Rising from the grave once again for a stunning new high definition restoration courtesy of Arrow Video, Italian director Lucio Fulci’s 1979 spaghetti horror classic Zombie Flesh Eaters (Zombi 2) may finally get some time in the goresploitation sun after spending so many decades in the Romero-cast shade. Offering a potent, heady cocktail of blood, guts and voodoo folklore, Fulci’s finest foray into the land of the undead (discounting his other great work, 1981’s The Beyond) revels in both its oblique mysticism and giallo-style eroticism, leaving social satire to those more capable – or interested.
As a seemingly abandoned yacht drifts into New York Harbour, an unsuspecting coastguard patrol stumble upon a horrifying discovery locked in the boat’s hold. Catching wind of the subsequent bloody episode, newshound Peter West (Ian McCulloch) traces the origin of the vessel back to the tropical island of Matool. Teaming up with Anna (Tisa Farrow) – the daughter of the boat’s owner, now worried about her father’s fate – Peter and his glamorous companion hitch a fortuitous lift to the island from a holidaying American couple. What they discover once on dry land, however, could spell the end not only for themselves, but for the human race.
It’s no coincidence that Fulci’s flesh-eating fiesta has cultivated such a passionate cult following since its initial release. From zombie vs. tiger shark showdowns to an infamous, Un Chien Andalou-riffing scene involving a young lady’s eyeball and a splintered shard of wood, gorehounds across the globe have found themselves simultaneously disgusted and entertained by Zombi 2. Yet beneath the video nasty hysteria lies a horror of substantial craft and skill. Its iconic synth theme is on a par with the work of Goblin, whilst its rich cinematography makes the very most of the film’s luscious locales.
Performances, as you would expect, range from the pleasingly camp to the downright hammy. Richard Johnson is eternally watchable as blood-stained Matool scientist Dr. David Menard, whilst McCulloch (who provides a succinct introduction the restored version of film as one of numerous extra features) is suitably slimy yet likeable as harmless hack Peter. As with the majority of Fulci’s films, the female characters are largely reduced to screaming zombie fodder, though Farrow’s Anna has the gumption to stay on her feet in the face of the undead horde.
Lacking (or rather omitting) the politically-tinged, biting satire of George A. Romero’s …of the Dead cycle, whilst at the same time wallowing in the flared trousers, skimpy bathing suits and bright red viscera of 1970s exploitation cinema, Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters does perhaps just miss that timeless quality of the aforementioned series. Yet, as a product of such a distinct period in filmmaking history, the Italian movie maestro’s mulchy, maggot-infested nightmare is a landmark text.
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