Release Date: 3 December 2012
2012 | 18 | 91 minutes | £19.99 (DVD)/£22.99 (Blu-ray)/£29.99 (Steelbook Blu-ray) Distributor: Arrow Video Director: Lucio Fulci Cast: Ian McCulloch, Tisa Farrow, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver
The camera lingers on a young woman as she strips off her shirt, dons scuba gear and dives into the ocean. Unfortunately, her carefree topless frolics are rudely interrupted by the arrival of a shark. Then a zombie appears and proceeds to wrestle the beast, helping itself to a meal of fresh seafood. Madness!
Naked ladies, sharks and the undead: three things that are the meat and drink of exploitation filmmakers, but only Italian director Lucio Fulci had the barefaced nerve to jam all three into one scene. It’s a sequence that typifies Zombie Flesh Eaters’ approach, particularly since it comes totally out of leftfield (how the hell did the zombie get there?), and afterwards is never mentioned again.
Although probably his most well-known film, thanks largely to that aquatic rumble and its inclusion, back in the early ‘80s, on the official list of “video nasties”, Zombie Flesh Eaters is not Lucio Fulci’s best work. ZFE has a stab at telling a conventional action-adventure, but logical storytelling was never Fulci’s strong point, and his films benefit when they’re able to take flight into surrealism, unfettered by such dreary concerns. For that reason, all three of his other zombie films (City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond and The House By The Cemetery) best it.
The story teams journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch, Survivors’ Greg Preston) with Anne (Tisa “sister of Mia” Farrow), a woman whose father has mysteriously disappeared. Together they voyage to a tiny Caribbean island to investigate; there they discover an outbreak of the undead.
Fulci’s approach to zombies weds the flesh-chomping George Romero breed with an earlier tradition, in a way that proves rather confusing. It’s repeatedly implied that the dead are rising from their graves due to voodoo, and early on we’re encouraged to believe that a shifty doctor might be the man responsible, but the exact cause remains frustratingly out of reach.
Along the way there are some (literally) eye-popping moments: in one infamous sequence, a woman has her face forced onto a jagged splinter of wood. Fulci has a thing for eyes; in another scene, a zombie conquistador rises from the earth, worms swarming where his right peeper should be – unlike Romero’s undead, these creatures really look like rotting corpses. The final shot, which sees zombies staggering across the Brooklyn Bridge, is equally iconic – if you can ignore the sight of drivers below calmly going about their everyday business…
Sadly, the connective tissue between Fulci’s lurid setpieces is often pretty rotten. The dialogue is pretty dire, some of the sets look very cheap, and Tisa Farrow is certainly no match for her famous sibling. While Zombie Flesh Eaters’ stand-out moments are so vivid that, when viewed through the fog of memory, it seems like a classic, closer examination reveals all manner of disappointing flaws. It’s a decent film, but the claims you hear increasingly often nowadays that it’s on a par with Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead are the kind of revisionism worthy of derision.
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