ZOMBI 2, DAWN OF THE DEAD and Horror Movies as Active Viewing Experience, or I Like Pretentious Excuses for Horror Movies, I Cannot Lie

We need a breather after that title.

I’ve been a fan of Lucio Fulci’s Trilogy for years. He has neither the artistry of Mario Bava nor the grinding intestinal power of George Romero, but the Trilogy — I know only their American names, so I won’t butcher the Italian versions — is so danged NUTS I can’t help but enjoy. THE BEYOND, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY are clumsy, messy and goofy — brazenly so. Logic and continuity aren’t just shot to hell but treated with contempt. In the climax of THE BEYOND (I think; I confuse them and am too lazy to check), a character flees a hospital room overrun with flesh-eating zombies by walking through a door and entering a house that’s miles away.

Continuity fans are reduced to trembling blobs after viewing Fulci’s work

This is where production and budget realities, screenwriter laziness or directorial vision combine to mock the whole idea of auteurism. Are these movies what they are by intention, accident, compromise, vision, a mix of all these? Who knows? All one can do with these movies is deal with what is on the screen, just as is the case with every movie, whether we like what that means or not. What it means is that while we call a movie the product of its director, that’s just our laziness and their vanity in the vast majority of cases.

These are some of my favorite sorts of horror films, in which the wall between dream and reality is stepped over by the illegal immigrants of Fulci’s imagination running pell-mell from the ICE agents of Quality Cinema. Fulci and company have some ideas and some skill, but how much of what’s on the screen reflects that, and how much results from clumsiness or budget issues? Who can know?

Not many caught the nod to Leo Tolstoy in the zombie vs. shark scene.

As a big fan of these three movies, I’ve still never been interested in Fulci’s “masterpiece.” I read about it in Fangoria when it first came out in the late seventies. It’s an unofficial Italian sequel to DAWN OF THE DEAD, if we stretch ‘unofficial’ to mean ‘rip off,’ which makes it seem pretty ‘official’ to me! (mic feedback squeak) I’ve long suspected it would be a disappointment. It’s the opposite of having high expectations that can never be met; if anything it’s setting the bar so low that ZOMBI 2 couldn’t help but entertain me. Lots of sympathy, expecting nothing.

What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Oh. That.

ZOMBI 2 is a bad movie. Despite the most hopeful DVD packaging I’ve seen, this is not good-bad, not a horror masterpiece. It’s just a bad movie.

Couple goes to island to find woman’s dad. Once there, zombies attack, people die, and a weak ‘spectacular’ coda tells us we’re next. That really IS the whole story.

I never bought into the idea DAWN OF THE DEAD is some brilliant satire. People in malls are zombies — GET IT? The idea the people are zombie-like is not really an idea, it’s an assertion, repeated for two hours. Like we have seen for decades, the arts/entertainment/information media are completely out of touch with anyone they haven’t seen at a party. People in malls are zombies — GET IT?

I wasn’t looking for ZOMBI 2 to be anything but a horror movie. The pleas of “But themes!” of Romero and Fulci flacks can’t change the facts that these two movies are just about the thrill of seeing reanimated corpses moving slowly and eating people. Anyone who tells you they like watching these movies because they are uncanny satires on human behavior is lying to you. They watch them because they like gory horror movies, but for some reason are embarrassed to admit that. Yes, you two, over there, I see you trying to sneak out.

I’m not posting six pictures of zombies.

ZOMBI 2 doesn’t go the satirical route, which twisted bad movie lover logic means it’s BETTER than the movie that gave the genre critical credibility as satire. This makes it more honest, less pretentious. It goes back to the island roots of the zombie, which is a fine idea, and I commend Fulci and company for this. Late in the show, those seeking some way to argue that this is Black Comedy and not a parade of gore find hope when we find a cemetery created by the island’s long-ago conquerors. The dead rise up, and the sins of colonialism are revealed as the REAL issue. In this cemetery, the movie has found its shopping mall, giving thematic weight, a.k.a. an excuse for watching eyes being abused. Having the earth throw up the dead victims of conquest actually IS an idea, not just a bias like disdain for the blue collar class that worships at malls (said no one familiar with malls and their users).

An army of dead-eyed, faceless humanoids shambling from their subterranean homes…

I don’t have to believe the idea that zombies are due on Wall Street because of the oppression of the worker to see that the idea is what holds this collection of bad scenes together — it’s an effective way to make the zombies into more than just Others who are here to eat us. It’s not a great theme but it IS the movie’s theme. A theme does not a great movie make, but it gives it a spine. And it’s actually a good, valid and interesting one.

The blood flows, the doctor our heroine has obviously never met before looks like he smells bad, torsoes explode. This Cronenbergian body-horror is executed with far less finesse and or impact than in, say, RABID or THE BROOD, but it is the whole show here, after scenes of boring actors playing boring characters sailing and then driving.

Those who praise this for being a gore classic seem oblivious to how freaking boring it is. ZOMBI 2 crawls until almost the one-hour mark, and by then I’d fast-forwarded a lot. The zombie vs. shark scene is just kind of there — it isn’t pulled off with glee or imagination, it’s just done, so you sit there thinking, “Well, there’s something you don’t see every day, and why would I want to?”

This is an example of daylight horror, a subgenre I love that is rarely attempted. But the killing and resurrection, the gory makeups, the boobies — none of it hit me in the gut, because it’s such a dumb, soulless mess.

The least-gory image I could find.

I’d been warned to stay away. I am sorry I did for so long, since seeing this only makes Fulci’s great trilogy seem even more a matter of chance and fan enthusiasm over artistry. Is that a bad thing? No, and it’s actually educational as to the reality that chance and the audience’s participation in the movie-watching experience are a big part of our love for specific works. It may seem a bad thing to have one’s delusions squashed, but knowing that the dreamlike weirdness of the Trilogy is as much about my own imagination as Fulci’s makes me happy. We’re not just passive audiences, even if we think we are. The Romero fans who see depth in a depiction of zombies in a mall and my acceptance of chance as contributing to a movie’s fever-dream quality make us all movie lovers, not just viewers.

Look at all we can learn from a crappy zombie movie!

A nightmarish statement against vivisection? A vegan’s dream? YOU DECIDE!