" franchise. And while Romero's films retain their crown, "Zombie" is a nice addition to the canon of respectable zombie flicks. This in spite of some mediocre writing, worse acting, and abysmally bad dubbing. It's a bit of a talkie too, with only a bit of action in the beginning, followed by a dry spell of exposition, only livened up by the occasional pointless nude scene. But once things finally start rolling (with a woman getting a foot-long sliver of wood shoved into her eyeball - right after her nude scene, of course), you can rest assured that the undead will be stacking up like cordwood!
"It's Maggotly Delicious!"
It all starts when an abandoned yacht drifts into New York Harbor, nearly colliding with another ship. When the harbor patrol is called to investigate, they find the ship empty, except for the rotting food that is drawing flies. Well, not quite empty. Turns out there's a freaking zombie on board, who slips away into the harbor. Meanwhile, as the police investigate the mystery of the abandoned boat, they conduct an interview of the missing boat owner's daughter, Ann Bowels (Tisa Farrow). Bowels . . . get it? Ann doesn't know what's become of her father, only that he was somewhere down in the Carribean and hadn't been heard from for months.
Meanwhile, hot-shit reporter Peter West (Ian Mcullogh - no, not the "Lord of the Rings" guy, that's Ian MCKELLAN) is sent by his newspaper to find out what happened to the boat's occupants, and trace it back to where it came from. He and Ann decide to join forces and investigate, upon finding out that the boat came from an island in the Carribean. They fly down there and quickly manage to talk a vacationing couple into giving them a lift out to the island on their boat. They are played by Al Cliver (who sounds uncannily like John Hurt), and Auretta Gay (who provides nearly two thirds of the film's nudity quotient and likes to scuba dive in the buff). On their way to the island, there is a rather funny encounter with a shark and an underwater zombie. Eventually, they arrive to find that people on the island are dying and coming back to life, while the living are fleeing in droves. The superstitious natives blame the zombie infestation on Voodoo. Meanwhile, the village's makeshift hospital is run by Doctor Menard, an edumacated white man who believes that the plague of the undead must have a viral cause, though he can find no evidence. His wife, Paola, drinks a lot, screams about having to get off the island, chews a lot of scenery, and provides the remainder of the film's pointless nudity. Oh, and she gets a FOOT-LONG SPLINTER IN HER EYE . . . did I mention that?
Things quickly go to hell on the island, with the dead coming back in increasing numbers, faster than ol' Doc Menard can take the corpses out back and shoot them in the head. Our four heroes soon find themselves ass-deep in the undead. Not only do the have the recently risen from the village to attend to, but they also stumble upon an old cemetery for Spanish conquistadores, who crawl up from the earth dripping maggots all the way. Boy, that humid tropical climate must be a remarkable preservative, if the worms are still snacking on Don Pedro de La Muncho 400 years after he was buried!
The action sequences are, for the most part, poorly executed. But what they lack in finesse, they make up for in the exuberant ammount of gore. Plenty of brains being splattered, heads exploding, and the like. The female characters prove to be annoyingly useless in this one (at least the chick in "Dawn of the Dead" learned how to fly a chopper and handle a gun). So it usually plays out like this:
1)Zombie appears, moving about half a foot a minute as he does the rigor-mortis shuffle.
2)Female protagonist stands there gaping, frozen in horror. Makes no attempt to run away, even though she's already seen this shit happen a dozen times, and you'd think she'd start getting used to it, and the freakin' zombie is moving so slow she could CRAWL away to safety.
3)The aforementioned female protagonist finally screams, prompting one of the men to rush to the rescue with a well-placed head shot - sometimes. Or sometimes, she just becomes zombie-chow.
In all fairness, the men are pretty stupid too, but at least they learn quickly the value of a head-shot - Something those morons in "Resident Evil" coulda picked up on a bit sooner. Oh, and there's also a lot of molotov coctails being thrown around, though they always seem to explode well ahead of the shambling corpses. Guess they didn't have much budget for stuntmen in fire-retardant zombie suits.
All it's flaws aside, though, "Zombie" is a worthwhile effort, and has some surprisingly creepy and well-paced scenes. The low-budget gore don't look too bad either, considering how primitive the effects were back then. It may not be perfect, but it's got an ample dose of everything that a zombie movie-lover needs. "Zombie" is the kind of film that B-movie champion (and my personal hero) Joe Bob Briggs would espouse. I don't know if he's seen it, and there's no review for it in the archives on his website. But if he did review it, the Drive-In totals would probably go something like this:
-4 breasts (though they show up a lot).
-Nude Girl vs. Aqua-Zombie
-Aqua-Zombie vs. Shark
-1 Splinter Lobotomy
-1 vehicular re-manslaughter
-3 gnawed-on jugulars
-4 wormy Conquistadores
-5 exploding zombie heads (at least)
-Barbecue of the Living DeadPaul W.S. Anderson should watch "Zombie", and then watch "Dawn of the Dead" again (maybe he can steal a few more of Romero's lines), before he sets out to make the "Resident Evil" sequel. RE has the potential to be a decent zombie franchise, but it needs less gimmicky camera work and more good old-fashioned liver-slurping.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5854&reviewer=258
originally posted: 04/02/02 17:12:54