Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei
Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso
Deran Sarafian, Beatrice Ring, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, and Mike Monty.
||The Plot: On a secluded military base, several top scientists are hard at work on a serum known as “death one,” which will hopefully reanimate the dead. Unfortunately, when Dr. Holder (Robert Marius) uses the serum on a human corpse, the results are not very optimistic. The cadaver awakens with a hunger for human flesh and no ability to think or feel. As Holder resigns from the project and looks to give his serum back to the military, a pair of criminals ambush the center and one makes off with “Death One.” After a series of infections break out, the military end up burning a number of bodies. This of course leads to ashes drifting into the air and infecting all flying animals within the area. As this happens, we are introduced to a trio of GIs who are off partying while on vacation. These troops team up with a bus full of other young people, and all seems to be going well for this group. However, the tides turn when some of the infected birds are discovered on the ground nearby. With this discovery comes a new human infection, and pretty soon this group will be desperately fighting for their survival.
Perhaps it’s just me and the way I was brought up, being a simplistic Southern boy and all, but when I see the creators of a film playing a figurative game of “hot-potato” with a project, trying to pass off credit (or should I say blame) to a filmmaker who has passed away, well, something has to be wrong, wouldn’t you say? That seems to be the case with the surviving creators of Zombi 3
and their relationship with the now-deceased Lucio Fulci. There are few reviews that come right out and say that Zombi 3
is a terrible film, but they allude to it – and rightfully so. However, I leave this less in the hands of Fulci and consider it more a cause of both Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragrasso being involved in the creation of the movie after Fulci fell to sickness in the midst of production. There was apparently a great deal of confusion behind the scenes, and to this day it appears whatever did happen is going to be told differently by every person involved, but regardless, most claim that Fucli was directly responsible. I have a hard time believing it, since the film has very few of his earmarkings, but a bad script is a bad script, and Fulci’s final films were hardly “classics” within the horror genre. I doubt that even a prime Fulci could have made the movie very interesting. Going off of the fine interviews provided on the “Fulci Collection” Media Blasters DVD, it seems as if the actors just want to say that they were involved in a Fulci production. Mattei and Fragrasso though, if I had to guess, just lay the credit at Fulci’s doorstep for financial/publicity reasons. Although my own opinion means nothing, I would say that the majority of this film, from what was shot to the decisions that were made in editing, is a product of Mattei and Fragrasso’s work. To be quite honest, as a fan of Italian schlock, this comes as no surprise and doesn’t really hinder my opinion of the film. I have seen several of Mattei’s movies in my time, and to be quite honest the term “hack” probably does apply, but sometimes a b-movie is needed when entertainment is limited. When I first saw Hell of the Living Dead
many years ago, I actually felt anger with the man for wasting my time. As the years passed by, I began to soften up to his work and now I actually enjoy many of his worst pieces of work. Yet, for all of the “so bad they are good” movies that he has under his belt, Mattei has matching “so bad they are bad” films.
So, if you’re completely new to the Italian horror “scene,” maybe you’re wondering what is up with that “Zombi” title. I know that I’m covering old territory by fleshing it out, but I figure I might as well dig into this area on the off chance that someone reading this isn’t familiar with the Italian movie business in the seventies and eighties. The long and short of it is as follows: When George Romero’s film Dawn of the Dead
was released in Italy, Dario Argento had been collaborating with Romero and secured the rights to distribute the film throughout Europe. The Italian title of the film just so happened to be the rather plain Jane “Zombi,” and of course this theatrical release featured Argento’s cut of the film (a cut that was once passed around via bootlegs, but can now be seen on the Anchor Bay “Dawn of the Dead Ultimate Edition” four disc DVD set) which eliminated many of the comedic aspects of the film and also included more music from Argento’s favorite group, Goblin. So, when Zombi
was released in Italy, it was a smash. It ushered in a new breed of cinema. In the same way that older John Ford/John Wayne/Henry Fonda, etc. cowboy films helped to inspire the Spaghetti Western genre, Dawn
helped bring about a mass number of imitators and zombie clones. Among these clones was Lucio Fulci’s film Zombi 2
– which, as you can maybe guess, was marketed as a sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead
. Whether the titling of Fulci’s film was in bad taste or not, I like to point out that Fulci is probably the only director to partially live up to Romero’s standards. For my money, Zombi 2
, as was the US title) isn’t Fulci’s finest film, but compared to the zombie movies coming out of Italy during this period, it was like Citizen Kane
. Viewers can sit through Burial Ground
, Nightmare City
and Zombi Holocaust
for further proof of this. So, here is Zombi 3
, probably a decade too late and going into pre-production because some producer decides to put together yet another zombie film and decides that Lucio Fulci is the obvious choice for the job. I don’t know what was going through his mind at the time, but Fulci accepted the job and ultimately became quite ill during the shoot, therefore dropping out. This backstage drama certainly makes an impact in the legacy that Zombi 3
had, but let’s take a look at exactly what the film itself is all about.
The film covers a very basic zombie plotline, with few divergences from formula. By an act of stupidity, through the means of a moron stealing a biological weapon called Death One (and boy, what an awful name that is) from a military base and causing widespread infection, the zombie epidemic begins. The first human who is infected of course makes his way to a nearby hotel where he infects at least one other person before he chops off his hand trying to stop the virus from spreading (one of the better gore effects in the film), and thus the outbreak makes its way throughout a small Filipino village. The army takes control, starts committing random acts of mass genocide (because of course that’s the most rational way to deal with this epidemic), and for some reason there’s a general who is in charge and has the ability to make an obscene number of decisions all by himself. Thankfully though, we have a stuttering scientist there to combat the psycho general. This leads our heroic scientist on a race against the clock to develop a cure for the undead. There are small tiny bits of originality within this script, but mostly the movie is made up of rehashed elements from numerous other genre films. An evil general? A pure-of-heart doctor fighting against violence via his mind/love of humanity? This has been done to death.
We can all guess what will happen, as it is the same Night of the Living Dead
scenario that we all know and (can sometimes) love. I feel as if I’m being far too harsh with the movie, since, well, I didn’t cut it off and rarely even paused it. The least you could say about Zombi 3
is that it does manage to hold the audience’s attention. The gore effects look like they were done on the cheap, but some are effective. There’s a slightly grotesque (but hardly realistic) scene where a zombie’s face puffs out and leaks blood and pus for the camera. True, it is only a simple bladder effect, but most viewers who seek this movie out will appreciate the practical FX work. There’s an argument to be made that the use of “running zombies” should count as an original concept for the movie. At the very least we aren’t given the same Romero-style shambling undead that audiences were used to. Although, by this point that wasn’t exactly new ground either, as Umberto Lenzi’s Nightmare City
had already done this years before. Still, I have to commend Zombi 3
for at least making the zombies seem a bit more unstoppable than the average, and I thought it was odd that the film didn’t feature the ever-classic “You’ve got to shoot them in the head!” speech. Then again, I think the film might be a little too self-aware, since the characters never really seemed all too surprised that the dead were walking and feeding on the flesh of the living, which I have to admit would probably be a bit mind blowing for me. One of the biggest clues that the scriptwriters might have been just a little too eager at getting our characters into “survival” mode came when one of the teens found, for some odd reason, a crate full of M-16’s and various other weapons in the basement of their holdup. After telling the soldiers about the weapons, one of the teens then takes a rifle and slings it over his shoulder. Now, at this point the group has only witnessed one bird attack, and should have absolutely no idea about the possibility of a zombie threat. Yet, instead of the army guys confiscating the weapons and getting in touch with ANYONE, the characters appear to be gearing themselves up for the inevitable. I don’t know, I’ve been bit by a few birds in my time, but I just assumed that it was because they make horrible pets. So, with the characters all taking such precautions, in the following scene you would think it would make no sense whatsoever for one of the soldiers to allow Marina Loi to run off alone to find water for the radiator in their jeep. Right? Yeah, you would think that. However, Zombi 3
is not a movie that concerns itself with logic.
All of this and I haven’t even mentioned the biggest sin of the entire film: Talking zombies. That’s right. Not only do the zombies run, use weapons, and actually have the intelligence to HIDE under a camouflage of fallen leafs, they can also talk and plot revenge! Sure, I mean, the zombies in Return of the Living Dead
did many of the same things, but that was nearly a parody of the genre. This is a film that follows the genre tropes that Return…
looked to poke fun at. It’s not so much that Zombi 3 is a horrendous disaster. Not by any means. I think I expected the movie to be awful, as most audiences probably do. Zombie 3 is just, well, dumb. It’s a good time waster in the sense that any straight-to-video action film might be, but if you’re expecting a serious genre film, it might be advisable to look elsewhere. Aside from the nice use of fog during the film, there’s very little mood to the film.
With all of these complaints, I am sure most readers are likely expecting it to get an awful rating. However, to be honest, it really isn’t worth all of that. Zombi 3
is dumb, just like the majority of Mattei’s work, and it serves its purpose in the world of genre film. Ultimately, I give it a two out of five. There are elements that are worth recommending, but this one doesn’t do enough to earn a great deal of love.
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