After a zombie is found on a sailboat off the New York coast, a journalist named Peter West and Anne Bowles, a daughter in search of her missing father, travel to a tropical island looking for answers.
In high school I was what one might call a zombie film enthusiast. I was so into films about the undead in fact that my girlfriend at the time bought me a Zombie Movie Book as a gift, and it was in that book that I first read about this film. The book (the title of which escapes me) claimed this film has some truly fantastic practical effects, ones that rivaled the work of the great Tom Savini, whom was responsible for the makeup and zombie effects on many of George Romero’s films, but it was even more famous for one scene in particular; the scene where a zombie fights a real shark. I received that book nigh a decade ago, but I’d never been able to find this film anywhere (unless I wanted to fork over $25 for DVD copy of a movie that received less than stellar reviews). Times have changed, however, the world is a much smaller place, and it’s a lot easier to find obscure films from thirty plus years ago. As I sat down to watch this with my roommate, and the blood and gore began to flow, I smiled and let out a laugh. I felt glee welling up inside me, much like the sort of happiness I used to get watching zombie films a decade ago. This film is not at all a gem, but it certainly hit some of the right buttons for me.
“What’s all this about the dead coming back to life again and having to be killed a second time?”
After a sailboat drifts into New York Harbor, a reporter named Peter West (Ian McCulloch, “Moonlighting”) is told to investigate. While sneaking aboard the ship, Peter encounters Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow, “Manhattan”), whom is searching for her missing father, the owner of the sailboat. The two travel to the Dominican Republic where they meet a tourist couple named Brian Hull (Al Cliver, “2020 Texas Gladiators”) and Susan Barrett (Auretta Gay, “The Good Thief”). Peter and Anne ask the couple for help getting to the Island of Matul, but once they get there, they realize that things might be direr than they’d reckoned for.
As with 99.9% of zombie movies, plot takes the back seat, and the practical effects, the gross out horror, and sheer body count take the wheel. I believe it was in my review of Cronenberg’s “Rabid” that I stated that I’ve come to judge zombie films on a different level. If I’m being honest, and I had reviewed this film based solely on the sheer craft (writing, directing, storyline, cinematography) I’d have probably given this movie a 2.5/5 stars. As a story, it gives us nothing outstanding; the characters are all propped up gore-bags that wait their turn to die; and the pacing is horrendously slow for the first half of the film… but… wow those zombie scenes at the end are worth the wait. I say this with some reservations- this movie isn’t great, but I’d argue there are moments that overall make it worth watching if you’re a zombie movie fan (if you aren’t, why are you reading this?).
Where this film really falls apart is when you start to apply any sort of logic to the decisions our characters make. Our protagonists must have nothing between their ears but a box of rocks, because they are denser than ironwood. There are multiple scenes where character literally stand in one spot and watch while zombies come towards them; other scenes where characters turn their backs on zombies and are killed; and further scenes where, if they used the weapons they were holding, they’d have been fine. Fulci’s logic in these situations sometimes only adds to the humor of some of the scenes, and honestly, that’s fine with me. I can’t think of a zombie movie that I’ve ever taken completely seriously (maybe “28 Days Later…”), much of the time, the humor one gleans from the gross out gore effects is half the fun of watching a movie- another reason why I judge zombie films on a different scale. There are some scenes that I found to be a bit superfluous and unneeded, particularly the scenes that feature nudity. The aforementioned famous zombie/shark scene occurs when Susan Barrett, one of the American tourists, strips naked except for a diving tank and jumps into the water. Whilst watching this with my roommate, I asked; “Wouldn’t that chafe?” There’s really no reason for Susan to be naked during the scene, and it goes on for a few minutes. It’s just a strange choice that was made (again) without any thought behind it.
The practical effects alone are what make this worth watching, though for the first half of the movie those effects are few and far between. The film is slow (borderline boring) for the first forty-five minutes of the film (though it is within those first forty five minutes that we see the famous zombie/shark scene). After the attacks ramp up nearing the end of the film, we really start to see some carnage splashed across the screen in absolutely wonderful practical effects. There are all sorts of prosthetics and special effects makeup that spurt blood, gush goo, or just fall away like rotted flesh; it’s great (if you like that sort of thing)!
If you like zombie movies you’ll probably find a few things to enjoy here. There are some great special effects that rival Savini’s even more elaborate effects in “Day of the Dead”, and then there’s the famous zombie vs shark scene. As a horror film, it’s not that great- it’s certainly not Fulci’s best (“Don’t Torture a Duckling” blows this out of the water)- but it is entertaining. If you’re looking for a way to kill an hour and a half and you’re a big zombie fan, you’ll probably enjoy this… if not, you might as well skip it. It’s okay overall, but there are far better zombie flicks out there.
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