Just to clear a few things up, the film we Americans recognize as Zombie was in fact originally released in Europe as Zombi 2, a sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was released over there as Zombi, naturally.
However, it’s actually more of a prequel to Dawn of the Dead, though it might not be that, either, as all the installments in the Italian Zombi franchise are unrelated international films that were rebranded for better name recognition.
With that out of the way, we now move on to an anecdote, followed by a synopsis of the film and then some commentary, as is the usual format of these reviews.
I remember that I never liked Italian zombie flicks back when I was a kid. The dubbing and the often sleepy music usually, well, put me to sleep. I was a child, then; don’t judge me too harshly. I didn’t really come to appreciate the likes of Lamberto Bava, Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci until my adult years. I gave Zombie a second try when Anchor Bay released their DVD in 2002 and I promptly fell asleep for about half an hour in the middle of the movie. I don’t know what is wrong with me; this isn’t a boring movie. I’ve rewatched it recently, with my eyes open, and the whole thing is paced very fast, with tons of zombie carnage, gore and mayhem… so why on Earth do I fall asleep every time I try to watch it? Maybe this is one of those things I need to discuss with a shrink.
After a derelict ship containing a blood-thirsty zombie washes up in the New York harbor, the daughter of the ship’s owner, Anne (Tisa Farrow), becomes concerned as to the whereabouts of her father. With the help of a reporter, Peter (Ian McCulloch), the two trace the ship’s origins back to the mysterious tropical island of Matul. After a brief encounter with a shark and a nautical zombie, they become shipwrecked on the isolated tropical hellhole, as the local zombie infestation grows out of hand. Meeting up with Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), the survivors run for their lives as the dead crawl out of the dirt all around them.
Zombie is considered a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, though like I said in the confusing intro paragraph, it functions more as a prequel. It obviously starts out before the world has really caught on to the whole zombie outbreak and helps to expose how the walking dead gradually began to overwhelm such populated burgs as New York City. And yet, Zombie includes enough vague mumblings about voodoo and black magic that one could watch the film separate from Romero’s franchise and not miss a beat. So in that regard, Zombie really does work well as both a supplement to Romero’s Dead franchise and as its own unique entity.
I mentioned earlier that this movie has the bizarre power to make me sleepy whenever I watch it. Don’t ask me why. Perhaps it’s the hypnotic music and the washed-out picture quality that hypnotize me into oblivion; I honestly can’t say for sure. But please, don’t take my possibly narcoleptic inability to remain conscious as some insinuation that this film is boring, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. Zombie moves fast and it moves furious, as it begins with zombie action in order to set things up and then proceeds to waste as little time as possible introducing the characters and getting them stuck on Zombie Island.
The effects seen in Zombie are underrated in the grand scheme of the genre. People often praise Tom Savini’s work on Dawn of the Dead, but if you actually look at the zombies seen in that film, they’re mostly nothing more than people with white face-paint on. These zombies, however, are dirty, decaying and all around unpleasant. What I like is how dry they look; almost mummified. When victims scratch at them, the corpses deposit chunks of tree bark-like flesh and emit clouds of powdery dirt. It’s a nice break from the gooey and gory zombies that usually populate these types of movies.
Zombie is very ambitious with its action sequences. If there’s one scene you’ll walk away remembering best in this film, it would have to be the infamous “zombie vs. shark” segment. A very convincing moment of underwater action, as the zombie wrestles with a real shark (not some funny-looking prop) and sells the whole thing. There’s also the climactic showdown, with more flaming zombies than you can shake a lighter at. And just to complete this incoherently rambling paragraph, the scene where Dr. Menard’s wife gets her eye gauged out on a jagged piece of wood will have you squirming uncontrollably in your seat.
Zombie isn’t perfect, however. Most Italian horror flicks are dubbed, I’m used to that, but Zombie is dubbed poorly even by the terms of that yard stick. The scene where Peter talks to his editor is especially awkward and unintentionally hilarious, and it can get pretty distracting. There are also moments of exposition that just don’t come out right in the scripting, the acting or the dubbing, which all combine to make for some fairly unwatchable sequences. The scene where Dr. Menard’s wife has a fight with him springs to mind as the most annoying example.
While I may have problems staying awake during this movie, I highly doubt any of you will. It remains a mandatory serving for any zombie fan’s diet and is without question worth viewing. I mean, dude, a zombie fights a shark!