Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Zombi 3 (1988)

Almost all of the literature that I have read about Zombi 3 (1988) revolves around blame. In a cool featurette included as a supplement on the Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD of Demonia (1990), entitled "Fulci Lives," a fan was able to capture Lucio Fulci directing a scene from Demonia and was even able to ask him some questions. Fulci responds to a question by answering "Zombi 3 is not my film." (1) Despite this admonition, Lucio Fulci is the credited director of Zombi 3, the sequel to one of his most famous films, Zombi 2 (1979). “Lucio Fulci wasn’t in good health so when we saw the first cut of the film, it was much too short, therefore I shot two weeks of material to fatten it up,” says director Bruno Mattei. “There’s a little in it by Fulci and a little by me.” (2) Lucio Fulci would add in a later interview: “That’s a movie that I made for money, not pleasure. After the film was half-finished, the producers gave the direction over to Bruno Mattei who didn’t create a masterpiece, to say the least. Although the audience applauded when my name appeared on the credits, I am ashamed of the movie. Later on, the audience started throwing crap at the screens!” (3) Finally, Bruno Mattei relates, “Zombie 3 had a bad screenplay and I didn’t want to make it but it was made to cash in on the name of Fulci and because Zombie 2 was successful. Zombie 3 is not a good movie.” (4)
I enjoy Zombi 3 immensely. However, it’s a notorious film: in addition to the two directors of Zombi 3, most real fans of Italian genre cinema tremendously dislike the film, especially fans of horror. One has to bear in mind that Zombi 3 is a Flora film production: producer Franco Gaudenzi, screenwriter Claudio Fragasso, cinematographer Riccardo Grassetti, and director Bruno Mattei are representative members of this production company. The films that this company were making at the time (like Zombi 3 primarily in the Philippines) were action films, like Strike Commando 2 (1988) and Born to Fight (1989). It’s unsurprising that Zombi 3 appears like a film more of this class. Two of the leads of Zombi 3, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua and Massimo Vanni, for example, are also seasoned stuntmen. Zombi 3 has more machine-gun action and shit blowing up than slow zombie shuffling. Despite the film’s notoriety, I am here today to celebrate Zombi 3 and not to bury it.
With two directors, Zombi 3 is unsurprisingly a fragmented film with some very strong episodes. In perhaps the most famous sequence of the film, Bo, a soldier played by Vanni, and Marina Loi, who plays Carol, trek off together to find a doctor for one of the injured in their party. They traverse the quiet streets in their jeep until it breaks down. Vanni’s Bo suggests that the jeep’s radiator needs water and Carol volunteers to find some. She enters what appears to be a resort area onto a second-floor balcony, overlooking a lagoon. She ominously calls out, “Is anybody there?” Carol is pushed into the lagoon and Bo hears her scream. He attempts to rescue her, and this rousing episode becomes an action-packed survival-horror sequence. Bo uses his military combat skills to thwart the oncoming zombies who are amazingly animated and energetic. Visually this sequence is remarkable. A crane shot (in two cuts, not one fluid take) slowly pans from Carol at the top of the balcony down to the lagoon, showing the vast area and the quiet dread surrounding it. Theatrical green lighting filters out of an alcove at the base of the lagoon while the lagoon itself bubbles like a cauldron. The set looks like a Halloween haunted house attraction and when the first zombie appears, he looks like his makeup is homemade and caked on by himself. It’s a beautifully artificial sequence, like most effective Mattei cinema, and it’s also hauntingly atmospheric, like the best Fulci cinema.
In another effective Romero-esque sequence, a group of soldiers, donning hazmat suits and machine guns, patrol the infected zone. The audio is the voice of radio D.J. “Blue Heart” who gives a summation of the events so far and introduces another who relates rescue station information. With some haphazard and off-kilter compositions, zombies jump upon the soldiers and engage in battle. In a nasty sequence, a soldier and a zombie get into quite a tussle before the soldier ends the fight with a harsh blow to the chest with a knife. The famous siege sequence in the final act of Zombi 2 at the church-cum-hospital receives a memorial reference in Zombi 3 at a resort hotel-cum-survivor camp. The effective Fulci composition of the group of zombies dismantling an entire wall signals the near-end of the group of survivors. (I admit this sequence is much more effective with Frizzi’s score accompanying the visuals.) The final act of Zombi 3 sees its survivors mobile, moving from location to location and fending off zombies, as opposed to the final act of the previous film. Finally, Beatrice Ring appears in two fantastic sequences. During one in a gas station where she fights a small group of the undead and blows up the station by igniting the pump. The second Ring sequence is a classic Fulci setup on a bridge where Ring, who plays Patricia, attempts to cross with her boyfriend and Vanni’s character in tow. Patricia loses control of her car (for an unintentionally hilarious reason) and is forced to exit the bridge by foot. She seriously injures her leg while escaping the vehicle. The zombies surround both sides of the bridge. The key visual touch is the back light on the zombies: despite the low-budget nature of Zombi 3, both veteran directors were able to create effective sequences.
The script of Zombi 3 is poorly paced and constructed. Fulci admits in an interview that Claudio Fragasso would “show up every morning with a new script. Every morning, I mean it.” (5) The first twenty minutes of the film is an expository sequence, detailing a biological weapon entitled “Death One” whose scientists believe is too unstable and should be contained. A sample is stolen by a criminal, and the sample breaks and infects its thief. Before you ask, no, this act does not begin the zombie outbreak. Another sequence follows where the soldiers subdue the thief and take his corpse. The military burns his corpse and the ashes enter into the air. The ashes affect the local ecosystem and BAM! zombie outbreak. This sequence definitely feels like filler. The famous sequence involving Marina Loi should have kicked off the action of the first act (presumably in Fulci’s initial version) but the sequence appears almost halfway through the film. The plot construction is forgivable, considering its patchwork final version. Unfortunately, it is the poor plot and pacing which will deter most viewers from taking a second chance on Zombi 3. However only real cult film fans will ever see Zombi 3, if I had to speculate.
This period of Italian genre cinema, the late-eighties to early nineties, is one of my favorites. It’s the last gasp of the cinema that I love and there is a wonderfully desperate quality to the cinema that I cannot define. Zombi 3 is almost representative of this period and with an open mind, it can be, if not sublime, at least quite fun.
1. Demonia. DVD. Media Blasters/Shriek Show. Region 1. 2001.
2. “An Interview with Bruno Mattei.” Conducted by Andrea Giorgi, Matteo Palmieri, and Andrea Daz. Translation by Max Della Mora and Adrian Smith. European Trash Cinema. Vol. 2, No. 5. Edited by Craig Ledbetter. Kingwood, TX. 1992. P. 10.
3. “The Lucio Fulci Interview.” Conducted by Loris Curci and Antonio Tentori. European Trash Cinema. Vol. 2, No. 4. Edited by Craig Ledbetter. Kingwood, TX. 1991. P. 7.
4. “An Interview with Bruno Mattei.” Conducted by Andrea Giorgi, Matteo Palmieri, and Andrea Daz. Translation by Max Della Mora and Adrian Smith. European Trash Cinema. Vol. 2, No. 5. Edited by Craig Ledbetter. Kingwood, TX. 1992. P. 11.
5. “Lucio Fulci.” Shock Masters of Cinema. Edited by Loris Curci. Fantasma Books. Key West, FL. 1996. P. 72.


Alex B. said...

Not the worst film around. There are some hateful aspects about ZOMBI 3, but, as you mention, there are some undeniably atmospheric things, too.
I've seen the film about two dozen times, so that says it all, really.

Hans A. said...

I'm with you, Alex. I've seen this film so many times that it's hard to be impartial. I appreciate your visits and thoughts as always.

ThatQuebecGuy said...

That may well be the first time I've heard positive things said about Zombi 3, good read!

Is there any indication in what has been written about Zombi 3 of which sequences are Fulci and which sequences are Mattei? Just curious.

Giallo Guy 82 said...

So true; late 80's Italian horror is a realm unto itself. But a flying zombie head? Damn you, Fragasso!