Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Zombi 3 (1988)

Lucio Fulci attained his greatest fame as a filmmaker via the zombie gutmuncher subgenre of horror films. Love them or hate them, films like Zombi 2 and The Beyond are effective, if goofy, examples of the Grand Guignol tradition embraced by many in the Italian exploitation film industry. Zombi 3 (Zombi 2's sequel in name only), while by-and-large entertaining, is ultimately frustrated and undermined by the hodgepodge mentality from which it sprang. And while Fulci maintains a facility for this type of film, the end result here is not up to the man's talents.
Biological compound - how the scientists involved in its creation ever thought it could be anything other than a bacteriological weapon is beyond me - "Death One" is stolen (rather easily) from a jungle military base by (we can only assume) eco-warriors . The surviving thief is infected by the substance and makes his way to the Sweet River Resort. The military, in stereotypical military fashion, kill everyone at the resort and burn the infected body in order to keep a lid on the situation. No one would ever be suspicious if dozens of people up and disappeared from a resort near a military compound, would they?
Cut to our protagonists. Horndog soldiers on leave ( Deran Serafian, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, and Massimo Vanni) chase after a Winnebago loaded with floozies (including Ulli Reinthaler and Marina Loi). Meanwhile, Patricia (Beatrice Ring) and her boyfriend tool along, debating (and I use that term loosely) the merits of ecological conservation. Both groups run afoul (sorry) of a gaggle of birds infected by the smoke from the cremation of the first zombie. Soon zombie attacks are on the rise, and our characters have to fight their way through not only the monsters but also the soldiers, who are intent on containing the spread of the virus.

The very first shot of the movie instills a glimmer of hope for what's to follow. A corpse is being experimented on, and the lab is filled with a sickly green light. It gives the feel of a Mario Bava film but on a budget. And while the candy-colored lighting is a recurring motif and a nice touch, it feels forced due to its inconsistent use and does more to distract the audience than draw it in.
If nothing else, Fulci knows how to film, and Zombi 3 is filled with nice, even elegant camerawork. His camera is unobtrusive and not ostentatious, a rare quality in exploitation films. However, there is an overabundance of fog (sometimes with the fog-spraying technician in frame) in much of the movie. While I'm sure it's partially to create atmosphere, more often than not, it obscures the onscreen action and will probably remind the older among you of a certain Whitesnake music video.
By having numerous subplots going on, the story (credited in part to Claudio Fragasso) maintains a healthy pace for the first half. Sure, you have the pairing off of couples for ease of dispatch, but that's a "gimme" for a film of this ilk. In fact, it's only after the subplots and characters have been intertwined and condensed that the film starts to bog down and become repetitive.
The movie is heavy on the "eco" angle, and the writers do their best to pummel you over the head with it. It's a worthwhile notion, but it's handled so hamfistedly, it comes off like the psychotic ravings of the lunatic fringe. The cause even has a spokesman in the character of Blue Heart, a funky DJ who dedicates crappy songs in order to raise social awareness of ecological problems. At first, he'll put you in mind of Cleavon Little in Vanishing Point and Lynne Thigpen in The Warriors, but after just one of his monologues, the comparisons evaporate.
The characters are ciphers with no development at all, but for something like this, they really only need to be fodder. The two (arguably) best-looking are the two who last the longest. No surprise there. The acting goes from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye, and everyone is a drama queen. Special mention must be made here of Robert Marius. In his essaying the role of Dr. Holder, Marius is so bug-eyed and spastic, I suspect he was pulling chunks of the scenery from his stool for months after the production's wrap.

Now, this wouldn't be a proper Italian exploitation flick without ripping off at least one popular American film. Here, the crosshairs are on Return of the Living Dead, and the cribbing is so blatant, you'll roll your eyes at the laziness on display. The infection is spread rather than stopped by cremating the initial infectee. Patricia enters a dilapidated garage and has to escape from a rather spry, if nondescript (he's no "Tarman"), zombie. A freshly-turned zombie taunts his girlfriend, telling her how much it wants her blood. You get the picture. Additionally, George Romero's work takes a hit with homages/steals from Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and even The Crazies.

Aside from action fans, Zombi 3 is primarily aimed at gorehounds, and there is no shortage of Fulci's signature depictions of death and mutilation in graphic, lingering detail. However, the quality of the effects (by Franco Di Girolamo) is not up to the standard of Fulci's previous work. Seeing as how it's a main draw to the film, the effects' undistinguished presentation is a large letdown and a check in the "Minus" column. As a matter of fact, I don't even recall any ocular trauma, a Fulci trademark.
It's the film's inconsistencies, ultimately, that are its undoing. The zombies shamble or run, converse or just moan, even use tools and then don't as the script dictates. They claw and shuffle, then leap and engage in choreographed fistfights. Apparently, the filmmakers wanted to have it all. Unfortunately, the problem with having no rules of behavior to follow, the zombies are more bewildering than entertaining. This "anything goes" attitude towards the story culminates in two instances of serendipity (read: Deus Ex Machina) so egregious, it ruined almost everything that came before it for me.

A staple of the horror genre in general and Fulci's work in particular is the shock ending, and Zombi 3 is no exception. However, instead of being surprising and clever, here it comes off as hollow and untrue based on what we've seen and the extent of the outbreak. Plus, the protagonists' reaction to said twist is more matter-of-fact than willful determination. They don't seem to care, and by this point, neither did I.

MVT: Even though the movie is crap, Fulci is a craftsman, and his talent does show. It's just not enough to elevate the material.

Make or Break
: The two serendipitous events (I am so tempted to just spoil them, but that would ruin your own derision of the film) were the "break" for me.

Score: 5.5/10


  1. Eh... It sounds like I could better spend my time by just watching Zombi 2 again. And so I will!

  2. A good plan. Thanks for reading.