Horror has been part of film since the invention of film. Zombie movies came along soon after. Aside from a a period from the mid 1980s-early 2000s, movies about the undead have been a popular sub genre in horror. Despite keeping essentially the same formula for decades, zombie movies have not only remained in the movie going public’s conscious, they have thrived and crossed over into other forms of media such as television, video games, and comic books. Zombies are as much a part of pop culture as videos of cats and have been the subject of many classic movies.
Make no mistake about it: Zombie is a genre classic, but it is not a great movie. Lack of suspense and spotty acting are just two problems that plague the movie. The movie is mainly known for a grotesque scene involving an eyeball and a splinter and a moment years ahead of its time when a zombie does battle with a shark. Both scenes not only highlight the strengths of the film, but are poignant lessons for filmmakers today.
Zombie was originally released as Zombi 2 in Italy. It was meant to feed off the success of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead which was released as Zombi in Italy. Romero’s film was a commercial and critical success and before long Lucio Fulci was tasked to direct a cash grab that would be marketed as a sequel.Franchises – especially in the horror genre – are an integral part of Hollywood. The problem with ongoing sequels is they dig for backstories that are not needed or add unnecessary depth. Zombi 2 did nothing of the sort. There is a loose story that hints it is a prequel to Dawn of the Dead, but for the most part, it is an original story influenced by Haitian voodoo customs and older zombie stories. Screenwriter Dardan Sacchetti wrote a original story that was still familiar. The end result was a sequel that outgrossed (box office and otherwise) its predecessor.
Fulci also played to his strengths. It is not uncommon for installments in a horror franchise to explore new territory in an attempt to be relevant. Zombie is an over the top gorefest that moves from one bloody scene to the next without any pretense. There is no attempt at trying something new or exploring themes important to society. Fulci played to his strengths and succeeded in making the best movie he could.The recent Blue Underground release further shows the legacy of Zombie. Along with being given a beautiful 4K restoration, the 3-disc limited edition includes interviews with cast and crews, promotional material, commentary tracks, and an intro and interview from Academy Award winning director Guillermo del Toro. There is also a booklet with a great essay from Stephen Thrower about movie criticism which is a great read. (It also has a special variant cover of the infamous splinter scene which looks amazing.)
Zombie was made to make money. It was not supposed to delve further into the Living Dead lore or be some sort of social commentary. It was always intended to be a horror movie that capitalized on the the success of another film in the genre. In today’s sequel happy film industry, Zombie should be held up as an example of how to do a sequel right.