Born as an Italian sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (known as Zombi in Italy, hence Flesh Eaters moniker of Zombi 2 upon its release), Zombie Flesh Eaters feels akin to a fan film, a cheap nasty exploitation flick that revels in the gore and seldom thinks of things like character motivations or even plot and narrative structure. It is easy to see why it caused such a shit storm upon its release in Britain (it was featured on the Video Nasties list, along with three others of Lucio Fulci’s works): despite being slow, the gore is extreme and Fulci shoots it with a lover’s eye. In probably its most infamous moment, one victim is pulled towards a piece of splintered wood, puncturing her eye very, very slowly. The camera never once shies away and the ordeal becomes almost excruciating, the only audible noise is the victim’s screams.
The things is, with the reputation this film carries, it nearly fails to deliver on its expectations. It’s nasty, horribly so at times, but there is nothing that hasn’t been seen before. Romero’s own Dawn and Day of the Dead were worse (apart from the aforementioned eye puncturing scene) and the between gore downtime is slow. But there is a charm about it (if a film this horrible really can be said to have any charm) that appeals, not least in its grimy, cheap, shot-on-the-fly aesthetic. This is a grindhouse pic by definition and to hell with continuity and a cohesive plot. The disease that causes the plague goes unspecified, the doctor’s reasons for staying on the island whilst everyone around him dies is ropey and once our protagonists arrive, the choices they make often defy logic. One woman merely stands still and watches a zombie approach from a distance. Where one would half expect a second beast to attack her from behind or, more reasonably, for our would-be victim to get up and run, she merely stands, watches and seems surprised when it rips her throat out.
But Fulci is a man that at least understands that zombies are inherently frightening and the moments before the eye puncturing scene (in which the victim barricades herself in her room) are fairly unnerving. As so during the climax, where we see many a zombie shuffling their way out of the woods towards our heroes. The ending is relentlessly bleak and the final shot of the beasties making their way across the Brooklyn bridge is fitting (although the traffic still seems to running as normal. Curious seeing as they state the zombies have effectively taken over New York). The synthesized score, a token of the zombie movies of the 70’s and 80’s is also suitably ominous.
Taking it for what it is, Zombie Flesh Eaters (or Zombie, or Zombi 2, or whatever) does what it set out do: to be a cheap knock off of the popular Romero brand. It’s got its faults and it’s not what its reputation would have you believe but, in the company of a few close friends and a six pack of beer, much fun can be had.
It also features a zombie vs. a shark. Says it all really.
Nastiest scene: The eye bit. You’ll never look at a splinter in the same way again.