On the island, they find a doctor (Richard Johnson) trying to cure a mysterious illness, corpses who won't stay dead, and a mysterious drumbeat that has no clear source...
This movie feels like a nightmare.
Right from the opening scene, in which a corpse in a body bag slowly rises off its bed and gets shot in the head, it feels like a threshold has been crossed. There are going to be no cutaways or happy endings - the dead are coming back to life and there is nothing you can do to stop them from turning you into breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There is never any sense that the cavalry will sweep in to save the day. Before our heroes head to the island, there is a brief scene in the city morgue, where a dead cop rises from his slab. We never see what happens to that zombie, but we don't need to. This is not a movie about preventing the apocalypse, or even about surviving it - it is simply about the experience of being in the middle of a world in meltdown.
The thing that I really enjoy this movie, and the dividing line for why I prefer this one over Fulci's later films in this vein (City of the Living Dead, The Beyond) is how straightforward it is. Those movies are appreciated for their lack of clear narrative and dreamlike violence, but it never really struck me as particularly effective in mounting and building a sense of real dread.
The quality about Zombie that I really like is how pre-ordained the story feels. Before the action moves to Matul, there is a scene at the morgue where a zombified cop comes back to life. There is never any sense that the cavalry will sweep in to save the day. Before our heroes head to the island, there is a brief scene in the city morgue, where a dead cop begins to rises from his slab. We never see what happens to that zombie, but we don't need to. This is not a movie about preventing the apocalypse, or even about surviving it - it is simply about the experience of being in the middle of a world in meltdown.
Fulci excels at creating an apocalyptic sense of dread. Every set piece feels like another nail in the coffin for our heroes and the 'real' world - a lonely housewife dragged out of her house to be consumed by zombies; our heroes crash their car and rest in a clearing that turns out to be a grave yard for the conquistadores who colonised the island, and proceed to rise from the dead; flaming zombies marching through a hospital ward; and the film's iconic climax, showing zombies shuffling across the Brooklyn bridge into Manhattan.
Even the film's most ridiculous sequence - a zombie fighting a shark - adds to the unrelenting sense of doom: if these things can fight Jaws, then we are really screwed.
It is a testament to Fulci's talents as a filmmaker that the movie's cheesier elements - the acting and the exposition (the history lesson about the island feels like it's been dictated from a primary school history book) - don't undermine the atmosphere.
He is assisted by two great collaborators:
Gianetto De Rossi's makeup for the undead is incredible - with their withered skin, old wounds filled with dirt and worms, these undead feel queasily real. I have little stomach for gore, but with this movie it is absolutely necessary and (literally) eye-popping.
The movie is infamous for featuring a scene in which a character's eye is gauged out, but I was always more disturbed by the aftermath , when our heroes arrive at the scene to discover the zombies gorging on the corpse while the dead woman stares wide-eyed at them, her final terror frozen on her face. It is chiseled into my retinas.
The other key creative is composer Fabio Frizzi, whose synth score works in the same way that the movie does: the main theme is built on a simple, repeating beat - like a beating heart, or a clock ticking down to the apocalypse.
Overshadowed somewhat by being tied to George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, Zombi 2 does not share Romero's thematic heft, but as a visceral punch to the gut it works perfectly. If you are in the mood for a zombie movie that pulls no punches, Fulci's blood-soaked vision is it.