History of the Zombie Genre (Part 5: Zombie)

It goes without saying that people watch movies to be entertained… escapism and all of that business. When it comes to horror films, people have many individual reasons to like them. A lot of people like to be scared when they watch a movie, others just find them to be easy to digest in terms of cinema. As an adult, I don’t find a lot of horror movies scary anymore. When I was a kid, though, I was disturbed more times than I wanted to admit. These days I still can get freaked out by some pretty unassuming movies, but that is probably because of my over-active imagination.

There is always something I want to recapture as an adult when I watch these films, but it’s hard to put my finger on exactly what it is. Well, loyal readers, we can thank our trip through the history of the Zombie genre on a little self discovery. Today while we’re visiting the 1970’s, I’d like to stop by and say hello to Zombie.

I remember so vividly the first time I ever saw this film. I had been invited over to a friend’s house, who had in turn invited others over (one of those situations where every seat on the couch is full with a few people sitting on the floor). One of my chums owned a video store and always had something with her. To this day, I have no idea if it was planned to watch that movie the entire time or not, but they suggested we watch this movie called “Zombie”. I was down; I’m always down. I had no idea that that this movie would end up being my favourite zombie movie by a wide margin and is still one of my favourite films of all time.

Before I get too anecdotal, I’ll try to lay down some of those facts people are usually looking for. Zombie was released in 1979 in Italy under the title Zombi 2. Yes it’s a sequel. To what movie you ask? Well it’s a sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was just a sequel of Night of the Living Dead. Yeah, you heard me right; it’s a sequel to a sequel. A sequel that I might add has nothing to do with Romero’s “Dead” series. When Romero’s Dawn of the Dead hit Europe in 1978, it was edited and had the title changed to Zombie (don’t ask me why, I have no idea). So in 1979 an Italian made sequel called Zombi 2 was made. (Let’s not forget that fact that in the U.K. it’s called Zombie Flesh Eaters!)

The film was directed by Lucio Fulci who had a somewhat lackluster career up until this point, but that all changed when Zombi 2 hit the market and blew up. The film was well-received by audiences and made a ton of money, so it eventually was released in 1980 over in the west (with the new title of just Zombie).

Well what’s it about? Basically some harbour Patrol in New York City finds a drifting yacht with big fat zombie in it. After the zombie is killed, an investigation follows and it turns out the boat belongs to the father of a woman called Anne Bowel (Tisa Farrow). He left behind a note that says he was at the island of Matool that is cursed with a strange disease. Following this lead, the Bowels and a news reporter head to the island to investigate. They meet more characters along the way to fill out the cast and presto! You have zombies on a tropical island.

Now, everyone who knows this film knows that there are certain scenes that are nothing short of iconic. This is where everything ties together with watching Zombie with my with friends all those years ago. First, there is a zombie fighting a shark. No I’m not kidding, and it’s a real tiger shark. A man named Ramon Bravo was a shark trainer and Lucio had him dress up like a zombie and battle the creature under the water while they filmed. The zombie bites the shark the shark rips off the zombies arm. It’s truly an epic battle of legendary proportion. I will say this the first time my mind was officially blown. I had –never- seen anything close to that in a zombie movie. I remember one of my friends yelling “zombie shark” and the prospect of a shark being undead blew my mind further!

Another iconic scene is pretty nasty. A character named Paola (Olga Karlatos) experiences a slow and gruesome death where her eye is slowly run through with a broken sliver of wood. Honestly, her eyeball gets closer and closer and when the wood finally punctures it, I remember every one of my friends cringed and yelled “Oh man!”Such a great reaction.

The last thing I’ll mention, just as an aside, is the music.
There is something about the theme of this movie that I just love. The creepy synthesizer that builds and builds while the zombies start to march, whenever there was more zombies the music matches the intensity and when the music is at it’s height you’re fucked; they’re everywhere. I remember walking home from watching this and trying to desperately remember the theme because I thought it was so cool.

This movie is seriously all about being cool. It has a lot of great moments that were enhanced when I watched it with a large group of people. It really reminded me why we watch scary movies. It’s all about that moment that everyone can share together. When I first saw the zombie fight the shark, or the woman get her eye poked in, I had no idea I was witnessing some of the most iconic moments in a horror film; I just knew they were great. A lot of times I’ve heard people wonder “Oh god who’s idea was it to do that?” Or “Oh that’s sick, why would they do it?”

Maybe if I first saw this film by myself I wouldn’t have remembered it as much…or maybe wouldn’t have even liked it as much. In short, loyal readers, horror movies are best shared. Writers and directors of horror films (the good ones) try to recreate these moments that everyone can collectively say “Oh my god, I’ve never seen that before.” Those of us who get it, will get it, those of us who don’t, are excited for Transformers 3.

There’s one more stop on our look back at the history of the Zombie sub-genre. Stay tuned!

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