Wednesday, 18 January 2012

ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS, BUT IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IT BY NOW, WHY THE HELL NOT?

Back in the early and mid 1980s, at the height of the video nasties hysteria, this genuinely spectacular Lucio Fulci zombie movie was one of the bigger titles. Admittedly it's below the notoriety of the Big Three (Cannibal Holocaust, Driller Killer and I Spit On Your Grave) but still a more significant title than the likes of Forest Of Fear or The Werewolf And The Yeti. I probably first discovered it around 1985 via a fourth-generation bootleg VHS (paired, I think, with Romero's masterpiece Dawn Of The Dead) and then renting the cut 18-certificate video version, but it wasn't until a Eurofest screening in December 1996 that I saw the complete film clearly, in a 35mm focussed print rather than through the smear of tape-to-tape copying and tracking hash. At the time you still couldn't get it legally in the UK and you had to make do with those precious VHS dupes or try and get an import tape through Customs.

The very idea that this harmless and silly, and obviously fantastical, piece of nonsense could ever be thought obscene, to the extent of being successfully prosecuted in the UK courts is a testament to the utter absurdity of the wanton idiocy of the video nasty farce. Any movie that has a sequence with an underwater zombie attacking a shark is so beyond the bounds of common sense that it can neither deprave nor corrupt, nor eroticise. (Indeed, the overwhelming sense is one of admiration because it looks phenomenally dangerous and physically uncomfortable.) When films are hacked about these days it's for contentious scenes of sexual violence, rather than the obviously faked splatter effects which no longer trouble the censor.

These days, it's just not a problem and you can get Zombie Flesh Eaters completely uncut with very little difficulty. Hell, LoveFilm even stream it! It's just a pity that it's really not one of the frankly barking Lucio Fulci's best splattery horror movies: it doesn't have the surreal, doom-drenched atmosphere of City Of The Living Dead or the warped dreamlike illogic of The Beyond. (I really need to see The House By The Cemetery again.) What it does have is a handful of show-stopping gore sequences, most notably the celebrated splinter-in-the-eyeball that was the main casualty when it hit UK cinemas more than 30 years ago. That the plot is nonsense almost doesn't matter: a deserted yacht arrives in New York, and a top reporter (Ian McCullough) and the boat owner's daughter (Tisa Farrow) trek down to the Antilles to find out what happened. Hitching a lift to the cursed island of Matoul with a holidaying couple, they discover a doctor (Richard Johnson) trying to stop the dead coming back to life....

Strange new disease or local voodoo rituals? It doesn't really matter: it's a dumb Italian zombie movie. But it looks fantastic: while the murk of video disguised the gore effects (perversely making them look better because you couldn't really see them properly), BluRay reveals them in pinsharp clarity and they still look pretty damn good. Some of the zombie make-up jobs are pretty unremarkable but the splatter moneyshots of the zombie kills are still impressive. Doesn't really save Zombie Flesh Eaters from being a very silly film - if you're trapped in a wooden building, the weapon of choice really shouldn't be the Molotov cocktail - but an entertaining one. Mention should also be made of the splendidly doomy and remorseless Giorgio Tucci and Fabio Frizzi theme music.

As trashy Italian gore movies go, Fulci's were among the best: not only did they deliver the gore but they were perfectly well made, albeit rough and ramshackle, and if nothing else, rewatching Zombie Flesh Eaters has pushed me in the direction of revisiting other European zombie flicks of the period. In addition to seeing Fulci's The House By The Cemetery again, I also want to find a copy of Zombie Holocaust, with the same star Ian McCullough on the same island, driving the same blue Land Rover and probably wearing the same shirt.

***

1 comment:

trioxin said...

Without a doubt this is my favourite (and by association therefore the best) zombie movie put to film. It's fantastic in every respect: memorable set pieces (shark vs zombie? greatest eye-gouge scene ever? Check!) awesome soundtrack by Fabio Frizzi, some fabulous gore and also (something that is surprisingly rare in zombie films) a superb scene of zombies rising from the grave (something that has only been beaten for quality by Hammers 'Plague of the Zombies')

I love everything about this movie, and will happily bare-knuckle-box anyone who disagrees with me that it is the greatest zombie film of all time.