Zombie (1979)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Cemetery Man

Zombie High



Lava LampLava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Night of the Living Dead and Jaws
face off to see who can inspire more rip-offs.
How can you have a Month of Z without zombie movies? Last year we managed to, but this year we've jumped in with both feet. We present: Zombie.

Zombie's path to American shores was long and complicated. It all starts with George Romero's horror classic Dawn of the Dead in 1978. That movie was re-edited by Dario Argento and released in Italy as Zombi. Lucio Fulci directed a quickie rip-off/sequel to Zombi, released in Italy in 1979 as Zombi 2. And finally, Zombi 2 was released in the US as just plain old Zombie.

Not that there's anything plain about Zombie. The movie features some great special effects make-up, and the filmmakers seemed hell bent on including as much gore and nudity as they could cram in and still have some sort of story.

Zombie opens with the New York City harbor patrol intercepting a derelict yacht in New York harbor. The boat is deserted, with the notable exception of a cannibalistic corpse. One of the two cops who board the yacht encounters the undead stowaway below decks and becomes its latest snack. His partner stops the zombie with a well-placed shot to the head, but it's too late to save his masticated fellow officer.

"Roger, please... not on the first date!"
Once the deceased policeman has been shuttled off to the morgue, the rest of the force concerns itself with the ownership of the boat. They turn up Ann Bowles (Tisa Farrow), the owner's daughter. A short while later, Ann is approached by intrepid reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), who has discovered a note from Ann's father. While staying with a friend on a Caribbean island named Matoul, Ann's dad caught a strange disease and has written in the note that he is being kept there like "a guinea pig." Ann and Peter decide to go to Matoul to discern the details of the old man's passing.

One plane trip later, our heroes arrive in the Caribbean only to remember: hey, they don't have the first idea where Matoul is. Undaunted by this, they approach a vacationing couple with a boat (Brian, played by Pier Luigi Conti, and Susan, played by Auretta Gay) and ask to be taken along on their cruise, so that they can be dropped off at the island... if they find it.

Watching Zombie: more fun
than poking yourself
in the eye with a sharp stick.
Finding the island turns out to be harder than they thought, but they do catch a lucky break. Read the following closely, it will be on the test. Susan decides to do some scuba diving in order to take some underwater photos. To do this, she strips down to a G-string, straps on the tanks (which don't cover much, and must chafe like a bear), then dives in. Despite our oft-stated opinion that scuba diving scenes slow movies down (witness Tentacles), we didn't mind Susan's at all. After she takes a couple of pictures of some pretty fishes, Susan then realizes that there is a shark nearby, so she tries to hide on the ocean bottom. A good strategy, we suppose, but a zombie attacks her! Susan barely avoids the zombie, which then turns its attentions to the shark. This is a great scene, and we can assure you it is the only reason this movie got three lava lamps from us.

Needless to say, the island closest to the zombie attack is Matoul. The aforementioned shark damaged their boat, so our foursome is trapped there. Once on land, they meet Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), a British doctor who knew Ann's father. Menard is trying to deal with the island's epidemic of zombies as best he can. When the dead rise, he shoots them in the head. In the meantime, he tries to determine the cause of the zombie disease, although he has had no luck thus far. He keeps rejecting the local explanation of voodoo that brings the dead back to life, long after even the most skeptical member of CSICOP would have admitted that the zombies are supernatural. C'mon, when corpses are walking through the streets eating people, and they can only be killed by a bullet in the head, it's time to admit someone has laid down some major freakin' mojo on the island.

The Weeki-Wachee mermaid show
goes horribly wrong!
For some reason, Menard sends our four heroes away from the hospital to check on his wife, who lives in a house on the other side of the island. They arrive there, only to find that the woman's dead body is being consumed by zombies. Our heroes make a run for it, but wander into a conquistador's graveyard. Soon they're being pursued by four hundred year old corpses, and Susan gets bitten by a zombie. Darn: no more scuba diving sequences!

The three remaining heroes arrive back and Menard's hospital. Menard is informed of his wife's death in as tactful a manner possible. ("Hey Doc, umm, does the word 'smorgasbord' mean anything to you?"). After a few more minutes of exposition, the zombies close in on the hospital and it's a fight to the, uh... death.

While Zombie is a nicely made film, the story doesn't hold a lot of water and the actors are mere place-holders on screen. Other than Susan's penchant for swimming in the buff, we're not given much reason to care whether these characters live or die, however temporarily. The zombies are their usual pokey selves, raising the eternal question: just how hard is it to escape monsters whose top speed is about that of a crawling toddler?

No matter how much oatmeal-encrusted makeup you throw on your extras, a good script and some competent acting are required to hold your zombie movie together. Despite a few well-constructed and completely creepy set pieces, Zombie just can't shuffle its way out of the graveyard for mediocre movies.

Review date: 09/06/1999

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