For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: Zombie, directed by Lucio Fulci, 1979
I'm not going to lie, I am intimidated by this week's post. I don't think any horror fan that has seen Zombie needs any enamored ramblings from me to lend perspective to its greatness. If you haven't seen it, then I beg you to grant your eyes the privilege of learning every disgusting facet of this film over me spoiling it for you. But where does that leave me? It leaves me with an abbreviated Terror Tuesday Report, but I'll do my best.
There are innumerable zombie films within the horror genre. Even within the cannon, there are countless titles that adopt the same style and look of Zombie with less poise and/or a smaller budget. So what sets this one apart? I think a lot of what makes Zombie so fantastic is that it was among the first. The first modern zombie film ever made? Certainly not, for my money that moniker need be bestowed upon Night of the Living Dead. But Zombie took something that no one at the time saw as polished, and made it grimier and dingier. Where Dawn of the Dead shocked people with gore, Zombie took a machete to their retinas and happily lapped up the result.
It wasn't enough that the violence was nasty and shocking, director Lucio Fulci wanted the zombies themselves to be less polished and more vile. He succeeded by working into the plot not only the reanimated corpses of the recently deceased but the ancient dead as well. So where Romero employed one tub of gray face paint and relied on the zombies' actions to drive the horror, Fulci created decaying, worm-ridden humanoids whose very presence on the screen is enough to make one cringe. Of the holy Italian triumvirate, I think the reason I love Fulci the most is his propensity to make every film as gritty, gushy, and dementedly bloody as possible while dabbling with a marked level of skill in the supernatural.
The thing that could easily put folks off Fulci is his devil-may-care approach to plot structures. One need only hearken back to the first Terror Tuesday report and recall the ending of The Gates of Hell to understand what I mean. The guy isn't exactly a slave to the three act structure or perceivable story arcs. Zombie's better-than-average coherence is why many people consider it Fulci's best film. On top of that, he utilizes burgeoning zombie tropes along with ancient voodoo beliefs to create something legitimately frightening. And of course, the gorgeously dream-like music of Fabio Frizzi puts the perfect cherry atop this classic.
The eye gouge scene is a priceless gem. If the lacking of precise storytelling isn't considered a distinguishing characteristic of Fulci, then surely eye trauma must be as it appears in nearly all his films. The shot is so painfully slow, and garnished with the ominous tones of Frizzi's score as her head moves sadistically closer to the shard of wood. What truly makes this shot remarkable is that we watch, with unflinching photography, the splinter enter the eye and then tear it asunder. I would love to know how in the hell they managed that shot; fake eye or not it looks phenomenal
The ending of the film still haunts me. The shot of all the zombies shambling their way across the Brooklyn Bridge toward a doomed New York is horrific to the nth degree. Of course, it does hurt the cause a bit that traffic is rushing along below undaunted by the eminent zombie apocalypse. Regardless, I still have nightmares about the zombies taking Manhattan...could we be on the cusp of witnessing the horror of zombie Muppets?
This is one of the bigger classics that has played Terror Tuesday this year. Not surprisingly, the line in the lobby prior to the doors opening was immeasurable. The theater itself was a quiet sanctuary wherein a gaggle of horrophiles worshiped at the alter of Fulci. However, again not surprisingly, when that eye gouge concluded, there was a thunderous cacophony of exalt rising to the rafters.