harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

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Movie Reviewed: Zombi/Zombie (1979) ... (part I of III; I talk a lot)



Starring: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson & Al Cliver
DIR: Lucio Fulci

Blurb (imdb): Strangers searching for a young woman's missing father arrive at a tropical island where a doctor desperately seeks the cause and cure of a recent epidemic of the undead.

My blurb: Considering the subject matter, we're likely to get gore in some screen caps. It won't include the most infamous, as you should see that for yourself in living, moving color.

Scene 01: We open on the sounds of voodoo drums in the background as our blurry vision takes in an arm. This arm swings a pistol slowly into our face (RUDE).

We quickly see that the arm was not aiming at us, and when we move, we can see somebody sit up in a small bed. Whoever it is has been wrapped in a bedsheet, so we can't see if it's man or woman.

We focus on the gun again as the hand holding the gun pulls the trigger. Our unfortunate in the bed gets a shot through the forehead. We get a closeup.

We finally pull out to reveal that the arm with the hand that was holding the gun belongs to a man. But he's in shadow.

He says to somebody offscreen that the boat can leave now & to tell the crew.

Commentary: This is a very strong start to the film, and I liked it a lot. It had only the ambient sounds around this grim business... no music tract, but the in-movie drumbeats. In addition, the theme starts off after this opening shot, and it is weirdly unnerving in its opening, synthesizer scaling tone. But even after that, I find myself liking the theme.

I really like watching this one, but I'll try to temper my enthusiasm so I can comment on the flaws. And there is a few big ones, to be fair.


Scene 02: We abruptly cut from our simple white credits over black screen to a boat sailing in the ocean off New York. Well, really the boat is more of a pleasure yacht equipped with full sails.

Scenes of the deck leave us feeling that there may be nobody on board directing it. It's not hard to think that this was the boat that had left wherever we started.

A Staten Island ferry crossing the channel honks out a warning call to the ship, but we see no one respond on deck. A chopper circles above the sailing ship, and calls into Police HQ about the hazard it's presenting to channel traffic.

Scene 03: We pan across the George Washington Bridge [it was very important that this Italian horror take place in NY and darn it, you're going to get the proof] to see a police launch racing over the New York Harbor toward the wandering ship.

The chopper reports into HQ that the harbor patrol is pulling up alongside the sailing vessel.

The police call out to anyone onboard, but there is no response from the Morning Lady II, reinforcing that she's a ghost ship.

The patrol pulls up alongside, with the pilot holding her steady so that two of our patrolmen can board her. There remains no sign of life aboard.

Scene 04: Aboard the Morning Lady II, they find the cabin deserted. Plates of food left on the table has drawn flies.

As one of our officers takes over lowering the sails, our junior member goes below to look around for any signs of what happened.

Junior cop fights the stink of the rotted food. He flips off a sheet that had been haphazardly covering a sofa, only to find that a dismembered hand was caught up in its folds. It has what appears to be several bite marks and skin scraped from the fingers down to the bone.

As he's trying to deal with that revelation, a sudden burst of noise reveals a groaning, wheezing man busting through a door leading to the engine compartment. The man is... well, let's not beat around the bush - clearly this is a zombie. Before our officer can react, he's tackled. He tries to push the "man" off of him, but finds dead skin tearing off in his hand.

Scene 05: Above deck, his partner hears his yell.

Back below, officer yells as the side of his throat is torn out, leaving a torrent of blood rushing him to his death.

Partner goes to join junior officer, but is stopped when he sees a big, ol' dude slowly climbing up from the cabin below. He pulls his gun and warns the stranger to stop. That doesn't actually work.

Partner warns the slowly walking man with the face full of junior officer's blood to either freeze, or he's going to get shot. This warning also fails. Partner is backed against the final railing before he flips overboard. Partner gives the obstinate man 6 shots to the torso, which sends him overboard.

We get a shot of NY, and ominous music [Probably specifically because this movie was inspired by Dawn of the Dead, by Romero... and Argento in the Italian cut. I can easily see Fulci assuming that everybody is telling this cop that he should've aimed for the head, and assuming that the audience would assume we'd be seeing Big ol' Dude again].

Commentary: I liked this entire sequence. From the foreboding, extended shots of the lifeless ghost ship, to the sudden burst from the attacking Man Mountain, to the implication shot that NY is in serious danger. Fulci does an excellent job of holding interest, even though the "check out the cabin" scene goes too long to give the actor much to do. It's too small a space for the amount of time he's down there prior to the attack.

I also loved that this was shot on location, as New York looks imposing and impressive. If I'm not mistaken, this was all filmed without any permits... so backpat to the production crew. I'm fully onboard with guerilla filming [as long as you're not blocking up traffic, or setting off explosives in the middle of the night]. {sigh... 'Oh - hi, Twin Towers'....}

Scene 06: In the city, we join a busy newsroom of one of the local papers. In an office, the editor in chief is talking to somebody on the phone, apparently getting a heads up that there was a derelict drifting off Staten Island, and a cop is dead.

The chief summons Peter from chatting up a fellow reporter to assign the sailboat mystery to him.

[Yes, I like Ian a lot. His male pattern baldness doesn't change that. I wanted to make him my movie boyfriend, but Al Cliver pushes all of my right buttons, so I can't. Sorry Pete... I know it's a real disappointment.]

The Chief jokes with him to keep his Britishisms out of his prose. It's also mentioned that Peter's uncle had bought the paper (apparently to explain why a Brit is working for a New York paper -- but it doesn't actually affect anything, so it wasn't needed). [Our News Editor is our director... fun fact.]

Scene 07: At the police dock, there is activity aboard as the men collect their evidence and photographs.

The notoriety of the ship has spread, already leading to some more officers having to keep the crowd out of the dockyards.

Scene 08: Back aboard, near the tape outline of the fallen officer, Anne Bowles stands with a frightened look on her face. A voice behind us tells her that they're waiting.

She confirms that this is her father's boat, but that she doesn't know where he is... explaining why she's so nervous. She tells the investigators [Lucio -- cops wouldn't allow her onboard, when they're still gathering evidence on deck...] that she hadn't received any communications from her father in a month, and hadn't spoken to him in three. She tells him that he had sailed to the Antilles with friends.

Anne asks after what happened to her father, and a detective inappropriately-suspiciously tells her that's just what they want to know [Voice-actor, relax. This isn't your Oscar moment]. We leave Anne feeling like she's being accused of something related to a killer being onboard her missing father's yacht.

Commentary: Yeah, I don't like this scene. It's awkwardly filmed and acted, it's taking place in a wrong location and it adds no actual information we need - other than her father was probably somebody on the island we opened on. Which we could've guessed ourselves, and is repeated later, anyway. It's a pointless scene. And I'm afraid we still have to get through the cute-meet between Peter and Anne... which eats up time that could've been spent getting Anne on the trail of her father.

None of this is bad, really, but moving Peter and Anne onto getting to the isolated island where bad shit is happening does take too long.

Scene 09: We cut to the New York Medical Examiner's Office.

Inside an exam room, the chief coroner and his assistant/intern get ready to work on a body. Coroner complains about the rush being put on them to complete this exam from the police department. Chief Examiner has his intern tell him what he's noticed about their decedent's cause of death. Our body is the harbor patrolman.

Intern guesses that he exsanguinated due to a slashed throat [SAY, WHAT?? No wonder Examiner gives him shit]. The Examiner shakes his head and points out the marks around the wound, guessing it is some type of biting wound. [And even if you don't notice teeth indentations around the edge of the wounds, his throat was very clearly not "slashed".] He asks Intern for a scalpal, but then shakes his head again when he finds himself handed a dull edge. He tells the Intern that if he's going to be a surgeon of any sort, he'll have to keep his scalpals sharpened.

Unnoticed, patrolman's hand starts moving under the sheet [or, um, he's giving himself a slow tug under there].

Scene 10: Later that night, the watchman at the dock is standing around at his patrol car, being bored and listening to the radio.

This allows Anne to sneak back aboard her father's boat, looking for some clue as to what may have happened to him.

She chose to sneak aboard in a bright, white skirt that practically glows in the moonlight. Once aboard, she stands in the dark, staring down at the tape outline and bits of smeared blood on the floor. She then starts going through papers that were somehow left onboard by the police. Anne climbs down a short flight of steps from the dining cabin to, presumably, the sleeping quarters.

She's suddenly grabbed by someone else aboard the ship, with a large hand covering her mouth!

Commentary: I know it's a little thing, but I really liked the way that the dead cop has continually been referenced. Unlike in more modern horror, a character isn't forgotten as soon as they've been moved off the stage, and it's oddly refreshing to notice.

But, you can see, can't you, why this part of the story is a bit of an annoyance to me? We're still in NY and we still have to get to the mysterious island so Peter and Anne can find out what is going on and be endangered.

Scene 11: Our attacker from the dark is, of course, Peter looking for something to write about. He tells her not to scream, and introduces himself and his occupation. When he's sure that she's won't alert the police officer to their presence, he lets go of her mouth.

Anne demands to know what he's doing onboard her father's boat, and he repeats his profession. He tells her that he didn't quite buy what the police were selling, and came for some of his own answers about what exactly happened aboard. He guesses that she wasn't satisfied with what they shared with her, either, or she wouldn't be there skulking around.

He asks what she's hoping to find, but she's still annoyed by him in general. He offers that they both have information that the other may find helpful, so maybe together they can come up with what the police were obviously hiding from them. He shows a letter he found, that she may want to read.

Anne lunges at Pete's hand to grab the letter, but this only kicks over an unlit lantern that was on the floor. Outside, our aurally gifted officer hears it, over the music he's listening to.

Scene 12: The officer on watch duty creeps up the dock with his flashlight. He prepares to go aboard.

Commentary: He takes an inordinate amount of time about it, though. So, I'm annoyed again. Plus we have the antagonistic cute-meet thing, which is also bothersome. But I can guess that Lucio took such a long shot of the cop, because he used only natural lighting, and it shows off the lights of Manhattan across the bay.

Scene 13: Belowdeck, Anne creeps up closer to Peter instinctively, while he just creeps on her. She asks what they'll do now that they're sure to be caught. He tells her he has an idea, but she'll have to help him.

Scene 14: When Officer SuperEars gets onboard and down to the cabin, he finds Anne and Peter making out. She plays shocked and embarrassed. He blames their sneaking on board to "do it" on her. They mock fight, and Office SuperEars is so irritated by them, that he lets them go if they'll just get the hell out & off the dock.

Commentary: All of this takes too long. It's filmed as if the cop may be attacked, so it's stretched out needlessly for a scare that we know isn't coming already. And then it turns to a comedy scene that isn't all that funny.

Scene 15: The following morning, Peter is with Anne again, at a payphone... for reasons. Peter calls in to the Chief Editor to read the letter to Anne that came aboard the boat from an island called Matoul. The letter from Anne's father describes him as contracting a strange disease that the doctors are trying to treat.

Mr. Bowles writes that he doesn't believe that he'll be leaving the island alive, and that though he wasn't a particularly good father, he wants Anne to know that he did always love her.

Peter tells him that he's going to accompany Anne to Matoul to find out what happened to her father, as it has to be connected to the ship with one murderous passenger and the dead cop. He also asks if he'll fix for them to have air tickets to the nearest island airport - which apparently the paper will cover for them [this may also be why they had the awkward line about Peter's uncle owning the paper... a way to justify the Editor being willing to pay for Peter's & Anne's jaunt to the Caribbean].

Commentary: Uh. Okay. So... I like Tisa Farrow as Anne, overall. But, her attempts to look "sad" while Peter is reading her father's last words to her is... problematic? Unconvincing? Flat?

I think there is some chemistry with Ian... not enough for Anne and Peter to end up together in the end, but it's there for this mildly sarcastic working relationship. But it's best not to ask her to do subtle, quieter emoting because her face just doesn't have the character necessary to keep her from looking like she's trying too hard to reach "dull & muted".

Ian is much more charismatic as Peter West.

Scene 16: We cut to Anne and Peter waiting for their flight out [unnecessarily - again -- and awkward acting doesn't help, and I'm sure I don't know why we needed to watch every footfall through the terminal waiting area].

Plane takes off for the wild, blue ... er grey... yonder.

Scene 17: Anne and Peter arrive in an island community, which is not Matoul (or Matool, but may be the island that Team Buffy was investigating from my wacky dreaming post way back HERE).

Peter and Anne discuss finding a boat to take them to Matoul, and a few dollars to their driver leads him to suggest hitching a ride with an American couple that he knows is sailing out soon.

Scene 18: This leads to Anne and Peter meeting traveling couple, Susan Barrett and Brian Hull (the hunkilicious, Al Cliver/Pierluigi Conti... and my movie boyfriend). After an awkward start, Brian and Susan agree to allow Peter and Anne to travel with them, and to find Matoul so Anne can see about her father's condition.

Brian tells Peter and Anne that there are native superstitions around Matoul, so they're willing to drop them off, but Brian makes it a habit of never ignoring native warnings.

Scene 19: In the meanwhile, the man with the gun from the opening returns. He's manning a short wave radio, and is attempting to call Guadaloupe from Matoul. We find out that he is Dr. David Menard.

Dr. Menard's attempt to reach Guadaloupe is interrupted by a woman appearing behind him, who asks if he's having any luck. She would be his wife, Mrs. [we're going to call her Paola, but I don't know where I'm getting that name] Menard. It's also apparent very quickly that she's one pissed woman. She accuses her husband of breaking the radio on purpose just to keep her on "this damned island" against her will, cut off from the rest of the world.

They're at their villa, but the doctor is readying to go back to the clinic. Paola asks almost desperately if they "found another one". She quickly nears hysteria, caught between rage and terror at what is going on around them, and her husband's sending the escape boat away, without giving her the chance to be on it.

Mrs. Menard accuses David of being crazy and demented, and gets a hard slap to the face. He immediately looks guilt stricken, while she accuses him of doing something underhanded... maybe carrying out unethical medical experiments. Honestly, though, she's looking and sounding like she may be demented, herself, so it's impossible to know the actual story.

Dr. Menard promises his wife that they'll leave as soon as he understands what is happening on the island, but she returns in despair that she doesn't believe a word he says. He leaves, and we get a long, zoom-in shot on her crazy, bloodshot eyes.

Commentary: I like the ambiguity we get on the cause of the undead on the island. A big deal is made of superstitious voodoo rites, but we also get indications that the doctor was involved in experiments prior to the outbreak. We're never given any solid answer to why the dead are rising, which always works for me.

And since this is so inspired by Dawn of the Dead, I like that Lucio left things hanging so that the two movies could actually be interelated with one another. This is by design as... The Dawn of the Dead was re-edited by Dario Argento under agreement with George Romero for release in Italy as Zombi. Lucio Fulci made this film as an unofficial sequel to that version of the movie, and this was released as Zombi 2 -- even though it really isn't connected.

When Zombi 2 was released in the U.S., it was retitled as Zombie... or in Italian, Zombi. So, any similarities to Dawn of the Dead are deliberate, while also being its own thing, tangentially related to the American film through its Italian reworking.

It's always a fun story when you get into Italian releases in America, and the 1000 names they each get around the world.

Scene 20: As David leaves the house, he instructs Miguel - the gardener - not to allow anyone near the house. Whether this is for Paola's protection, or further isolation/imprisonment isn't made clear.

Scene 21: Back at, possibly Guadaloupe Island, our boaters head out into the distant sea. Brian chooses to be shirtless (thank you). As they head out, we get a threatening musical sting, voodoo drums and an island resident watching them sail out, before making the sign of the cross over himself.

Apparently the destination of our travelers has gotten around the dock, and as Brian pointed out, Matoul doesn't have a good reputation.

Commentary: Which doesn't actually amount to anything, really. Whatever Matoul's problems are, it's obvious that the zombie outbreak isn't something that has been rumored to have happened before. This is a completely new crisis. And if it has a dark reputation due to the islanders voodoo religion, it doesn't come directly into play. There is some hedging that there could be a voodoo curse on the island, which is causing the dead to rise, but that could also just be misunderstanding by the white, outsider characters of Paola and David.

There is a resident working for Dr. Menard and we're never given any reason to think that he's involved in voodoo shenanigans against the doctor. In my mind, it's more plausible that the islanders are intensifying their mystical rituals as a reaction to the undead plague sweeping their villages, rather than causing it.

By the same token, it feels more likely to me that David's research is about stopping something that just sprung up, rather than being the cause of the disease. But, like I said, this is all very ambiguously handled.

Scene 22: Back at the clinic, which Menard insists on calling a hospital and which is actually a rundown, abandoned church, he's looking at slides and reinforces the impression left by his wife that he has no clue what is going on.

David takes a blood sample from himself and adds several drops to the slide of squigglies that he was looking at. Whatever he sees, it's obvious that it's not giving him a satisfactory answer to stopping what is happening.

[And why would it... you can't just syringe huge blood droplets on top of a viral load so it mountains on it, and actually see anything that would be happening to the sample. Oh, David... are you really a researcher, or a general practioner who is way out of his depth?]

Scene 23: Out at sea, Anne and Peter consult with a map and Brian about the general area they're in. Alas for our wanderers, Brian and Susan don't know exactly where Matoul is located, and it doesn't specify on the islands shown.

From the back deck, Susan calls up to Brian to stop the boat for just a little while, so that she can dive and take some underwater photographs. She doffs her top to a gobsmacked Peter, annoyed Anne and indifferent Brian before shrugging into her scuba tank and going over the side. She also wears buttfloss bikini bottoms.

Commentary: Not that this does anything for me, but for those more appreciative, Auretta Gay did have a tight body and very shapely, yet perky boobs. For those who want to go scour the internet.


Tags: review zombi

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