Zombi 3 (1981) (aka Nights Of Terror)

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Also known as “The Zombie Dead”, “Burial Ground”, “Burial Ground: The Nights Of Terror”, “Return Of The Zombies”, etc.

 

Italy, it turns out, had a weird / wonderful copyright loophole for a while, which allowed anything to call itself a sequel to anything else. This is the reason all our non-sequel sequels (“Alien 2”, “Terminator 2”) came from there, and it’s the reason that allowed the “Zombi” series to exist. So, a few producers went “hey, why are the Zombi guys having all the fun?” and decided to release their own instalments, after the extraordinarily good “Zombi 2”. Which leads to the fun you’re going to see over the next few days, as we cover all the movies that renamed themselves to capitalise on that particular title. There’s a heap of 3s, two 4s, and two 5s, and then if we’re extremely brave, a 6 and two 7s. Oh, it’s annoying me just thinking about it, check out this Wikipedia page and see what you think.

 

“Nights of Terror” is a beloved movie of my youth. Discovered in a video shop, my friends and I watched it many times, and revelled in the fact the zombies don’t mess about in this one. What’s interesting about watching it now is how it’s both amazing and absolutely terrible, often at the same time. And the plot is simple, because who cares?

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Three couples (one of whom has a “teenage” son) go to a country house for the weekend, and almost immediately, zombies start attacking them. It turns out the owner of the house, Professor Ayres, found a buried tomb, opened it and let a bunch of the undead out, who immediately killed him. The rest of the cast show absolutely no instinct for self-preservation at all, with the honourable exception of George (Roberto Caporali), who at least blows up a few heads with his shotgun, before he runs out of shells. When I saw one of the guys try and fight off a zombie – which he’d seen survive a gunshot to the chest – by hitting it with a bit of pipe on the shoulder, I nearly lost my cool and shouted at the screen.

 

I would be remiss as a reviewer if I didn’t mention Michael (Peter Bark), the son of Evelyn (Mariangela Giordano). To get round the labour laws, they hired a 25 year old midget to play the 12 year old boy, and whether by accident or design they created one of the creepiest characters in the history of horror. He’s a pathetic little whiner with a major Oedipal complex, which snowballs to him putting his hand up his mum’s dress, kissing her and fondling her breasts (thank heavens they didn’t have a real 12 year old doing all this, I suppose). Later on, after he dies thanks to freezing in place and crying about it rather than doing anything to save his own life, he shambles up to Mum, who’s decided that yes, she’d be happy with her son sucking on her breasts, and has an obviously sexual reaction to it…up to the point he bites her entire breast off. Her husband died way early on when she abandoned him in the middle of a room full of zombies and she never so much as mentions him again. Nice!

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It’s just a bunch of people you don’t like getting eaten, and that’s why the movie works so well. Apart from an initial 10 minutes (after the “cold open”) where the characters are being set up – pretty badly, to the extent I can’t remember any of their names – it’s just zombies, zombies, zombies. No subtext, no wider meaning, no real plot of any kind, just “here are some people, and here are some zombies. Go!” At one point, the idiots figure the zombies are after something inside the house, not them, so just let them in and hide for a minute (SPOILER: it doesn’t work).

 

I said it was both great and terrible, and a good way of looking at that is the makeup. The zombie makeup is absolutely amazing, the most grotesque faces and hands, looking like a nightmare of what the long-buried would turn into. But…if you look closer, you can see it’s just masks, with necks and arms of lovely healthy pink flesh occasionally exposed, and in closeups you can see the mouths of the actors underneath the zombie mouth of the mask, and it looks bad. Definitely a film that ought to be watched on a smaller screen, not in HD; but saying that, some of the effects (like when the zombies get their heads caved in) are brilliant and very gross.

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The zombies are an odd bunch in this. They’re the slow kind, which I like, but can use tools and work as a team, which I don’t understand at all (it’s not like they’re talking to each other). There’s one inadvertently hilarious scene where some characters are talking outside, and clearly visible in shot are a few zombies, just hanging around the cars, not moving. I like to think when they were alive, they were automobile enthusiasts, and just wanted to know what sort of engine these cars were packing; and not that they were just actors who’d been given no direction.

 

What we have is perhaps the purest distillation of what zombie movies are, in 90 minutes. Unfortunately, it’s not quite all fun, and the biggest problem is the treatment of women. Admittedly, it’s not like the guys are action heroes, but the women are just there to scream and die and after the tenth example of it happening, it becomes intensely tiresome. There’s a weight attached to this sort of thing, the weight of being told by entertainment you’re nothing but window dressing for men, who do all the important stuff, and I’m delighted things are different nowadays (although not by as much as I’d hope). And there’s quite a bit of padding here and there, too – including one scene where a servant gets some candles, and we see all of them lit in excruciating detail.

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A quick word about director Andrea Bianchi. He liked the more erotic end of things, having directed such no-doubt-gems as “Strip Naked For Your Killer” , “Exciting Love Girls” (which seems to have an awful lot of rape in it) and “The Seduction Of Angela”. I guess we ought to be pleased that this just features gore?

 

I’ve perhaps been a bit too negative. It’s loads of fun, and the gore is strong. It’s certainly a great deal better than the last “Zombi 3” we reviewed! Sit back, enjoy and remember what zombie films used to be like before they needed plots and characters you liked. And if you like bleak endings, this one has the bleakest – there is absolutely no hope in this world. It does, admittedly, feel like they chopped off an ending where they discovered the tomb and were able to close it, but this works out too. Check out this magnificent misspelled final intertitle:

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Rating: thumbs up

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