Friday, 10 May 2019
Thanks to Italy's extremely casual approach to copyright law, anyone can present their film as a sequel to an established, successful piece (see also Ciro Ippolito's Alien 2: On Earth and Bruno Mattei's Terminator II). Although positioned in the marketplace to follow, and cash in on, Dario Argento's re-edited, pumped-up release of George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Lucio Fulci's Zombie (released in the UK as Zombie Flesh Eaters, going on to enjoy all the video nasty infamy that name suggests) disregards insinuations about satellite radiation or Cold War biological warfare to offer a definitive, localised explanation for its returning dead.
Co-written by Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti, Zombie takes a classical, superstitious approach to the genre, presenting an epidemic that stems from pounding, tribal drums and Voodoo incantations. On the remote, unlisted island of Matul the recently deceased are coming back to life. Richard Johnson's sweating, overworked Dr Menard is trying to keep a lid on things by nursing the afflicted then blowing holes through their heads when they inevitably pass. The timeline isn't especially clear - although Zombie is technically superb the film takes a floating, dreamlike approach to plot - but, if Menard's wife Paola (Olga Karlatos) is to be believed, the Doctor's interfering presence hasn't just catalysed this dreadful situation, it's created it.
In Zombie the land itself is a character, a barely settled, decaying expanse that responds to Fabio Frizzi's bubbling, rhythmic undercurrent by vomiting up the bodies buried on the island. The zombies themselves are one offs, make up artists Gianetto De Rossi and Gino De Rossi rejecting Romero's bruised, frozen consumers in favour of putrid, misshapen lumps caked in blood and shit. Fulci's film is especially excited about rot, mummified Conquistadors burp up out of their shallow internments, empty eye holes seething with bloated, blood red worms. It's as if Matul is rejecting humanity altogether or, at the very least, the snooping white settlers who've come to learn her secrets.
Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati pack their frame with broken clutter and wandering animals, suggesting a similar sort of hemmed-in, malarial exhaustion as Lucrecia Martel's Zama. Like that film Zombie posits a white ruling class hopelessly attempting to impose some sort of will on what amounts to scattered indifference. They're not welcome, the land has no use for them. Menard can transpose a wealthy, European domestic situation onto the island but the simulation cannot hold. Matul's inhabitants do not want to share their magic, we are told they have left their homes, disappearing deeper into the island before returning for the finale as an undead throng, ready to break a dilapidated mission church apart with their bare hands and vanquish the invaders within.