Friday, May 11, 2018

ZOMBIE 3 - BLU-RAY REVIEW

Anticipation ran high when it was announced, sometime in 1987, that Franco Gaudenzi’s production company Flora Film were moving ahead with ZOMBI 3 (1988), a sequel to Lucio Fulci’s extremely successful and unparalleled gore epic ZOMBIE (a.k.a. Zombi 2, 1979), which also had the good fortune to have Fulci signed-on as its director. Following a troubled production in the Philippines, the film premiered at the 1988 Rome Fantafestival, and whatever excitement was generated leading up to its premiere almost unanimously turned into derision as this vastly inferior sequel unreeled.  It was eventually revealed that Fulci, due to illness, actually didn’t finish the film himself, so it was taken over in midstream by directors Bruno Mattei & Claudio Fragasso, who had also helmed HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (a.k.a. THE NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, 1980), a cheap but spirited rip-off of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). It’s difficult to ignore just how silly the present film is, but, to its credit, it moves quickly and never fails to entertain (sometimes for the wrong reasons!). At the very least, though, Severin Films’ newest Blu-ray is downright flawless, and it’s the best that ZOMBI 3 has ever looked on home video.

Somewhere in Asia – represented by the Filipino locations – 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 in the process.  Deemed (quote) “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). 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 futile hope of stemming the infection’s spread.  General Morton (Mike Monty) orders his men – who, incidentally, 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 THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985), General Morton then orders the body of the primary infected incinerated in order to take (quote) “maximum precautions”. However, as in O’Bannon’s film, the rising ashes become assimilated into the air, which results in just about everybody getting infected… including even 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 embroiled 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, where they are besieged by the walking dead…

Although there are a number of entertaining moments, including a flying zombie head and some admittedly atmospheric zombie attack scenes, apathetic, slovenly scripting and piecemeal filmmaking are easily this film’s biggest downfalls. In a complete lapse of logic, apparently this virus is (quote) “extremely sensitive to oxygen and dissolves less than thirty seconds after diffusion”, but when General Morton orders the body to be burned the ashes contaminate everything around it... including a passing flock of birds! Later on, in a hilarious Edward D. Wood, Jr.-style throwaway line, Dr. Holder – who, by the way, is played by one of the worst actors to ever grace a Fulci film! – 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 hotel, they conveniently ‘just happen’ to come across a crate full of automatic weapons, a fortuitous score which does admittedly help propel the action forward, but this ‘unexpected’ development amounts to simply another case of lazy writing. In a friendly nod to the aforementioned VANISHING POINT (in particular Cleavon Little’s “Super Soul” character), DJ Blueheart periodically drops into the film with his social commentary, but as one character so ‘mildly’ puts it, he merely spews more (quote) “ecological bullshit” over the airwaves. And, as in many Italo-horror pics of the period, the film resorts to some to rather excruciating ’80s-style pop songs (that threaten to infect your psyche like a zombie virus!), which Blueheart spins liberally throughout the bare-bones narrative.

Although never released on either U.S. or Canadian VHS (although it was rumoured at one point that Prism Video was going to issue it), ZOMBI 3 was seen by most via Tokuma’s Japanese VHS videocassette, which for the time, was a nice letterboxed transfer of the uncut print, with English dialogue to boot. In spite of all the film’s obvious issues, ZOMBI 3 has remained in circulation throughout most of the DVD era, beginning with Shriek Show’s 2002 DVD, which was a problematic composite utilizing a cut Italian print with spliced-in gore scenes from a very dupey-looking version. Extras thereon included interviews with ‘substitute’ director Bruno Mattei wherein he discusses the film’s (quote) “poor pre-production” and how (quote) “a little bit of me and a little of Lucio” are in the film. In the next interview, actors / stuntmen Massimo Vanni (a.k.a. “Alex McBride”) and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (a.k.a. “Richard Raymond”) discussed how they contributed to most of the action scenes and also their (at that time) ongoing collaborations with Mattei; in the last interview, Marina Loi discusses her brief involvement in the film and the difficult working conditions. In 2003, Shriek Show rereleased the film with added extras, including a lively audio commentary with actors Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring, where they clearly acknowledge the film’s many deficiencies, its troubled production and how physically taxing it was working in the Philippines. At one point, Sarafian points out how some of the film’s locations would be great for playing paintball in! He also, much to Ring’s amusement, begins paraphrasing some of the film’s more inane dialogue in a MST3K-type manner, which, to be honest, is quite amusing. In a bonus interview, make-up effects man, Franco Di Girolamo discusses the rushed conditions on the set and also demonstrates the ‘flying zombie head’ in his makeup studio. 

In 2015, its first Blu-ray incarnation arrived courtesy of 88 Films, and this was a vast improvement compared to previous releases, which made Riccardo Grasetti’s economical, hazy photography a great deal easier on the eyes, and for once, it didn’t just look like a smeary mess! Some of the extras with it included an interview with Claudio Fragasso (17m21s), 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 were at the same time being respectful of signorFulci. In Veteran of the Living Dead (8m10s), Ottaviano Dell’Acqua talks about his experiences working in the Philippines and his now-iconic ‘worm-face’ zombie makeup from Fulci’s ZOMBIE, which graced just about every piece of promotional material worldwide. Other extras included Zombi Reflections (16m26s), a nicely-illustrated audio interview with Beatrice Ring and a live Q&A session with Catriona MacColl (29m30s) at the Spaghetti Cinema Festival in Luton, U.K.; the action-oriented trailer, plus the film’s Italian opening and closing credits rounded-out the extras.  

In 2018, those Italian-loving madmen at Severin have, if that’s even possible, bettered 88 Films’ Blu-ray with their bright, colourful and absolutely pristine transfer of this schlocky, clunky if lovable mess. Retitled ZOMBIE 3 on the disc’s packaging, Severin’s disc is, for the most part, exceedingly sharp indeed, with every squishy, colourfully gory effect getting the most out of the new 2K scan; the jungle foliage also looks especially lush, and even that problematic, colourful opening with all those heavy reds and greens finally looks spot-on as well. Severin's disc is also shown in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which displays slightly more information on the sides of the frame compared to 88 Films' 1.66:1 transfer. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 English audio also doesn’t present any issues whatsoever. It’s entirely free of distortion and really shows-off Stefano Mainetti’s energetic score, which, in the disc’s first pressing of 3000 units, is included as a bonus soundtrack CD (15 tracks, totalling 43m21s).

Newly-shot for this release, The Last Zombies (18m49s), is an on-camera interview with Claudio Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi, who discuss the film at length, beginning with their first zombie film, Bruno Mattei’s aforementioned HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, and they remain (quote) “pissed-off” about the project to this day due to the fact that their initial script had to be changed because of a lack of budget. They go on to discuss their (quote) “apocalyptic” approach to the film and all the problems associated with the production, including Fulci’s poor health and how he gave Fragasso his (quote) “blessing” to re-work the film. It’s another great interview and, once again, like the interview segment from Severin’s VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN’S PRISON (1982) disc, watch for their pesky kitty-cat trying to hog some additional screen time here! The other new extras are The Problem Solver (8m30s) with Mattei; Tough Guys (4m55s), with Vanni and Dell’Acqua; Swimming with Zombies (4m30s), with Marina Loi; and In the Zombie Factory (5m56s), with Franco Di Girolamo, which all are reedited, newly-subtitled versions of the interviews which had first appeared back on the aforementioned Shriek Show disc. The audio commentary from that same edition is also re-included, as is the film’s trailer, which is in considerably poorer shape than the feature itself, making one appreciate just how good Severin’s disc truly looks.

Housed in a badass black amaray keepcase highlighting Enzo Sciotti’s now-familiar artwork, Severin’s truly outstanding Blu-ray of this troubled film finally looks picture perfect, and may very well garner some new fans of this admittedly flawed if cheekily entertaining film. Severin Films are currently offering The Zombie Dark Super Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Deluxe Bundle, The Zombie Dark Blu-ray Bundle, the Blu-ray and DVD for pre-order. It’s also available for pre-order from DiabolikDVD, or for you Canadian readers, Suspect Video.

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