I've heard about this one for years, having been given a hoodie with the famous worm-eye zombie on it from the man who released Metallica's first album(a weird tale for another time). What I got was a wonderful goulash of ingredients with a fairly weird history.
I invoked Asylum films before, the mockbuster company made rich by making the movies you accidentally grabbed at the video store when you weren't paying attention. Their catalog included titles such as I am Omega, Transmorphers, and Alien Versus Hunter.
Zombi 2 has a similar history involving a cinematic cash grab. Dawn of the Dead was reworked by giallo legend Dario Argento as Zombi for release in Italy. To cash in on Zombi's success, this movie was released as Zombi 2, with extra scenes cut to make it look like a prequel to the Romero movie.
Our ghoulish plot begins...
..and immediately annouces, "Yes, someone's gonna get crap shoved in their eye."
After a shadowed man shoots a tied-up zombie, we're treated to a nicely suspenseful scene of a sail boat wandering into New York Harbor, drifting like the Demeter from Dracula, only with more synth pop. The boat's nearly clipped by the Staten Island Ferry, making me wonder if Fulci arranged that with the city first or just scared the bejeezus out of some poor ferryboat driver.
So far, the movie was already winning me over. I love 80's synth horror music, having spent years using Dario Argento soundtracks in my tabletop RPG games. This film's score feels properly like Goblin, and the more you invoke Argento's Phenomenon, the more on board I am.
Speaking of on board, the harbor patrol boards the boat...
...finds signs of some past horror, including some creepy crawlies who refuse to play chopsticks...
...and some zombies. One of them gets on deck and looks yearningly at the skyline, realizing that if he make it here, he can make it anywhere, before the poor member of the flesh-eating, maggot-infested huddled masses yearning to be free is shot and falls overboard.
He never reppears in the movie, although later developments clearly show that he's not gone. Fun fact: the actor spent his break that day going to a punk rock bar in full zombie make-up and didn't even draw a comment.
Fast forward to the inevitable investigation. The daughter of the sailboat owner...
...teams up with a reporter dubbed by someone who sounds like the exposition protagonist in every 70's Godzilla film. Here's a fun Zombi 2 game: figure out who's actually speaking English, who's dubbed over with English, and who's speaking English and still dubbed. They break onto the boat to gather clues, drawing police attention. Fortunately, they pretend to just be getting nookie and avoid arrest.
Have I mentioned yet that I loved this film?
The clues lead them to search for a remote island. Two friendly tourists offer to take them on a three hour tour, so our heroes team up with Beardo the viking and Nipple-Woman.
Seriously, I did a double-take at her, as throughout the scene her mammaries stand at attention more than Captain America at a Fourth of July parade. I mean, you'd think she'd throw on a jacket if strangers sudden walked up to her in that state. Considering her shirt is wet, I wonder if Fulci threw ice water on her just before the camera rolled in order to get that particular effect. Shrugging, I moved on, not realizing that the movie was just lulling me into a false sense of security; this was just the tip of exhibitionist iceberg.
For you see, she likes to scuba dive topless.
Don't you think William Marshall as Blacula adds a little touch of class to everything?
Seriously though, I went coral snorkeling on my honeymoon and that would've been terrifying naked. Those damn things are sharp! I can't fathom the idea of waving your soft, wobbly bits at all the knife rocks, bitey fish, and crawling clawed things. I may be misinformed, dear readers. Is topless scuba a thing?
Of course, all of this gratuitous nudity is a set up for one of the most beautiful scenes in cinema history: SHARK VERSUS ZOMBIE.
Nipplor the Diver (a He-Man figure if ever I heard one) soon gets chased by a shark into even bigger trouble. In proper World War Z style, there's a dead guy just hanging around on the sea bottom. She successful fends him off by waving flimsy coral in his face.
Soon, the shark and zombie begin to fight over the diver's exposed flesh. This is a situation a wetsuit would've clearly been useful for.
The zombie challenges the shark to a dance off, but the shark is clearly having none of it. We are thus supremely fortunate in being able to view a diver in zombie make-up fighting a stoned shark that's been shoved full of Quaaludes.
Seriously, he looks so high that these two should be making a White Castle run rather then fighting. The zombie grapples and bites the shark, making you realize HOLY CRAP THAT GUY IS REALLY PUTTING HIS MOUTH ON A SHARK.
And the shark, clearly not wanting the zombie to hash his buzz, grabs some munchies before he leaves. Fulci apparently hated the entire fight, but it's existence enriches us all.
Nipplor learns no lessons from this, as she later accompanies Beardo into the water to check and repair the boat while completely naked. Seriously, girl, at least he wears swim trunks to check on a propeller! What I wouldn't give to have seen what the actress' facial expressions were upon first reading the script.
Our castaways continue onto the mysterious island, where they meet an angry doctor who has the worst survival instincts of anyone on a zombie choked island, ever.
Apparently the best behavior during an undead apocalypse is to keep calm and waste away in Margaritaville. His wife rationally wants to get the Fulci off the island, not giving a damn for his lost shaker of salt. Unfortunately, she only lives long enough to provide the film with two things. First is, hands-down, the most meticulously crafted exploitation shot I've ever seen in a film. I cannot imagine what it was like for the poor woman to stand there while the cameraman adjusted his angles.
Literally every part of her body is exposed at once. One actress, seven Blaculas. I doubt this blog will ever hit a higher woman-to-Blacula ratio again.
Gaze upon it, dear readers. This is the goddamn Mona Lisa of nude shots. Fulci was not satisfied by a single shot of a naked woman; he had have it all simultaneously, an artistic accomplishment for the grind house of the ages.
To capture this nugget of cinematic gold, I went through 23 screenshot files. My wife looked over with concerned curiosity as I kept rewinding the scene and jamming the Print Scr button like a video game quick time event. I assured her, it was all for literary criticism.
I was, while getting screenshots, also spray cleaning a giant pink baby toy and listening to a podcast on the Russian Revolution. If someone had filmed me doing this and showed this in a film class, cinema students would spend decades have written whole treatises on the deep underlying meanings of the scene.
The second thing she provides is the lovingly shot eye destruction scene that is the hallmark of Fulci's technique. Shortly after, we're treated to a rip-roaring traditional zombie apocalypse. I will only of the later scenes say that the movie makes Molotov cocktails look surprisingly ineffective at setting anything on fire.
In the end, this is a fun gore movie with a good build-up and great atmospheric music. Don't expert deep characters: each person is defined by their simple motivation, with no other personality traits left to plumb. Still, I was smiling through most of it at the alternating levels of cinematography and audacity.
All in all, I give Zombie 2 four out of five plastic gargoyles.
It's not a bad way to spend 91 minutes, but watch out: the versions that float around Youtube are usually missing scenes.
I'm indebted to Ross Payton of "Zombies of the World" for his entry on the Italian Zombie, which makes so much more hilarious sense now. Shout-out also goes to the Horror Honeys, who's Jaws 3-D live-tweet and subsequent Aquaman vs. Jaws conversation reminded me of the famous shark scene.