ZOM­BIE FLESH EATERS

Calum Wad­dell bites into the be­hind- the- scenes trauma of Ital­ian hor­ror’s most men­ac­ing mon­ster movie…

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Il­lus­tra­tion by Gra­ham Humphreys

Your jaw will fall off as you read what went on be­hind the scenes of this in­fa­mous video nasty.

Good old Lu­cio Fulci.

Once a by­word for ir­re­deemable, tabloid-trou­bling VHS- era sleaze, the grand old man of gore – who passed away in 1996 – has since gar­nered a late- in- the- day ap­pre­ci­a­tion that has re­sulted in many of his movies be­ing reeval­u­ated as le­git­i­mate genre clas­sics. Take

Zom­bie Flesh Eaters. De­spite be­ing con­ceived and mar­keted as a Ge­orge Romero cash- in ( Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead was re­leased in Italy as Zombi, so Fulci’s film slipped out as

Zombi 2), many crit­ics and fans now ar­gue that this dis­tinctly Euro- splat­ter twist on walk­ing- corpse ter­ror has a unique iden­tity of its own. In­deed, whereas Romero’s film is awash with metaphors of cap­i­tal­ism and con­sumerism, Fulci’s work is far more es­capist and fan­tas­ti­cal – rooted in old voodoo pulp with a comic book story of a Mediter­ranean is­land un­der siege from a num­ber of meat- munch­ing corpses. Head­ing the fight to stay alive un­der trop­i­cal duress, and the threat of be­ing eaten alive, is a Scot­tish jour­nal­ist ( Ian McCul­loch), a woman search­ing for her sci­en­tist fa­ther ( Tisa Far­row), a ma­rooned boat cap­tain ( Al Cliver) and an English doc­tor ( the late, great Richard John­son). Add to this heady mix a zom­bie fight­ing a shark – a se­quence later used to ad­ver­tise Win­dows 7 of all things – and the mo­men­tous, if misog­y­nis­tic, mo­ment in which a woman has her eye­ball punc­tured by a large shard of wood and you have an un­par­al­leled and am­bi­tious gross- out epic.

“The cast and crew ar­rived on Santa Domingo with­out a penny,” Zom­bie Flesh Eaters star and B- movie vet­eran Al Cliver tells SFX. “Then the next morn­ing every­thing was cov­ered and the pro­duc­ers were rich with lo­cal cur­rency. None of us knew how. They paid most of us with cash- in­hand. It was crazy. I never ques­tioned what was go­ing on! As for me, I was just un­sure of what I was even mak­ing. I did not even know there had been a Zombi part one!”

In Zom­bie Flesh Eaters, Cliver is one of three per­form­ers who man­ages to make it to the end cred­its in ( al­most) one piece. Por­tray­ing the bearded sailor Brian Hull, who finds

Fulci was ugly and dirty, like a small child eat­ing Nutella

him­self drifting off to a hide­out awash with in­testi­nal- hun­gry hordes, Cliver would go on to act in such later Fulci flicks as The Black Cat ( 1980) and The Be­yond ( 1981). Not that this should in­di­cate that pair had any kind of pleas­ant rap­port on the set...

“Shout­ing was the very min­i­mum,” ad­mits Cliver. “He of­fended peo­ple ev­ery sin­gle day. He had to have a stupid nickname for ev­ery­one – ex­cept for Richard John­son, who was too im­por­tant for him to up­set, and Tisa Far­row who he fell in love with. Ev­ery­one else, how­ever, was fair game. Fulci was ugly and dirty, like a small child eat­ing Nutella. He was also a ge­nius, ex­as­per­at­ing and very dif­fi­cult. He soon gave me the nickname ‘ Tu­fus’, and his rea­son­ing was as fol­lows: whilst Michelan­gelo had been given Car­rara mar­ble to cre­ate his mas­ter­pieces, the pro­duc­tion team had only con­ceded him a bit of tufa rock from the out­skirts of Rome, and from that he had to carve out the sem­blance of an ac­tor.”

Nat­u­rally, no dis­cus­sion of Zom­bie Flesh Eaters can pos­si­bly take place with­out some talk of the film’s cen­tre­piece: the afore­men­tioned and much- beloved mo­ment in which a top­less scuba diver ( played by Auretta Gay) comes across a peck­ish tiger shark and an un­der­wa­ter ghoul dur­ing the same sea- ses­sion. Luck­ily for her, though, the fear­some- fish and the aquatic liv­ing- dead en­tity have more in­ter­est in bat­tling each other. What com­mences is one of the most amaz­ing mo­ments ever com­mit­ted to genre cel­lu­loid. Ac­cord­ing to Cliver, though, the real fight was tak­ing place above the wa­ter.

“Auretta Gay was an aspir­ing ac­tress with very lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence and she dis­ap­peared soon af­ter Zom­bie Flesh Eaters,” re­calls the ac­tor – who por­trays her boyfriend in the film. “I can­not say I blame her for not chas­ing her film ca­reer af­ter the way Lu­cio Fulci treated her. You see, Lu­cio had no time for any­one who was not a ‘ real’ per­former and he was gen­er­ally sadis­tic to­wards women any­way. Auretta had just been cast be­cause she was pretty and she had a nice body for her nude scenes. They took this beau­ti­ful, but naive, young lady from Rome and flew her out to the Caribbean so she was awestruck. The first day she fell asleep un­der a tree wear­ing a tiny thong. It might have been her first time abroad and, of course, she got hor­ri­bly sun­burnt. So she turned up the next morn­ing beg­ging Lu­cio to do the shark se­quence some other time. She was told no so she asked Fulci if she could cover her­self with at least the top half of a scuba wet suit – rather than be­ing top­less. Fulci nixed that idea with rel­ish: ‘ Miss, see­ing as I have no proof of your act­ing abil­ity, I would pre­fer at least to take ad­van­tage of your phys­i­cal at­tributes, which yes­ter­day you were so keen to show off.’ The other draw­back was that Ms Gay couldn’t swim. Fulci could have shot the scene near the shore, point­ing the cam­era to­wards

the hori­zon. In­stead, he de­clared: ‘ Let’s go off shore!’ The pro­duc­tion was in no way wor­ried about the ac­tress’s safety, of course, but she was plead­ing with him to give her a break.”

Not that Fulci, who was then 52 years old and largely strug­gling to ce­ment him­self as a film­maker of any com­mer­cial stand­ing, would have any of it…

“She cried and she was shak­ing,” con­tin­ues Cliver. “She said, ‘ I am re­ally not ca­pa­ble of do­ing this,’ and Fulci ex­ploded and said, ‘ I do not know what pro­ducer you had sex with in or­der to be on this film but if you do not get in the wa­ter I am fir­ing you from this movie and get­ting any good- look­ing lo­cal lady to take your spot be­cause even they will be able to act bet­ter than you! You are noth­ing! You are use­less! You can even find your own flight home!’ So she agreed, fi­nally, and they got the scene done – but when she dove into the wa­ter, she asked that I was there to catch her along with some of the crew. Fulci was rel­ish­ing her tears so much, though, he made her dive into the ocean six times in a row – de­spite the fact the first take was fine. She was also hurt­ing be­cause when she put on her oxy­gen tank it cut at her skin which was al­ready torn with the sun. To make mat­ters worse she had to be in the wa­ter with a shark. It was a night­mare for her. She was ter­ri­fied of Lu­cio; she just wanted to go home af­ter that.”

Cu­ri­ously, though, Fulci had noth­ing but re­spect for the film’s other fe­male star – Tisa Far­row, sis­ter of Mia.

“The only woman that Fulci loved was Tisa Far­row,” main­tains Cliver. “He adored her. I do not know why he wor­shipped her – sure, she was pretty, but so was Auretta. I guess maybe it was be­cause she was a bit of a hippy; she didn’t want for any­thing and just had an easy- go­ing charm. Ev­ery time it was our lunch break she had her food brought to her by the crew – on Lu­cio’s de­mand. He would get the work­ers to perch a ham­mock up for her and give her a fan. Fulci was crazy about mak­ing sure she was com­fort­able and she never had any com­plaints about him.”

Ul­ti­mately, as Cliver con­firms, no one who worked on

Zom­bie Flesh Eaters thought that they were in the midst of craft­ing a con­tro­ver­sial clas­sic. While the cast was at­tempt­ing to deal with their hot- tem­pered di­rec­tor, the man in charge was also un­aware that he was mak­ing the sort of gore- drenched gem that would scan­dalise en­tire coun­tries and also stand the test of time.

“Lu­cio also did not want to be there,” main­tains Cliver. “He thought that this was some low bud­get hor­ror film that ev­ery­one in Italy would laugh at him for mak­ing. He was an in­tel­lec­tual and well- read man who wanted to be ap­pre­ci­ated for mak­ing some kind of crit­i­cal mas­ter­work. Peo­ple of­ten ask me, ‘ Al, why do the zom­bies move so slow in that movie?’ I tell them, ‘ It’s be­cause it meant they could be on the screen for longer be­cause Fulci hardly had a dime to make this film with!’ When we shot the end­ing, where Ian and Tisa and I are fir­ing at the zom­bies in the barn, it was done in one evening and with very lit­tle re­sources. Then Fulci called ‘ cut’ and I think he was as re­lieved as any­one that it was all done. Not one of us be­lieved it was go­ing to be a block­buster or any­thing.’

Yet, a “block­buster” it most cer­tainly was. Re­leased in the USA as Zom­bie ( with the evoca­tive tagline “We Are Go­ing to Eat You”), the film not only ended up splashed on the front cover of Fan­go­ria mag­a­zine but it also in­tro­duced a new gen­er­a­tion to the thrills of Ital­ian hor­ror. Per­haps even more than Dario Ar­gento, Fulci would be­come one of the first fright- film icons of the VHS age – es­pe­cially when Zom­bie Flesh Eaters was banned in the UK and de­monised by the likes of Mary White­house. Years later, how­ever, it’s ce­mented it­self as one of cin­ema’s most malev­o­lent, and stylish, splat­ter sick­ies…

“Lu­cio died just as his work was be­gin­ning to be un­der­stood,” laments Cliver. “He would call me to­wards the end of his life and he would say, ‘ Tu­fus, how are you?’ and he would be de­pressed. He would say, ‘ Do you know that in the UK and the USA they call me a leg­end? But here in Rome I am no­body.’ I would say, ‘ Try not to worry about it, Lu­cio. No great artist is ap­pre­ci­ated in their life­time.’ And I guess I was cor­rect…”

The dead walked es­pe­cially slowly to pad the film out!

And for starters they’d had prawn cock­tails. Pro­tect­ing Mia Far­row’s sis­ter… Clearly not ad­vo­cates of a ve­gan diet.

The eye has it: oc­u­lar hor­ror that helped get the film on the nas­ties list.

Zom­bie vs shark – you wouldn’t get this in Coronation Street.

You’d think swimming would have kept him in bet­ter shape!

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