There Was A Man Down There!: Zombie (1979)

Certain blog posts about films beg questions as to the larger meaning of life, or the nature of good versus evil as shown in societies most basic engagements.  At times films flail to answer these questions and in other situations they deliver such an assertive voice on an issue as to become a significant moment in cinema, as well as a work of art that proves important well beyond its inception, as is the case with something like 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Zombie, the gore-fest horror film by Italian director Lucio Fulci, ask questions as well, or more appropriately causes those who view it in all its shlock-filled glory to inquire about the various oddities and curiosities which unfold throughout the film.  For example, who in their right mind only goes swimming in a thong, but feels it absolutely necessary to wear a gaudy swim cap in the process.  Or, how one could find themselves in such a situation as to allow a slow zombie the chance to catch up with them, push only their hand through the room and then drag their eye into an exposed piece of wood.  Hell, it even posits a possible world where people feel so incapable of stifling their sexual desires that they consider having sex in the middle of a zombie infested forest, only to be genuinely surprised by their being attacked.  In all these ways, perhaps Zombie really does transcend its restraints of traditional gore cinema and become a focused look at human nature on par with the great works of the auteurs, who knows, because between the terrible, and I have seen enough to know this is particularly bad, voice dubbing and video transferred blurriness. Yet, Zombie, as a work that does, for all intents and purposes, exist in its own cinematic space manages to move through cult cinema circuits, word-of-mouth and devoted cinephiles with the same adoration given to the works of Kubrick or Welles.

Zombie, is of course about zombies, but that does not mean that Fulci does not approach the narrative without earnestness.  Indeed, the film begins pseudo-in media res, with a beginning shot of a shadowy figure shooting a body moving about that is bound and blanketed in a white sheet, before nothing it is now feasible to leave the island.  The film then opens with an abandoned yacht floating into the harbor of New York, wherein two unsuspecting cops are attacked by a zombie creature, only to shoot it into the depths of the city's harbor.  The cops confused by the events question Anna Bowles (Tisa Farrow) who is the owner of the yacht, only to discover that she was engaged in an elicit affair, leading to the secrecy behind the yacht's appearance.  Anna explains that the attacks are likely attached to the work her father does on a tropical island, leading to her and reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch) being sent to ascertain exactly what is occurring and what exactly is happening to the diseased attacking bodies.  Given their trouble traveling the duo gain the help of boating experts and semi-professional nudists Bryan Curt (Al Cliver) and Susan Barrett (Aurretta Gay).  Upon arrival at an uncharted island known as Matool, the group meets up with Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson) who explains that the island is particularly subject to a disease that causes all those who die in its spaces to rise from the dead with an uncontrollable desire for human flesh and despite the dangers clear with such a disease, he insists on staying to continue research.  This continual occupation in the space of the island leads to the various members of the group being attacked, whether it be Dr. Menard's wife being attacked post-shower by a decidedly voyeuristic zombie, or the previously mentioned attacks on the couple having sex.  Eventually, the only survivors of the vicious onslaught are Peter and Anne, who bring along the zombie corpse of Bryan as evidence, yet when they get close to New York they discover via radio transmission that the city, and presumably much of The United States is under the spell of the disease.

Zombie is not made to be taken too seriously, although it is clear that Fulci has some semblance of a social critique at play, one no less on the nose than any other zombie film of the time, particularly the work of George A. Romero, from which, this film heavily and unapologetically borrows.  Indeed, its proper Italian title is Zombi 2, as Zombi represents the Italian name for Romero's wildly successful Dawn of the Dead, a personal favorite of mine in the genre.   I say all this to suggest that the metaphors in this film, much like their predecessor are intended to be on the nose, precisely because a zombie film affords an othering, wherein all characters are aware of the evilness they are versing, thus making any sense of previous social divide moot.  Take for example the race and gender elements of Romero's original film Night of the Living Dead and how they are briefly acknowledged and immediately transcended in favor of focusing on the push for survival and the irrelevance of all previously constructed notions of society.  Indeed, Fulci is aware of this commentary and by setting his film on a remote island only furthers the detachment of the film's narrative from such institutionalized structures, therefore affording a degree of subversion to bodily depictions in the film.  However, Fulci also seems to be bending the genre, albeit, unintentionally by heavily relying on elements of the exploitative for his film, the wild use of gore, at time really jarring and at other moments so artificial as to be humorous manages to work on an almost, dare I say, Brechtian level, both drawing the viewers into the films intensity while also chastising and alienating them for taking any joy, even if purely visceral, in such excess and faux social critique.  Zombie wants its viewers to be unsettled by not only the infestations and body horror of the film, but by the fact that it is indeed being paralleled to a society that is equally disconcerting when placed under a microscope, showing that the same worms that spills out of the eyes of the various zombies, manifest themselves metaphorically through capitalist and scientific endeavors in the Western world.  Furthermore, should you think this all implausible, Fulci's closing scenes drive this home with great zeal.

Key Scene:  Shark versus Zombe.

This DVD is surprisingly cheap for its cult like status, but I am aware it might not work for everyone, therefore, renting might be an ideal course of action.

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