Zombi 3 (1988)

Zombi 3 is perhaps the most famous film Bruno Mattei is associated with. This might seem sort of ironic, given that he is responsible for somewhat less than half the film. Mr. Mattei stepped in after the original director, Lucio Fulci, became so ill he couldn’t continue the project. And therein lies the tale.

Mr. Fulci had directed Zombi 2. That Italian production rode on the coattails of the re-cut Italian version of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, theatrically released there as Zombi. In the U.S., meanwhile, Zombi 2 was released as Zombie. In the UK, it was released on video under the title Zombie Flesh Eaters, while Zombi 3, our current subject, was released as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2.

Got that?

In any case, while shooting the Philippines, which remarkably was apparently even cheaper than shooting in Italy, Mr. Fulci’s already extant health issues grew dire. He took his leave, wherein the internationally acclaimed comedy team of Mattei & Fragasso stepped in. As always, this duo left hilarity in their wake.

Mr. Mattei subsequently estimated that roughly 60% of the finished film was Mr. Fulci’s, and that he considers it to be Fulci’s movie. And indeed, Mr. Fulci remains the director of record. (Although he reportedly later tried to have his name removed from it.) Fulci left about 70 minutes of film behind him. Apparently, though, the footage was considered too pokey, and the supernatural elements not in accord with the general run of zombie movies back then.

So the producers brought on Mattei and Fragasso to finish the film, while pushing it in more of an action sci-fi direction, and to pick up the pacing. And although I’m not conversant enough with Mr. Fulci’s work to know who the end product accords with his other films, I do know the film feels like a Mattei picture. By which I generally mean it’s consistently dumb, rife with overacting, clumsily directed and thuddingly derivative of other, better known movies.

Even so, let’s grant that the film is more properly credited to Mr. Fulci. The fact remains that so many of Mr. Mattei’s ‘own’ pictures steal so wantonly from the works of other—and it must be said, invariably better—filmmakers that being responsible for 40% of a movie actually puts Zombi 3 fairly high on the Bruno Mattei scale of things.

To further muddy the authorial waters, we must again also toss in the Borsalino of (here) screenwriter Claudio “Troll 2” Fragasso, Mr. Mattei’s frequent coworker and fellow cinematic incompetent. Mr. Fragasso toiled on the original script for the movie, and on the revamped, more science fictional additions he and Mattei later brought to the picture. So he’s certainly a piece of the puzzle as well.

All that aside, the primary point is that Zombi 3 richly deserves its reputation as possibly the most moronic and inept of all Italian zombie movies.* Only aficionados of the breed can truly understand how bold a statement that is, especially given the contributions of Umberto Lenzi. Zombi 3 also surely ranks amongst the top half dozen of Mr. Mattei’s most purely stupid films. Take my word—and that of my fellow B-Masters—for it; this is a much more impressive statement than it probably sounds.

[*Zombie Lake, I hasten to explain, in a French zombie movie.]

We open with an unconscious bald guy lying inside a glass Science Tube. The room itself is lit with a green gel light, which is systematically undercut by a strobing red gel light. From this we can only assume somebody was really pissed at Mario Bava.

Standing alongside the Tube are a nurse and one Dr. Holder. As played by Robert Marius, Holder is a man who will deliver unto us untold delights over the next hour and a half. “Give me Death One,” he intones, whereupon the nurse hands him a big-ass syringe. This looks like the sort of thing they’d use in a stage production to make sure that the people in the cheap seats could see it.

As eerie ah-ahhhhhing music plays, Holder slowly injects the fluid into a drip connected to the bald guy. Oh, the suspense. Will something bad happen? Sure enough, after a fake moment of no result, the Bald Man’s eyes suddenly pop open. Holder and the nurse share a happy grin. However, the fellow begins twitching and spitting up blood. “Something’s gone wrong!” Holder deduces. You can’t get anything past that guy.

Holder pushes the nurse back into a corner. The patient’s face turns into a cheesy latex mask and gets distorted and such. (This might be because of the hand pushing on it from the inside.) Then the fellow rears up and smashes right through the glass of the Science Tube—obviously a cheap model—before…well, just sitting there staring into the camera. Holder and the now shrieking nurse look shocked and aghast. I mean, who could have foreseen that experiments with a substance called ‘Death One’ would have such horrifying results? Who?!


Cut to Holder on a phone in an electrical plant or something that doesn’t remotely look like a lab. He’s explaining to some Mysterious Mr. X (presumably an Evil Military Bigwig) that “I’m obliged to give up work on Death One.” Holder says he can have the drug ready for transport soon. However, he warns the person to “take every precaution…you see, it’s…very dangerous!” Apparently this remains a complete shock to him, despite the fact—and forgive me for beating a dead horse here—that the substance is called Death One. Do you see what I’m saying?

And man, don’t even get me started on Diet Death One.

Cut to the opening credits, which play under awkward shots of a helicopter flying towards the camera. Amazingly for an Italian genre film of the late ‘80s, these are  accompanied by a driving disco-y beat. Meanwhile, four soldiers with M16s—apparently this represents ‘every precaution’—are escorting two scientists (we can tell, as they are wearing lab coats) who are carrying a briefcase through a building.  Then we cut away to watch as some guards let a van full of men in overalls through a secured gate…somewhere. Presumably this is all connected.

This is the highest level of security the U.S. military can provide.

These divergent threads are intercut for several minutes, as they most towards, presumably, a Rendezvous with Destiny. At one point the soldiers and scientists are seen marching through the bowels of the building, calling to mind that scene in This is Spinal Tap where the band can’t find the stage. That was a better movie, albeit not necessarily a funnier one. Still, if you want hot van / helicopter / people walking interplay, then this is the movie for you.

Now that we have a better look at them, it turns out the scientists are in fact Holder and the nurse. Why pay for two more actors, right? They walk into an elevator—then van / helicopter / disco music—and emerge from the elevator. It’s scintillating stuff.

Eventually the credits come to an end, and so, thankfully, does this string of scenes. The helicopter lands next to a hanger, Holder and his escort emerge nearby, and the van continues on its way. We now see, however, that *gasp* the ‘workers’ in it are carrying guns.

Yes, nothing is handier for bringing unimaginable horrors out from secured labs than terrorists. These might be the run of the mill political ones, as here or in Cassandra Crossing. Animal rights terrorists are another popular option, as in Food of the Gods II, 28 Days Later or Sweet November.

Things progress about as you’d expect. The van suddenly appears on the airfield from off-camera, meaning it was invisible to anyone in the shot until then. Thus they get the element of surprise. The soldiers are all killed, and all but one of the terrorists catch a bullet or three. No squibs, though; too much work I guess. This is kind of weird for a zombie movie, a genre known for gore.

So the one remaining terrorist, unsurprisingly, escapes on foot with the briefcase. Bum bum bum. More soldiers arrive and give chase. “They have to stop him, or it’s the end of everything!” Holder groans. However, the soldiers soon catch up with the man. This isn’t entirely surprising, as the terrorist is on foot and the soldiers are in a helicopter. Hey, when you rent a helicopter for a movie, you’re going to get your lira’s worth.

Much like the fleeing dog in The Thing,* although rather less convincingly, the terrorist manages to evade all the bullets the ‘copter send his way. Eventually, though, he is slightly wounded, and worse luck, the briefcase is damaged.

The terrorist, of course, ends up infected with Death One. This almost exactly, by the way, duplicates the plot mechanics of The Cassandra Crossing. The Terrorist staggers away, his hand already getting all ickish. Even so, he hams up a series of groans and throat and wrist grabs so that we ‘get’ it.

[*Given Messrs. Mattei and Fraggaso’s tendency to borrow, I think we can say very much like the fleeing dog in The Thing.]

Luckily, at least for the plot, the Terrorist almost immediately stumbles across a resort. He enters, and the desk clerk gives him a room. You might think the fellow’s overwrought shaking, gasping and sweating would at least garner a raised eyebrow or something, but a little flashed cash eases the way.

Back at the airfield, the film’s Evil Military Guy™, General Morton, arrives. He’s played by Mike Monty, who made a living mostly playing American military officers in Italian films. You’d think that, given this was the case, he’d keep his hair shorter. But then all the other guys playing soldiers here would have had to cut their hair too. And really, who can bother?

Awaiting Gen. Morton’s arrival, the previously wooden Holder is starting to amp up the theatrics. In doing so he begins delivers what is quite possibly the single greatest camp performances in Italian zombie movie history, which is saying something.

“The Death One compound is far more dangerous than any of us ever imagined!” he tells his colleagues. Apparently it’s more like a Death Four or Five. Meanwhile, we can tell he’s talking to fellow scientists because they’re all wearing lab coats whilst assembled in what appears to be a Ramada Inn meeting room. Astoundingly, though, not one of them is smoking a pipe.

Gen. Morton and his two adjutants enter the room, sending away everyone but Holder and the Nurse. This is when the guy playing Holder really starts giving the goods, and it’s a thing to behold.

Either he can’t remember his lines, or he’s trying to do that Shatner pausing thing. He also indulges in the sort of eye-popping that Kermit the Frog would find excessive. His hand gestures, meanwhile, are so exaggerated you’re surprised an Italian let him get away with them. It’s pretty fabulous.

Imagine Dwight Schultz playing Murdock with a *lot* less subtlety.

Holder is aghast to hear that the Terrorist has apparently been infected, noting that now the virus can be transmitted in a myriad of ways. Any contact at all, basically. The General is sure the guy couldn’t have gotten far, however. Apparently nobody has considered the fact that there’s a huge resort complex a short stroll away from where they found the shattered briefcase.

Cut to the resort bar. The bartender is telling a waiter to bring what is apparently yet another pitcher of water up to the Terrorist’s room. “Is that guy trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records?” the waiter asks in disgust. When he arrives at the room, he finds the Terrorist has holed up in the bathroom, probably to hide his developing zombieitis. Either that or he’s trying to avoid giving the guy a tip.

The waiter leaves, literally bumping into the hotel maid in the hallway. Back in the bathroom, the Terrorist is in predictively bad shape. Trying to stem the infection, he lops off his infected hand with a gigantic knife he has somehow acquired. His offending member hacks rather easily, almost like it was a cheap prop or something. Since the infection has clearly spread through his entire body already, though, it’s presumably too little too late. Also, you know, it’s a zombie movie.

The maid enters the Terrorist’s room, so I think we can see where this is going. The bedroom’s all dark, and spooky music plays. Ahh-ahhhhh! goes the soundtrack. Hearing a groan, she enters the bathroom. She gasps in horror at seeing the hand and pool of blood in the sink. After all, she’ll probably have to clean that up. This is what maids call a ‘Pete Townsend.’

Luckily, she is spared this when the Zombie Terrorist appears (from where?!) and smushes her face into the bathroom mirror. He does this so hard she spits out the large quantity of red-dyed Kayo syrup she had in her mouth for some reason. Some kind of sorority hazing thing, probably.

Soldiers in white hazmat suits appear, running (rather awkwardly and randomly, for presumably elite troops) through the hotel to more disco music. They hold the desk clerk and some guests at gunpoint. This seems a bit much, but they’re military guys in a zombie movie, so there you go. However, we see the aforementioned waiter is now all sweaty and has a spoiled hot dog of a finger. Bum bum bum.

The soldiers find the apparently empty Terrorist’s room. They open the bathroom door, and *gasp, choke* find the maid impaled to the inside of the door with the big knife I mentioned earlier. Then they run out into the hall, where they are met by another guy yelling “We found him!” They head outside to the entrance for the hotel laundry, and find the dead body of the Terrorist, all zombie-faced. This was handily seated behind some hung sheets, for another ‘shock’ effect when they uncover him. The reveal also involved your standard Italian zoom shot. Man, they love the zoom shot over there.

Gen. Morton is soon apprised of these events. “Evacuate the premises,” he commands, “and eliminate everyone there. Bury them in a mass grave.” Gasp! Because this is a zombie movie, the order is ruthless. Because it’s an Italian movie, it’s also stupid. Why not kill everyone there and just burn the place down? Seems like a lot less work.

And wouldn’t burning possibly contaminated bodies make more sense? Indeed, the only reason to take them offsite to kill them would be to take them somewhere with an incinerator. (And they do have one, since we see the Terrorist’s body is disposed in it.) A mass grave leaves the bodies sitting around, which seems a bit like a biohazard situation to me. And if they are murdering everyone for a cover-up, then again, the mass grave thing seems like a lot of evidence to leave around.

Morton personally oversees the burning of the body, because that’s the sort of things Generals do, I guess. Also overseeing it? Mattei and Fragasso themselves. They appear in cameo performances as the soldiers who slide the body into the incinerator. They then salute Morton and take their leave. Take that, Hitchcock!

Mattei on the left, Fragasso on the right.

Once the dummy corpse has been consigned to the flames, Dr. Holder shows up to chew the scenery again. He warns Gen. Morton that the ashes in the air could themselves spread the effects of Death One. Because, you know, that’s what happened in Return of the Living Dead, made three years earlier. And Italian zombie movies always rip off American ones, especially Italian zombie movies made by Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei.

“That’s ridiculous!” Morton scoffs, walking off. I have to agree. I didn’t buy it in Return of the Living Dead, where it just seemed like they were stretching for a cynical ending, and I don’t buy it here. Still, we cut to the smoke leaving the chimney, which immediately turns to ash. This sight is accompanied by more ahh-ahhhing.

Here we meet a character who MUST have been provided by Fragasso and / or Mattei. This is Blue Heart, the black and blind radio disc jockey whose ongoing broadcast commentary will act as the film’s Greek chorus.

In Zombi 3’s most hilariously obscure piece of pilfering, Blue Heart is clearly modeled on black and blind radio disc jockey Super Soul (Blazing Saddle’s Cleavon Little), the DJ in the American existential car chase classic Vanishing Point, whose ongoing broadcast commentary acted as, yes, that’s film Greek Chorus.* The great thing about being Mattei and Fragasso is that you never get bothered with questions like, “Where do you get your ideas?”

Purely a coincidence, I’m sure.

[*Future Ken: After finishing this review, I listened to the DVD commentary, recorded by lead actors Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring 15 years after filming (so about 2003). Sarafian caught the Super Soul thing, too. For what it’s worth, the commentary is light on info but goofy and fun. The two co-stars had been dating at the time Zombi 3 was made and had maintained a clearly affectionate and endearingly silly relationship.]

Giving the morning traffic report, Blue Hearts notes, “I can’t see the traffic, but I can hear it say, you’ll have to cool down, there’s lots of shuckin’ and jivin’ all along the way.” Did I mention he was black? He mordantly mentions that everyone’s fleeing to the country, as “the cities are killing us with pollution and stress.” He goes on Telling It Like It Is, pontificating on how scientists constantly underreport pollution in the air and such. (Hey, like Death One!!) Stress too, probably. We cut away, though, before Blue Heart wraps things up with ‘And now here’s “Afternoon Delight” by the Starland Vocal Band.’

In a brilliant transistion we cut to three *cough!* American soldiers driving their Jeep down the street, shuckin’ and jivin’—worse, white guy shuckin’ and jivin’—to the tune Blue Heart was just playing. (This is supposedly conveyed upon a boom box, one that is clearly just an empty frame and weighs all of about two ounces.) They are all wild and crazy guys, with one noting of Blue Heart’s latest hip musical offering, “It makes me horny!”

Astoundingly, not one of these three men is played by Nicolas Cage.

Observing these three, it’s apparent that the US Army had bigger fish to fry in the late ‘80s than checking on enlisted men’s haircuts. Or that they have any insignia on their greens, which they wear off base with their shirts unbuttoned and sans headgear. Moreover, the men range in age from 30 to 42, and look it. This is kind of old for enlisted GIs, and it’s hard to buy these goofy mooks being noncoms. It’s almost like this movie was made by somebody who knew absolutely nothing about the American military. On the other hand, they do say things like, “Do you remember that last pass we had?” Well, they certainly have that military jargon down. Take that, Tom Clancy.

In an example of exemplary Italian editing, their jeep goes from being in the city in one shot to the country in the next immediate one (remember how Blue Heart mentioned everyone was leaving the cities?). They are moreover now driving behind an RV, from which they are getting giggling catcalls and blown kisses from the five cute young ladies inside. Man, everyone seems so happy now. I hope they aren’t soon caught up in a web of horror and tragedy.

On the other hand, all the girls and soldiers together seem to share about five brain cells, so maybe that wouldn’t be so bad after that. Oh, and there’s a fourth guy, the fellow who’s driving the RV. He’s drinking Coke from a bottle, but doing so by using a straw. So I don’t have a lot of sympathy for him, either. Oh, and wait, there’s another guy there, too. That makes sense, I guess, since that means there’re five guys and five girls, including the soldiers. Anyway, there’s the cast for this particular ensemble.

I guess they probably (maybe?) all have names or something, but who cares? This isn’t that sort of movie. It’s the kind where there’s The Guy with Glasses and The Girl with Short Hair. And one girl’s Asian, so that helps. The inter-vehicular flirting and inane dialogue continue for what seems like an awfully long time—probably five minutes, tops—stoking our anticipation of the gut-munching that will hopefully begin soon.

Cut back to Blue Heart. “You all know about that hole in the layers ozone caused by hair sprays and deodorants,” he says. Having spoken Truth to Power, I guess, he continues, “This next piece is called ‘Nature.’ And while we’re on the subject, I’d like to say a few words about nature…” What an artful segue! He goes on to blather stuff a stoned hippie would probably find uninspiring. Man, who wouldn’t listen to that guy’s music show?

Indeed, also listening to it is our next pair of characters. Also driving through the countryside is blond-haired Patricia and her companion, er, some guy.  We immediately get that Patricia is our female lead because she doesn’t flirt with soldier boys, but agrees with Blue Heart about the Importance of the Environment. “I think Nature is something that should be considered Sacred,” she opines. Yes, because otherwise scientists might invent a zombie formula, or something. The film’s message is as coherent as it is thoughtful.

Oh, and because Patricia cares about The Environment, I guess she gets dispensation to drive her flashy little red sports car.

Suddenly, said car pulls up short. “Oh my god!” Patricia says. The road before them is littered with dead birds. “What’s that?” she asks. Well, I didn’t say she was bright or anything. By the way, these look like real dead birds, as you’d expect from an Italian film of this vintage. Somewhere Liz Kingsley is mighty displeased. “Let’s get them off the road,” The Guy says. Uhm, OK. I mean, maybe if you had a shovel or something, but by hand? It doesn’t seem particularly hygienic.

“Remember, if anyone asks these birds were already dead when we *got* here.”

However, they prove to be Zombie Birds. Because of the ashes in the sky, remember, from when Gen. Morton burned the zombie body. Anyway. One bird leaps up, almost like it was on a wire, and pecks The Guy in the face. So three guesses what happens after that. Still, the incident inspires Patricia to yell “Glenn!”, so hey, we now know the guy’s name.*

[*This is one of those movies, where the highly generic characters often aren’t named until well after their introduction, or indeed, until after they’ve been killed.]

I remain surprised, actually, with all the zombie movies made over the last ten years , that nobody’s made a zombie animal movie. That seems like an obvious twist. Not all animals, probably, because there’d be little suspense if all of them turned. But dogs would be a good choice. Zombie dogs. Enough of them for the regular apocalypse scenario, but just enough of a chance to beat them off that there’d be some tension. And the pathos of beloved pets now trying to kill you, etc. You’d think a movie like that would have to get made sometime, right?

Cut back to the RV and the Jeep. The characters are still trundling down the highway, still flirting out of windows, etc. Meanwhile, Blue Heart really amps it up (supposedly): “Right now I’m going to play the most all-consuming piece in my collection. Anyone who hears it will not be able to help themselves getting devilishly involved with its hellish rhythms. So have a lovely witch’s sabbath to…Peppy Satan!”

Yes, seriously, that’s the name of the song. And it sounds about as hardcore as you’d expect from that title, like heavy metal elevator music. Still, its hellish rhythms—admittedly, that description is pretty accurate—apparently inspire a yet flying flock of Zombie Birds, which attack the RV. (Not, however, to assail the Jeep, whose occupants are completely exposed.) If anything, the scene looks like a dry run for Birdemic: Shock and Terror, albeit with better special effects.

Soon birds are ‘flying’ around inside the RV, clearly on strings attached to sticks just out of shot, which is pretty fabulous. We also get some Bird Puppet POV shots, which are equally spectacular. I have nothing bad to say about this scene, except that it is way too short. Anyway, this incident inspires the RV to pull over. The soldiers do the same, leaping inside the RV to lend a hand. Actually, they just open the door and the birds all fly out. Well, that was an exciting climax to the sequence.

Asian Girl comes out, moaning that one of the two brunette girls has been all pecked up. Noting that there’s no hospital in the area—I’m not sure why he’d know that, but anyway—one soldier suggest they take her to a nearby motel. Yes, that sounds like a medically valid plan.

Meanwhile, Patricia stops at a clearly deserted, boarded-up gas station (??) to seek help for the ailing and increasingly goopy Glenn. (I have to admit, the other group’s idea of stopping at a motel for similar purposes now seems like a masterstroke.) Still, we’re about half an hour at in this point, so it’s clearly time to get to some real zombie stuff. So seeking help at a deserted, boarded-up gas station it is.

Patricia hops out of the car to look for water (??). We get a POV shot from inside the boarded up windows of the gas station. Presumably zombies are hiding in there in case Patricia is a Jehovah’s Witness. Patricia enters the ruined station surprisingly easily, calling into the dust and gloom and wreckage, “Hello? I need some water! Is anybody here? Uhm, I need help.” I mean, I guess maybe you’d do that. Still, on film it looks pretty silly, given that the building looks like something from a ghost town.

Suddenly, the door slams shut behind her. She runs over, but finds herself locked in. Assuming this was done by a zombie—which, you know, would seem to be a safe bet—it would have been in full view of Patricia’s car. I realize Glenn’s in bad straits, but a simple head’s up might have been nice.

To prolong the suspense, Patricia stumbles from one scary, ill-lit room to the next. She’s clearly freaked out, although she keeps yelling out about how she needs some water. Eventually, though, she does find herself menaced by zombies. This is augured by a mysterious green glow which heralds the undead here. Sometimes. Other times, not so much.

The green glow is, in context, kind of anomalous. It doesn’t issue from the zombies, it seems, but is rather a lighting effect that just intermittingly accompanies some of them. A little Web research indicates that in Fulci’s original conception of the movie, the zombies were of supernatural origin. So presumably the green light is meant as an eldritch signifier.

However, in the wake of the popularity of Romero’s film, science-based zombies were considered the thing. Hence the Death One stuff. So why keep the green glow? Well, Italian zombie movies—and Italian horror movies in general—are much more likely than American horror films to operate under ‘dream logic.’ (Indeed, European films in general have always been more comfortable with surrealism.)

In the hands of a Bava or Argento, dream logic meant films with a disturbingly nightmarish tone in which the normal rules of reality were distressingly malleable and unreliable. Things would seem to be happening in the workaday world, and then bam, cause and effect go out the window.

In lesser hands, however, such as those of Messrs. Fulci, Mattei and Fragasso, it resulted in the feeling that the filmmaker would impatiently respond to viewer queries or complaints about what the hell was going on by yelling, “Shut up, you! It’s a horror movie; it doesn’t have to make sense.” This conception of dream logic basically provided an excuse to just throw whatever the hell you wanted up there on the screen, whether it made sense or no. In sum, it was an excuse for sheer narrative laziness.

Still, if a half-assed blurring of the scientific and the supernatural was standard in the Italian horror movie, it wasn’t unique to them. A similar example would be the 1979 American film The Dark. The film’s original script featured a supernatural, lurking beastie that stalked the unwary and tore their heads off.

In the wake of Star Wars and such, however, sci-fi was again the in thing. The producers ordered the film to be revamped. This largely was accomplished via a text card at the beginning of the movie talkinga about beings from other space. Also, they added in post-production laser beams from the monster’s eyes. These caused superimposed explosions which annihilated the beastie’s victims, although later these were still described as having been decapitated.

The switchover on the whole didn’t make a lot of sense. This was particularly true in scenes like the one where a psychic has a vision of the now ‘alien’ creature and suffers a windy paranormal gale in her house.

Back to Zombi 3. In practical terms, ‘dream logic’ allowed Fulci to keep the visual stuff he liked, even if it made no ‘sense’ given the revamped origins of the zombies. And I doubt I even have to add that Mattei and Fragasso probably didn’t worry too much about whether their contributions to the film made sense when integrated with Fulci’s footage. Close enough for an Italian Zombie Movie, right?

So anyway, there’s the green glow and dry ice smoke (??), and stumbling forms emerge from said miasma, and Patricia suddenly finds herself under attack. Her first assailant is chained to the wall, so…I have no idea. I mean, there’s another unencumbered zombie hiding in the same room, so the chained one is kind of a mystery.

The zombies are early prototypes of the fast-moving variety—guys-wildly-swinging-at-Jackie Chan-fast*—and moreover are clearly at least quasi-intelligent, if generally manic. For instance, they are entirely happy to kill with machetes and the like. Indeed, they don’t seem particularly motivated by eating people, so much as just murdering them. Even so, since the film was known in the UK as Zombie Flesh-Eaters 2, I assume we can anticipate some of the normal zombie dietary antics later.

[*Actually, the action in this scene appears sped up—the stars’ commentary track indicates that—probably in post-production in furtherance of Mattei and Fragasso’s mandate to up the tempo of Fulci’s contributions. For what it’s worth, there are no other fast zombies anywhere else in the picture.]

For now Patricia is pretty safe, by dint of being the female lead. That hardly buys you a guarantee of safety in an Italian zombie movie, but it’s probably a tad early for her to be kacked. So she dodges various attacks, screaming and falling over boxes and ducking wild machete swings until she can find an exit.

The machete zombie chases her outside. An errant machete attack hits the gas pump, which oddly is full of highly pressurized gas—again, this place looks like it was abandoned years ago—and the zombie gets sprayed right in the kisser. Patricia tosses a cigarette lighter at him, and drives away as the gas station explodes in a huge fireball.

 

Actually, since she had already reached her car, there was no reason to burn down the gas station. But hey, exploding gas station. And it’s a huge practical fireball, this being before CGI. Hell, it’s not even a miniature. They just burned down a real building, and man, they really went to town with the pyrotechnics. In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess.

Back to the Lab Complex, or whatever it is. All six of the gigantic facility’s scientists are standing in a glass-enclosed control room, bumbling around and making panicked watermelon-watermelon sounds. “We must get this data to the lab as soon as we can!” one shouts. That’s the sort of thing a scientist might say, you see. “This isn’t radioactivity, this is something else!” another comments. Uh, yeah, it’s Death One. I mean, they already know that, right?

Holder grabs Norma the Nurse and heads out to see Gen. Morton. This leads to an epic display of finger-pointing, gesticulating and overacting on Holder’s part, and IT…IS…SWEET. That’s the stuff right there, boy. It suggests a community theater rendition of Michael Caine and Richard Widmark’s shouting matches from The Swarm, processed through a particularly hammy small town talent pool. The guy playing Morton plays it comparatively small, but seriously, the fellow playing Holder just goes to town. This might literally be the single most outrageous 30 seconds of overacting I’ve ever seen. And this isn’t my first rodeo.

By the way, the characters are standing in front of a marker board with a big molecule drawn on it, marked as Death One. Again, Holder and all the scientists are now acting surprised that this has proven so dangerous. Also, good security there. I’m sure the Manhattan Project guys just drew all their schematics on a chalk board.

“Our instruments have detected an enormous radioactive cloud in the air!” Holder spleens. Uh, wait, just five seconds ago we heard someone say, “This isn’t radioactivity, this is something else!” (Shut up, you!) “That’s not the worst of it,” one of Morton’s adjutants adds, getting off the phone. “There’ve been numerous incidents of inexplicable violence reported throughout the area! Murders, and…people are eating each other!”*

[*We’ve seen nothing like that. It’s a zombie movie, though, so maybe we’re just supposed to assume it’s happening.]

Morton wants to “cut off” the infected area, by which he means the mass slaughter of anyone in the zone, a suggestion which sends Holder into a rage. The latter is spitting out his dialogue so forcefully and body acting so fiercely that he can barely issue his lines. “We’re already working on studying an antidote for what, in my belief, is a virus.* We’re looking for an element which will enable us to stop this virus from reproducing!”

[*OK, since he invented this stuff, or at least experimented with it, presumably he should know whether Death One was a virus or not. This is like Coldyron having to ask what ROTOR’s primary directive was. Moreover, if it’s a virus, how the hell would that cause a radioactive cloud?!]

Morton says, sure, go ahead. But in the meantime, they’ll follow the ‘murder everyone’ plan. This redoubles Holder’s outrage and overacting. “When you asked us to work on Death One, you should have told us about the risks involved.” Again, first of all, the stuff was called Death One, you ass.

Second, if a military guy has to tell a scientist a lab specimen is dangerous, somebody’s not doing their jobs correctly. This is like a surgeon complaining that his air conditioner repairman didn’t fully explain how dangerous a heart transplant is. “We didn’t know ourselves,” Morton replies. “You’re the scientists.” Oh, yeah. Yeah, I see what he’s saying there. Anyway, he tells Holder to get cracking on that antidote, noting that there’s no time to wait. Again, I think we’re supposed to be siding with Holder here, although clearly Morton is correct.

Back to the soldiers and the RV people. Remember them? They arrive at the motel the one soldier mentioned, and this too proves to be long deserted. What the hell? Why is everyone fleeing to the country if everything there has been out of business and shuttered for years? It would be one thing if everything was freshly deserted because of the zombie thing. However, this place is entirely decrepit and overrun with plants, so like the gas station it’s clearly been closed for years now. What the hell. (Shut up, you!)

“What happened to the hotel?” somebody says. “It’s a mess!” Again, did the set decorators get the wrong instructions or something? The cast and crew showed up to these places expecting sets that looked freshly deserted, and instead found them made up to look like ancient ruins?

You know, it just hit me, because it’s so insane, that maybe this is supposed to the same resort the Terrorist was hiding in, the one where Morton’s biohazard squad showed up and killed everyone. Is that even possible? Wouldn’t that have just happened several hours ago? Even at the outside, surely we’re talking a couple of days, at most. That couldn’t be what’s supposed to be going on here, could it?

Another possibility is that it’s not supposed to be the same place, but was filmed at the actual same location (clearly a real resort), from different angles and set dressed differently to ‘disguise’ it. A production like this is going to save money however it can. So maybe they repurposed the location by making it now look long-abandoned. Again, this makes no sense from a story standpoint, though. Looking at it close, though, it does seem to be the same location. But is it meant to be the same location? I don’t see how that could be, but in this sort of picture, who knows?

The weird thing is, they could have easily set all this up with a few lines of dialogue, or just a text card on the screen. “Six months later…”, something like that. Say Morton and the lab had been keeping the Terrorist’s infected body on ice. An outside investigation into all the disappeared hotel guests could be heating up. In response, Morton orders the body burned to get rid of the evidence. The infected ashes are released in the air, kicking off this new chain of events. There, that literally took me ten seconds to think of. (Shut up, you!)

“A week ago this place was buzzing with life,” somebody says. So again, I guess this is supposed to be the same place. Only now it’s completely overrun with plant-life, all through the interior of the place. How the hell does that make any sense? And why didn’t Morton’s men just burn the place to the ground? That would have helped eradicate any evidence, not to mention any lingering infection. Yeesh.

Literally supposed to be the next day.

So Bird Pecked Girl is all infected, and the others, I don’t know, don’t really do anything. They stand around, mostly. Shouldn’t somebody jump in the Jeep and go get a doctor? Maybe drive down the road and look for some place with a phone? Their big attempt to cover this is when somebody says, “Where are we going to find a doctor in this god-forsaken place?” Good grief, where they hell were they driving to? Why were three soldiers on a pass, looking to party, driving so far into the country (wherever this is) that they can’t even imagine there’s a doctor anywhere close by? Hell, drive back to town. Even if it’s hours away, what’s the alternative?

Ken, the main soldier guy, hears a noise upstairs and goes to investigate. His buddy, the one who stays down in the lobby with all the others, unlimbers his .45 and stands ready. I’m no military expert, but I’m pretty sure enlisted men on a weekend pass don’t carry military side arms off the base with them. Indeed, they wouldn’t carry them on base even, unless they were on MP or guard duty. And why is the guy staying down in the lobby the one pulling his gun out?! Yeesh. (Shut up, you!)

Ken wanders the second floor hallway, which again is suffused with highly unmotivated dry ice smoke. He also has a holstered pistol, so apparently they just take those with them whenever they’re on leave. Sure, why not? Hearing another noise, I guess, he finally draws his own gun and kicks in a door. This might, maybe, supposed to be the room the Terrorist had been staying in. Or not. I don’t know. Anyway, I guess the noise was just the wind.

By the way, again, the place is totally trashed. Not ‘ripped apart by soldiers’ trashed, but ‘falling apart after decades of abandonment’ trashed. And that’s got to be the most aggressive plant life on earth if it’s established itself to this degree in less than a week. I wouldn’t even be worrying about the zombies. Hey, maybe Death One was meant to be a floracide to deal with this stuff. That would make sense.

Ken hears moaning from behind some wreckage blocking the hallway (again, that looks like collapsed ceiling beams and such). Also issuing from behind this is the aforementioned green glowing light. Again, I have no frickin’ idea what’s supposed to explain that. He leans forward to try to look through a gap. Then there’s a false scare when one of his soldier buddies puts his hand on Ken’s shoulder, who spins around with his pistol and nearly blows the guy’s head off. I guess they couldn’t afford a spring-loaded cat.

Of course, the guy doesn’t even blink at having a gun shoved in his face, but only mildly cautions Ken to “take it easy.” Furthermore, he reports, “I found a crate of guns downstairs.” Yes, just like you’d expect at a resort hotel. Want an arsenal? Raid your local Holiday Inn. That’s some lazy writing right there.* (Shut up, you!)

[*Interestingly, it’s dumb in the diametrically opposed fashion than the Walking Dead TV show, which in the first season featured characters in the American southland of rural Georgia who, by gum, just couldn’t dig themselves up any guns no how. This element was so outrageously stupid that I just couldn’t get past it and never really warmed up to the show, although heaven knows it had more faults than that.]

Indeed, the situation is far sillier than I anticipated. They go outside where a few of the other guys are examining an entire crate of apparently pre-loaded M16s. (!!!!!!!!) Seriously, WTF? Were those supposed to have been left behind by Morton’s crew? Aside from the idea that a crack squad of troops would just forget and leave behind an entire shipment of military grade ordinance, there’s the question of why they’d be traveling with a boxed crate of rifles?! I seriously can’t even imagine what the idea is here. (Shut up, you!)

At this point the idea of Ken and his friends having brought some M16s with them would actually make a lot more sense. Comparatively, I mean, since the idea is itself retarded. Still, we already know they have side arms. They aren’t going to give the girls any guns—I mean, please—so either give the RV guys the M16s they brought, or keep those and give them the pistols. That’s certainly more credible than “Oh, hey, we just happened to stumble across a crate full of loaded military rifles.”

Also, why would they want them? I mean, yes, you’d secure the weapons. But why would they immediately grab some and distribute them? They haven’t seen any zombies yet. Yes, they were attacked by (as far as they know) disease-laden sparrows and whatnot, and the hotel looks all spooky and everything. Even so, I’m not sure the civilian guys in particular would be all, “Hey, load me up with some guns that there’s no reason to assume I’d even know how to fire.”

With Sick Girl taking a turn for the worse—you know, green blood pouring from her pulsating facials lesions, that sort of thing—one of the soldiers and one of the girls decides to (get this!) go look for a doctor. Brilliant! They head off in the Jeep, while Ken and the others bring the Crate o’ Guns inside.  Meanwhile, they move Sick Girl upstairs to one of the bedrooms.

Cut to Blond Soldier and Brunette Girl in the Jeep. “I hope I didn’t ruin your weekend,” Brunette Girl says. (!!!!!!!!!) I think she means with the whole ‘friend who was mysteriously attacked by birds and is now horribly infected with something’ thing. “Ah, well,” Blond Solider shrugs. “We didn’t have anything else to do.” Is that meant to be grimly ironic dialogue on his part? You’d think, but in this movie, who knows? This is especially true given that the two then progress to flirting. Well, life goes on, I guess.

Cut to Gen. Morton on the phone. “You are to shoot anyone moving in the contaminated area!” he barks. “No one must get out alive!” Presumably that means both the soldiers / RV group, and Patricia and Glenn. Here’s an idea; roadblocks. Maybe keeping additional people from driving into the contaminated area would be better than shooting them after they do so. Just sayin’. And again, if the idea’s that they haven’t had time to set up roadblocks yet, then how did the hotel get so ramshackle and overrun by plant life in what has presumably been a couple of hours?

Chilled by the deserted ambiance of the countryside, Brunette Girl snuggles up to her traveling companion, noting “I don’t like it here.” As they drive through a fair-sized but deserted town, she wonders where everyone is. “They’re probably spending the night out,” Blond Soldier replies. Uhm…huh? I mean, aside from the fact that it’s broad daylight when he says this. Anyway, they drive along, not seeing *gasp* a zombie hand grasping a railing.

Oh, then the Jeep breaks down. Because they’re in a horror movie, I guess. They get out to look at the engine. Discovering that they need water for the radiator—the soldiers packed heat, I guess, but not a canteen—Brunette Girl sets out alone into the suddenly (and I mean suddenly) foggy surrounding area to look for some. Sure, why not? Why buck 60-plus years of horror movie conventions at this juncture?

By the way, this is the second woman the movie’s provided in the last fifteen minutes who stumbles alone through a spooky, deserted building while her male companion waits out by their car, nervously calling out into the silence because she needs water. That’s some good writing right there. Hats off to you, Claudio Fragasso.

She ends up on the balcony of a hotel overlooking a pool, by the way. Surely this was shot at the same hotel the other scenes are set in. Again, you can’t blame them, though. Redressing a single location for multiple scenes is a cheapie movie staple.

Soon Brunette Girl finds herself menaced by (are you ready?) zombies. Didn’t see that coming, did you? For some reason the ones in this movie often have claw-like nails on their hands and feet, I guess to make them more monster-y. Anyway, Brunette Girl thinks she’s alone, and one zombie sneaks up on her and pushes her off the second floor balcony into the pool below. Sure, why not?

Blond Soldier hears her screams and runs to see what’s up. He finds her bobbing in the churning and smoking water. She goes under and he jumps in after her. I’m not sure why she doesn’t just get out of the water herself. Chicks, you know? However, when he pulls her out her legs have been chewed entirely off (!!), and now she goes all zombie on him. They pretend to struggle for a while, as he tries to keep from getting bitten. Eventually he manages to kick her back into the water.

Blond Soldier retreats, although he naturally doesn’t bother collecting the pistol he dropped when he jumped into the water. Why bother, right? So he’s immediately beset by zombies, who sadly for him still have their legs. He stumbles from place to place, running into a string of the film’s infamous Ninja Zombies. These fellows secrete themselves in various hidey-holes, or behind some ferns, or up in trees, and then apparently sit around for hours or days or weeks on end until somebody walks by. Then they jump out and go “Arrrrgh!” and stuff. Not much of a social life when you’re a zombie, I guess.

Blond Soldier tosses some zombies around, and very slowly retreats from the rest of the lumbering undead, because otherwise he’d escape pretty easily. This goes on for a while, but ultimately he does make his escape.

The secret is apparently out, though, because we hear Blue Heart take to break from spinning hot wax to report on the “wave of incredible violence sweeping the country; murders, rape, whole families wiped out in their homes. Men, women and children of all ages are sharing the same fate.” He further explains that those behind all this appear to be the risen dead. Pulling no punches, he describes the situation as “something extremely unpleasant.”

It’s here when they read the list of shelters we confirm that, sure enough, this is supposed to be taking place in the U.S.; in the state of California, to be precise. Needless to say, the manner in which they disguise the fact that this was actually shot in the Philippines is undetectable. The recreation of America is, as is typical for Italian horror films of the ‘80s, entirely flawless.

As we listen to Blue Heart’s voiceovers, we observe the Hazmat Squad walking aimlessly around, looking for zombies or errant civilians to shoot. Eventually they stumble across some of the former, including the undead ninja shock troops. These prove rather easier to kill than regular zombies, since it doesn’t seem like you have to shoot them in the head or anything.

Blond Soldier is stumbling around in the woods when he hears a car coming down the nearby road. Sure enough, it’s Patricia and Glenn. He runs out and flags her down. She bids him to jump in and they resume driving. She’s heading for the closest hospital so they can see to Glenn.

Back at the resort, Sick Girl is worsening. “Her blood pressure’s zero,” her friend observes. Yes, that’s probably a bad sign. “I think she’s been clinically dead for at least two hours,” she continues. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anything like this.” Really? You don’t say. Oh, and we finally learn that the girl who got her legs chewed off was named Carol. Thanks, that’s pretty handy to know now.

The others are downstairs listening to Blue Heart giving updates on the situation. They learn that the “Special Branch Tactical Squad from the Army” has cordoned off the area, and that no one is being allowed in or out. Ken sets up watch for the night, telling the remaining soldier, Roger (who has ended up with a pump shotgun somehow; it’s clearly the same prop gun used earlier in the airfield shootout) to relieve him later.

Meanwhile, one of the RV Guys and Other Brunette Girl (this is handy, since that that leaves Asian Girl, Blond Girl and Short Hair Girl) head off to the kitchen to look for grub. The resulting scene is surely one of the most astounding sequences in cinema history. Mere words can do it no justice. Luckily, I can do better than that.

So, that happened. By the way, somebody needs to do one of those retroactive 3-D things on this film, stat.

There’s way too much there to unpack. The green glow in the fridge again. Why the head is in the fridge in the first place. I mean, who stuck it there? Also, why does the zombie who kills the girl have a talon? I’m assuming all this is Fulci’s work, as surely this scene had its origins back when the zombies were supernatural in nature.

Cut back to Patricia’s car, now driving around in pitch dark. It’s a long way to a hospital in the Santa Monica region, I guess. Also, how big is the cut off contaminated zone? You’d think they’d have come across a roadblock or one of the Hazmat squads by now. Weirdly, although they were supposedly heading back to a populated area—that’s usually where the hospitals are—Blond Soldier suddenly notes that they are now nearing the hotel. He wants to check in with his friends—you know, and maybe report on Carol’s demise—and Patricia is all, sure, why not?

Glen is still chugging along for some reason, despite the fact that everyone else seems to have been zombified a lot quicker. Face buried against his car door, he finally goes, “I’m feeling better, Patricia, but I’m thirty…for your blood!” Then he leaps at her. Spooky, huh? Unsurprisingly, this turn of events affects her driving, and they swerve around while Blond Soldier tries to lend a hand.

She continues driving haphazardly along until Blond Soldier asks her to pull over. Patricia leaps from the car, but stumbles and somehow tears up her leg a lot more than seems probable. She limps away while Blond Soldier flails away at Zombie Glenn. We get a rare Zombie Fistfight, and then sadly for Blond Soldier, several more zombies show up and jump in. Eventually he’s overpowered and kacked. Farewell, Blond Soldier. We hardly knew ye.

Patricia finds both sides of the bridge blocked by zombies. These shamble through fog banks, in a style which suggests that just maybe, possibly, (I’m pretty sure this is his end of things) Mattei had seen Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video at some point. Proving more survival oriented than Blond Soldier, Patricia makes her escape by leaping from the bridge into the water below.

Have fog bank, will travel.

Back to the hotel, where Ken and Rog are on watch. Here we learn that Blond Soldier’s name was Bo. At this rate we’re only a half hour away from learning the names of the two characters killed in the kitchen earlier. Who, by the way, wandered off to their deaths what we can only assume was hours ago. Despite this, their disappearance apparently remains unnoticed, and certainly uncommented upon, by any of the remaining characters for the rest of the picture.

Of course, they have other concerns. Short Hair Girl is suddenly a zombie. Was she the one who was sick? I didn’t think so, but anyway. It’s not like it really matters. So we see the body of another girl with her face all chewed off, I think it’s supposed to be Asian Girl. (I’m mostly deducing this from the fact that we never see her again.) I’m not sure how that happened, given that The One Girl Still Left is sleeping about four feet away from the mutilated corpse. Maybe she’s just a really sound sleeper.

Short Hair Zombie calls out to Remaining Girl, whose name is apparently Nancy. Talking Zombies are fairly rare. Still, we already know Mattei and Fragasso saw Return of the Living Dead, so that explains it. No naked Linnea Quigley, though, worse the luck. Some people just don’t know what to steal.

So Nancy awakens, and the two tussle and jump around on so forth as a few more minutes are eaten up. The scene ends when Short Haired Zombie leaps one last time at Nancy.  Nancy dives out of the way and Short Hair Zombie goes out the window. A second floor window, but her landing nonetheless proves fatal. This extreme undead fragility is hard to square with the living—not to mention flying—decapitated zombie head we saw earlier, but anyway. (Shut up, you!)

Short Hair Zombie also lands directly in front of where Ken and Roger are standing—or sitting—watch. They jump up, but other than briefly looking at the body, don’t do anything in response. You’d think they’d rush upstairs to see what’s going on, or at least call up through the window to anyone left there. You might even think they’d perhaps express a modicum of shock and say something like, “Oh, no! Short Hair girl is dead / became a zombie!” Nope.

Instead, they come to alert when the headlights in the nearby parked RV, shrouded in the latest bank of Convenience Fog, suddenly turn on. They ready their guns and stare in that direction for a while. Suspense! A shape comes shambling out of the fog. More suspense! It’s…it’s…Patricia. Why the hell she would have climbed into the RV, much less turned on its headlights, is left to our imaginations. Seeing the guys, however, she staggers their way, screaming that she’s being followed.

This is the point in the film where it basically turns into a series of horror and (sort of) action set-pieces. The, er, characters, you see, have all be introduced, the milieu established, etc. So now we finally get the mandatory ‘barricaded building besieged by zombies’ stuff.

It’s hard to root, however, for people who attempt to barricade a huge hotel entrance by nailing over it with what are clearly and quite literally thin balsa-wood slats taken from a nearby decorative lattice. This is a barrier a determined single ten year-old could easily smash through, especially with a bit of a running start. You might as well pull sheets of construction paper off a bulletin board and try to cover the exit with those and some scotch tape. “That should hold them for a while,” Ken states, not very convincingly.

During all this we suddenly see a guy in the background who a) I’ve either never even seen before, or b) was briefly in a camera shot or two earlier but who made such a small impression on me that he didn’t even register. I’m not even sure which is worse, actually, not that it matters much. He’s the first of the remaining group to get kacked when the zombie horde somehow gets past the balsa-wood buttress. At that point we’ve got five characters left; Ken, Roger, Patricia, Nancy (the remaining RV girl, who I think might be a nurse) and Eyeglasses Guy.

So, you know, screams, dry ice fumes and mysteriously sourced back-lighting, zombies standing in ‘eerie’ tableaus, folks slowly backing away from slowly advancing zombies (the fast zombies of the gas station scene are nowhere to be seen anymore), people falling before the zombie onslaught and being consumed, zombies getting blown apart with shotgun blasts, and so on. Nothing here you haven’t seen a zillion times before, usually done both better and with a heck of a lot more pep. There’s also more of the green glow, so apparently this was Fulci’s stuff.

The sole highpoint of all this ‘been there, done that’ material is the inexplicable appearance of the least motivated Phantom Flame-Thrower since the climax of The Brainiac. As one point while nailing up the *cough* barricade, Roger shifts a board leaning against the lobby wall and presto, there the device is. Too bad they didn’t look behind the water cooler, there might have been a bazooka stashed back there. Anyway, the flame-thrower only works about half the time, presumably to make sure the zombies don’t go down too easily.

The barricade rather realistically goes down in under five seconds. I liked how they didn’t bother to Foley in the sound of hardier wood snapping. Balsa wood breaking has a quite distinctive sound, and that’s what we hear. Our Heroes retreat. The zombies, meanwhile, keep up their ninja tricks. This batch favors hiding up in the rafters and dropping down to surprise their foes. I thought that sort of thing required a lusty “Hazzah!”when you landed, but apparently not.

The weirdly inconsistent levels of zombie vulnerability continue. Most are mowed down by gunfire, like normal folks. Later in the film, in fact, in what might be Mattei footage, a single burst sometimes takes out like ten zombies, dropping like scythed wheat. However, we also get stuff like Nancy sticking a baseball bat-sized hunk of wood straight through a zombie’s throat, which doesn’t drop him. He does die a few seconds later, however, when shot in the back a few times, so…I have no idea. Anyway, there aren’t a lot of the traditional headshots in this picture.

OK, I’m not totally getting the rules here.

Eventually the remaining five characters, moving at half-speed—it’s OK, the zombies move at quarter-speed—decide to flee the premises. Leaping from the second floor balcony, they retreat into the woods and get away. We then cut to morning, as the five trudge through the *cough* California wildness.  Patricia moans a lot about her wounded leg, but doesn’t really move much slower than the rest of them.

However, this leads directly into another zombie attack scene. This is more of a brawl, where Roger fistfights and wrestles a series of zombies for several minutes, all somehow without getting infected. (And where the hell is Ken during all this?) Again, this sequence largely features zombies jumping out of hidey-holes that they apparently secreted themselves in who knows how long ago. Rafter-dwelling remains a popular tactic, although this time they hang upside-down from their knees rather than jumping to the ground.

I hope nothing I’ve described up to now sounds at all exciting. The vast majority of the action is sluggish and anemic—at least since the turbo-zombie that attacked Patricia at the gas station—poorly blocked and accompanied by repetitive and highly grating ‘action’ music. Imagine a rejected soundtrack from an early Mario Bros. cartridge game and you’d be in the right ballpark.

The most horrifying moment is when the ‘action’ finally appears to end, and then starts up again five seconds later. In a better edited movie this provoke a jolt. In this one it merely elicits a weary, “Oh, for Pete’s sake.” Eventually, though, even this passes. With even more zombies in pursuit, the characters just happen to come across a river boasting a bunch of unsecured canoes. Well, that’s handy.

We now cut back to the Death One Conference Room. The handful of actors in lab coats sit around shuffling papers, making watermelon-watermelon sounds and trying to act like they’re doing Science Stuff. For instance, we hear one fellow say to another, “Put these two molecules together.” Well, if that doesn’t result in an antidote for Death One, I don’t know what would.

Gen. Morton comes in, allowing for another round of Holder moralizing about “useless slaughter.” Morton argues the point again, and Holder trumpets their ethically superior antidote. This would indeed be a major trump, if they actually had one. Again, though, that putting two molecules together thing sounds promising. Morton remains a Neanderthal, however. “Any living creature in the contaminated area is not going to get out alive,” he avers. Really? Bees, for instance? Mice? Birds? Mosquitoes?

“♫You’re the one that I want! You are the one i want…ooh, ooh, ooh, honey!♩♪”

I think his remark is meant to be ‘ironic’, though (rather than just idiotic), because we immediately cut from it to Our Heroes paddling down the river in their canoes. Then it’s back to Blue Heart pontificating. He’s basically regurgitating the line the military is feeding him. This doesn’t seem like it would be in character for a truth-telling hipster, but there you go. The emergency is all but ended, he assures his audience.

Blue Heart urges people in the contaminated zone to seek out the roving Hazmat Squads for the purported antidote. “They will end the misery of all those inflicted,” he promises. As an ‘ironic’ counterpoint to these statements, we see the Squads instead just shooting down more zombies.

This is poor filmmaking, I think. Surely the scene should have featured patently non-infected folk running out to these supposed saviors, only to be massacred per Morton’s orders. I mean, of course the Squads are shooting full-fledged murderous zombies, what else would they be doing? Again, it’s like they didn’t even understand the import of the script they themselves wrote. (This is almost certainly Mattei and Fragasso’s stuff, so no surprise there.)

During this whole spiel, by the way, Blue Heart is shown only, and pretty awkwardly at that, in a static shot from the back. You don’t exactly have to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out this is setting something up.

Cut to Our Canoeing Heroes pulling to the side of the river for a rest. Patricia’s leg is still bleeding pretty badly. After 12 hours or more you might think that would start being a problem. Eyeglasses Guy spots one of California’s infamous wild roosters outside of one of California’s trademark thatch huts, and begins to chase it for dinner.

His inept pursuit of the fleeing fowl inspires mirth from his comrades. On the other hand, there’s no way that two soldiers would witness this and not shout out something like, “Hey, stop trying to grab your cock!” Seriously, realistic characterization goes right out the window here.

This peaceful moment ends in tragedy—for them, if not for us—when some Hazmat Guys show up and shoot Eyeglasses Guy. (First everyone just stands aroused in a posed fashion for a while, staring at one another, I guess for suspense purposes.) Oh, the humanity. The chicken they don’t bother with, despite Morton’s orders that “no living thing” be allowed to leave the contamination area.

My prediction is that the movie will end with the zombie plague apparently contained and the emergency declared safely over. Then we’ll cut back to the rooster, who will suddenly spin to face the camera and be revealed to be a Zombie Chicken. There’ll be a musical sting, a freeze frame, and the end credits will play over this stark and terrifying image, accompanied by a crooning pop ballad known as ‘The Love Theme from Zombi 3.’

Seeing their latest red shirt comrade get kacked, Roger and Ken shoot back. They kill some of the Hazmat guys and manage to get the ladies back in the canoes and make their escape.

We cut to two Filipino American Hazmat soldiers in a helicopter. The ‘copter, by the way, is codenamed “Vulture One.” Sure, why not. I have to say, this is probably one of the five worst examples of pretending a vehicle is moving when it clearly isn’t that I’ve ever seen. Largely the illusion is fostered by shaking the ‘copter and blowing a lot of smoke into shot. There’s no way that thing’s going to pass state emissions standards.

They discuss landing in a local “village.” I’m assuming that’s not a word much used for communities in California, except in a semi-twee sense.  Towns, yes. Cities, sure. Villages, not so much. Also, this particular ‘village’ is represented via a leftover standing set from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, so you can imagine how accurately it evokes the Golden State.

And so the two guys in the ‘copter, a larger squad of Hazmat guys, scads of shambling zombies (both they and the Hazmat guys largely made up of California’s apparently gigantic Filipino population), and Our Heroes are all unwittingly converging on this site.

Back at Death One Base, and again in the same hotel meeting room. There a smug Gen. Morton is declaring the situation safely contained. Happily, this sends the guy playing Holder into perhaps his longest and most rabid bout of overacting yet. His deliriously exaggerated body language alone suggests he thought he was performing in an off-off-off Broadway musical farce.

Holder informs Morton that the heat from burning that first body “mutated the virus,” so that it’s now “resistant to oxygen.” Although the current outbreak might be contained, “it would only take a rain shower, or some other simple climatic manifestation, and the virus could start to spread again.”

He again suggests they need to develop an antidote. (Then get to it, buddy.) However, he finally raises Morton’s ire when he demands they inform the world about the danger. Of course, the fact that the US military was experimenting with biological warfare agents is “top secret” and must be kept under wraps. After all, what’s a film like this without a government conspiracy angle? The brutish military vs. enlightened science debate continues:

Concerned Holder: “I don’t want to bring about the end of humanity!”
Smug Morton: “Nice philosophical sentiment!”

Back to the village. OK, let’s cut to the chase.

  • Nancy is killed when a zombie tears off her face and then holds her head down over the protruding stomach of a hugely pregnant woman with one zombie zit. (The camera had zoomed in on this earlier, although Nurse Nancy somehow didn’t notice it.) From the woman’s abdomen erupts not a zombie baby but rather—along with the inevitable dry ice fumes—a full-sized zombie hand (???) which also tears at Nancy’s face until she dies.
  • Patricia is forced to kill another clumsy and weirdly fragile zombie—it’s unable to rise again after being hit on the shoulder with a bamboo tube—with a weird combination shovel / pick. By the way, the earlier bit where Patricia rested right next to an open door, and suddenly a zombie hand emerged from it and pulled her into the room? Nobody could have possibly seen that happening. It’s also always a shock when people in similar circumstances lean up against a window and the same thing happens.
  • It was only after watching this scene like half a dozen times that I finally caught on to the fact that the zombie who attacks Patricia is, coincidentally enough, Zombie Glenn. This is actually my fault, as they really clearly establish his identity with dialogue. However I was not, I must admit, totally invested in the film by this point. This is why, I guess, Patricia gets so tearful after killing him. Oh, the pathos.
  • Roger and Ken break into another trashed office. On the floor, very prominently in the foreground, sits a forlorn, bedraggled American flag. Symbolism!
  • Hazmat soldiers corner Roger and Ken. Despite their standing orders to kill everyone they come across, they merely order Our Heroes to drop their guns, saying they won’t be hurt. Outnumbered, the two comply. Then, instead of either shooting them or ushering them to safety, the lead Hazmat guy orders the others to assault our heroes. (???)  There’s a fight. The fellows in the suits are clearly Filipino actors, given their small size, and Ken and Roger get the upper hand. They then pick their weapons back up and kill all of the Hazmat guys. No one’s motivations at any one second in this scene make a lick of sense.
  • Zillions of zombies show up and there’s some action stuff with our three remaining leads. Several times the heroes seem to shoot like five bullets and kill 20 zombies. Zombies continue to jump out of hiding and suddenly leap off of roofs and such. (In the actors’ commentary we learn that several guys broke their legs doing these stunts, and that Fulci just basically shrugged and brought in more extras.)
  • At one point Patricia sees a stray grenade just sitting under a truck. Sure, why not? (Even they know how lame this is. “What luck!” Roger yells.) Ken dives for it, rolls, and tosses it at one group of zombies. This somehow causes a building behind the zombies to erupt into a simply massive fireball. Because that’s how grenades work.
  • During this another large group of zombies behind Our Heroes writhe in place. That’s because if they had advanced at even a super-slow rate during all this, they’d have gotten to the heroes and killed them.
  • Our heroes see Vulture One, sitting unoccupied. Luckily, Ken knows how to fly a ‘copter. “’Til yesterday it was my job!” he helpfully explains. With the zombie hordes closing in, he gets Patricia into the vehicle and prepares to lift off. Roger pauses to buy them some time and nearly makes it in with them. However, just as he attempts to climb aboard, a batch of zombies who had lain on the ground and covered themselves with straw (!!) right under the ‘copter pop up and drag him down. Apparently they disguised themselves like this some time ago and then patiently waited for a third person—but not the first two—to try to get into the helicopter. Say what you will, but these zombies are dedicated to their craft.
  • Roger somehow manages to get out from under a huge zombie pile, but is tragically shot by yet more Hazmat guys. This is, of course, shot in slo-motion for extra bonus pathos.
  • “With any luck things will be back to normal now,” Patricia says as they fly away. Sure, for one thing I’m sure there won’t be any ramifications from you guys killing all those soldiers.
  • Meanwhile, they listen to Blue Heart’s latest broadcast. We cut to him in his studio. He slowly turns around, finally, and is (are you sitting down?) revealed to have a zombie face. This is weird because he’s been wearing a wife-beater T-Shirt in all his scenes, and there was no visible zombification anywhere else on his body. It’s also weird because he continues his broadcast at length, only now while facing the camera and with his microphone behind him. Anyways, are zombies big radio listeners?

Take that, M. Night Shyamalan!

  • Blue Hearts declares zombies the new normal. “I dedicate my next number to all the undead around the world,” he says. Patricia nonchalantly notes that “it seems like Blue Heart is one of them now.” Ken and she vow to continue the fight for mankind’s survival. Perhaps they do, although the series’ two further ‘sequels’ are in name only and don’t follow these events.
  • By the way, when the female and male leads of this movie narrowly escape from the zombie apocalypse by flying away in a helicopter, it’s completely different than when the female and male leads of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead narrowly escape from the zombie apocalypse by flying away in a helicopter

Afterword:

So the main question, obviously, is how much of this mess Mattei and Fragasso were responsible for. As far as I can discern, Fulci was responsible for any of the material involving either of the two leads, Patricia and Ken. The hotel setting for much of the picture seems to be his stuff. Say his contributions begin with the infected guy holing up in the hotel, while the prologue to this was supplied by Mattei / Fragasso.

This seems roughly correct. Those two came in and padded Fulci’s originally supernatural storyline with the Death One and most of the Hazmat Squad sequences. Adding credence to this theory is that the guy playing Holder is the worst, most over the top actor I’ve seen since the female villain in Mattei and Fragasso’s Women’s Prison Massacre. I’d be more worried about those two getting together and having kids than of any zombie apocalypse. (On the other hand, watching a sex scene between the two, all insanely overdone facial expressions and manic gesticulating, would be the funniest thing ever.)

Mostly, I’d like to confirm that Mattei and / or Fragasso were responsible for Blue Heart. Surely this complete rip-off of a character from an American genre made 17 years earlier bears their thumbs pints all over him. However, Blue Heart is also tied into scenes featuring Ken and Patricia, stuff that apparently cannot be laid at Mattei and Fragasso’s feet. Moreover, the actors who played these characters state in their commentary say they don’t even know who Mattei is. They only worked with Fulci, apparently. (It always sounds like Fulci was both really ill, and a genuine asshole.)

Mattei seems to confirm this during his interview on the disc. He notes that he shot some stuff with some of the co-stars but not with the leads. So Blue Heart seems to have probably been part of the script Fulci was filming. Fragasso worked on that script too, though. So I’d say the character had his origins there, unless Fulci was as unapologetic about pilfering as Fragasso and / or Mattei were.

For his part, Fragasso reveals in an interview on the DVD that most of the original script, the one Fulci worked off, was actually written by Fragasso’s wife. Fragasso also noodled with it but got sole screen credit for it. Apparently this sort of uncredited “slave labor,” as he calls it, was common in the Italian film industry.

If nothing else, though, Mattei and Fragasso are responsible for the stuff with Dr. Holder, including casting and directing the guy who played him. And man, that’s some gold right there. Bellissimo!


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