By Brandon Engel
It's said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If this is truly the case, then the popularity of low budget zombie films from the 1970's, such as George Romero-directed classics Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, and Day of the Dead, have truly been complemented by the following Italian imitations, and others, made in their wake.
Nightmare City (1980)
Directed by Umberto Lenzi, this is a zombie film on a grand scale. The script was based on the Seveso incident of July 1976, in which an accident at a chemical manufacturing plant released a large amount of toxic gas into the air. The completed film, however, replaces commentary with sensational through the large amount of gore and violence included. The monsters in the film are infected humans who crave and drink blood taken from their victims and can only be killed with a shot to the head, making them seem more of a hybrid between zombie and vampire in traditional lore. Nonetheless, this film gives us a zombie disaster on a large, militaristic scale, with an entire city affected and at war.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974)
A truly international collaboration, this film is directed by Jorge Grau of Spain, has a cast of several Italian actors, and takes place in the English countryside. The living dead in the film are former human corpses, reanimated by radiation contained in chemical pesticides being used by local farmers. There are two main characters that are thrown together following an accident between one's car and the other's motorcycle, and they find themselves being pursued as suspects in the ever-increasing list of gruesome "murders" developing across the countryside.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
The film, also called The Gates of Hell, this one was directed by Lucio Fulci, who also brought us Zombi 2, detailed further down this list. In the UK, you can occasionally catch an art house screening of it, and it's also one of the few films on this list being broadcast currently on American televisions by the El Rey network (check this channel guide for listings). In keeping with Fulci's other works, this film is strong in creating tension, mood, and providing lots of graphic gore, but fairly weak on character development and plot. Then again, why would we need those things when we have classic zombie horror, especially when it's done so creatively? The film is based on the premise of a priest committing suicide, opening the gates of hell to the undead in the process. The rest is pure, supernaturally-induced, zombie gore.
Hell of the Living Dead (1980)
Considered a blatant imitation of Dawn of the Living Dead, director Bruno Mattei dishes up a zombie apocalypse film with something of a political message. The zombies in this gem are caused by a chemical leak in a facility that was devoted to feeding residents of third world countries and was located in New Guinea, Papua. A military commando team sent to investigate finds the whole country overrun and the living fighting to stay alive. We get the point; we either find a way to feed the third world countries or they will feed on us.
Zombi 2 (1979)
Back to Lucio Fulci for another great Italian zombie movie on this list, originally billed to be a sequel to Romero's cult classic Dawn of the Dead, but eventually standing on its own and released in the United States under the simpler title Zombie. A girl searching for her doctor father goes to the tropical island where he was last known to be and finds the island overrun with animated corpses rising from the graves. Before ever getting there, her group gets a glimpse of what's to come when one of the girls goes for a swim, only to be attacked by a shark and then a zombie. Leaving the zombie to deal with the shark, the girl is able to escape, at least for the time being. Reaching the island finds them spending the rest of the movie fighting for their lives.
Brandon Engel is a Chicago based blogger who writes about everything from old school comic books to gothic horror literature to environmental law. Follow him on Twitter: @BrandonEngel2