Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Zombies of the Caribbean, or Thoughts on Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2

Zombi 2 (1979), is technically (at least in director Lucio Fulci’s mind) a sequel to George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead (1978) and was the director’s most ambitious zombie movie with the biggest budget and the clearest plot.  To be fair, I’ve only watched dubbed versions of his other films and may have missed critical, mistranslated plot elements, but even with its clumsy pseudo-American dialogue, Zombi 2 remains a confusing 80’s classic that pushed the boundaries of gore and helped bring about the modern horror movie.
The movie opens with an abandoned sailboat drifting into New York, with a now-sentimental view of the Twin Towers and the Manhattan skyline.  Harbor police investigate and hey, there’s a zombie aboard!  Said zombie gets shot and falls overboard, and the sailboat owner’s daughter teams up with a reporter to search for her missing father.  That search leads to a Caribbean island where a mad doctor has been investigating/experimenting on the zombie-fied locals.  The movie (I know, lost in translation) isn’t particularly clear on whether the doctor actually created these zombies, but the setting implies voodoo, and if movies and comic books have taught us one thing, it’s that voodoo is all about the traditional, supernatural zombie.
Zombi 2 is a giallo gore-fest, but the eyeball splinter scene stands out as almost Hitchcock-esque.  After watching Olga Karlatos as Paola, the doctor’s wife take a long shower, she’s attacked by a zombie who breaks through the door and manages to stab her in the eye before, presumably, eating her.  It’s a highlight of the film and featured in most of the VHS covers.  It’s interesting because the director punishes the audience for the voyeurism he created.  We watch movies, in particular this movie, with our eyes, and like Buinel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929, it was a sheep’s eye), we use our eyes to watch someone being horribly blinded.  It’s delightfully subversive, and stays with you for days,
However Ramón Bravo, Olympic swimmer, underwater photographer and shark wrangler as the uncredited underwater zombie is the real star of the movie, which features the first and to my knowledge, only zombie vs. shark scene shot underwater, with a real shark.  The scene has real tension as Ramón Bravo wrestles with the shark, rides him like he’s a friendly dolphin at a resort and even lets the shark bite off a fake arm.  I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that this scene also includes Auretta Gay, in scuba gear and g-string that would be considered skimpy even by modern standards, who first swims away from the shark and into the arms of the underwater zombie.  Now that’s a vacation story.

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