“ AKA: Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 / Actors: Deran Sarafian, Beatrice Ring, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, Massimo Vanni, Ulli Reinthaler / Directors: Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso, Lucio Fulci / Studio: Shriek Show / Release Date: 24 Sep 2002 / Run Time: 84 minutes „
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This is a film only review. A UK release (under the name Zombie Flesh Eaters 2) is available, but I'd instead recommend the US DVD, which has a great commentary track. It costs about £10 on amazon.
In 1978, George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead was released. It was - in horror film terms - a smash hit. It was co-financed by an Italian company, and was released in Italy under the name Zombi. A zombie film by Lucio Fulci, which was already in production, was quickly rewritten in order to try to tack on to the success of Romero's film, presenting itself as a prequel. Fulci's film was released in Italy as Zombi 2, in American as just Zombie, and in Britain as Zombie Flesh Eaters; it was another huge hit. (I hope you're keeping up with all this. There will be a test later.)
Zombie Flesh Eaters spawned a glut of Italian zombie imitators, most of which are notable mainly for their poor quality. In 1988, rather late on in the Italian horror cycle, Fulci was recruited to provide an 'official' follow-up to his earlier zombie film, and that's what this film is. So it's a sequel (or possibly prequel) to an unofficial prequel to Dawn of the Dead, if that helps clear things up for you. None of this really matters to your enjoyment or otherwise of the film in question. It doesn't follow on from the previous film, or allude to it in any way. But it does add an extra layer of pointlessness to what is already a pretty bad film. It was released as Zombie 3 in the US, and Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 in the UK (on video only).
The film is set somewhere in the Caribbean, I think, although most characters are white and probably meant to be American. The military have been experimenting with a secret virus, called 'Death One', which causes the dead to return to life and attack the living. A thief, or possibly a terrorist, it's never made clear, escapes with some of the formula. Despite being infected, he is killed and the outbreak seemingly contained. Unfortunately, the General running the project insists on cremating the infected terrorist, even though the scientists point out that the smoke might well spread the infection. The general dismisses this as 'science fiction' (he dismisses most of the scientists' qualms as science fiction. One wonders how much he actually knows about the secret 'raising the dead' project he's notionally in charge of).
The smoke infects some birds, the birds attack some people, and the people all turn into zombies. Soon there's a full-on zombie apocalypse in progress. The film focuses on a trio of soldiers on leave and a bus full of holiday-makers (mostly ladies) who hole up in a motel. Luckily there's a completely unexplained crate of guns and a flamethrower at the motel, so they can at least defend themselves. Otherwise it follows the standard zombies-overrun-the-world plot.
It's a terrible film, of course. The disappointment is that Fulci's previous zombie efforts were genuinely great. Zombie Flesh Eaters makes up for its lack of sophistication with an astoundingly gory verve, and of the Italian zombie movies made in the early 80s, it's only really Fulci's that are worth seeing (The Beyond and City of the Living Dead are both great). A few years further down the line, though, with budgets slashed and ill-health starting to take its toll, Fulci couldn't find a way to make it work again. In fact he had to leave the film unfinished for health reasons, and it was completed by exploitation journeyman Bruno Mattei, whose previous zombie film, Zombie Creeping Flesh, is abominable. Mattei does win some sleazoid brownie points for a) having two donkeys brought on to have sex with one another, apropos of nothing, in the film Caligula and Messalina; and b) for pouring live rats over Laura Gemser in one of the Black Emanuelle in prison movies. But he's not an imaginative director.
Terrible though it is, this film is a guilty pleasure. It is often hilarious. Scenes in which what seem to be chickens attack a guy, or the bit where the disembodied head in a fridge suddenly flies through the air to chomp on some unsuspecting chap's throat, are impossible to sit through without laughing. Nothing makes sense in this film - hand grenades have immense explosive power, full grown zombie hands burst out of pregnant women's bellies, and within a day of the zombie outbreak, building are seemingly overrun with cobwebs, as if they've not been used for years.
The characterisation is non-existent. There are a fair few survivors in that motel, although eventually they get whittled down to a manageable four or five. But we never get a sense of any of them as people. The two who go off to try to find help when they all first arrive at the motel look like they'll be the hero and heroine, but they're both dispatched in hilariously bloody, offhand ways almost immediately. The final survivors have more or less interchangeable personalities, with the men being tough guys and the women useless scaredy-cats who constantly need rescuing. In the motel, two characters go off into the kitchen to look for food. They are both killed by zombies, but no one ever mentions them again, and the kitchen zombies don't bother to come after the rest of the cast.
The dialogue is perhaps the best thing about the film. The attempts at macho tough-guy talk are ludicrous. Upon finding a hand grenade under a truck, one of our heroes exclaims "What luck!" as if he's channelling Enid Blyton. Other dialogue triumphs include "That'll fix ya, you frigging monster", "I don't remember her name, but I sure remember her tits!", and the classic "I'm thirsty... for your blood!". My favourite is the line "Oh my god! She's getting steadily worse!", which doesn't work at all, combining a surprised exclamation with a sensible diagnosis that could only be made by observing the patient over a number of hours.
Zombie films usually try for some kind of social relevance. The film goes for an eco-message, having a DJ called Blueheart whose prognostications on the environment are heard several times during the film. Zombie 3 hammers home its message during an amazing bit of dialogue where one character reveals his indifference to nature by revealing that "I like smoking, I take a toke on a joint now and then, and once in a while I like to piss on a bush." Like, I wonder who the real zombies are, yeah?
It's difficult to judge the acting, as it's all been dubbed with the usual, generic American accented voices. Given the way Italian exploitation worked, it was probably always intended to be dubbed into multiple languages. The cast deliver appropriately hysterical looking performances, anyway. The only actor I recognised was Massimo Vanni, a ubiquitous Italian exploitation actor, playing one of the soldiers. He has probably my favourite scene, in which he's chased around a swimming pool by apathetic looking zombies. Sometimes he seems to forget to stay in character. My favourite character was one of the tourists, who looked like a weirdly stretched version of Harry Potter. He's amazing, because he never does anything - he doesn't help with killing zombies, building barricades, or even paddling the boat everyone's trying to escape in. His sole contribution is to try and catch a chicken. That's exactly how I'd behave in a zombie apocalypse situation - I'd leave the hard work to everyone else. And they wouldn't be able to leave me behind, because we'd need all the humans we could get in order to repopulate the world. Heh heh heh.
The music, much of which is meant to be getting played by Blueheart (his music makes one character "horny", for some reason) is pretty fun. There's a note pinned to Blueheart's desk reminding him to play a Beatles song, but the film would never have been able to afford that. This late in the 80s it was always going to be a heavily synth-based soundtrack, and at times it feels like a conscious pastiche of the music from early 80s zombie flicks like Zombie Flesh Eaters. It ends with a ludicrous soft-rock song, but I can't make out the lyrics properly. Not bad, though, and it keeps the film rocking along at a fair old pace.
There's a lot of gore, but I can't imagine anyone really finding this offensive. Unlike, say, Zombie Flesh Eaters, none of the gore is realistic enough to be shocking, so characters can have their legs ripped off or their throats torn out as much as they want without it bothering anyone. The zombies themselves are among the least impressive I've ever seen - the makeup on them is incredibly shoddy. We rarely see any zombies in anything like closeup, and they're usually accompanied by a ton of dry ice, just to make sure we can't see how bad they really are.
My tolerance for bad films is usually not so high (which is ironic, as I watch a great many of them). This is one of the few that I cherish enough to have not sold my DVD copy. If you're looking to be entertained by a dreadfully poor zombie film then this is the movie for you.