Zombi 2 has nothing to do with Dawn of the Dead, which was re-edited by co-producer Dario Argento, rescored by Goblin and released in Italy as Zombi. It was a huge success and nothing succeeds like more, more and more. As Italian copyright law allows any film to be marketed as a sequel to another work, producer Fabrizio De Angelis quickly decided that it was time to make that sequel.
Originally, Enzo G. Castellari (1990: The Bronx Warriors, Warriors of the Wasteland) was asked to direct, but he didn’t feel like he was the right director. The second choice was Lucio Fulci, who had handled violence so well in Don’t Torture a Duckling, and screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, who had worked with Fulci on The Psychic (and would go on to write nearly all of Fulci’s most famous films).
Under the working title of Nightmare Island, the story was intended to be a mix of The Island of Dr. Moreau and classic zombie movies such as I Walked with a Zombie. What emerged was a frightful force of nature that takes Romero’s film, jettisons the political undercurrents and gives viewers exactly what they want: more zombies, more gore, more blasts of pure insanity. In short: more, more, more.
The film begins a zombie being shot in the head, letting you instantly know that this film is not going to wait around and take prisoners. That’s followed by an effective on location New York shot, as an abandoned sailboat bumps and drifts before being boarded by harbor police, who discover that only one somewhat living creature remains: a zombie who kills one officer before being shot and falling overboard.
The owner of the boat, Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow, The Initiation of Sarah), is questioned by the police about the whereabouts of her father, who she hasn’t seen in months. Meanwhile, at the morgue, the dead cop begins to stir.
Upon meeting Peter West (Ian McCulloch, Doctor Butcher, M.D.) she decides to follow her father to his last known location: the Caribbean island of Matul, sailing there with Brian (Al Cliver, The Beyond, Endgame) and Susan. This is where the movie goes from slow first gear to pure menacing rollercoaster. It’s also where sanity leaves the production, as a zombie battles a shark, an effect achieved by feeding shark tranquilizers and having shark trainer Ramón Bravo play the zombie. This scene was created by producer Ugo Tucci and shot without Fulci’s approval by Giannetto De Rossi.
On Matul, Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson, Beyond the Door, The Comeback) is running a hospital but also researching voodoo, leading to his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos, Murder Rock and Prince’s mother in Purple Rain) flipping out on him. But don’t get too attached to Paola, as she soon is snuffed out by a zombie in what is this film’s most celebrated and reviled scene, as a zombie sneaks up on her and smashes through a door, jamming a wooden splinter into her eye. Any other film would show this in shadow or off camera. Here, Fulci descends to his basest form and takes the window of the soul and pierces it for all to see.
Menard soon tells Anne that her father is dead before asking everyone to check in on his wife. Of course, she’s dead. But even worse, zombies are eating her corpse, a scene rendered in loving detail that seems to go on forever. They escape to a graveyard of ancient conquistadors who rise from the ground in another astounding sequence. Susan’s throat is torn out and the three survivors battle their way to a hospital where they face off against a zombie horde — a scene insisted upon by the producers.
Only Anne and Peter escape, locking the zombified form of Brian below deck. As they approach New York, they learn that the city has been overcome by the undead. We see zombies slowly walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, effectively bringing us back to Dawn of the Dead all over again.
Zombi didn’t just make money. It made more than the film that inspired it and led to a wave of 1980’s Italian gore shockers, as well as giving Fulci the cachet of the goriest director of them all.
Even the music in this film stands out, thanks to the work of Fabio Frizzi, who was influenced by Caribbean music and the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
I can’t be objective about this film. I realize Fulci’s shortcomings but it’s such an effective shocker, unafraid to punch you repeatedly in the face. Loud, bombastic, brutal and ridiculous — that’s why it’s a movie that gets played in my blu ray player every few months. Just look at that ad campaign — WE ARE GOING TO EAT YOU! — and know that this is a movie made to entertain on all levels.
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