Zombie. Zombi 2. Island of the Living Dead. Zombie Flesh Eaters. Though it is known by many different names there is no doubting that this is one of the most well-known films in the zombie genre (and the film that put Fulci on the map as a ‘Godfather of Gore’). My first exposure to it was roughly 8 years ago, as I scoured the shelves of a local Blockbuster for a horror film. The tag line – “We are going to eat you!” – sounded so bad that I just had to try it. As someone who loved the Romero films, I thought it was a decent, if rather throwaway piece of shock entertainment.
So with the impending Blu-ray release I thought I’d give it a second try and see if it’s worthy of restoration.
Straight away it is clear that the film has had a lot of care and attention lavished upon it. The first time I watched this film the visuals were muddy and the sound dull. This is no longer the case, with a pin sharp picture (The restoration was created using the original negative) and restored English audio (there is also the original and Italian to choose from). I’ll touch upon the extras later, but so far so good. I own several much better known films that have been transferred to Blu-ray and none of them have been treated this well.
How does the film itself stack up though? Well, like most horror/zombie films you’ll be disappointed if you sit down expecting the highest levels of writing and acting. I’ve seen far worse though, with the cast on a par with anything in a Romero film. The principal actors give it their all and make the best of what they are given. Though there is some rather suspect dubbing!
The real star of this film however is the zombies, and the grotesque attacks that follow. The film was caught up in the ‘video nasties’ wave of the early eighties, and after initially being banned in the UK, the BBFC cut out a lot of the more extreme gore to get it released years later. I consider myself pretty well versed with gore in films, but I have to admit I averted my gaze a couple of times which just goes to show how you’ll never beat physical effects, and how good a job Gino De Rossi did over 30 years ago. One of the most famous scenes, including a woman and a splinter of wood, is very well done. The Conquistadors that later arrive are awesomely horrible, and I can’t say I ever thought I’d see a zombie attack a shark! The budget may not have been high but the ideas are both entertaining and horrible. Exactly what you want.
These films are generally derided for their supposed poor quality. But I was very impressed by some of the filming, especially the use of New York Harbour at the beginning. There are some lovely shots and great framing. The music also deserves mention, with a simple but haunting soundtrack, that sets the scene wonderfully. After a decent start the film does take a while to get going again, but it once it does it doesn’t let up, and ends in suitably downbeat fashion.
Moving onto the extras, there is a good set of documentaries and interviews along with the usual trailers and sound options. For me the standout is “Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies”, which is an interview with lead actor Ian McCulloch. 45 minutes listening to him talk about his history, how he got into these sorts of films and his experiences during and after is very interesting. His candour is striking, with his comments on the films and crew enlightening and refreshing. He is clearly grateful, though doesn’t shy away from giving his opinion. He is also full of anecdotes, such as how he struggled to take Fulci seriously due to him resembling Benny Hill. Other pieces worth watching are an interview with make-up and special effects maestro Gino De Rossi and an overview of the zombie genre – The Rise and Fall of the Italian Zombie Film.
If you have any interest at all in zombie films, or horror films in general, you really should make an effort to watch Zombie Flesh Eaters. From a technical standpoint it is above many other films of the time, and I must admit I think it has a certain charm. Though it is hardly comparable to the best drama or action films, that would be missing the point. The transfer to Blu-ray is great and the extras informative. Whilst Romero’s Dead films are rightly held in high regard, there are many others that still warrant attention. Zombie Flesh Eaters is one such film, and deserves to rise from the grave.