Zombi 5 (1988) (aka Killing Birds)


After starting this not-really-a-series with two of the greatest zombie movies of all time (“Dawn Of The Dead” and “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, they’ve very kindly saved the worst for last. It features maybe the biggest star to have sullied his name as part of the franchise – Robert Vaughn, and a very early example of computer porn; but sadly these two things aren’t enough to stop you wanting a bird to pluck your eyes out so you never have to see it again.


We start off with a flashback, to Vietnam days (although they don’t make an effort to change any clothes or hairstyles or anything like that). A guy who has quite the collection of birds comes home from the war and finds his wife in bed with another man. By the way, if this happened to me, I like to think I’d have the nous to just pick a shirt out of the closet, give some small talk about the weather and just walk out again (before phoning a solicitor, of course). But our unseen gent doesn’t have the desire for really dumb jokes that I do, so he kills them both with the same throat-cutting effect, which the producers must have paid for a job lot of because about half the people who die in this die in an identical way. He then kills the couple who are about to visit his house, including throwing a knife at a guy and having it bury itself up to the hilt in his skull – he’s a strong guy! Or this movie is dumb! He rescues the couple’s baby, and is just finishing cleaning up all the evidence of the slaughter when a couple of birds decide, for absolutely no reason, to tear his eyes out.


Present day! After we see eyeless fella hand over the babies to the hospital authorities way back when, the only two questions are:

  1. Which central character is going to end up being that kid?


  1. What part is the blind guy going to play in proceedings?


Now, there is an answer to both these questions, but it’s so utterly irrelevant to what might kindly be called the plot that I’m genuinely surprised they even bothered. We are then obliged to sit through an interminable “meet the meat” section, where a student receives a letter saying his grant application for an expedition to find the silver-beaked woodpecker has been approved, and assembles the team that’ll be going along. Best Friend, His Girlfriend, Computer Guy, Bookish Girl, Reporter (also main guy’s ex-girlfriend), and Van Driver. Now, I thought “this is a weird bunch to send on an expedition”, but it turns out it’s just a trip to the wilds of Louisiana, and given Main Guy is weird an LSU t-shirt, it’s not that far either. Not sure I’d call that an expedition, you guys! Reporter finds out the location of the last guy to see the special bird, and it turns out to be Blind Guy, aka Robert Vaughn, aka the guy who did all the murdering at the beginning. He points them in the right direction, and off they go.


While dull and stupid up to this point, it at least makes sense, of a sort. Then, there’s a scene where, a few minutes after leaving Blind Guy’s house, they happen upon the truck and the dead body of the guy from the beginning, half-hidden in the woods. He’s looking a bit rough, but if he’d actually been left in the Louisiana wilderness, he’d have been a skeleton in months, much less…15 years? But even this pales in comparison to their decision to just press on with their bird-watching trip and not go and phone the damned authorities! They deserve to die, for all being idiots, is what I’m saying. Bonus idiocy points are awarded for them having precisely zero items of equipment with which to observe or record birds, unless you count Computer Guy and his computer, which is a 1988 laptop so about as useful as you’d expect.


A few of the characters, including Main Guy, have sort of dream sequence / flashbacks, which give them no useful information and serve no purpose whatsoever. Kudos to you if you’re noticing the theme in this review! They find a house, which is the house that Blind Guy lived in before (he evidently moved down the road after slaughtering his wife, her lover and a couple of other guys), and decide to make that a base camp, although they never really leave.

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The one fun thing in this movie is the gay subtext, which is almost too blatant to be called subtext. Van Driver and Computer Guy are always doing stuff together and seeming really happy about it, there’s a shot which is composed in such a way that it looks like Computer’s Guy’s head is in Van Driver’s crotch, and when Van Driver suggests he would quite like to have sex with Bookish Girl, Computer Guy looks super hurt and says “I thought she wasn’t your type”. Sorry, Computer Guy! Although you get the last laugh, because Van Driver dies on fire a few minutes later. Thinking about it, there’s a scene where Best Friend is off exploring the house, and His Girlfriend tags along. He shoves her back, and says “you’d better go with the others”, you know, while he goes off into the dark with a few guys – this is the day after he half-heartedly attempts to have sex with her before just giving up and going to sleep.


Now, if you took part in higher education, think back to your time there. Do you think any of your tutors would have signed off on / paid for a trip out into the wilderness, where you do zero preparation, have zero equipment and absolutely no idea where you’re going? Can you imagine the insurance costs for the “just let them go wherever the hell they like” plan? This is a serious trip, too, which will apparently take the place of several of their senior classes. Damn, but this movie makes absolutely no sense.


Zombies turn up at the 55 minute mark. Not only is this worse, in a sense, than those movies where the zombies don’t turn up at all, but no explanation is given as to why the zombies are there. You can perhaps infer that they’re the corpses of the people that Blind Guy killed, but the movie doesn’t tell you that, or indeed anything else. When Blind Guy turns up at the end and says “these are my fault, sorry”, he also says they feed on fear. Now, if we accept that, which is stupid in itself, we can use the preceding hour as evidence, an hour where none of the cast appear particularly fearful – okay, the odd moment, but it’s hardly enough to cause the dead to rise from their graves. Most of the cast die off, based on being absolutely useless and incapable of defending themselves, and then two of them survive just because. That Main Guy is Blind Guy’s…son?…is brushed off with a few lines at the end, and we’re done.


I’ve spent the day trying to figure out why it ended in such a half-assed way, and the best I can come up with is that Robert Vaughn refused to film the ending they’d written for him and wanted some last-act redemption. Nothing feels like it fits together, starting with the title (no-one kills any birds, and birds don’t kill anyone). No explanation for anything is given. The film makes negative amounts of sense, and is d-u-l-l on top.


Some of these problems might be explained by the presence of uncredited director Joe D’Amato. His is a name you’ll see occasionally in exploitation / horror circles, as he produced a staggering amount of work before his death in 1999, including 111 directing credits in the last five years of his life. 111! It’s safe to say D’Amato was a quantity over quality man, and we’ll be meeting him again in…well, movies that have been released as parts 6 and 7 of this non-franchise. I genuinely have no idea how anyone could have watched this and thought it was worth releasing, or that it made the slightest bit of sense.


Rating: thumbs down


Zombi 3 (1974) (aka The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue)


Also known as: “Breakfast at the Manchester Morgue”, “The Living Dead”, “Don’t Open The Window”, “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”, and “Do Not Speak Ill Of The Dead”, among many others (no idea what “Don’t Open The Window” was referring to, perhaps just a general safety request).

I can now say I’ve visited the location of one of the classic Italian zombie films. Yes, dear reader, part of “Manchester Morgue” was filmed in the beautiful village of Castleton in the Peak District, a short drive from my house and home to the Blue John Caverns. Not quite as glamourous as Rome, but lovely nonetheless. Most of the exteriors were actually shot in my part of the world – some scenes at the beginning were shot in Manchester city centre, before moving on to the Lake District and Peak District.


We’re on to the fourth “Zombie 3”, now, this one bearing that title in Brazil. “Wait, fourth?” I hear you ask. “Did I miss one?” No, don’t worry, I’m just referring to the previously reviewed “Nightmare City”, which went by “Zombie 3” in some markets. We’ve got one more to go – “Zombie Holocaust”, aka “Dr Butcher MD”, has also used the name at one point, and features someone who was in “Zombi 2”, making it more of a sequel than the “official” part 3. All this number talk is beginning to bore even me now (and I love this sort of nonsense) so let’s get on with things.


An opening segment tells us of environmental woes. The shots of Manchester city centre feature several people with facemasks on, juxtaposed with belching chimneys and car exhausts…and then a streaker runs through the streets for absolutely no reason whatsoever. By the time the movie had ended, I’d completely forgotten about her, so as I was pondering it this morning, her appearance became even more puzzling. Anyway, it eventually gets going for real, and we meet our two “stars”, the Scumbag Biker and the Wet Blanket.


They have real names, and I think Scumbag Biker is supposed to be a good guy, but that’s the roles they played. He’s George (Ray Lovelock) and she’s Edna (Cristina Galbó). It turns out he’s an antiques shop owner on his way to sell some pieces, and she’s…a wet blanket. Sorry, I didn’t write the damn script! So, she backs into him on a garage forecourt in her Mini, so he just insults her, then demands a ride to where he’s going, then tells her he’s going to drive because she’d probably go the entire way in reverse. The entire rest of the movie, they act like a feuding couple who’ve been married for years, and she, much like every woman in a European horror movie of the era, does absolutely nothing. Ye gods, she’s useless, spending the entire rest of the movie crying or frozen in fear.


There’s another woman in similar circumstances, a pale, sad-looking thing who’s apparently being held semi-hostage by her husband. He’s a photographer and she, in a rather odd twist, is a heroin addict. He’s only keeping her there because she begged not to be sent to a clinic, although where she’s going for heroin in the middle of the rural North-West of England is a matter never brought up. I guess Manchester and Liverpool are a drive away, but there’s no indication she has access to a car…it’s a curious sub-plot, for sure. His photographs are often of the countryside, but are also of his wife, naked and looking rather upset – a creepy little detail which is sadly glossed over. Other reviews seem to think she’s a prostitute? Perhaps the version I watched was more heavily edited, because I didn’t get that at all.


The zombies are popping up as a result of an experiment from the “Agriculture Ministry”. To stop the tyranny of insects eating crops, some boffins have figured out a device to emit radiation into the ground which excites their very primitive nervous systems, and gets them to kill each other. You know who else has a very primitive nervous system still firing, after death? Human beings! They do try and explain it, and it’s not the stupidest idea in the world, I suppose. This ties in to the environmental message, and while it’s a touch on the heavy-handed side, I’m not going to give them too much of a hard time about it.


A tramp who fell in the river and drowned is patient zero, but these zombies aren’t your average, oh no. Shoot em in the head? They laugh that off (well, stand there with the same vacant expression on their faces). Shoot em anywhere else? Same. They’ve got rudimentary tool skills (not as good as the guys and gals from “Nights Of Terror”, of course) and the only way you can finish them off is burning them. I like their slowness and deliberation, and the makeup is spot-on too. They’re fresh-ish corpses, so you don’t need body parts hanging off and bit s of skull showing, you just need some good makeup and a vacant expression, and “Manchester Morgue” provides that in spades. The way the zombies show up in scenes, then disappear, makes it feel more like a very violent ghost story than it does a zombie-thon, too.


I guess it would be better if you watched the Youtube video, if you’re fussed about spoilers. Although it’s over 40 years old, you guys really have no excuse. People start dying, but despite you thinking the first zombie was caught on camera, all of the developed shots just show its victim. Are they vampires too? When the police are brought in, you’re going to struggle to do anything other than notice their accents, and in fact all the accents in the movie. The main cop is sort of Irish / American; there’s a doctor who’s Mexican / Indian; the woman who runs the petrol station is Scottish; there’s a few which sound like they’re roughly area- appropriate but so many more who you can be sure were just handed off to voice actors who were told to do whatever they wanted, as long as it was English. It sounds like TV show “Eurotrash”, only they do it deliberately for laughs. The cops seem to think they’ve got a Manson-style hippie murderer on their hands, whose exploits would have been fresh in peoples’ minds at the time, so it’s also interesting to see how the director defends Scumbag Biker, who’s an atheist environmentalist, from the forces of small towns and small minds.


Almost despite myself, I liked this. It’s the sort of slow-paced movie I’d have hated in my youth, but the atmosphere is extremely well done and there’s enough stuff to keep you interested. Scumbag Biker tries to save the day, Wet Blanket sits around and doesn’t do much, the radiation device slowly spreads its area of effect and more zombies start showing up. The gore is excellent, but relatively rarely used – director Grau definitely watched “Night Of The Living Dead” a few times, as there’s a few little borrows (for example, the first zombie lumbering out of a graveyard, and the zombies in a circle all munching on guts. Oh, and a few people trap themselves in a building and board it up, but it lasts only a few minutes so I’m not sure it counts). There’s a fantastic bit where one of the cops, a brave fella who hopes his actions prove to Scumbag Biker that the police are okay, really, runs out of the building to go and get his radio and call for help…and makes it about five feet before getting a gravestone to the back and going down for good. And the ending! Wow, they really throw a bleak ending in there, and this stands out in a genre known for its bleak endings.


This wasn’t bad at all. As long as you go into it not expecting a zombie death-fest, you’ll probably have a good time. Or if you’re interested in what Northern England looked like in the mid 70s (although this is perhaps too small an interest group to cater specifically to). To cheer you up after that ending, see if you can spot the non-deliberate mistake in this still from the movie:


Rating: thumbs up

Zombi 3 (1981) (aka Nights Of Terror)


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?


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!


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.


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.


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:


Rating: thumbs up

Zombi 3 (1988) (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters 2)


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!

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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

Zombi 2 (1979) (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters)


One of the main reasons we don’t tend to review well-known films here is there’s plenty of very smart people who’ve already written about them, and we can be compared unfavourably to at least some of those writers. No-one with half an ounce of sense would choose to watch, for instance, “Witchcraft” past part 1, so we’ve got a great deal less competition there. “Zombie Flesh Eaters” is pretty famous, and is no doubt in a bunch of “best zombie movies ever” books, so even though I hope my words entertain, you might have read something similar before. But I’m also a completist, so to get to the Mattei / Fragasso made, almost certainly terrible, later instalments in the “Zombi” series, we have to do this.

I did spend the first ten minutes absolutely convinced I’d seen this before, but it turns out it was just incredibly similar to the beginning of “Contamination”, with an abandoned ship full of badness drifting into New York harbour; as they were both released the same year, plagiarism is possible, but I think it’s just a very large coincidence. The small sailboat here has a zombie on board, having a nice sleep apparently, because he doesn’t move til a Harbour Patrol officer boards and starts looking round. So the officer gets bitten, the zombie falls into the harbour, but these people are just the zombie-filled cold open to ease us into a zombie-free act 1 (damn you, old Italian zombie movies, and your leisurely opening pace). Fun, though! Great zombie makeup, tons of crazily red blood, enthusiastic thumbs up so far.


The cast is a fine bunch. There’s ace investigative reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), and daughter of the boat owner Anne Bowles (Tisa “sister of Mia” Farrow). They team up and go to the Caribbean to investigate, having found what amounts to a suicide note from her father; while there, they hire the boat of Brian and Susan (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay), a couple who were just going on a holiday round the islands. Tracking her father to a clinic on the island, they meet the Doctor, David Menard (Richard Johnson) and his wife Paola (Olga Karlatos); Paola is desperate to get off the island and back to civilization, and drinks to escape the tedium of her life, and David is an angry zealot who’s convinced he can cure the mysterious illness that’s sweeping the island and…turning people into zombies!

First and foremost, and I can’t believe I’ve not just excitedly typed this out twenty times already, a ZOMBIE FIGHTS A SHARK! Unless it’s the world’s greatest model, it’s a real shark too (presumably one of the non-human-eating ones)! After being disturbed in his watery slumber by a nude diving Susan, the zombie gets up and, seeing a shark swimming by, decides to take a bite. Zombie vs shark! Thirty years later and it’d have been a meme, here it’s a surprisingly un-campy scene. That shark looks legit pissed off with the zombie too! The zombie was played by the shark’s trainer, so I guess there was some comfort level there, but it was an absolutely fantastic scene.


There’s another famous scene, which may have helped it on to the “video nasty” list in the UK (the ISCFC is gradually reviewing all those as well, so feel free to follow this link to the “VRA” homepage) – Paola is left at her home while David goes off to look sad at a bunch of dying people, and she eventually gets eaten, but not before she’s dragged eyeball-first onto a piece of broken wood. It still shocks now, so I can only imagine how amazing it must have looked in 1979.

One of the things that sets this apart from its zombie movie brethren is the location filming. As well as actually filming in New York (admittedly, probably only for a day or two), they went to the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo (part of the Dominican Republic) and found the filthiest, most run down locations possible. The broken, knackered hospital; the “main street” of a village; everything other than the doctor’s house has an authentic nature to it that no amount of set dressing could recreate. Although, according to the doctor, the zombie outbreak has only been happening for 3 months, it feels like society passed this place by a long time ago. Oh, apart from the cemetery, which is embarrassingly cheesy, but never mind that.


It’s not perfect. The women are absolutely useless, and it’s really quite frustrating to see them, time and again, stood still, screaming and waiting for their death rather than doing anything about it. I guess it’s a sign of the times more than anything, but it still irritates. And towards the end, despite the fact that David has been shooting the recently dead in the head since the beginning, when everyone meets up and they have to repel the zombie horde, they immediately forget what to do to put one down for good. Seriously, you guys, the chest is no good! Oh, and if I remember to take a screenshot, here’s the bit where zombies try to break down a door by doing a sort of weird pinball thing into it.


But there’s an enormous amount of really good stuff about “Zombie Flesh Eaters”, it’s a genuine horror classic (while not being quite as good as its fake-prequel). The sense of doom that hangs over everything is cleverly manipulated, with credit due to the cinematography. The Caribbean has never looked less idyllic than it does here. Dr David is clearly making no difference at all, but it’s the only thing he knows how to do, and the same can be said for his wife and the rest of the locals who work in the hospital. In fact, David’s character steals the movie for me, despite him being a scumbag to his wife. The music is absolutely perfect (and has almost had a longer life than the movie itself, the composer tours it regularly). The zombie effects are almost as good as they’ve ever been, just filthy and gory and wonderful.

So, absolutely no reservations about putting this right at the very top of the zombie movie pantheon, a shade below “Dawn Of The Dead” maybe (which isn’t just the best zombie movie ever, but probably the greatest horror movie, and one of the most essential movies of the 1970s) but streets ahead of pretty much every other zombie movie we’ve covered here. It’s a straight-ahead blast of horror, no messing, with a real depth to it that so many filmmakers forget.


Rating: enthusiastic thumbs up

Zombi (1978) (aka Dawn Of The Dead)


I thought it might be fun to review this like I’d never heard of it, the director or the genre before – “well, this is an early entry from a Pittsburgh independent filmmaker called George Romero, in what’s come to be known as a ‘zombie’ movie” but I’m too lazy to keep it up all the way through. You don’t need me to tell you about “Dawn Of The Dead”, right? You’ve seen it? If you haven’t, then go away immediately and watch it. It’s as good as horror films have ever been, rich imagery, great performances, a plot with real depth to it; but if you’re a fan of the sort of films we cover here, then this should be part of your DNA. Books and books have been written about it, which puts it a little outside our wheelhouse, but of the million great things written about it, picking one at random, THIS is excellent.


Why I’m doing this relates to our recent coverage of the movies of Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso, and it’s one of those stories that involves incoherent sequel numbering, a matter close to my heart. I’m guessing due to some contractual loophole, or weirdness in Italian copyright law, they started making sequels to this movie almost right away, only sequels with no returning cast or crew. Lucio Fulci, the legendary director of “The Beyond”, “House By The Cemetery” and “New York Ripper”, made part 2, also known in the UK as “Zombie Flesh Eaters” (all the sequels to that were part of the “Zombie Flesh Eaters” series in the UK).


By part 3, all bets were off. Fulci made most of “Zombi 3”, but it was finished off by Mattei and Fragasso due to Fulci’s failing health; but the most amazing thing is the sheer number of different movies that were released as “Zombi 3” in various parts of the world. “Nightmare City”, “Let Sleeping Corpses Lie”, “Zombie Holocaust”, “Nights Of Terror / The Zombie Dead” and “The Hanging Woman” have all been subjected to it – “Nights Of Terror” is one of my favourite zombie movies ever, by the way – but they calmed down a bit by parts 4 and 5, neither of which bear any relation to the rest of the series or each other. Oh, and part 5 was made before part 4. Part 4 was also directed by Fragasso, but more on them when I get to reviewing them.


So, we’ll be looking forward to Mattei and Fragasso’s section of this franchise, and there’s every chance that part 2 will be decent, as Fulci made some horror classics too. But we’re here to talk about “Zombi”. Firstly is why it’s called that. Although I think we in the UK got Romero’s version, with a few cuts for the more extreme gore, the rest of Europe got a version edited by Dario Argento, with a soundtrack comprised mostly of songs from his band, Goblin. Argento part-financed the movie, and acted as script editor, on the proviso he could re-edit the movie for release in the rest of the world, and his version ended up 9 minutes shorter, at 118 minutes.


If you’d like to read an extremely detailed breakdown of every difference in the versions (and talk of the “ultimate edition”, which has all the footage from all the different versions and stuff from an edit that Romero prepared hurriedly for the Cannes Film Festival) then please go HERE, but if you don’t, then I’ll give you the highlights. Most of Argento’s edits were to trim the odd second of fat from various scenes, and to remove some of the more overt comedy (the biker gang still have plenty of funny stuff to do, though). The guy who gets his head chopped off by the helicopter blades is absent from Argento’s version, perhaps because he never liked the effect, and a few conversations are removed.


What’s interesting, not so much the big stuff, which is a few light-hearted conversations, but the little things. There are hundreds of edits, a second here, a second there, and for a movie which was over 2 hours, I think – and this may be sacrilege to some people – Argento was right. His edit is fantastic, stripping fat from scenes and focusing it better; the original, and even the much longer version, are both masterpieces of cinema, but Argento’s version might just be the best of the lot.


I think this depends on your attitude. I used to be “longer = better” when it came to director’s cuts of my favourite movies, but I was cured of this when the “Redux” version of “Apocalypse Now” was released. I remember the acres of press coverage, the delight from movie fans that we were finally going to see Coppola’s vision in full…and it ended up being unbearably dull. That plantation scene! Ye gods. So, since then, I’ve come to appreciate the work of a good editor, and there are very few films released today that wouldn’t benefit from being 20 minutes shorter. It’s still fun to see the extra stuff from your favourite films, but the number of deleted scenes that deserve to be put back in films is absolutely miniscule.


Well, that’s a brief chat about “Zombi”. Plot mockery and insulting cast and crew – the normal business of this site – will resume with “Zombi 2”.


Rating: thumbs up (obviously)

Dead 7 (2016)


I do love a bit of stunt casting (please don’t check any old reviews where I probably say I hate it), and this could be the stunt-cast-est movie of them all. Nick Carter, formerly of Backstreet Boys, had long hankered after making a movie, and he came up with the idea for a post-apocalyptic zombie Western, and then got The Asylum and the SyFy Channel on board. That cast? Howie Dorough and AJ McLean, also from Backstreet Boys, Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick from N-SYNC, Jeff Timmons from 98 Degrees, and what would appear to be the entirety of O-Town (I’d never heard of either of the last two bands until I saw this, so apologies, US 90s / 00s boy band enthusiasts). Rounding things out are Jon Secada, “Shifty Shellshock” from Crazy Town – of “Butterfly” fame – and perhaps most bizarrely of all, Art Alexakis of Everclear!


While the acting quality is, to put it mildly, variable (Carter and Fatone all seem to have experience, Timmons was great despite it being his first time on a movie set, whereas Dorough is a little on the “naturalistic” side) there’s lots of enthusiasm, everyone’s having fun, and best of all, no sneaky winks to camera about the cast’s former professions at all. Honestly, if the choice for the Asylum and SyFy is stuff like this, where everyone’s having a laugh, and stuff like our recently reviewed “Alien Lockdown”, which sucks enjoyment from the rest of the universe, I’ll take the former.


Copper-miners start emerging from the mines with a mysterious illness, and by the time it’s developed into full-blown zombie-ism, it’s too late for humanity, as it spreads extremely quickly. Copperheads (as zombies are known) almost completely wipe out humanity, and the pockets that are left retreat back into a simpler existence, which means small towns, and a sort of Wild West vibe to everything.


I’d already written a Magnificent Seven joke in my notes before one of the “chapter” titles came up as “The Magnificent Dead 7”, and that’s what the film is all about. A small town is wiped out by an army of zombies, and they’re about to move on to the next one, so the Mayor (Secada) gets a gang of rough and tumble outlaws to fight the zombies, their controller, the super-evil and absolutely bonkers  Apocalypta (Debra Wilson, “MadTV”) and generally save the world. There’s Jack (Carter); Whisky Joe (Fatone); Daisy Jane (Carrie Keagan, TV presenter / producer); The Vaquero (Howie Dorough); Komodo (Erik-Michael Estrada of O-Town) and Billy (Timmons). Billy and Daisy Jane are a couple, but she used to be with Jack, who’s Billy’s brother. I think, I might have missed that bit. Rounding out the seven a little later is the beautiful and mysterious Sirene (Lauren Kitt-Carter), who lives in the wilderness and hunts Copperheads for sport.


Alexakis has a cameo as a potential member of the Seven, which I almost missed because I was too busy going “bloody hell, that’s Art Alexakis!” (I was a bit of an Everclear fan in my younger day). But the biggest “bad guy” role for a boyband-er is AJ McLean as Johnny Vermillion, Apocalypta’s sidekick, face painted, a demented laugh never far from his lips, and really surprisingly good.


It also seems someone has bothered giving this world some background. Currency is now zombie teeth, as anyone who’s prepared to kill zombies deserves a reward for it (you see scumbags taking out other living peoples’ teeth to try and cheat the system); and you’ve got the sort-of religion that’s grown up around Apocalypta (who apparently invented her own gibberish language for some of her scenes). The town looks interesting too – filmed over a couple of weeks in Butte, Montana, it heavily features the gigantic “Our Lady Of The Rockies” statue, which is just outside of town and gives the movie a really interesting visual.


The special effects are fine (probably borrowed the same computer package that The Asylum’s “Z-Nation”used), the outfits look authentically grimy and lived in, and most of the acting is decent too. The fight scenes are excellent, with special mention going to Fatone’s surprisingly graceful drunken bar-fights (Estrada, as the ninja-like Komodo, had only a week to prepare with swords, and it shows, although his long-distance stunt double is great). It feels weird to say, but there’s not a lot to complain about! There’s the odd dropped plotline, like the specially trained zombie doesn’t do anything all that special at the end, but that’s small potatoes.


I mean, if you really hated that boy band music era, then this movie will wear thin pretty quickly. But I didn’t care much one way or the other – I was an adult who never listened to pop radio, and most of them passed me by. One of my sisters was a big fan of the Backstreet Boys, and they seemed like reasonable chaps – no sense blaming them for the culture that allowed them to exist. And now, as they’re in their mid/late 30s, and all seem to have a pretty reasonable attitude to the super-fame being gone, they decided to do something a bit more fun than yet another reunion tour (although I’m sure they’re going to do one of them too).   Amazingly, AJ McLean and I have exactly the same opinion about the radio, how it’s all controlled by Clear Channel, who want nothing even remotely different or new or interesting – I imagine McLean and I would disagree on what we’d fill post-Clear Channel radio with, but that’s the boring part of the argument.


It’s fun, the cast are having a good time, there’s some interesting ideas, lovely scenery, plenty of zombies get hacked to bits…it’s absolutely worth a watch. And the cast even do a few new songs for the soundtrack, if that’s your cup of tea!


Rating: thumbs up

Nightmare City (1980)




I really dislike movies that cheat – whether it’s having twists that rely on information we weren’t given, or magic reset buttons, or (as is the case here) “it was all a dream” endings. Has anyone ever gone “that entire movie that took place in someone’s head was really good”? No, is the answer, and if you have any friends that come close to this nonsense, I suggest cutting them from your life immediately. I’m sure there are exceptions (please mention them in the comments, it’d be nice to know people read these) but my rule is good and worth following.


“Nightmare City” is one of the “classic” Italian zombie movies, along with stuff like “City Of The Living Dead”, “Burial Ground” (my favourite), and “The Beyond”. There’s a fantastic blu-ray restoration of it done by Arrow Films (seriously, give those guys your money, they put tons of work into making old, cheaply shot movies look as good as possible) with tons of special features and all sorts. I’m not saying make this your first ever Arrow purchase (I’d have to go with “Dawn Of The Dead” for that) but even their less-than-great releases are at least interesting to find out about.


A bearded fellow awakes from uneasy dreams and needs to get to work, while his wife lounges in bed some more. He’s a news reporter and is off to the airport to interview…someone? I was switching between the Italian and English audio at the time and missed that bit. Don’t worry, it does not become a plot point in any way. So, he’s at the airport when a large military plane comes into view, radio silence. In 2016 it’d have been shot out of the air miles away, but in 1980 it’s allowed to land, so the army gathers round it, with the emergency services and our plucky reporter and his cameraman. Out of the plane? ZOMBIES! There’s a lot of the undead packed onto it, too, because they just keep streaming out.


Now, a word about the zombies. The blu-ray cover calls them “pizza-faced”, which is being rather polite. “Normal people with a bit of sticky crap on their face” is still being a bit polite to them. Blu-ray is a bad medium to see such pathetically bad makeup (which in almost every instance, ends at the neck – zombies have remarkably fresh hands, it would seem) and while it’s certainly not the worst makeup ever (I remember one where all the zombies just had grey paint on their face) it’s right down at the bottom. Even the more grotesque undead just look like they’re wearing a crap-covered balaclava. And all their eyes are fine! Ah, never mind.


There’s an Army general and his far-too-young-for-him girlfriend too, with the Army guy being decent-ish. His commanding officer, though, is a piece of garbage, when despite what must be thousands of deaths he refuses to issue a warning or help civilians in any way (Army guy spends most of the second half of the movie flying about in a helicopter, indicating the producers paid for one and they were going to get every penny out of it).


What’s nice in horror movies is an escalating sense of threat. Humans will pretty quickly figure out how to kill zombies, so there either needs to be more zombies, or the humans need to get weaker, or the zombies need to get more powerful. In “Nightmare City”, though, they start off virtually invincible and just stay there. They run! They use guns and knives! They drive cars! Out of all the humans, only Reporter Guy shows even the most basic instinct for self-preservation, kicking the zombies out of the way, running around, and most importantly not just standing there shouting as someone eats your face. Or boob, as it seems at least a few of our zombies have a penchant for chewing on a breast.


There’s only so long you can watch a bunch of incompetent humans get gradually picked off by a completely over-powered group of zombies. There’s bits of entertainment in there, I suppose, like the zombie attack on a TV studio showing a live jazzercise program, or the TV that gets thrown and explodes like a grenade, but it’s pretty slim pickings for what should have been a rip-roaring classic. And, even for an Italian zombie movie, it’s pretty appallingly sexist. Even leaving aside the constant chewing on boobs, there’s the way the only two plot drivers are Reporter Guy and Army Guy – their women are complete window-dressing and only slow things down, cause problems, cry and moan, and so on.


Director Umberto Lenzi is the very poor cousin of Italian exploitation cinema, and with an ending like the one he gave us, he deserves to be. Here be spoilers, I guess…so, Reporter’s wife dies (turning into a hilarious stuffed dummy as she falls the entire height of a rollercoaster, and things seem to be going pretty badly for him, until he wakes up! It was all a dream! But not only that, he then goes to the airport, meets his cameraman, and sees a military plane land in complete radio silence. Basically, they replay the first few minutes of the film, with the only difference being Reporter Guy has a slightly more puzzled expression this time. Nothing else changes at all, and the movie cuts off when the plane door opens. So BOOOOOOO


It’s not fun enough to get past its massive limitations. If you’re desperate for an Italian zombie movie, you have many better ways to spend your time and money.


Rating: thumbs down