Zombie Flesh Eaters

Year: 1979
Production Co: Variety Film Production
Director: Lucio Fulci
Writer: Elisa Briganti

The first time I saw this film was long before the Tarantino era when anything with over the top bloodshed, fights, kung fu, bad dubbing or Italian horror was cool. It was on the bottom shelf of the horror section in a crumbling cover that had spent too long in the sun. The slick was faded and the videotape took the originally shonky production a new level of low quality after sitting unused for probably more than a decade.

Coincidentally I worked at that same video shop probably 20 years later, and when I watched it again while working there, I'd be willing to bet nobody else had ever hired it since my cousin, brother and I when we were eight and ten years old.

One of the crowning glories of the Fulci/Argento cinematic style, it's as delightfully schlocky and camp as the best of them. It not only put Fulci on the spaghetti horror map, but was so inspired by Romero's work it was presented as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead even though the two share no connection.

An apparently unmanned boat floats into New York harbour. The cops board it and are attacked by a crazed lunatic who kills and starts eating one of them before they plug the psycho and he tips overboard.

A New York reporter and some eye candy chick are sent to a Caribbean island to follow up the story. They hook up with a pair of holidaymakers and the 70s styled foursome make their way to the mysterious island the boat came from.

Once there they meet the besieged doctor whose experiments have caused the dead to come back to life and stalk the living to eat their flesh. Quickly finding themselves trapped there, it turns into a battle for survival few of them live through.

The best part is the final payoff – whether it's because of the guy who fell into harbour in the beginning or not, the heroes returning to New York discover when they tune into the radio band to call for help that zombies have overtaken the civilised world in their absence. It's a clever device to make you imagine the undead slowly spreading across America while we've been concerned with their little plight on a tiny island.

Oddly, the blood and gore aren't the most effective shots of the movie. What I found scariest of all was the windswept townships with the shuffling figures of the undead making their way through as tumbleweeds and newspapers blow past. It's a world away from the tropical idyll you normally associate with a Caribbean island.

Aside from one or two clever touches in story and cinematography, the achievement here is more about cementing a genre than being a fantastic movie in itself.

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