A look back at Lucio Fulci's deranged horror film 'Zombie' with one of the great all-time genre images
Welcome to The Motion/Captured Must-See Project.
When I started this last year, I didn't have a set publication schedule. It was only this year that I decided that it should run every Thursday. I don't have a set agenda for what's going to get covered when, and it's not organized by any chronlogy or theme. That makes it hard to figure out what to publish, and so for the first 26 entries on the list, I decided to go from A-Z, picking one film for each letter. When I started, I wasn't even sure what the 26 titles would be, with one exception.
I always knew that I'd be writing about Lucio Fulci when I got to that last letter.
It would have been easy to pick the Costa-Gravas film "Z" for this entry, and at some point, we'll loop back around to talk about it, but one of the points of my list is that the true essentials, the films that have shaped me, are made up of equal parts high and low art. Film snobs creep me out just as much as fanboys in their extremism. I think one of the things that is glorious about cinema is how it encompasses everything.
Lucio Fulci, like many Italian genre filmmakers, tried his hand at a number of filmic styles over the course of his career, including spaghetti westerns, giallo thrillers, and gangster films. Today, though, he’s probably best known for his gore films like "House By The Cemetary," "Gates Of Hell," "The Beyond," and, of course, 1979's "Zombi 2," which was released in America as "Zombie." It's the film that made his reputation. Personally, I think his best film is "The Psychic," which is also worth discussion at some point, but for now, let's look at the version of "Zombie" that Blue Underground released on DVD a few years back.
Many people label this film a knock-off of George Romero’s "of the Dead" series, but that’s really not fair. This has more in common with the traditional voodoo origin of zombies than with Romero’s world. There are some great ideas here, and even if the film is marred by a number of lousy performances in pretty much every major role (including wooden work by Tisa Farrow, Mia’s look-alike sister), horror fans will appreciate...
... aw, hell, I’m working really hard to sound serious about this, when all I really want to say is ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK!
If you've seen the film, you know what I mean, and if you haven't, check out that image at the head of the article. Lucio Fulci took some dude in zombie make-up, stuck him underwater, and then had him wrestle an actual shark. It's one of the most insane images I've ever seen in a film, and it's just a practical gag. In this age of CGI, when you can find a way to create anything you want on film, it's worth remembering that for many filmmakers, it was never an option to cheat. If they wanted to put an image on film, they had to somehow make that thing happen in front of a camera, and the results can sometimes work so well that it almost doesn't matter what else happens in a film.
Case in point, this movie has some other smart and nasty set pieces. There are some great scenes in New York onboard a boat that make the most of a brief location shoot, and there’s some gnarly gore on the island that serves as the setting for most of the movie, and there’s even a bit of nudity that feels like a calculated game of one-upsmanship in response to Jaqueline Bisset’s iconic appearance in THE DEEP. But above and beyond any of that... ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK! ZOMBIE VERSUS SHARK!
That's the textbook definition of a must-see where I come from.
Next week, we're going to finally drop the alphabetical thing which means I can go anywhere I want with the column. I'm not sure where we're going to start, and I have no idea how long this column will continue, but what I want to state plainly is that each and every Thursday (unless we're postponed by on-site festival coverage or Comic-Con), I'm going to bring you a piece about one of the many films that I consider vital steps in my own film education, a process that continues each and every day.
Thanks for hanging with it so far, and here's hoping we've got a lot more to talk about in the future.
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