The Daves would like to once again welcome Brandon Engel to this site with his continuing retrospectives, this time covering Italian zombie films!
Zombies have long captured the attention of horror movie fans worldwide. George A. Romero, director of Night of the Living Dead, may have started modern zombie madness, but Italian directors offered unique twists with their own contributions to the genre.
If you dig seventies exploitation movies, and you haven’t seen many international releases, you’d be wise to scope out vintage Italian zombie films, particularly those directed by guys like Lucio Fulci and Jorge Grau. Here are the top five Italian zombie movies.
- Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
Directed by Jorge Grau (who also recently contributed to The ABC’s of Death), this film features a decidedly anti-macho protagonist. Manchester, England, provides a deceptively calm setting for the film’s irradiated undead hordes. The film begins with George riding his motorcycle into town amid nude hippie streaking and the destruction of George’s motorcycle by a bad driver named Edna. George demands that Edna drive him to his rural home, and zombies soon enter the scene after the two encounter pest control professionals experimenting with radiation to kill grasshoppers. Although almost comical, this premise also helps create an anti-establishment theme appropriate to the early 1970s social climate (and to zombie films in general). Run-ins with police and shocking plot twists occur as George and Edna work to clear her sister of false murder charges while zombies maraud Manchester in force.
- Nightmare City (1980)
This Umberto Lenzi film is the first undead flick with fast-moving zombies. A classic radiation leak at a nuclear plant occurs in an unnamed city, and the designer of the plant travels to the site to placate the locals. Journalists are waiting at the airport when a camouflage plane arrives only to be surrounded by gun-toting security personnel. After the newly zombified designer and dozens more undead emerge and dominate the security force, the journalists narrowly escape. Martial law is established, and the journalists try to warn the public on television before trying to fight their way out of the chaos.
- City of The Living Dead (1983)
Directed by Italian horror master Lucio Fulci, this movie depicts a New England town called Dunwich (an obvious nod to H.P. Lovecraft), where a doorway to hell opens after a priest commits suicide. Soon, zombies roam and other supernatural horrors begin to escalate. A journalist and a woman who are linked psychically to the event work together to close the door before the situation grows out of control. A foggy, dreamlike atmosphere and shocking yet artistic images, often riddled with maggots and plenty of trademark Italian gore, accompany the progression to the movie’s unforgettable climax. The film has historically done well in the home viewing market, and more recently, DirecTV subscribers have been able to catch the film somewhat frequently on El Rey Network.
- The House by The Cemetery (1984)
Also directed by Lucio Fulci, this film portrays a journalist who moves with his family from New York City to a small town in New England to investigate a murder. Replete with Fulci atmosphere, the plot picks up as the young son receives a supernatural warning that the family should stay away. The family is soon terrorized by gruesome visions, off-putting townspeople and even bat swarms. The man of the house, still in journalistic mode, steadfastly refuses to leave as he works to figure out what secrets lie behind the bizarre occurrences.
- Zombi 2 (1980)
Fulci’s finest. Inspired by the success of Dawn of The Dead, which was released as Zombi in Europe, “Zombi 2” is completely unrelated to the Romero film that preceded it. A scene featuring a zombie fighting a shark in Caribbean waters is easily one of the most memorable zombie scenarios of all time. The film follows a woman named Anna who enlists Peter, a journalist, to help investigate the disappearance of her father. Upon traveling to the tropical island of Maful, Anna and Peter encounter a scientist who worked with Anna’s father to find a cure for a deadly local illness that brings people back from the dead. The juxtaposition of a tropical paradise with voodoo and a heavy atmosphere of doom creates a zombie adventure without match. The film still shows regularly at midnight screenings throughout the world.