In 1979, this film had 101 seconds chopped out by the BBFC for its UK theatrical release. Twenty years later, Stonevision Entertainment have released a DVD that trumpets "EXTREME VERSION!!", "MORE GORE THAN ALLOWED BEFORE!!" and "INCLUDES MATERIAL BANNED SINCE 1983!!" - but it's not uncut. It's just less incomplete than the previous version. Its run time is 87 minutes 7 seconds and it's missing 23 seconds, apparently including eyeball trauma and yummy close-ups of zombies feeding. Not knowing all this, I watched the shortened 1999 edit and wrote the following...
On first viewing, I found that opening sequence with the boat almost unbearably tense. You knew something bad was coming, but not precisely how or when. Lucio Fulci kept you waiting, drawing out the scene... and then it ended with some slightly disappointing gore. That low-key gore (also letting down later scenes) is the biggest strike against Zombie Flesh Eaters, in my view. I'd be praising that deliberate pacing more if the rest of the film ever travelled at any other speed, but this isn't such a problem. It's a deliberate, careful movie. Things happen at their own pace, but you know there's nowhere to run.
I found much to like here. The first few zombie scenes have fabulous set-ups and are wonderfully inventive. I like the cinematography, especially on the island. Fulci has a good eye. I like the music. I like the voodoo angle, which always adds spice to a film. I like the tits! Hell, I even liked the little details - the creaking noises you hear on a ship on the sea, for instance.
However all these great ingredients don't get decent gore payoffs. Eventually you realise that all this lovely atmosphere is just sorta sitting there, which is a shame. It would only take a few extra gross-out shots to improve this film's impact beyond measure. The gore improves during the last third of the movie, but by then we're dealing with more straightforward base-under-siege material, zombies everywhere and guns a-blazing. This is perfectly good stuff, but I'd have preferred the atmosphere of the first hour to have more effect on the audience.
The zombies are interesting. These are *really* mindless dead, not even reacting when a potential victim screams a few feet away while they eat. Most of the time, they don't even open their eyes! But there's some lovely make-up here, with juicy touches like facefuls of maggots.
This is a pretty little movie that I can admire without having been particularly stirred. There's a lot of attractive film-making on view (albeit not entirely goof-free; check out those molotov cocktails - thrown one by one, they've apparently disappeared without trace the moment we see the next one land). I'm still wondering how the hell they filmed those underwater scenes. It's not a great movie, but it's a million miles from being a bad one. You could see much, much worse.