This is also known as Zombi 2 in Italy and called Zombie in the US. This one of the earliest films I saw on VHS and it really was a sign of what was ahead as all sorts of films featuring graphic gore hit the shelves in the thousands of video rental places that sprung up in the early 80s. Since I wasn’t 18 yet the graphic gore and gratuitous nudity of films like Zombie Flesheaters was something I hadn’t had a chance to see before. I was disgusted, I was excited. I couldn’t get a better introduction to exploitation horror than this film from Italian Director Lucio Fulci who created many of the exploitation films I watched in those times before the Thatcher government caught up and over-reacted to the a wave of moral panic whipped up by the media about what they called video nasties. This was an era that ushered in a whole new attitude in horror and for better or worse the genre would never be the same
A doctor shoots a corpse in the head then sends a yacht away. The yacht is found later adrift in New York harbour and no-one is responding radio calls from the coast guard. Two members of the coastguard board the yacht to see what’s happening and they don’t find anyone one the boat. Suddenly a large zombie appears from inside the boat and he rips out the throat of one of the men, killing him. The second fires several rounds into the zombie and it falls into the water.
The police find out who owns the yacht and they bring his daughter Anna Bowles (Tisa Farrow) down to the boat to see if she knows what happened to her father or where the boat was before it came to New York. All Anna knows is that he went the Antilles to stay with a friend. This isn’t much help to the police but Anna is very worried. That night she sneaks back on the yacht and discovers someone else has snuck on board too, a reporter called Peter West (Ian McCulloch). West also wants to know what happened to Anna’s father. He has found letter on the yacht addressed to her from her father. He writes that he was helping a Dr Menard on the island of Matul who is trying to figure out the cause of a terrible disease that has hit the island and now he has become sick too and fears he will die soon.
Anna wants to go to Matul to find out what happened to her father and West’s newspaper agrees to send him with her. They fly to an island called St Thomas in the Virgin Islands and try to hire a boat to take them to Matul. A local cab driver tells them locals won’t go near the place because it’s cursed but there an American couple called Brian Hull (Al Cliver) and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay) with a boat that are on an island hopping holiday and they agree to take them.
On Matul Dr Menard (Richard Johnson) has lost another patient to the plague and has the body removed to the chapel. He goes home and tries to raise Guadeloupe on the radio but he can’t get response. Menard’s wife Paola (Olga Karlatos) is very unhappy to hear that they are cut off from any hope of rescue. The zombie plague is isolated to opposite side of island for now but she fears it could spread and just wants to leave. Before he return to the hospital Menard tells his gardener Miguel to guard the house and keep an eye for anyone going near it.
On the boat Brian and Co. are having trouble finding Matul which is apparently uncharted. Susan wants to go diving so Brian drops anchor and she puts on her scuba gear and a tiny pair of panties and West makes sure he cops an eyeful before she dives in topless. She spends some time photographing the wildlife when a small shark approaches. She manages to hide and get to surface but it’s coming for her so she goes underwater to hide in the coral. Then a hand grabs her from behind and she turns to see a zombie. It attacks her but she breaks off some branches of coral and rubs into the zombie’s face making it let go so she can escape. Now she is stuck between the zombie and the shark, both wanting to eat her. Fortunately the two fight each other giving her the chance to get to surface and onto the boat. The shark and the zombie manage to take a chunk out of each other before giving up. This scene has really fantastic underwater photography as well giving us a classic zombie vs shark fight. It makes me wonder what happened to the shark. Is there a zombie shark wandering the oceans now? And did anyone ever make film about it? I also love the idea of underwater zombie wandering around on the bottom of the sea and this idea has been used in a few other films since.
On Matul Menard has been putting bullet through head of the dead patient. There is constant sound of the drums of voodoo rituals from inland. The hospital orderly Lucas tells Menard that the locals have run away inland out of fear of the zombies and the village is nearly empty. Back at the house Paola is having a shower and Miguel is sitting outside when he hears a noise and goes to investigate and is never seen or heard from again. Meanwhile we get a zombie POV shot as it looks at Paola through the window. Paola finishes in the shower and hears a noise outside. A zombie starts trying to come in the door but she forces the door closed chopping off several of the zombie’s fingers. The zombie starts hammering on the door so Paola pushes a large lump of furniture against the door but she gets too close and the zombie smashes its arm through the door and grabs her head. As she gets pulled through the door a large splinter of wood goes right into her eye in graphic close-up detail. It’s an effect that still makes me cringe as I watch it.
Eventually the boat gets to Matul, but it was damaged by the shark and it needs a boatyard to get it fixed. Brian fires off flares which are spotted by Lucas who tells Menard. Menard picks up the four of them a drives them to the hospital. While driving Menard tells them about to Anna’s father. At the hospital Lucas tells Menard another patient is growing sicker so Menard asks them to go on to his house to check on his wife while he takes care of his patient. The patient called Felix tells him that he got bitten by zombie in the village and the plague has spread.
At Menard’s house they find Paola’s body being picked apart and eaten by a bunch of zombies. The zombies spot them and come after them but they manage to fight their way out and back into Menard’s truck They speed away heading back to the hospital but the truck goes off the road after it hits a zombie and this wrecks the radiator. It also wrecks West’s ankle. They have no choice but to walk back to the hospital. They stop to give West a rest and Susan and Brian have a look around. They find out they are in a conquistador graveyard. Hands grab at Anna and West from beneath the ground and Brian runs back to help them. Susan watches a zombie emerge right from the grave in front of her then it lunges at her and bites a big chunk out of her throat. Brian, Anna, West return to find her dead. Brian is in shock but Wests insists they have to keep going.
Back at the hospital all the patients are dead and Menard is still no closer to a cause than when it started. He asks Lucas if it really is Voodoo and Lucas say “When the Earth spits out the dead they will feed on the blood of the living.” Brian, Anna and West get to the hospital with zombies right on their tail. Once inside everyone gets ready to defend the place with shovels, petrol bombs and guns. In the battle Menard, Lucas and the nurse all get killed and Brian, Anna, and West burn as many as they can with petrol bombs then get out of the place. They are heading for the boat when Brian sees Susan coming towards him but of course she’s a zombie and she bites him.
Brian, Anna and West get to the boat and leave. Brian is getting sicker and eventually he dies so they lock him up below decks then try the radio They hear that New York is being overrun by zombies but traffic is running normally on the large bridge that the zombies are crossing.
Watching this nowadays it has many flaws. The dubbing is often terrible as is some of the acting and the pacing drags a bit in the middle. On the plus side the gore is great and the make-up on the zombies is just horribly brilliant. I’ve hear this is coming out on Bluray in November so if you haven’t seen it yet now’s your chance but beware if you have a weak stomach an soft squishy eyeballs.
- Rotten Tomatoes