Monday, January 18, 2016

ZOMBI 3 - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Anticipation ran high when it was announced, sometime in 1987 that Lucio Fulci, “The Godfather of Gore,” was to direct a sequel to his extremely successful and unparalleled gore epic ZOMBIE (a.k.a. Zombi 2, 1979).  Initially planned as a 3-D film, this gimmicky idea was quickly scrapped – most likely due to budgetary restrictions – but Franco Gaudenzi’s production company Flora Film moved ahead just the same.  The film premiered at the 1988 Rome Fantafestival, and whatever excitement was generated leading up to this premiere was unanimously met with contempt at this lackluster sequel.  It was eventually revealed that Fulci, due to illness, actually didn’t finish the film, so it was taken over in midstream by directors Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso, who also helmed HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980), a cheap but spirited rip-off of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978).  Unfortunately, time hasn’t been very kind to the present film, which is a real mess, but at the very least, 88 Films’ newest addition to their ever-expanding “Italian Collection” line of Blu-rays (this is the 9th title in the series) is by far the best ZOMBI 3 has ever looked on home video.

Unfolding somewhere in Asia – it was actually filmed in the Philippines – a pair of scientists led by Dr. Holder are experimenting with “Death One”, a nasty “bacteriological weapon”, which not only brings the dead back to life but mutates them into infectious ghouls.  Deemed “very dangerous”, this mysterious toxin is destined to be destroyed, but during a routine exchange, it falls into the wrong hands (“They have to stop him, or it will mean the end of everything!” exclaims Dr. Holder) and in the ensuing chaos, the canister is accidentally broken, which causes one of the thieves to become infected.  Of course, he goes on to infect a bunch of other people at a resort hotel, but not before first cutting off his own hand in hopes of stemming the infection’s spread.  General Morton (Mike Monty) orders his men – who, incidentally and by no means coincidentally, are all dressed in white HazMat suits similar to the ones seen in George A. Romero’s The CRAZIES (1973), from which this film borrows quite liberally – to (quote) “evacuate the premises, eliminate everyone and bury them in a mass grave”.  But, taking a cue from Dan O’Bannon’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), General Morton then orders the body of the primary-infected incinerated in order to take “maximum precautions”, but, as in O’Bannon’s film, the ashes are assimilated into the air, which results in everyone getting infected including a flock of birds.  Meanwhile, three soldiers on a weekend pass (“I don’t remember her name, but I sure remember her tits!”), which include Kenny (Deran Sarafian, son of VANISHING POINT [1971] director Richard C. Sarafian), Roger (Richard Raymond) and Bo (Alex McBride) are soon caught up in the escalating zombie apocalypse and, along with Patricia (Beatrice Ring) and a camper full of vacationers, they hole-up at the desolate “Sweet River Hotel.”
Reverse side of the soundtrack CD released by Beat Records (1st pressing, 1996).

Although there are a few ‘fun’ moments, including a flying zombie head and some admittedly atmospheric zombie attack scenes, lazy scripting and piecemeal filmmaking are easily the film’s biggest downfalls; but it’s still no excuse for the stupidity that unfolds.  Apparently, this virus can be spread through “breath, saliva and blood”, which would mean that everyone should and would be infected, yet at one point, Dr. Holder – who, by the way, is played by one of the worst actors to ever grace a Fulci flick! – explains that the toxin is rendered harmless when it’s exposed to oxygen.  When General Morton orders the body to be burned, the ashes don’t seem to be affected at all by oxygen, but then later, in an Edward D. Wood, Jr. type of throwaway line, Dr. Holder explains that “the heat must have mutated the virus and made it resistant to oxygen.”  In yet another illogical moment, when our trio of soldiers arrive at the Sweet River Hotel, they conveniently ‘just happen’ to come across a crate full of automatic weapons, which admittedly does help propel the action forward, but the ‘unexpected’ development amounts to simply another case of lazy writing.  The film’s ecological messages are also heavy-handed and tiresome (even by 1988 standards), as various characters, mostly revolving around Patricia (Beatrice Ring, competently dubbed by voice-actor vet Pat Starke), banter between themselves about pollution and “radioactive clouds in the air”.  

Originality is clearly not one of this film’s strong points and, in a nod by scripter Fragasso to the aforementioned VANISHING POINT (in particular Cleavon Little’s Super Soul character), DJ Blueheart periodically drops into the story, but instead of actually interacting with the characters themselves, as one character so ‘mildly’ puts it, he merely spews more “ecological bullshit” over the airwaves.  And, as in many Italo-horror pics of the period, the film resorts to some excruciating ’80s-style pop songs, which Blueheart spins very liberally throughout the bare-bones narrative.

In spite of all the film’s obvious issues, 88 Films’ Blu-ray is definitely a huge step up in terms of picture quality compared to previous releases on either VHS or DVD.  Presented uncut – unlike the problematic composite released in 2002 by Shriek Show, which utilized a cut Italian print with spliced-in gore scenes from a dupey-looking version – and with an LPCM uncompressed English soundtrack, this Blu-ray also does what it can with Riccardo Grassetti’s cheap and generally hazy photography; and for once, thankfully, it doesn’t all look like a smeary mess.  Some of the extras include the aforementioned interview with Fragasso, who freely admits to not having very good luck with zombie movies, and that he and Mattei had essentially tried to remake their earlier HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, but at the same time being respectful of signor Fulci.  Other interviews include one with stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (a.k.a. Richard Raymond); “Zombi Reflections”, an audio interview with Beatrice Ring; a live Q&A session with Catriona MacColl, plus both the film’s Italian opening and closing credits. 

Although difficult to recommend to most casual horror buffs, unabashed fans of this film will no doubt be very pleased with this excellent Blu-ray from 88 Films, which you can order at DiabolikDVD here.  If you order directly from 88 Films here, they still offer the “soft touch O-card” and a PAURA – LUCIO FULCI REMEMBERED DVD.  The choice is yours!