A mysterious, seemingly abandoned yacht which has drifted into a New York harbour is inspected by two police officers, one of whom is attacked and killed by a hulking member of the undead, who has stowed away inside. It transpires that the boat’s owner is a scientist who is currently holed up on a tropical island somewhere in the Caribbean. The scientist’s daughter (Tisa ‘sister of Mia’ Farrow) teams up with an English reporter (Ian McCulloch) to track down the man, who is suffering from a strange, unidentifiable disease.
Arriving in the tropics, the intrepid duo hook up with another couple who assist them in finding the scientist’s location. Having since succumbed to his ailment, the scientist’s colleague Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson), is battling to get to the bottom of the voodoo-like symptoms which are taking over the island, and causing its dead to emerge from the ground with an unquenchable appetite for humans.
As with a number of similarly-themed titles under the Arrow banner, it’s always fun to see the restored print of a film which once relegated to the confines of a multiple-viewed, grotty-looking pirated VHS tape. Zombie Flesh Eaters actually made the list of ‘video nasties’ during that puritanical censorship backlash in the early eighties, but what’s surprising about the film is the high level of artistry and creativity which has gone into it. For the most part, revered Italian genre director Lucio Fulci crafts a gorefest which is far from the crudely-shot, shoddily-made exploitation feature which the film was once bracketed with.
There is the wonderous sight of an underwater zombie attack on a shark (which looks surprisingly good) and a couple of gross-out moments where the film earned its infamous reputation (and proves that practical FX are still infinitely more powerful than anything which can be conjured up with CGI). Fulci’s zombies, too, are a little different from your average undead, and the festering, soil-encrusted corpses are pretty effective, given the time the film was made.
As impressive as some of this work is, the film flounders a little due to its over-simplistic plotting and the hindrances which come with a mixed-language co-production, with little done to mask this. Badly-dubbed Italian cast members sprouting bizarre, scarcely perfunctory dialogue does tend to grate and distract as the film goes on.
Despite this, there’s an old-fashioned charm to Zombie Flesh Eaters. The gore quota is nowhere near that of an average episode of The Walking Dead, and the cast bring a decidedly straight-faced exuberance to proceeding, while the end imagined zombie apocalypse is really fantastic (despite a glaring budgetary issue). Gore completists will lap this up, but newcomers will have fun here, too.
For genre fans, there’s a load of fanatic extras to get your teeth into here. Disc one includes on hour-long documentary on the origins of the zombie movie and its development in the seventies. There’s also the inclusion of three versions of the film, which differ by having alternative opening credits (one is the titles, Zombi 2, was slapped on by the makers with the intention of cashing-in of Romero’s second ‘Dead’ feature).
Disc two also has wealth of supporting material, with five documentaries dealing with the different aspects of the film. The first, Aliens, Zombies & Cannibals, is a fun and revealing interview with lead Ian McCulloch, who dishes the dirt regarding issues on the shoot (language barriers, dangerous locations) before chatting about the later US-shot, Italian-produced horrors he worked on.
Special Features: (4/5)