Lucio Fulci’s “Zombie”: Flesh-eating zombies turn an island paradise into a wasteland of terror

By on January 2, 2019

Lucio Fulci‘s 1979 smash hit classic Zombie — taglined: “When the earth spits out the dead… they will return to tear the flesh of the living” — features some of the horror genre’s most gut-wrenching graphic scenes, including a zombie slowly pulling a victim’s eye through a foot-long wooden splinter, and an unbelievably surreal underwater battle between a zombie and a real shark.

Zombie — one of the highest-grossing Italian horror films of all time– is now streaming in our Blue Underground collection on Night Flight Plus!

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Zombie opens with a pre-credit teaser during which “Dr. Menard” (Richard Johnson) fires a bullet into the head of a shroud-wrapped, still-moving dead body (“The boat can leave now,” he intones with serious gravitas, “tell the crew”).

After the credits, we see an abandoned pleasure cruiser named Morning Lady II drifting along in New York Harbor, just off Staten Island.

Harbor Patrol water cops board the yacht and discover that something very gruesome and bloody has taken place, right before a fat blood-soaked zombie attacks them.

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“Anne Bowles” (Tisa Farrow, Mia Farrow’s sister), the daughter of the yacht’s owner, teams up with an investigative newspaper reporter named “Peter West” (Ian McCulloch).

Together, they travel to St. Thomas, the gateway to the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean, where they hope to find out what happened to Anne’s father, “David Bowles,” a famous scientist.

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They convince a seafaring American couple — boat captain “Brian Hull” (Al Cliver) and his foxy girlfriend “Susan Barrett” (Auretta Gay) — to take them to Matoul, a fictional remote island in the Antilles.

After a sexy topless NSFW scuba diving scene — where we witness that aforementioned battle between a real nine-foot shark and the shark’s wrangler, dressed up to look like a zombie — the stunned quartet struggle to get their shark-damaged power cruiser to the island.

They soon meet Dr. Menard and his foxy nurse assistant (Stefania D’Amario), and learn that Matoul — the last place Anne had heard from her now confirmed-dead zombie father — is now infested with zombie cannibals.

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Menard tells them all about “the horrors that are destroying our island, transforming it into a wasteland of terror.”

“The natives say it’s something to do with voodoo,” our lab-coat wearing man of science says. “Some evil witch doctor creates these zombies. But I’m sure there’s a natural explanation and I’m determined to find it!”

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Menard loans the foursome his jeep so they can drive over to his house, where he hopes his wife “Paola” (the beautiful Olga Karlatos) is still out of harm and safe, but when the group arrive they find they’re too late.

Flesh-eating zombies are already snacking on her body (the mercilessly drawn-out extreme close-up splintering of Paola’s eye is one of Zombie‘s memorable gross-out scenes, along with a blood-gushing throat-ripping scene that you won’t believe).

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Packed to the shark gills with buckets of blood, guts and worm-wiggling putrescence, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie is one of the best zombie films ever made and its success completely re-directed the focus of Fulci’s directing career.

Read more about Zombie below.

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Lucio Fulci, taken on the same spot where he lensed an iconic scene in The Beyond (1981)

In the long tradition of Italian filmmakers copying box office hits from America and elsewhere, Lucio Fulci’s Zombie was actually produced — by Italian producers Ugo Tucci and Fabrizio De Angelis — in response to the worldwide success of George A. Romero‘s non-voodoo zombiefest Dawn of the Dead (1978).

We should also mention that Fulci’s Zombie was also likely inspired by the spate of cannibal-themed exploitation films in the 1970s, including 1972’s Man From Deep River (a.k.a. Sacrifice! and Deep River Savages), which is long considered to be the first “cannibal film.”

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Working on a very limited budget of just $500,000, Fulci skillfully lensed Zombie over a sixty-day production schedule on location in Santo Domingo (the capital of the Dominican Republic and one of the Caribbean’s oldest cities), in New York, and at Rome, Italy’s Elios R.P.A. Studios.

Zombie features lots of pottery-faced, worm-infested zombies — Giannetto De Rossi provides the gory corporeal make-up effects — who are often seen chomping on bloody human guts (which were actually sheep intestines).

Fulci allegedly hired homeless people and winos to portray the zombie extras, whom he lovingly called “walking flowerpots.”

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In Italy, Fulci slapped a sequel number “2” on this film, which is why many Italian filmgoers wrongly thought Zombie was a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (which was titled Zombi in Italy).

To confuse the issue even more, Zombie was released theatrically under a half-dozen other titles, including Gli Ultimi Zombi, Zombie Flesh Eaters (as it was known in England, where it was a “Video Nasty“), Island of the Living Dead, Island of the Flesh-Eaters, Zombie 2: The Dead Are Among Us, and Zombie Dawn of the Dead.

No matter which title it was given, Fulci’s Zombie became such a smash success that it was responsible for a slew of more cannibal-crazy zombie-themed rip-offs and homages.

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Fulci would direct several additional zombie flicks, including The Gates of Hell (1980), House by the Cemetery (1981), and The Beyond (1981, also known as Seven Doors of Death), the latter of which featured ghosts, demons and murdered parents who become zombies.

Fulci also directed a belated sequel to Zombie/Zombi 2 in 1988, called Zombie 3, although it actually had nothing to do with this film.

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Watch Zombie — remastered by Blue Underground from its original camera negative — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Andy Dunn

    I finally got a chance to see this about 10 years ago and even though I knew the scene with the wooden splinter was coming, I still couldn’t watch that scene!