Friday, 9 April 2010

Dead Before Dawn

I watched Zombi 2 this morning (a.k.a Zombie Flesh Eaters a.k.a Zombie) for the first time in several years. My buddy Dan bought a super-cool DVD special edition a while back, convinced that due to his worship of Romero zombie flicks he’d love this one. He’d never seen it and I told him not to hold his breath, but if he hated it I’d give him the asking price. He did, I did, and now it’s the last movie on my DVD shelf. I can’t say I was surprised that he didn’t care for the picture. It’s cheap, incredibly dated, has routinely awful performances and is far removed from any form of style or finesse.

But I love the film. A lot of my affection comes from my age and the era I grew up in as a film geek. Zombi 2 was an Italian Exploitation rip-off designed to cash in on the hugely popular success of George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead, which had been a massive hit, especially in Europe, in 1978. The Italians, ever quick to jump on the bandwagon, threw together a script, some gore and a clutch of actors and let hack-extraordinaire Lucio Fulci direct the whole mess. Stuffed full of lurid splatter and nasty violence, we get plenty of head explosions, throat rippings, gratuitous nudity, a splinter of wood in an eyeball and a superb underwater moment when a zombie attacks a shark. Seriously. It was sold at the 1979 Cannes Film Festival before it was even completed, was a worldwide hit and proceeded to make a fortune, revitalising Fulci’s career and kick-starting the new wave of Italian horror in the eighties.

Released in the UK on video in 1983 it immediately found it’s way onto the Department Of Public Prosecutions list of so-called Video Nasties that circulated Thatcher’s Britain and deprived many a movie fan of seeing what they wanted, as well as putting many small video stores out of business. I was eleven at the time, and already a huge movie nerd, and I can still remember the thrill of looking at the garish box cover art to Zombie Flesh Eaters (which was the UK title, and what a title) sitting on the shelf, realising that there was no way on Earth my Dad would let me see it. I’d been allowed to see Alien and An American Werewolf In London and The Omen, but extreme Italian horror? Not a chance.

But when you’re a kid, those boxes and those cool names burn their way into your fevered mind. I used to dream about Zombie Flesh Eaters and other flicks with titles like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ilsa She-Wolf Of The SS, The Bell Of Hell, Cannibal Apocalypse, The House By The Cemetery, Tombs Of The Blind Dead… I visualised plots and scenes for these films, to such an extent that the actual watching and realisation of them could and mostly never did live up to my expectations. In fact, it’s true to say that by and large many of the titles that made their way onto the banned list are much more fun to read about than to watch. However, that knowledge only came to me in later years. As a pre-teen horror fan they rocketed to the top of my list of movies to see.

The DPP ban was successful and in 1984 many films were removed from shelves and my dreams died. But this young film fan was resourceful, and towards the late eighties I started to pick up film magazines like Deep Red, Gorezone, Shock Xpress and Sleazoid Express. Here was film journalism aimed directly at me, with promises of new films from Italy and Japan and appreciation of directors like Dario Argento, Jess Franco and Lucio Fulci. Writers who loved Zombi 2! It was also around that time that I discovered there was a network of like-minded fans who met at movie festivals, swapped lists of their personal collections, traded VHS tapes and didn’t let archaic releasing schedules or ‘banned’ lists preventing their love of cult and horror cinema. It saw a period of my life when my movie collection went from a couple of hundred titles to a couple of thousand, when I was writing to and trading movies with people from as far as Japan to Brazil (the internet was years away) and the rattle of the letterbox in the morning meant another crazed chunk of cinema, not the electric bill.

All that is a (long) story for another time though, because I’m getting away from where I started, which was with today’s viewing of Zombi 2. I couldn’t recommend this film to anyone whose love of horror cinema comes from the glossy, MTV-style product that Hollywood throw into the theatres these days. Movies like Saw and Final Destination have their place in this world, and I have seen and enjoyed them, but Fulci’s masterpiece (and I use the word carefully) is a different genre, a different world away. I suspect that if was a kid of this generation and I sat down in front of Zombi 2 for the first time, I’d hate it. It has all the negative elements that I described earlier.

But as I said, not only do I love it, frankly I think it’s fucking brilliant. A boat drifts into New York harbour appearing to be deserted, and it’s only when two shockingly dumb cops start nosing around the deck that a palid, crazed creature comes up from below and starts taking chunks out of them. Titles, then some nonsense with Tisa Farrow (sister of Mia) and the great Ian McCulloch as scientists who decide to head off to a weird island in the Caribbean to investigate the work of Richard Johnson (allegedly drunk throughout filming) who’s been experimenting on the dead. The first half of the movie comes on like some boys-own adventure with boats, islands and lost treasure, and then following an attack by the undead the second half picks up the pace with some relentless splatter as our heroes are eaten one-by-one until a fiery climax as waves of zombies are alternatively torched, get their heads blown off, or both. Farrow and McCulloch escape to their boat, but tuning their radio in they hear panic in New York. The zombies have made it into Manhattan, presumably off the yacht from the beginning (It‘s never really explained, and Fulci was never much of a one for continuity or common sense). The credits roll over a cracking shot of the dead shuffling across the Brooklyn bridge.

It’s such a mish-mash of a film. Italian production, an American actress with Farrow, two veteran British actors with Johnson and McCulloch (star of the classic Brit Sci-Fi series Survivors in the seventies and who would go on to appear in Fulci’s even more crazy The Beyond two years later). A film shot in 70mm widescreen but with shaky zooms and some dodgy focus, and in the case of the New York scenes shot completely illegally. But it somehow works. Lucio Fulci is still considered a cheap hack in the mainstream but he knew how to stage a scene and turn on the gore. Zombi 2 is always exciting and never, ever boring, which is something I can’t say about a lot of horror pictures I see today. It is of it’s time, and will never find new appreciation with a modern audience, but for genre fans of my age it is a true classic to be revered and treasured.

The only problem I have now is the burning urge to buy sparkling new special DVD editions of Fulci’s other classics and remind myself how much I love them all over again. In the old days it used to take weeks, sometimes months to get my hands on a film. I just took a look on Amazon. The Beyond, House By The Cemetery, City Of The Living Dead, New York Ripper, Don’t Torture A Duckling, Lizard In A Woman’s Skin… They’re all there, with re-mastered discs stuffed full of special features. And that’s great, really, because these movies deserve to be seen in the best possible prints by a new generation and by us old bastards who only ever had shitty third generation VHS copies to squint at.

These days collecting cult and strange cinema is so much easier than it used to be.

But nowhere near as much fun.


Anonymous said...

Странно, искал совсем не это, гугл выдал Ваш сайт, и судя по всему не зря, есть что почитать! Goodwork!