When the earth spits out the dead…..They will return to tear the flesh of the living.
Directed by Lucio Fulci and starring Ian McCulloch as Peter West, Tisa Farrow as Anne Bowles, Richard Johnson as Dr. David Menard, Al Cliver as Brian Hull, Auretta Gay as Susan Barrett and Olga Karlatos as Paola. Also stars Stefania D’Amario as Menard’s nurse, Dakar as Lucas, Captain Haggerty as Fat Boat Zombie and Ramón Bravo as Underwater Zombie.
I remember the poster for this one, the one with the hand coming out of the grave, being on a wall in one of the video shops we used to go to. I really loved the poster but we never rented the film for some reason, strange as we pretty much rented every other horror film in the shop including Dawn of the Dead (1978), Day of the Dead (1985) and Zombie Lake (1981). I finally bought a copy of this on DVD sometime back in the noughties but I threw it away, first time I’d seen it or a Fulci film and to be honest I didn’t care for either, a funny thing to admit as I’m such an ardent Fulci fan these days; it’s fair to say Fulci is an acquired taste and also I do find I have to watch some films a few times before I warm to them. Now I’m the proud owner of Zombie Flesh-Eaters (1979) on Blu-ray, thank you Arrow, and in 2014 I feel very, very differently about this masterpiece, because however far my head was up my arse in the noughties, that’s what this is, a fucking masterpiece; pardon my Italian. In fact this is one of the only films where I’ve bothered to change the reversible cover, because yes, that hand coming out of the grave, that’s the one!
A little of the plot: Reporter Peter West is sent by his chief (Lucio Fulci in a cameo role, cool!) to investigate an incident on a boat in New York Harbour. He meets Anne Bowles whose father owns the boat. They need to travel to an island called Matul in the Antilles to find Anne’s father (Ugo Bologna). They meet Brian Hull and Susan Barrett who are on a tour of the islands in their boat and together they travel to Matul. While diving, Susan runs into a shark and then a zombie; cue the infamous shark vs. zombie scene. They reach Matul and meet Dr. Menard who tells them Anne’s father is dead. They learn that the dead are standing up and walking and that Dr. Menard is looking for an explanation.
This needs to be experienced on Blu-ray, beautiful doesn’t cover it. It just looks stunning, the settings, the gore, the shark, everything, really stunning. Fulci regular Sergio Salvati does the cinematography. The best Blu-ray I’d seen until this was The Warriors (1979) but this just deserves an Oscar for remastering or something. If we had rented it back then it would probably have been an abysmal quality tape; how lucky are people nowadays, discovering Fulci, at the top of his game, in this definition? Forget about the dubbing, it’s par for the course; if you can’t handle dodgy dubbing you’ll miss out on some of the best horrors ever made, I guarantee it. The soundtrack’s great, very Fulci, very 70s film, very zombie film. The gore is off the scale; Fulci isn’t known as the Italian Master of Splatter for nothing and Zombie Flesh-Eaters isn’t on the DPP list of prosecuted video nasties for nothing either; unlike Axe (1974) aka Lisa, Lisa, which I personally love to bits, I can understand why this would end up on such a list, although that doesn’t make the list right in the first place.
To say this film is simply a cash-in of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) is just wrong. Yes, the film was originally called Zombi 2 for that very purpose. Yes, the opening and closing scenes were added for that very purpose. But, this film is much, much more than a cash-in. I can easily accept this as a prequel to Dawn of the Dead (1978), therefore Night of the Living Dead (1968) too, which is a pretty huge statement when you consider how great Romero’s ‘of the Dead’ films are. But I can, without too much of a stretch even. Whether you can is up to you. The fact is it isn’t a prequel at all. It is, however, the work of a genius that the horror genre was/is privileged to have on board. I can’t say which is the best zombie film ever made, it’s just too hard, but what I can say is Zombie Flesh-Eaters is a must-see, a must-see uncut in all its beauty, and I cannot give a lower mark than the one I am going to give because I wouldn’t be being honest about how I feel about it.