Fulci’s ‘Zombie 2’ in Techniscope!

I would never have seen Zombie 2 if it hadn’t been on the EMP Museum‘s list of “100 Horror Films to See Before You Die.” Thank you EMP for alerting me to this masterpiece of giallo!

'Zombie' (1979)
‘Zombie’ (1979) opening scene

I’m not saying this movie has a brilliant or even clever plot, but I was hooked-lined-and-sinkered from the very first Techniscope images of Manhattan shot from a boat in the harbor! Techniscope was a Technicolor Italia invention – a poor man’s wide screen, having more grain than other ‘scope systems. But director Lucio Fulci and cinematographer Sergio Salvati clearly knew how to make the most of what they had, including the dye-transfer, saturated color. The film is gorgeous!

Zombie takes Manhattan
Zombie takes Manhattan in ‘Zombie 2’ (Fulci, 1979)

It’s also of interest for being an Italian giallo production shot on location in New York and the Dominican Republic (as well as in a studio in Rome), and for staring Mia Farrow’s sister Tisa. But the acting is absolutely not the draw here — Richard Johnson is the only class act here — it’s that cinematography. This was the third collaboration of Fulci and Salvati, who worked together on five more Fulci classics including The Beyond and The Black Cat (both 1981).

Here’s the story in a nutshell, in case that’s important to you:

An un-manned yacht turns up in New York harbor, and when the coast guard investigates an officer is killed by the zombie lurking on board… Eventually the yacht-owner’s daughter (Farrow) decides she needs to go back to the Caribbean island from whence the yacht came to find dad (who was not said zombie). A nosy, love-interest reporter (Ian McCulloch) goes with her. They can’t charter a boat because the locals refuse to visit that remote island where some outbreak has occurred, so they get a vacationing, hedonistic rich couple to take them. And yeah, its an outbreak of undeath. — And oh yeah — Spanish conquistadors once occupied that island…

'Zombie 2' (1979)
Techniscope at sea in ‘Zombie 2’ (1979)

In addition to the opening sequence, quite a bit of Zombie 2 was shot on out on the water with the Techniscope aspect ratio exaggerating the ocean’s vastness and dye-transfer-saturated blue lulling one into calm reverie… Until this happens —

Spoiler Alert

— which I simply could not believe.

'Zombie 2' (1979)
Coral reef zombie vs. shark in Lucio Fulci’s ‘Zombie 2’ (1979)

I had to rewind and watch it thrice, and then email my underwater-cinematographer friend and ask, “How the heck did they do that?” His answer: “I don’t know!” And how we get into the zombie vs. shark scene was even more startling to me than the actual showdown, so I think I’ve not given too much away. Ah, the seventies.

'Zombie 2' (1979)
Glorious Techniscope in ‘Zombie 2’ (1979)

Once our heroes get to the island, the frames are full of lush greenery and soft sand. And of course, into all this natural beauty comes the gore. Molto gore! Fulci and Salvati have fun with panning and tracking too. Whip-pans with this super-wide frame can make you downright dizzy. There are also zombie p.o.v. shots, and slow tracking shots where suddenly —Boo! — something pops into frame. Very cheeky filmmaking.

'Zombie 2' (1979)
Dye-transfer gore in ‘Zombie 2’ (1979)

So why is it “Zombie 2”? (It’s also gone by Zombie Flesheaters and plain Zombie.) George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead had been released in an Dario-Argento-edited version as Zombi in Italy, so Zombi 2 was released in Italy as a sequel to that.

If you’re narrative-centric, this is not the film for you, but if you appreciate class gore and/or Italian giallo, or if you are just a sucker for really wide screen compositions (guilty) — this one’s a must.

'Zombie 2' (1979)
Tisa Farrow in ‘Zombie 2’ (1979)
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