9 years is a long time in the movies. Kevin Smith went from “Clerks” to the thoroughly miserable “Jersey Girl”; David Gordon Green went from “All The Real Girls” to the unfunny “Your Highness”; Will Ferrell went from “Anchorman” to “Anchorman 2”; Michael Paul Girard went from “Oversexed Rugsuckers From Mars” to “Different Strokes: The Story Of Jack And Jill And Jill” (okay, I was reaching a bit by the last one). The point being, many a great / promising career has fallen off the rails, and so it would seem at least initially with Lucio Fulci. “Zombi 2” is a genuinely brilliant film, a horror classic, whereas this, well, isn’t.
There are several explanations. Up til 1983’s “Conquest” (his first big-budget movie) he was pretty much untouchable, with gem after gem, but going to make that caused him to break off relations with his regular scriptwriter – everything he made after then seemed corny. Or maybe it’s his health – at some point in the mid 80s he began to suffer with diabetes, and this along with other medical issues caused the early end of his career and can be blamed for the lack of effort shown in his later movies. It’s the second one that’s probably the case here, as he was unable to finish filming due to ill health, and production was handed over to…Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso!
Yes, Mattei and Fragasso are firm “favourites” here at the ISCFC, having given us “Shocking Dark”, “Strike Commando” and “Robowar”, and while reports vary on just how big their hand was in “Zombi 3” (Fulci said they did minor reshoots, Mattei said they directed anywhere between a third and half the finished product), by quality it’s certainly right down there in their wheelhouse. But enough of my baseless allegations against dead Italians! We’ve got a movie to discuss!
A group of scientist employed by the military are working on “Death-One”, a virus which brings the dead back to life – although the movie never bothers mentioning it, one can assume it’s so the army can send a bunch of undead soldiers onto the battlefield. Oh, authority figures, when will you ever learn? The first test subject we see ought to have been listed in the credits as “overacting zombie”, because he goes all out with the gurning and the moaning, but he’s sadly not in it very much, as the main thrust of the plot comes from a different direction.
Firstly, a guy steals a sample of Death-One and manages to evade the army security; then, when he’s been shot at, dropped the sample, and become infected with it, he bites a few people. The army captures and kills him, but decides to burn his body, letting his ashes into the atmosphere. This isn’t the first similarity to “Return Of The Living Dead” you’ll notice, released a few years before this and a big enough hit that it was mined for scenes by Italian exploitation-movie folk. It’s the military’s fault, and their incompetence allowed it to escape, after all!
The bulk of the movie is idiots slowly getting killed and being completely unable to defend themselves. A group of your traditional horror movie “meat” (hot girls, boring guys) meets up with three army guys in a jeep and they get attacked by a bunch of birds which were poisoned with the ash-cloud. Holing up in a hotel, they get the most astonishing good luck in movie history and just find a crate of guns; the girl who was pecked by the birds slowly gets worse and worse before “dying”. A few of them try to find a doctor but get killed on the way and then white-overall-wearing guys from the Army attempt to kill everyone in the entire area, infected or not.
The more I thought about “Zombi 2”, the more I enjoyed it – a masterpiece of grungy horror filmmaking. This, on the other hand, is a catalogue of how not to do it, with a few “classic” mistakes, and a whole heap of new ones. From the notes I made, I could go on for hours, but I’ll try and stick to the main ones. Firstly, if you’ve got black people in your movie and you need to dub them, please pick an accent that doesn’t sound like the maid from the Tom & Jerry cartoons; because black people like watching movies too, and might not be too thrilled by that. If you’ve got a virus-based zombie-ism outbreak, then it might be handy to have all your zombies behave in roughly the same way – instead, we have slow zombies, fast zombies, zombies that jump from tall buildings, zombies that wield weapons, a zombie which is just a flying head (?!), and eventually zombies that talk. Also, it might be handy if it takes roughly the same amount of time to turn you from human to undead – but we see a few people take days to turn, but one woman go from human to zombie in what must have been seconds (the woman who falls into the water, if you decide to watch this to fact-check my review).
There’s a scene where two female survivors meet a heavily pregnant woman, and the obvious conclusion to proceedings is going to be “baby is a zombie”. So you wait, and wait, and then they send the woman with a bad leg off to find help while the healthy woman stays with the pregnant lady, and you wait, til eventually…an adult-sized hand tears its way out of the woman and throttles the remaining helper. What the hell? I suppose surprising is good?
Those are new and fresh mistakes, but they sprinkle in a few classics too. The ending, where three people go for the helicopter which handily appears out of nowhere, has two people getting in and a third holding the zombies off. When he’s done his thing, he runs for the helicopter, which for some reason has decided to hover 10 feet off the ground, making it almost impossible for the third guy to get in (he doesn’t, and dies). Why not just wait ten more seconds, you assholes? But my favourite, my all-time most annoying thing about zombie movies, is the person who gets infected and decides to keep it to themselves. Seriously, you dumb git, what do you think will happen? Go hand yourself in, someone might be able to help you! Arrghh! Thank you, dear reader, if felt good to get that off my chest.
The biggest problem, though, bigger than a movie full of idiots with no sense of self-preservation, is the troubled production. Whether Fulci left due to ill health or arguments with the producers, it left a very bad final product. Because Mattei and Fragasso didn’t have access to all the actors, the “main” plot ends up feeling weirdly isolated in the middle of the movie, and all the stuff with the guys in white is obviously added afterwards. And there’s a subplot with a radio DJ which I get the feeling was added to explain what the hell was going on, and to give us more of a plot (it’s all to do with the environment, you guys). Aside: the set dressing for Blue Heart (the DJ) leaves a little to be desired – when we get a very brief glimpse of what’s on his set-list for the day, the only thing written on it is “play Beatles song”. Lovely!
We’re left with a mess. Fulci’s section is the work of a director devoid of inspiration, fighting a studio and probably illness. If you think Fulci’s stuff was the gold, then I would like to point out that the flying head, as dumb an effect as a zombie movie has ever had, was his favourite scene. Mattei and Fragasso’s section is…typical work from the two of them, only not as much fun as the stuff we’ve covered so far (more “Hell Of The Living Dead”, less “Shocking Dark”). The acting, such as we can see through the dubbing, is flat, and nothing works.
Up next, all the other movies that have been released somewhere in the world as “Zombi 3”, two of those movies are favourites of mine (“Virgin Among The Living Dead” and “Burial Ground”), so the next week of reviews ought to be fun. And we finally get the answer to why Italy seemed to mock copyright for so long!
Rating: thumbs down