Zombi 3

Synopsis: Somewhere in an unnamed Southeast Asian country, somebody steals a virus from a biological warfare test lab. It's never clear who's doing the stealing, but the lab is clearly run by the Big Bad US Army (sigh).

The virus is so lightly guarded that the raid seems almost comical. In the ensuing confusion, the soldiers pursuing the thief manage to shoot open the container holding the deadly stuff. The virus is released, causing the local population to turn into ravenous zombies. A group of tourists and soldiers on leave are trapped in the contaminated zone, and must deal with the walking dead on one hand, and military "cleanup crews" on the other.

Incredibly awful horror movie. Lucio Fulci should
never have put his name to it.

-- Palmerini & Mistretta, Spaghetti Nightmares
(Key West: Fantasma Books, 1996)

Lucio Fulci was unable to complete filming of Zombi 3, partly because the Phillipine climate aggravated his health problems, and partly because of his total lack of sympathy with Claudio Fragasso's script. It's easy to imagine why Fulci would want to be involved with the official sequel to the movie that made him famous1, even in the face of such a terrible script. In fact, he may have felt that his input could be enough to rescue the film; unfortunately, the writer objected to Fulci's attempts to interpret the film his own way, and Fulci left the set in disgust. Filming was completed by Bruno Mattei, the director of L'Altro Inferno and other celluloid crimes. It should be mentioned that Mattei's earlier disaster, Virus/Hell of the Living Dead/Night of the Zombies (1980) was also scripted by Claudio Fragasso, is set in a similar location, and has the same theme (exploitation/extermination of the Third World by the US, resulting in uprising and death).

Incredible as it may sound, this movie really is as god-awful as all the reviewers say. It's overwhelmingly stupid, and unlike Zombi 2 it follows the basic "Dawn of the Dead/Day of the Dead" premise slavishly.

What makes it so mind-bogglingly dreadful is its aggressive lack of originality. I don't mean that it simply borrows from other movies; it's always been my contention that regardless of the borrowings, the truly noteworthy Italian exploitation directors were able to create something that was truly their own. No: Zombi 3 is guilty of outright theft, on several levels.

The most obvious thefts are from Return of the Living Dead (which is ironic, considering that Return of the Living Dead, Part 2, the [ahem] legitimate sequel, was also a crass rip-off of the earlier film; and it's even more bewildering when you realize that Return... itself is a just a comic riff on Night of the Living Dead). In both films, a secret government project goes awry, leading to contamination; the contaminant is spread through the air via cremation, and the epidemic begins; one of the protagonists is rushed toward help in his girlfriend's car, but he zombifies before they can arrive; etc. etc. etc. Fragasso's scenario also lifts elements from his own previous effort, as well as the helicopters from Dawn and Day.

But on a more fundamental level, Zombi 3 leans far too heavily on the zombie mythology created by its predecessors. It eats the brains right out of the zombie movie paradigm, and leaves the stinking carcass. For example:

  Only a short while after the epidemic has started, every nook and cranny of the affected zone is crawling with badly decomposed zombies, all lying in wait in strategic places. They hide in pools, they hide over wells, they hide in the closets of abandoned gas stations, just in the right places to surprise the protagonists... you'd think they'd read the script or something.

Why do they do this? Because that's what zombies do in all the other movies; they jump out at people and surprise them. The worst instance of zombie placement is at the very end of the film: one of the protagonists' escape is thwarted at the last possible moment when a tiny little patch of hay (which has been lying undisturbed in an open field through all the explosions and gunfire) is suddenly revealed as the hiding place of three (3) zombies. Faster than you can sing "Don't Pile On The Wabbit", several more zombies join in and pin the guy to the ground.

B U T   W A I T !
This leads to another classic moment of idiocy: the trapped guy is actually able to shake off the pile of zombies, who are all sitting on his chest and clawing at his flesh! He is able to do this so that he can stumble into the next zombie movie cliché ("The Living are even worse than the Dead." -- The Rules for Zombies, p. 247): he is shot to pieces by the cleanup crew. This happens in slow motion, just in case we don't appreciate the injustice of the act.

  Most of the zombies are dressed the same, in baggy pajama-like suits. Why? Because it makes them look more like zombies, that's why (you might suggest that everybody in the Phillipines dresses like that, but if so, why don't we see more living people dressed that way in the movie?). This is the way zombies look in other movies, so that's the way they're going to look here, even though it would be much more convincing to have the zombies dressed in a variety of ordinary street clothes, like our main characters.

  You can usually tell when the zombies are near, because a strange back-lit fog comes with them. How does this happen? Do they carry their own dry ice machine with them? Does zombism give you really nasty gas? Probably not, but the fact is that zombies look scary in the mist, so we will have fog for our zombie scenes, even at mid-day in Southeast Asia.

  One of the most famous (or notorious) scenes in Zombi 3 involves an attack by a disembodied head found in a refrigerator. On the face of it, this is so utterly ridiculous that it seems just about acceptable. OK, so the head goes flying out of the fridge with no obvious means of propulsion, and then chases its victims across the room by floating in mid-air. I'll buy that. They probably hoped to avoid Hitchcock's famous "ice box effect" by giving us the ice box right off the bat. But it doesn't work: the zombie epidemic has only been going for a couple of hours at the most, and yet somehow a zombie has thought to come downstairs into an abandoned hotel, take off his head, place it in the fridge in case any of the non-existent guests decided to come down for a snack, and then dispose of his body in a suitable hiding place -- all so he could take a bite out of two of our main actors!

Why does the head fly? Because it's a zombie head! Why is it even there? Because it's a zombie head! Making sense of this screenplay is like arguing with Nigel Tufnel.

  And can anyone tell me why, when the refugees find a cache of weapons (!) early in the film, they decide that they need them -- even though they haven't seen any zombies yet and have no idea what's going on? Simple -- it's a zombie film, and everyone needs a weapon in a zombie film. They need to shoot them in the head, right?

(Actually, that's one of the more bewildering surprises the film has to offer: some zombies take some nasty damage, like a pipe through the throat, and keep on coming; while others merely get shot somewhere [not the head] and keel over immediately.)

On top of all this, we have a cast of actors so inept they wouldn't pass muster in a porn film. What in the world were they thinking when they designed the poster? Over the title, in the big imposing letters usually reserved for "SCHWARTZENEGGER" or "DENIRO" or "HASSELHOFF" or something, we get:


Who are these people?! Am I missing something here? Does the combination


... have some significance I don't know about? Let me try it again:


OK, B-movie actor/director Deran Serafian has some limited name recognition with hard-core Bad Movie fans, but Beatrice Ring truly deserves her obscurity. Still, Serafian and Ring are Bogart and Bacall compared to the non-actor who plays the Troubled Scientist, who helped create the zombie virus. He has three gestures which make up his entire repertoire: he grimaces, he points his finger, and he pulls his hair. He shouts all his lines, and from his stilted delivery you can tell he hasn't a clue what he's saying.

Thinking of shouting, the writer has thoughtfully provided us with a Greek Chorus in the form of Blue Heart, the radio DJ. At various points of the film, Blue Heart comes on and starts expounding his (actually the writer's) half-baked opinions on Not Tampering in God's Domain. Even though he speaks in low, comforting tones, he is shouting.

OK, one more time:


I still don't get it.

A number of movies have been released (usually to video) with the title Zombie 3, most infamously Andrea Bianchi's Notti del Terrore/Burial Ground. None of them are worth much more than this piece of dreck.

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