Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Io zombo, tu zombi, lei zomba

In some ways this little seen zom-com proves something of a missing link between various other better known films.

For if Fulci’s Zombie took what critic Kim Newman has described as a “straight-faced” approach to the post-Romero zombie, Io zombo, tu zombi, lei zomba – i.e. I’m a zombie, you’re a zombie, she's a zombie – draws instead on the “splatstick” aspects of Dawn of the Dead.

We begin with a animated credits sequence that sees a head modelled on a combination of Dawn of the Dead’s poster / airstrip and Hare Krisha zombies, open up to display the credits, accompanied by the strains of a jungle call theme clearly modelled on Goblin’s caccia cue.

The credits

Following this, we’re then introduced to the four main characters: two drivers, a cyclist and a gravedigger. The first three are involved in a road accident, which leaves them dead and in the care of the gravedigger.

He foolishly reads a passage from a book on voodoo out loud, thus reanimating the others. On seeing them, the shock causes him to have a fatal seizure. The others, finding his body and the book, then unwittingly recite the same passage, bringing the gravedigger back and leaving them all in the same predicament.

Reading the book for guidance on what to do, namely look for human flesh to devour, they then relocate from the cemetery to a nearby hotel, conveniently all but deserted – the aunt of one of the men is there but soon dies of natural causes, with the family connection enough to mean that she is not placed on the dinner table – where they masquerade as the staff in the hope of luring in some more appropriate victims.

Zombies on the march

Some guests soon arrive, including a family with a noxious child who knows all about zombies from having read Oltretomba and tries to convince his parents that they all in danger of being eaten, and a gangster type with his mistress and, unbeknownst to the zombies, her recently murdered husband in the car...

The horror kid

They make a point of asking for a matrimoniale rather than two single rooms

Eventually, after various comic living dead hijinks, the action relocates to a shopping centre / mall as the military go in pursuit of the zombies…

We are going to eat you!

But in a properly civilised manner...

The main innovation on the Romero zombie, prefiguring Nightmare City, Cannibal Apocalypse and the Return of the Living Dead series, is that these zombies are conscious of their situation, even if they also have grey-painted skin and, in sharp contrast to their speedy Nightmare City counterparts, still do a slow Romero shuffle.

Elsewhere there's also another foretaste of Cannibal Apocalypse in the way the zombie group, by now expanded to include the mistress/wife, finds itself pursued by the authorities.

The major strength of the film is that it is actually funny. While I wouldn't claim to have gotten much of the verbal humour, of which there seems to be a lot, the sight gags and the actors' zombie routines work regardless of your knowledge of Italian, with the actors making some priceless expressions and gestures.

If the writing seems a little weak, what with all the nightmarish coincidences and contrivances as things go on, there's also a very good reason (beyond it being inherent in this kind of comedy) for this, with it worth recalling here that co-writer Roberto Gianviti had also contributed to several of Fulci and others' gialli, including Lizard in a Woman's Skin and Seven Notes in Black.

Another Romero moment, at the supermercato / mall

While director Nello Rossati doesn't quite come across as one of the forgotten auteurs of the Italian B-cinema on the basis of his showing here or in the other film of his that I've seen, the Ursula Andress sexy comedy The Sensuous Nurse, both films do have a self-referential aspect - there a youth reads i libri gialli, from which he starts to get wind of the murder conspiracy within his own extended family - ex-military figures, and an agreeable general no-nonsense approach.

In the latter regard, Nadia Cassini is here on hand to provide some glamour as the gangster's moll, and while remaining scantily clad does perform what could, at a pinch, be seen as the cinema's first zombie stripper routine.

Cassini also helps explicate the formula of the film's title, having appeared the previous year in the comedy anthology Io tigro, tu tigri, egli tigra.

In sum, a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes and an intriguing intertext for the zombie film scholar.

[As can be seen, I watched the film through an AVI produced by one Doctor Divx, though there is now a Nocturno DVD out]

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