Zombi 2 (1979)

(aka: Island of the Flesh Eaters, Island of the Living Dead, Gli Ultimi Zombi [The Last Zombie], Zombie, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombies 2)

Directed by Lucio Fulci

Produced by Fabrizio De Angelis & Ugo Tucci

Starring Ian McCulloch, Tisa Farrow, Richard Johnson, Auretta Gay, Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti), Olga Karlatos (Olga Vlassopulos), Stefania D'Amario, Dakkar (Alessandro Barrera)

Zombi 2 (1979)

Film Review

Following hot on the heels of Dario & Claudio Argento's hand in George A. Romero's "Dawn Of The Dead" (1978) (released in an alternate, shorter, version supervised by Dario throughout Italy), producer Fabrizio De Angelis was hungry to capitalise on the international returns that the zombie sub-genre was beginning to generate. From a script penned by Dardano Sacchetti, under the pseudonym Elisa Briganti (Sacchetti's wife), De Angelis was keen for popular director Enzo G. Castellari to helm the project. Once Castellari passed on the screenplay, instead opting former giallo, western and comedy director Lucio Fulci to fill the director's chair, De Angelis had his man and horror history was about to be made. Tramping his director, crew, and international cast off to the Dominican Republic for the lion's share of shooting, the voodoo laced result, "Zombi 2" (named for the Italian title of Romero's predecessor) has gone on to become a benchmark of the splatter film, and cult classic adored by horror fans world-wide.

Sacchetti's plot is relatively simple in its machinations. A stray, unmanned yacht drifts into New York harbour, and when the harbour patrol investigate one of their officer's is attacked by the decaying remnants of a living dead stowaway. Ownership of the vessel points to the father of Ann Bowles (Farrow), a physician who had taken up post on an isolated Caribbean island with his partner, Dr. David Menard (Johnson). With the assistance of journalist Peter West (McCulloch), Ann sets out for the mysterious isle of Matool. Once upon the Bahamas, the pair join travellers Bryan Hull (Cliver) and Susan Barrett (Gay), sailing for the heart of darkness that is the uncharted island. However, when they set foot upon Matool, they discover the island awash with disease that is decimating the inhabitants, Dr. Menard a gibbering, feverish wreck, and the islanders held in the grip of fear of a voodoo curse. A former port for the Spanish Conquistadors, Matool holds a secret darker and more terrifying than the virulent plague that is ravaging its occupants. One that threatens to consume both the indigenous population, and its unaware inquisitive newcomers.

Hmmm, where to start when it comes to the film that launched Fulci's international career proper? "Zombi 2"(or, if you like, "Zombie" or "Zombie Flesh Eaters") is a dark, oppressively grim exercise that owes just as much to the spirit of Val Lewton as it does to Romero's reanimant epic. Although it owes much of its reputation to the impressive (for what they had to work with) makeup design of Gianetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani (who would later encore on De Angelis' remake "Zombi Holocaust"), there is more to Fulci's film that just that of a blood & sinew splatter flick. Benefiting from its Santa Domingo locations, it immediately sets itself apart from Romero's progenitor by relocating its premise from an identifiable every-man's backyard to the far-flung isolation of the wilds of an uncharted island. Formerly the territory of idyllic "Robinson Crusoe" styled castaway fantasy, Fulci infuses the fantasy with an overriding atmosphere of menace, and burgeoning realisation of the unexplored unknown. There are no Man Friday's apparent herein, no nubile naked island nymphs, no luscious delirium of freedom gained from civilised man set free amidst a paradise retreat. Instead there is death and suffering, the dead returning to life via supernatural ritual, and an impending claustrophobia of fatalistic charnel decay and doom. Sergio Salvati's extraordinary cinematographic eye captures the Dominican Republic in all of its beauty, and all of its unrealised prophetic foreboding. Indeed, Fulci choreographs imagery unmatched within the genre, on occasions within cinema itself.

Adding to the already doom-laden mood of pre-ordained horror, composers Fabio Frizzi and Giorgio Tucci create an eerie electronic soundscape that becomes the voice of Fulci's vision. The 'Dead March' is clearly Goblin-esque in style, but it is individual themes such as "The Dead on Main Street", "Voodoo Rising", and "Escape from the Flesheaters" and "Matool" (per their album track listings) that imbue the production with an all too fully realised sense of dread. Of course, Fulci builds his element of (peripheral) suspense over the course of the first act with random snatches of gruesome violence, and a handful of surprisingly well executed setpieces (the yacht, the shark, Olga Karlatos' demise), before delivering his protagonists into a fully blown unconscionable rotting hell. It is here where De Rossi and Trani come into their own, laying on starkly executed (though sometimes risible) graphic gore by the shovel-load, right up to the bitter twist-ending.

Perversely, the performances per se, most notably McCulloch, are patently wooden, with only Johnson (and maybe Farrow) left floundering amidst a sea of mediocrity. But the average splatter-freak isn't drawn to these things for Oscar winning performances, they're there for the red stuff, of which "Zombi 2" stills ranks as high as any in the splatter stakes. Although many consider "The Beyond" (1981) Fulci's masterpiece, of which it undoubtedly is, this will always be the one that made his mark on the international circuit. The dead LOOK dead, the mood is oppressively bleak, the music effectively haunting, and FX are still impressively eye-popping (sorry!). From a personal standpoint, I still rate Fulci's Caribbean nightmare the pinnacle of the zombie sub-genre, as its Lewton-esque visuals set it miles apart from the clinical, detached face of Romero's predecessor. Yep, this is a personal favourite, whose island locale and sumptuous visuals put it there. Apart from the aforementioned "The Beyond", this is the best example of Fulci when he was at his peak.

Disc Review

Here we are at last! But is it the great news we expected? Well, yes and sort of mildly annoyingly no. Fulci's gut-cruncher turns up on disc again, this time letterboxed at its original Techniscope ratio of 2.35, unfortunately without the aid of anamorphic enhancement. But things aren't a complete write-off on that count alone, as there is a small surprise within Italian Shock's new disc. The image is a little darker than expected (nothing that adjusting your TV's brightness/contrast won't fix), there's some noticeably apparent aliasing visible, and the image is marginally soft in parts (seemingly sourced from a video master over film materials). But hang on, the on-screen title is "Zombi 2", and all of the credits are in Italian. That can only mean one thing. Yep, Italian Shock has given us an English language version of the original Italian print. Although there's a bit of film grain present, and the print seems slightly worn, overall this is a fairly good presentation of a twenty year old low budget Italian exploitation champ. Only a brand new anamorphic telecine transfer, paired with a complete digital clean-up, would bring Fulci's aging shocker up to speed (which, I believe, Media Blasters are promising in 2002). The preservation of the original analogue monaural soundtrack is a welcome one, however the Dolby digital audio draws attention to the limitations of the source materials and occasionally exhibits a noticeable analogue hiss, as well as the occasional hint of damage.

Extras consist of the 'Complete musical soundtrack' (presented across two pages and extremely easy to navigate), encompassing both BEAT's restored score, available on CD backed with Frizzi's score for "Nightmare Concert", and Blackest Heart Media's rokOpera enhanced edition, available on CD with said company's "Zombie" comic adaptation. For those of you who already possess both of these versions, their inclusion herein will be mostly fairly redundant, for those of you that don't (per myself) then their inclusion is a nice bonus. Mastered at 192kbps and 2-channel stereo, their quality is more than acceptable. Also included is the original Theatrical trailer, an animated Stills Gallery (publicity & production photos, lobby cards & video artwork), Lucio Fulci filmography and reproduction of the insert booklet's Liner Notes. In conclusion? Although lacking anamorphic enhancement, the image is by and large quite acceptable, the audio reasonably clear, and the extras (in the audio department) no small bonus. If you simply have to have everything in Region 1 NTSC, then wait for Media Blasters disc, but if PAL is your priority then this is an extremely nice package and a worthy addition to your library.

Review by Mike Thomason

Released by Italian Shock DVD Entertainment
Classified 16 - Region 2 (PAL)
Running time - 91m
Ratio - Widescreen 2.35
Audio - Dolby digital mono
Extras :
Complete Musical soundtrack, Theatrical trailer, Stills gallery, Lucio Fulci filmography, Liner notes, 4pp insert booklet

2001, Icon In Black Media