In the summer of 1979 Lucio Fulci released Zombi 2 also known as Island of the Living Dead, also known as Nightmare Island and sometimes known as Zombie Flesh Eaters, and possibly many other titles. This bold and sensual movie was intended as an unofficial sequel to George A Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), it was quite a popular theme for Italian directors to make unofficial sequels to American releases, for me the most iconic would be Alien 2 : On Earth (1980) which was Ciro Ippolito and Biagio Proietti’s attempt to make an earth bound sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 cult classic Alien. It’s as different as day and night to Alien and the intended sequel Aliens, but it’s a really wacky but thrilling lower budget movie. It’s brilliant that the ambition to make a daring sequel spurred on a wonderful director to try and achieve something new, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
The world that Romero conjured up with slow ambling ghouls rising from the dead and lounging around a shopping mall was a thrilling introspective into American society as much as it was a brilliant piece of zombie cinema, this was all brushed aside in Zombi for some dusty maggot filled zombies terrorising a fictional island called Matul. Dardano Sacchetti, Fulci’s long time friend and partner in crime, was responsible for the voodoo vibes and mythology that strings together a real source of the viral outbreak, something which really hammers home the origins of zombies and cult magic, the tribal atmosphere was something not really familiar with a lot of Western audiences and the fear of the unknown helped to propel the film into new depths of horror, although the style carried on in Umberto Lenzi’s Black Demons/ Demoni 3 (1991) and the more famous Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) from Wes Craven RIP, the African based mythology and lore also helped to influence the fantastic soundtrack, Fabio Frizzi blends booming electronica with Caribbean steel bands and deep rhythmic tribal beats, sometimes the blend is a little misshapen but overall it defines the styles of each scene.
The film is filled with all the essential elements to make it a Video Nasty, the odd flash of nudity, a bit of maggoty Conquistador zombie raising from the grave (one of my all time favourite zombies) and Fulci’s signature eye gouging scene, this one in particular is filled with splintered wood and really makes my skin crawl. But it’s the one underwater caper that really stood out and made the film so exceptional, this is the legendary Zombie Vs Shark battle.
Fulci can’t take any credit for this marvelous idea as he didn’t want to film it and thought it was “too silly”, instead Ugo Tucci insisted that the fight be included and developed a second team to film the impossible! The plan was to use a real life Tiger shark, despite them ranking pretty high on the list of sea critters who have killed most humans, but a Tiger shark was “employed” to battle against Rene Cardona Jr, a shark trainer and Jacques Cousteau’s diving guide but he was unable to make the shoot, and so an plan b zombie was found in Ramon Bravo, an experienced underwater photographer who’s work feature in films such as Licence to Kill (1989).
In order to keep the Tiger shark from eating everyone involved, it was fed and pumped full of tranquilisers, the 70’s was a fine decade for animal rights! But the scene is so wonderful! The brave quartet are heading to Matul when they stop for a swimming break, Susan (Auretta Gay) strips and decends into the ocean when she encounters a zombie strolling by, scratching his face with coral she attempts to swim back to the boat but the Tiger shark appears so she hides, but the zombie just sees the shark as a quick snack and the two begin to battle.
Bravo never given any note in the credits for his bravery, which is a damn shame, but I salute you and everyone involved, despite the methods. Things like this will never happen again and even with films like Jaws (1975) and the Meg (2018), it really is hard to top something as imaginative as this one glorious cult scene.