The time has come at last for me to delve into the “franchise” spawned by Lucio Fulci’s zombie classic. Despite these 4 films not being an official series, they make up one of my favorite cheesy 80s Euro zombie gorefest marathons. It really doesn’t get much better than this for me.
ZOMBIE (aka: Zombi 2) (1979)
When Romero brought his zombies back from the dead after a decade at the end of the 1970s, Lucio Fulci was pulled into the game of the dead with Zombie. It even got marketed as an unauthorized, unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead in Italy, where Dawn was titled Zombi. Zombie was released as Zombi 2 there, which is why you won’t find a Zombie 2 on the U.S. market.
Zombie sets up the general template for the majority of films in this franchise – a group of people encounters zombies on a desolate island.
From the very first scene of cops boarding an abandoned boat in New York and being attacked by a big angry zombie, this classic delivers on the Eurogore and Technicolor blood. Some of the zombies do look like they just had sand pies pasted onto their faces, but they are apropos once we get to the tropical island location.
The daughter of the boat’s owner, a scientist, wants to know what became of him. So she and an investigative journalist (Ian McCulloch of The Ghoul, Zombie Holocaust, and Contamination) hitch a boat ride with a couple to an island where another scientist has been running the hospital, practicing voodoo, and shooting dead patients that rise back up.
Fulci pretty much tells Romero’s blue-painted Dawner dead and pie-throwing bikers to go play in the kiddie end of the pool. This shit is where the zombie future was at back then, taking the living dead to new horror heights with some of the most iconic moments in zombie film history.
There’s the amazing scene of a zombie fighting a shark.
The excruciatingly drawn out scene of a zombie impaling a woman’s eye on a huge splinter of wood.
The discovery of the same woman’s body being absolutely devoured at a sit down meal by a zombie family.
The ultimate eerie scene of zombies rising from the grave, worms pouring from their orifices, in broad daylight.
An equally chilling scene of the zombies hogging the camera when it’s suddenly night time about 2 seconds later…
And of course there’s the absurdity. Like the one woman who has already seen zombies, yet just stands there and watches as a zombie very slowly rises from the grave only inches in front of her, giving her all the time in the world to run. And later, when her man comes face to face with her zombie form in the jungle…and just stands there, with a gun in his hand, and waits for her to go in for the kill.
Or the final scene, which shows zombies crossing the bridge into New York City (cool) as a voice-over has a newscaster reporting that the zombies are coming, that “They’re right outside the studio, they’re breaking in, they’re….aaaaahhhh!!!!” Classic.
ZOMBI 3 (1988)
Fulci started this film, then his version was edited down and completed by Bruno Mattei (Rats: Night of Terror, Hell of the Living Dead, Scalps, The Other Hell) and Claudio Fragasso (Hell of the Living Dead, Monster Dog, Rats: Night of Terror, Scalps, Troll 2), who wrote and filmed more scenes, making this a delicious disaster.
Scientists are performing secret experiments with a drug that reanimates the dead on a tourist resort island (because, where else?). The intro experiment gone wrong scene is uber awesome, with the subject looking freaky before he even morphs into a mutated mess.
Someone infiltrates the lab and steals the drug, spills it all over himself, then hides out in the nearby luxury hotel, where he gets a facial – zombie facial!
This film is utter chaos. There are military men, tourists, they all encounter hordes of zombies, I have no idea who is who, they eventually cross paths and continue encountering zombies, and that’s all that matters.
One hunky army dude has a great acrobatic action sequence avoiding zombies. They tear his T-shirt, knock him in the water to make it a wet T-shirt, and seem to set off fog machines simply by existing.
In fact, the whole movie is like a haunted funhouse of fog machines, spider webs, and neon lights.
There’s a swarm of zombie birds, a fast zombie with a machete, a talking zombie on a mission to kill one particular woman over the course of the film, a zombie baby, and a zombie head that leaps from a fridge. It’s ridiculous how entertaining this film is.
There’s one character named Kenny and one named Roger, so at one point, a terrified female character is crying out “Kenny Roger!,” which I found hilariously distracting in a “Coward of the County” kind of way. During a zombie ambush, a guy cries to one of his buddies, “Don’t come!” which makes me wonder if that’s the origin of the “Don’t come” called out by victims in the light gun arcade game The House of the Dead. Hell, so much of what goes on in the Zombie films seems to be the inspiration for the plots of every zombie video game of the past 20 years.
And finally, we get another dopey good ending. The film has a Greek chorus of sorts, in the form of a cute DJ that periodically interrupts proceedings with commentary on what is happening. His final word sounds very optimistic, but when he turns to the camera, we get the impression that his optimistic outlook is more in favor of the zombies…
ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH (1989)
Director Claudio Fragrasso is back for this installment. As for other versions of Zombi 4, Fragrasso and his buddy Bruno Mattei have managed to get their film Hell of the Living Dead from 9 years before slapped with the title in some markets, and it’s a good fit for a marathon since it’s another “zombie island” flick. And in the U.S. of all places, 1973 film A Virgin Among the Living Dead was pawned off as Zombie 4 on VHS at one point apparently.
I’d say this is one of my favorites simply because it is as 80s as they get. The “Living After Death” pop rock theme song alone got me going, and there’s plenty more where that came from on the soundtrack.
The intro scene has a black bear daddy voodoo priest playing with his nipples –
I mean…performing some sort of ritual in a cave to make some dancing chick go all Geretta Geretta Demons on a bunch of white researchers in a flurry of gore.
Years later, the daughter of two of those researchers comes to the island with a backup team to try to uncover what happened to them. She has dreams of zombies, she wears a key around her neck that’s supposed to keep the doors to hell closed, she knows all about voodoo rituals. Therefore…she just stands silently by and watches when Jeff Stryker reads ancient text from a book they find on a candlelit altar.
Yes, I said Jeff Stryker, as in 12-inch cock Powertool gay porn star Jeff Stryker.
Even he stops himself and says he can’t do it. So…some other dude picks up where he left off.
Not that it matters. They ran into some crazed zombie guy that bit one of their friends when they first arrived on the island, so trouble was already brewing.
It’s zombie island paradise as Stryker and co. run through clouds of fog machines and red and green neon lights, get torn to pieces by zombies, turn into talking zombies, and dodge shooting zombies.
The only real letdown here is that the crazy demon bitch from the beginning doesn’t play a bigger role throughout the film.
ZOMBIE 5: KILLING BIRDS (1987)
Finally, there’s Zombie 5: Killing Birds, made 2 years before Zombie 3 and Zombie 4 and directed by Claudio Lattanzi and Joe D’Amato of Antropophagus fame. Another film that landed the Zombie 5 title in the U.S. was some 1983 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation called Revenge in the House of Usher. Meanwhile, Killing Birds even managed to get promoted to Zombie 4 in Thailand. And while we’re at it, since Joe D’Amato made this film, his 1981 film Absurd, known in some parts as Antropophagus 2, is known in other parts as Zombie 6: Monster Hunter. Hey, I wonder if every horror movie ever made could be linked as one big franchise using the “also known as” titles listed on imdb.
Now back to Zombie 5. If only this film had been set on an island, it would have fit in a bit more with the other films, despite some nonsense involving birds in this one. It’s a stretch, but it’s possible to make a connection—and explain why there are even zombies, since the movie doesn’t—by pretending that the caged birds in this movie are residual zombie birds from Zombi 3 that maybe spread the infection in this film.
The opening scene has a soldier returning from war. He uses a knife to kill a man and woman sleeping in bed and then kills a couple that shows up with a baby.
It’s completely impossible to know who any of these people are if you don’t read the description of the movie on the Internet. Honestly, it doesn’t even really matter. After the soldier kills them, he starts to clean up the bloody mess and is attacked by large birds that escape from cages around the house and pluck out his eyes.
Years later, college students are on the hunt for a rare bird that’s about to go extinct. So they go bird watching around the house of a bird expert with an eye patch, played by veteran actor Robert Vaughn (CHUD II: Bud the Chud, Transylvania Twist, Buried Alive). After an agonizing montage of them bird watching in the area, they find a dead corpse in an old pickup truck in the woods…then just continue going about their day.
Window POV – never a good sign.
They set up camp in an old house filled with birdcages, and pretty soon a couple of them are having nightmares about zombies and being stabbed to death by Robert Vaughn. And still, they stay. That night, one chick has a creepy encounter with a zombie in a storage room that perfectly captures the spirit of all the films that came before this one and finally kicks off the zombie fun.
There aren’t hordes of zombies here, but the quality of the zombie segments are up there with the best and the gore won’t leave you hungry.
There’s an attempt to escape by vehicle that is pretty much stolen directly from The Fog, and another scene has a guy being lifted right out of a room by the head when a zombie crashes through the ceiling—echoing a similar attack in Zombi 3.
The weakest part of this film is the absolutely pointless and inconclusive story about Vaughn and his birds that opens and closes it. It makes no sense in the context of the zombie plot…but it does make it appear that Stephen King stole a major aspect of his novel The Dark Half from the film Zombie 5.