Zombi 3 (1988)
By: Mr Intolerance on December 16, 2010  | 
Shriek Show (USA) | Region1, NTSC | 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced) | English DD 2.0 | 96 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Directors: Lucio Fulci, Bruno Mattei
Starring: Deran Serafian, Beatrice Ring, Ottaviano Dell' Acqua, Massimo Vanni, Ulli Reinthaler, Michele Monti, Deborah Bergamini, Marina Loi
Screenplay: Claudio Fragasso
Country: Italy
External Links
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The phrase "a difficult production" gets bandied about a fair bit when fans and critics alike try to justify a maligned film as not being as bad as it actually is. It's not a term you'll be hearing again in this review, as Zombie 3 really is a terrible turd of a film.

Originally envisioned as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, and with Lucio Fulci at the helm, this could have been quite good – but when the name Claudio (Troll 2) Fragasso was attached to the script, dim alarm bells started to ring, especially when Fragasso's screenplay has no relation to Fulci's original film at all, bar the fact that there are some flesh-eating zombies in a tropical location. In fact, the finished product bears a very pronounced resemblance to Fragasso's earlier zombie effort with Bruno Mattei, Hell Of The Living Dead. I have no issue with that film, but story-wise, it's hardly likely to be a success when coupled with Fulci's more atmospheric and artistic style of direction.

This brings us to the next problem: shooting in the Philippines, while cheap (something Italian genre movie-makers were quite happy with), was having a bad effect on Fulci's already deteriorating health – this led us to the question of how much of the film did Fulci actually direct? The stories range from Fulci having filmed as little as five minutes of the film, to the more commonly adhered to tale that he changed the script substantially and shot a film that ran for about 70-75 minutes. Producer Franco Gaudenzi was not best pleased by what he saw and sent Fragasso to the Philippines to film inserts (substantial parts of the film were shot on left-over sets from Apocalypse Now), which were completed with the help of Bruno Mattei, who was also there at the same time filming his own Strike Commando 2 (and who had already shot some second unit work for Fulci on the original shoot) – now even how much insert footage was added and how much of Fulci's original shooting remained is kind of up-for-grabs; the usual story is that about fifteen to twenty minutes of Fulci's footage was scrapped (the accusation being that it was "padding" – just you bear that accusation in mind when you watch the final product…), and that the run-time was filled out with Mattei and Fragasso's re-shoots.

Which brings us to the next problem: watch the film, and see if you can pick the scenes that Fulci directed. Because frankly, I can't. If Fulci's name hadn't been emblazoned on the front of the box, I would have sworn on a stack of bibles that the whole thing was directed by Mattei. It has none of the trademarks of Fulci's directorial style (particularly his creation of mood and carefully staged placement of the camera), and plenty of the trademarks of Mattei's (hilariously inept action scenes, and dialogue scenes where everybody waves their arms, shakes fingers in others' faces, and mouths dialogue so poorly written that it'd make the writers of a high school musical blush). Even in his later films like Voices From Beyond and Door Into Silence, you can still pick trademark Fulci camerawork – it is definitely not the case here.

My major issue with this is that if is being presented to us as a sequel (and it is), would be why the zombies went from being brought back via voodoo in the original film, as opposed to being reanimated by an experimental biological weapon here – and at the end of Zombie Flesh Eaters, the apocalypse is well and truly under way, with the undead marching on New York City; here we get a whole new origin story. Then there's the further lack of consistency with the zombies themselves – Fulci's undead in Zombie Flesh Eaters shamble very slowly indeed, here some of them leap around like fucking gazelles, reverting back to shambling only when it suits the script, such as it is. So in other words, there's nothing much to link the sequel to its parent film. Certainly the original didn't have to conjure atmosphere with dry ice and spooky green lights indicating the presence of zombies.

What's that? You want a synopsis? Okay, let's see if you can spot the films being ripped off here: a bunch of scientists are preparing a top-secret experimental drug called "Death One" in a high-tech, high security research laboratory. Needless to say, the army are interested in the military potential Death One could have as a bio-weapon. Which is about the point when terrorists storm the facility, steal a case of Death One, a vial of the drug breaks and one of the terrorists becomes infected. Now, one of the side effects of the drug is that it can re-animate the dead – another is the fact that it turns you into a flesh-eating ghoul.

Now, the infected fella heads to a hotel where he tries to stem the infection by hacking off the rapidly rotting infected hand with a machete. It seems that by turning you into a ghoul, Death One kills you slowly while you're still conscious, as at a later point we're told a cast member is going through all the symptoms of rigor mortis while still alive. Anyway, the military respond to the risk of contagion with terminal intensity, locking down the region around the hotel, General Morton ordering that anyone in that region be killed, and their body burned. Professor Holder suggests that this is a bad idea, as the smoke and ashes from the bodies of the infected could spread for miles around, thus increasing the risk of more widespread contagion – and of course, this is what happens.

Our subplot involves three young soldiers on holiday and a busload of young women, who while mid-flirt are attacked by infected birds, a number of the gang now become infected themselves. The group find the hotel, scene of the initial outbreak, and are very soon attacked by zombies, but that's not so bad, as in the hotel they find a crate of fully automatic weapons – like you do in any luxury hotel. Nice script-writing. Anyway, the military has now instituted a "sweep and clear" policy and, in white boiler suits and gasmasks, are going from area to area and killing anything in their path – so our gang's options are: be munched by hungry zombies and turn into one themselves, or be cut to pieces by their own military.

The group is divided, and various misfortunes befall them – one of the few memorable scenes the film has to offer shows a disembodied zombified head inexplicably launching itself across a room to bury its fangs in somebody's neck. How?! There's also a zombie baby that puts in an entrance you won't soon forget. But the action scenes are pretty lacklustre as the group run from desperate stand-off to desperate stand-off, leading to a predictable ending. The gore effects are bloody, but pretty cheaply done, and add minimal interest to the rather dull proceedings. It's really only the moments of supreme ineptitude that give any spark of life to the film, well, that and spotting all of the films that were ripped off in the script. And the final scene is an absolute stinker; an attempt at comedy that falls dismally flat.

What also really sucks is the scriptwriter's apparent belief that by introducing an eco-friendly pro-environment message, it will somehow elevate the film intellectually into being something more than an action/horror film ruining the good name of its predecessor. The addition of the DJ for Blue Heart, the local "cool" radio station, acting at various points as a kind of Greek Chorus was ham-fisted, to say the least; the social commentary in a Romero zombie flick is intrusive enough, but usually essential to the plot – here it's just part of that padding that Fragasso was meant to be getting rid of. That said, is does give rise to the funniest line in the film, delivered by someone not quite so enamoured of the Green message delivered by the DJ: "Life's become a real ecological pain in the ass…I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint every now and then, and once in a while, I like to piss on a bush!" I think there's something in that for all of us.

The main plot device seems to be ripped off from Fragasso's own script, Hell Of The Living Dead (which it could practically be seen as a remake of), as well as Dan O'Bannon's Return Of The Living Dead (bio-weapon killing those infected as they are still conscious producing zombies, as well as re-animating the dead, military over-reaction to the contagion, ashes from burned bodies spreading the infection further), the zombies/infected are kinda similar to those in Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City (the running zombie hadn't become a staple of the horror genre by this point, and when Lenzi filmed his movie, was practically unique), the white-suited military killing the innocent as well as the infected harks back to George A Romero's The Crazies. So where does this leave us? With a poorly acted, badly scripted zombie film with low to average effects at best, and a terrible score, falsely claiming itself to be a sequel to one of the best horror films ever made; in reality a mindless melange of ideas and situations from superior films cobbled together with all the finesse of an epileptic gorilla having a seizure. There's a real paucity of ideas and originality here – which, as an exploitation fan, I can kinda look past; but there's no charm, no spirit and none of what makes other Fragasso/Mattei ventures (Hell Of The Living Dead, Rats: The Night Of Terror) actually work quite well, despite being in some instances plagiarisms of other, better works. Worse yet, there's not a great deal of Fulci – and it's a shame to think that some folks might think this was indicative of his other work.
The picture is a bit soft, I found. It's presented in its OAR of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced, transferred from a newly found Italian print, with the original opening scene (normally omitted from European cuts) and several gory shots spliced in from a Japanese 1-inch master. The liner notes are more detailed on the process. What it means for the viewer, is that you'll see a change in quality in the image. There are no other problems with the image, other than the softness I was mentioning.
The soundtrack was a bit on the flat side, I found. Not muffled, just not especially noteworthy. And the score is excruciating.
Extra Features
Shriek Show have included a brace of interviews with some of the surviving cast and crew (Claudio Fragasso, Bruno Mattei, Ottaviano Dell' Acqua and Massimo Vanni, and Marina Loi), which are certainly interesting enough (Fragasso states quite explicitly that his uncredited wife Rossella Drudi actually wrote about 80% of the script – I don't know if he's trying to be nice to her or absolve himself from blame…), and also solves the question of who shot which elements of the film, although I still don't buy the explanation – and as the interviewer keeps on asking the same questions to do with ownership and who filmed what, the repetition becomes a bit grating. You also get the theatrical trailer for Zombi 3, as well as trailers for Spasmo, Beyond The Darkness and House Of Clocks. There is also a gallery of stills and promotional art that you can't navigate through to the tune of some of the awful score. The back cover states that there are talent bios, too, but if that's the case, I couldn't find them.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Watching Zombi 3 is something akin to watching a train gradually gaining momentum before losing all control, coming off the tracks in a pile of twisted metal and fire. It's a kind of horrified fascination on the part of the viewer, at best, as everything just goes so terribly, terribly wrong. I can only really recommend this to those who simply must see any film with the "zombie" in the title, or fans of trash who want to see what happens when a good idea is so poorly executed that you laugh at the result, rather than with it.

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