When George Romero released his cult classic Night of the Living Dead in 1968, he unleashed hordes of copycat movies throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Italy was home to many of these copycat zombie films which have since become cult classics themselves.
Released in 1980, Hell of the Living Dead is widely considered a direct Dawn of the Dead clone. A team of soldiers have been sent to the top secret chemical jungle research facility Hope Center #1 after losing all communications. This is presumably due to a terrorist attack. The team quickly realizes they must survive the wild jungle which is full of undead monsters. Hell of the Living Dead is known for having large portions of stock footage from a the film La Vallée used throughout in a seemingly botched attempt to save money. This helps the plot be almost impossible to follow.
The first of three classic films from director and writer Lucio Fulci. Fulci is known for his low-budget, horror knock-off films which helped establish the Italian horror film industry. House by the Cemetery is not so much of a direct clone of a Romero flick, but a mash-up of several horror classics. A family moves into a home after being warned by a girl from a photograph to stay away. The previous occupants had been murdered in an apparent murder suicide. Eventually the family learns dark secrets are locked in the cellar.
The second Lucio Fulci film on the list and the first in the unofficial Gates of Hell trilogy. The trilogy also includes The Beyondand ends with House by the Cemetery many of which are now being re aired on the El Rey network (click here for more info). City is chock-full of the blood and gore that Fulci is known for, but the story is less convoluted than some of his other work. A gate to Hell has opened, and it is up to a reporter and psychic medium to stop the undead from invading Earth.
In many zombie films, the source that is reanimating the dead is never fully explained, if it is ever explained at all. In this classic, it is a radioactive machine meant to kill insects that is the trigger for mayhem. A step before its time, this environmentalist statement sets this film slightly above the rest of the Italian horde. The radioactive bug killer is stumbled upon by an antique shop owner and woman he meets along the way. As the undead attack, these two are framed for the murders and must fight to save themselves.
The third and most famous film from Lucio Fulci on the list is also the number one film. Zombi 2 has achieved extreme cult status for many reasons, but it is most notably recognized for its special effects and extreme gore content. Some countries even went so far as to condemn and ban it. In one famous scene, a zombie faces off against a shark. This underwater fight scene has become so famous worldwide that it has sparked band names, inspired songs and other filmmakers. The story centers around a group of strangers that become stranded on an island inhabited by the undead.
While many of these zombie films are considered cheesy rip-offs, many of them have garnered a great deal of respect on their own merit. Any fan of the genre would be doing themselves a disservice by not seeing these films.