Zombie Dead, The (1981)

The Zombie Dead (1981)

The earth shall tremble…. graves shall open…. they shall come among the living as messengers of death and there shall be the nights of terror…. “Prophecy of the Black Spider”

A professor conducting research into an ancient burial site unwittingly unseals an underground crypt and unleashes an army of flesh-eating monsters. They immediately head for his mansion nearby which is hosting a party. Following a terrifying encounter in the grounds of the mansion, the guests seal themselves inside as the undead gather outside.

 

The good old Italian zombie genre produces one of it’s more infamous offerings with The Zombie Dead, perhaps the sleaziest of the Italian zombie gore fests. Following the success of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, a whole slew of Italian zombie flicks were hastily made and no one did cheap exploitation rip-offs like the Italians. Pushing the boundaries of graphic horror further than their American counterparts would ever dream, the Italian zombie films mostly consisted of little plot, little in the way of characterisation, bad dubbing and generally poor production values. But they contained a tremendously mean spirit and sense of brutality that would see them turned into iconic and controversial films, most notably during the ‘Video Nasty’ furore in the UK during the 80s. It’s generally hard to tell each of the films apart as they all plagiarise each other but the occasional one did manage to stand out. Say hello to one of the most notorious of the lot: The Zombie Dead.

As with Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, Zombie Holocaust, et al, the film makes little attempt at creating a plausible story. The professor unlocks the crypt and unleashes zombies. End of. We don’t learn of how the professor raises the dead or why they have come back to life. They just appear and kill him in the opening scene. From there the script introduces us to the various human characters who will eventually turn into zombie chow by the end of the film. Why are all of these people gathering at the professor’s mansion too? All they do is have sex with each other – I actually think it was some sort of wife-swapping weekend. Whilst this does deliver the T&A pretty early on (and most of the women are really attractive too), it means that you’ll be waiting a while to see the living dead once they’ve offed the professor. The naughty antics and debauchery of the characters is most welcome though and adds a nice sleazy element to the film. The characters are all thinly sketched and apart from one or two of the more infamous characters (more on that later), I have no idea who was who. Names meant nothing to me here. You won’t care about any of the characters because not enough time is spent with them. Andrea Bianchi knows what his audience expects and soon delivers our wishes in buckets when the zombies make their presence known to the characters.

The zombies are suitably rotting and maggot-infested although the make-up department went a little overboard with the oatmeal faces. They’re some of the most realistic-looking zombies ever to grace the screen and look like they’ve been decomposing in the ground for a long, long time. Compared to the pale-faced zombies of George A. Romero, the Italians get higher marks for believability. These zombies are slow and shuffling but also reasonably intelligent, not afraid to pick up weapons to attack their victims or band together to smash down a door with a battering ram. In fact the zombies are cleverer than the cast as is proven when they have the bright idea of opening the doors to let the zombies in since they can be outrun. Look where it gets them!

When the deaths begin to roll, they’re pretty graphic. Fulci’s trademark close-up of someone’s eye being impaled on a sharp object is copied here to the same gruesome effects. Let’s just say that the zombies are well fed. Its rudimentary carnage though as the film simply drifts from one set piece to the next, with no story to hold it all together. But what set pieces they are! The two standouts are the decapitation of the maid which proves that zombies should work together more often and the most-talked about scene of the film during the finale.

This involves what The Zombie Dead is perhaps most infamous for one as one of it’s implied subplots is based around a mother and her incestuous, extremely freaky looking thirteen year old son. I mean this kid looks like a middle-aged man in a tiny body – he really does give you the shivers before he even opens his mouth. Peter Bark, the actor, actually a 25-year old adult, was cast so that the scene where he gropes his mum wasn’t as shocking (imagine having a child do that for real and you can see why they opted for the “tiny” man route). Still, the scene is disturbing enough at the suggestions being made and this bizarre man-come-boy actor certainly doesn’t do it any favours. But the real kicker is in the finale where the now zombie-boy seeks to get his mother’s affection for one last time. Obvious prosthetic chest aside, it’s the highlight of the film. This finale leads into an ending which is just as shocking and abrupt. Take a note Hollywood, not all films are meant to end in sugar-coated packages where everything is resolved.

 

The Zombie Dead is perhaps one of the greatest of the Italian zombie films and deservedly a cult horror flick. With no plot and bad dubbing dragging it down a few stars, the film more than makes up for it with its excellent make-up effects, controversial moments and a general sense of impending doom. Even if you don’t want to sit through the film, I suggest that you still go and find a picture of Michael, the ‘little’ kid, on Google. I swear he’ll give you nightmares like never before.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

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