Zombies can live underwater. This was news to me, because last time I checked in with a zombie movie, the big innovation was that zombies could now run at a dead sprint instead of just staggering around moaning and waiting to be felled by handy pieces of lumber. And not merely get by, but actually thrive on the bottom of the seaa point brought home with a certain forcefulness in Zombie, when one of their number attempts to rape a topless scuba diver who has just survived the least convincing shark attack in the history of movies. When the diver eludes her second assailant, the zombie goes after the shark, tearing out and eating its heart. Say what you will about the rest of the movie, but you're not going to see that anywhere else. Zombie versus shark. Category closed. And this was in in 1979.
When you think about it, doesn't it make perfect sense that zombies would actually be more at home in salt water? They might preserve better in cool, dry northern climates, but in Caribbean waters they can bathe their suppurating ulcers in a natural saline solution which offers the further benefit of added buoyancy for all that dead weight. On land they just can't goop the moisturizer on fast enough.
This was well into the movie, and it was one of those wonderful movie moments for me when I am actually forced, in the moment, to come to terms with suspension of belief and its arbitrary logical underpinnings. As a movie viewer, when you see something humanoid exerting itself underwater, you can't help but pause to consider its relation to oxygen, and that means getting distracted from the action at hand. But of course, zombies don't need oxygen: Their extremities are already in a chronic state of gangrene. As long as they can go on lurching, biting and occasionally vomiting infectious fluid into people's faces, zombies are fine without oxygen.
What tripped me up was the reverse shark attack. You don't exactly go into a movie like Zombiecorny gore, bad acting, worse overdubbing, bad '70s hair and cheeseball synth soundtrackexpecting much intelligence, and up until the shark attack, in Zombie your expectations are largely borne out. You don't have to think: It's a zombie movie. So belatedly encountering a possible glimmer of intelligence is actually what disrupts your suspension of disbelief, which was otherwise whirring quietly on power-save mode. Although the shark attack was probably just written into the script on location ("Hey, I just met a guy at the marina whose friend has a tame toothless shark!"), the beast itself is still fraught with symbolic potential and you really want to think director Lucio Fulci made the point consciously: If a zombie can hand the world's most perfectly-adapted predator its ass on the predator's own turf, humans are in big trouble.
But then you think, "Nah. It was all about the topless scuba diver." Because, hey! Topless scuba diver! This is an Italian movie, after all. Just a few days earlier I had been having this discussion with someone: Italy doesn't make as many great movies as it should (limited exceptions and apologies here), and a very large proportion of what Italian cinema is known for is weirdly eroticized schlock like The Night Porter. Legions of fans will tell you horror auteur Dario Argento is a visionary genius, but I remain unconvinced of that and prepared, as ever, to argue that possibly since the late '40s Italian cinema has been largely mired in a prolonged state of sophomoric sexual retardation. Argento's is just a little more gothic and, like Fulci's, more graphically violent.
Incidentally, Fulci and Zombie cannot be credited with introducing horror fans to the dramatic potential of the nude female scuba diver. That honor belongs to Spanish director Vicente Aranda and his 1972 cult vampire lesbian classic The Blood Spattered Bride, in which a sexually frustrated bridegroom just happens to find such a woman buried in beach sand with only her snorkel sticking out. He brings her home to stay with him and the new missus and things work out about like you'd figure. The Blood Spattered Bride doesn't quite live up to its potential, either, but it's plenty weird and the scene on the beach is quite startlingly surreal, worth the rental by itself.
But anyway, no. Let me spare you the effort of looking by just telling you up front that there's no real brain function in Zombie. As soon as the opening credits go upa reassuring mixture of no-name Anglophone actors and Italian production teamZombie is exactly what you'd expect to see and exactly why you went to see it.
It drags a bit, but it's (barely) worth it for the spurts and blorts of cheapo gore. Take that, Saw XXIV! In the end, Zombie's zombies aren't much more threatening than the othersshark-fighting abilities are about the only evidence of an evolutionary upper handbut the movie is a goofy good time if you know what you're getting into. If you're there to see it in the first place, you probably do. And hey: topless scuba diver.
Zombie shows at the Wilma Theatre Sun., Oct. 28, at 8 PM. Doors open at 7 PM and there will be a costume contest with prizes. $8, with advance tickets at the Wilma.