Saturday, 24 August 2013

Review - Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979 - Dir. Lucio Fulci)

George A. Romero started the zombie ball rolling and he deserves a rather large salute. But I think it was an Italian director who perfected the zombie film with his run of four titles from 1979 to 1981. I'm talking about Lucio Fulci, of course and we'll start with his first masterpiece Zombie Flesh Eaters.

Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow) is investigating the mysterious disappearance of her dad. She joins forces with reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch). They set sail for the island of Matoul with Auretta Gay and Fulci regular Al Cliver, and become embroiled in some voodoo hi-jinx.

You may be smirking at the island's name, Matoul. And so was Dardano Sacchetti, the screenwriter. There are so many double entendres I began to lose count. Throw in a scene where Auretta Gay goes snorkelling in just her skimpy pants and it could virtually be Carry On Zombie.

Shark vs Zombie. Sounds cool. But stupid. It sounds more like an idea from Sharktopus and the Living Dead. And yet it is one of the most stunning scenes in the whole of the zombie genre. (It looks really good on Blu-ray.) The way that the zombie's hair moves in the water as he backs off preparing for the shark's attack is... beautiful.  Strange, but I can't think of a better word. If this was done now, the shark would obviously be CGI and would look rubbish. Fulci didn't have access to CGI so he just filmed a real shark with its trainer, who just so happened to be in a zombie costume. This is one of those scenes that I could happily watch whenever.

Another scene that I could watch whenever is the iconic splinter in the eyeball. For years, I'd only seen this in a heavily cut version. Then another version came out where you actually saw the eyeball pierced. Finally, common sense prevailed and we all got the chance to look at a piece of splintered wood being rammed into someone's eye. Okay, the special effect head doesn't exactly look perfect but when that final bit of eyeball gets pushed out at the end I can't help wincing. 

Fulci's zombie films rely on their atmosphere and he created it here by having sand blowing around everywhere on the island. It almost replaces fog as my favourite atmosphere generator. A shot in the final act of the film where zombie shamble out of the trees in glorious widescreen is again... beautiful. I would hold up this shot in a court of law as evidence for the case against running zombies.

The acting perfectly fits the tone of the film. Ian McCulloch looks like he's having a right laugh and makes a likeable lead. His face when he views four zombies eating a buffet is an absolute picture. Tisa Farrow seems to be there in body but not necessarily in spirit, although this doesn't seem out of place with all of the shocks she has to endure. It would have been interesting if Catriona MacColl had played the lead though...

For me this film has the perfect zombie effects. I don't know about you but if I was faced by an overly-designed and overly-professional zombie, as is often seen now in big-budget zombie-a-thons, I might be a tad nervous. Put one of the dirty, crusty maggot-ridden zombies from this film in front of me and I might need to change my Tena Gentleman. They look so... dead. Great stuff.

Out of Fulci's four top zombie films this has to be the comedy. It really is quite a light-hearted affair. The only thing that I really think it misses is another standout gore scene in the final third. All in all though, this is a film that is way better than its title would lead you to believe.

If you like this you could also try:
Zombie Holocaust, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery.


  1. Saw it recently, I'll mini-review it for Halloween.
    Good write-up! That under water scene is a highlight of the film for me. Wow, a real shark and its trainer...
    What also impressed me was the scene when the zombies rise from the ground, plus the soundtrack.

    1. Thanks for that Chris. It has surprised me that there are not many zombie films that contain scenes of the dead coming out of their graves. Like you say, this one has such a scene, and it's a pearler.