Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 1

A couple of years ago, I hosted a zombie film marathon. Over the course of Weekend of the Living Dead, we watched the first ever zombie film, White Zombie (1932), and the entire George A Romero series (Night, Dawn, Day, Land, Diary and Survival), as well as a couple of more recent examples of the genre (Rec and 2004’s Dawn remake).

Last weekend was the sequel: Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead (or #RotWotLD, as no-one except me was calling it on Twitter). The aim of the second marathon was to move away from big studio productions and well-known classics, and move into the murky realms of low-budget gore, video nasties and forgotten cult gems. Here’s a round-up of what we watched.

FRIDAY EVENING

Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Lucio Fulci was a prolific Italian film director, who was active from the 1950s right up until his death in the 1996. He made films in a wide variety of genres, from spaghetti western and baudy comedy, to giallo, a unique Italian sub-genre of horror-thriller. However, he always made them in a distinctive personal style which included imaginative set pieces, technically impressive effects, graphic violence and extreme gore – earning him the nickname, ‘The Godfather of Gore’.

Always ready to adapt his output to meet audience demands, the success of Dawn of the Dead in 1978 gave Fulci another genre to try his hand at. Dawn was released in Italy under the title ‘Zombi’, so with shameless opportunism, Fulci released his undead apocalypse story a year later as Zombi 2 (also, Zombie in the US and Zombie Flesh Eaters in the UK). The lax international trademark agreements of the time apparently didn’t prevent him from passing off his unrelated work as a sequel to Romero’s film.

Knowing a bit about the film’s history, and given its hilariously over-the-top UK release title, expectations were low. However, the film surprised everyone by actually being really  rather good. It certainly does what it says on the tin: if you want graphic scenes of flesh being torn from people’s bodies and chomped by zombies, Zombie Flesh Eaters doesn’t disappoint. Fulci is on top form for effects and gore, and his trademark eye horror, and Fabio Frizzi provides a spooky synth soundtrack which adds a great atmosphere to the film. It’s well written and paced, and builds inexorably to a climactic zombie siege in an abandoned mission house. There’s also a very neat framing narrative and final twist. Put all of these together, and Zombie Flesh Eaters becomes more than just the derivative knock-off we expected: it’s a classic zombie film in its own right.

Also, it contains what I still contend is one of the greatest film scenes ever: an underwater fight between a zombie and a shark.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

Wes Craven is responsible for some of the most successful horror films of all time, including A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise. However, he’s also made a lot of less successful films, too. In 1988, he made The Serpent and the Rainbow, his take on the zombie mythology.

What’s interesting about The Serpent and the Rainbow is that it’s about voodoo zombies, living people put into a death-like trance and controlled by a voodoo sorceror. In other words, it takes the concept right back to its roots in White Zombie (and the pulp fiction and comics of the same era), side-stepping the Romero canon entirely.

The film stars Bill Pullman as an agent for a US pharmaceutical company, who is sent to Haiti to investigate reports of simulated death caused by a voodoo potion, and to bring back a sample of the potion. While the pharma execs are a typical Hollywood caricature of evil big business, gloating about how much money they’re going to make from the potion, it’s never explained what kind of medical use such a drug could possibly be put to. The details of the plot are no more convincing than the premise. Pullman spends a lot of time running around, being harassed by the Haitian secret police, and not achieving much except getting his friends killed. The film did contain one of the most wince-inducing moments of the weekend, when Pullman gets his scrotum nailed to a chair.

Expectations were high given that it was a Craven film and had an interesting-sounding premise, but overall it was a bit of a disappointing mess.

And so, the first night of RotWotLD ended with mixed results. Follow the links below to find out what happened next.

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 2

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 3

Return of the Weekend of the Living Dead: Part 4

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