This piece originally appeared on iHorror.com
Even if you’ve never actually seen Lucio Fulci’s 1979 Video Nasty Zombi 2 (aka Zombie), odds are pretty good that you’re at least familiar with one of its most talked about scenes, wherein an underwater zombie fights and bites an actual shark. This single scene was the main reason I sought the movie out many years ago, and I’m sure that’s the case for a lot of horror fans.
The story goes: Lucio Fulci actually wasn’t too keen on having a zombie versus shark scene, but producer Ugo Tucci insisted after having seen Tintorera: Killer Shark a few years earlier. Tintorera was one of the many cheapo sharksploitation movies that popped up in the wake (sorry) of Jaws. It was a Mexican production, directed by René Cardona Jr., based on the synonymous novel by Ramón Bravo.
Bravo was, in real life, a shark trainer and underwater photographer and filmmaker. His interest in all things aquatic started early, with Bravo competing in the 1948 Olympics – swimming, naturally – when he was just 23-years-old. From there, he developed an interest in underwater photography, with a specific focus on sharks. He gained some notoriety for the discovery and photography of “sleeping sharks” in the Caribbean. Bravo would eventually serve as Jacques Cousteau’s dive guide, assisting exploration of these caves of sleeping sharks. He would later write a series of ocean and shark-related novels, and would shoot the underwater footage for many water-related films from director René Cardona Jr.
But back to Zombi 2: Fulci, finding the idea of an underwater battle between fish and ghoul too silly, refused to shoot the scene, so a second unit stepped in to get the footage. Long before CGI was available and working on an extremely low-budget (less than $240K), the only option the filmmakers were left with was to film the scene using a real, live tiger shark – a breed known as “the most dangerous shark species”, due to its high number of fatal attacks.
According to lore, the production planned to hire René Cardona Jr. to act as the zombie who fights the shark. However, Cardona Jr. was unavailable on the day of the shoot, so Ramón Bravo – the shark’s trainer – stepped in to play the role of the zombie. Bravo was able to accomplish the death-defying stunt by feeding the shark prior to filming, as to satiate the gilled beast’s bloodlust. Bravo also doped the shark up with a dose of tranquilizers, just to be safe.
The end result is jaw-dropping to say the least. (Jaws-dropping? Sorry again.) A real human – dressed as a zombie – wrestling a real shark, deep underwater is just something movies don’t dare to pull off these days. The battle – which culminates with the shark ripping the zombie’s arm off – is easily one of the most iconic scenes in all of horror history.
Sadly, Ramón passed away in 1998, and – unbelievably – his performance in Zombi 2 went uncredited. However, I wanted to shine a spotlight on the man who helped create such an awesome and memorable scene, and say Bravo.