“Zombi 2:” Italy’s Bizarre Dive Into Horror

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Dominic Merlo, Contributor

From the late 20th century to the current day, Italian film can be noted for being passionate, if not melodramatic, and frequently corny. It’s this overblown passion making Italy such an influential figure for the grand scheme of cinema. With important movements such as Italian Neorealism adding much-needed darkness to early film, and films such as “8½,” “Nuovo Cinema Paradiso,” and “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” bold and individual masterpieces that have inspired generations of filmmakers of all interests around the world.

Sergio Leone&squot;s "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly"
Sergio Leone’s “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”

Italian horror falls victim to far more of the melodrama and unintentional silliness than any other genre produced there. Few films that can compare with German, Japanese, and especially American counterparts, aside from “Suspiria,” which has become commonplace in discussion due to the recent American remake. Italian horror has a tendency to have remarkably low budgets in hope of a massive turn around for sex, violence, and cheap scares, embodied most comedically in the so-bad-it’s-good classic, “Troll 2.”

With this in mind, I expected nothing short of an incredible disaster when I went to watch “Zombi 2,” a cult classic bootleg sequel to George Romero’s classic zombie flick, “Dawn of the Dead.” However, what I got was much more interesting. While, yes, it fits many of the expectations I had with bizarre acting, multiple scenes of women at least topless (if not entirely nude), extreme violence, and ridiculous, corny directing choices, it surprisingly manages to be genuinely creepy, while also being fascinatingly absurd enough to blur the lines between ironic and (god forbid) sincere appreciation of what I was watching.

“Zombi 2” follows a news reporter named Peter West and a woman named Anne Bowles as they travel to the island of Matul in the Caribbean to find Anne’s missing father after a patrolman was murdered on her father’s empty boat (by a zombie.) They hire a couple of married guides to take them there using their boat, who advise against going anywhere near this island, advice neither of them takes seriously at all.

The first zombie attack on Anne's father's boat
The first zombie attack on Anne’s father’s boat

While the main characters make their way to Matul, on the island, a (seemingly mad) scientist named David Menard attempts to study the biological qualities of the zombification process. His wife lives with him, unsatisfied, desiring to leave this horrifying island. From there, all goes to insanity when one of the guides (a woman wearing no top, of course) is swimming in the water and is pursued by a shark. The shark is then attacked by a zombie. Then, for the next few minutes, we get to watch a man in a dilapidated zombie costume falling apart in the water fight a shark. That is the beauty of “Zombi 2.”

The rest of the movie follows in suit, jumping from moments of mundane to insanity to genuinely shocking (and technically impressive) scenes that made me wince in pain. One of which features a zombie killing a victim by pulling her toward a wooden stake, impaling her eye, and getting the movie banned in the U.K. for nearly thirty years. Another scene involves the zombies of conquistadors rising from their graves in what leads to one of the most genuinely impressive and action-packed scenes of a pre-80s horror film.

I can’t go without mentioning the soundtrack, which manages to make some of the atmospheres more creepy than they have any right being, combining the heavy sound of sharp, moody, horror-standard synths with a generalized dark Samba sound while the characters are on the Caribbean island. The creeping ambiance paired with surprisingly successful shocks put together by a truly impressive VFX team turn a melodramatically acted scene into a genuinely haunting scene.

Impressive atmosphere makes scenes more haunting than they should be
Impressive atmosphere makes scenes more haunting than they should be

This movie is strange to me because it’s not incredible, bad enough to be so-bad-it’s-good or the most original plot put to screen, yet there’s something very unique to this movie. It has an ambiguous atmosphere that blurs the sleazy, bootleg, and accidentally comedic with the passionate, meticulous, and disturbing. “Zombi 2,” while not a masterpiece, by being as stereotypically Italian horror and as bootleg as it is, manages to perfectly illustrate the spirit of Halloween. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who’s a fan of horror because of the pandemic, Halloween didn’t seem to have the power it’s had in the past this year. There’s no better way to evoke emotions of spooky, Autumnal celebration than by getting comfortable, warm, having snacks on hand, and watching the best Italian horror cash grab from 1979, “Zombi 2.”