This is it, the granddaddy of Italian zombie cinema. Easily in my personal Top 10 zombie movies--and if I bothered to, I could probably find room for it in my all-time Top 10--Lucio Fulci's 1979 classic serves as a reminder of a time when exploitation pictures cared about being just as good as "serious" films.
Everyone knows by now the film initially went under the ZOMBI 2 moniker because DAWN OF THE DEAD was released in Europe as ZOMBI, but Fulci's version was in the works before Romero's film came out; intended to be an action-oriented horror flick, the only portion of ZOMBIE that was directly inspired by DAWN are the New York-based segments that bookend the film (how much influence Tom Savini's FX had on ZOMBIE's gore quotient I don't know, but I bet it played at least a minimal role). Again, I won't reiterate plot details for this one, but on the surface ZOMBIE has all the earmarks of your standard crap movie: the characterization could charitably be labeled shallow, adding to that a dub-job that gives the performances just the right shade of indifference. The story is a straightforward Point A to Point B affair, culminating in a batten-down-the-hatches finale straight out of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and the overall production value lacks not only the slickness of an average-budgeted movie, but also the rough craftsmanship of DAWN.
And yet . . . yet . . .
ZOMBIE also has plenty of its own goodies to offer, such as the zombie-vs-shark sequence that walks that's either awesome or ludicrous, depending on who you ask (personally I think the scene drops into both repeatedly, that's what makes it so unique), the discovery of the Fat Zombie early in the film, and of course the infamous splinter scene, one of the most notorious shock moments of the last thirty years. (Even as just as simple gore flick, ZOMBIE goes above and beyond.) Running throughout all of this is a spirit of fun, that although the film delves into some fairly grim territory it's still entertainment, and the point is to have a good time.
ZOMBIE kicked off what is informally known as Fulci's "gore period," where he followed up with the equally-revered THE GATES OF HELL, THE BEYOND--considered by most to be Fulci's masterwork, but I never cared for it as much as I do ZOMBIE--and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY. (THE NEW YORK RIPPER came along not long after, but it never garnered the same praise as the others--blame the quacking killer.) Everyone's got their favorite, but for me ZOMBIE stands as Fulci's best; it doesn't have the dream-like quality of THE BEYOND or the imaginative setpieces of THE GATES OF HELL, but it does have a stronger narrative thrust and sense of cohesiveness.
We could debate forever on which is best--and we should, it's fun--but when it comes to Pastaland zombies, there is no equal.