Zombie 3/Zombie Flesh-Eaters 2/Zombi 3 (1988) 0
I’ve already told the story of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie/Zombie 2/Zombie Flesh-Eaters— how a man who was perceived as a possibly washed-up director of gialli was tapped by Flora Film to direct a phony sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. But the story didn’t end there. Not only did the release of Zombie touch off a years-long rip-off frenzy, it actually made more money in Italy than Dawn of the Dead itself, so it was understandable that Flora’s leadership would consider a sequel as a possible way to keep themselves in the black when the market for Italian horror movies began to contract in the late 1980’s. Fulci, meanwhile, found his own career starting to flounder after the dissolution of his partnership with producer Fabrizio de Angelis, with whom he had made most of the movies that had put him back on the map in the first half of the decade— Zombie among them. Directing a sequel to Zombie might thus have seemed like every bit as good an idea to Fulci as it did to the studio heads. That’s not quite how it turned out, however, and in all probability the number-one reason why is named Claudio Fragasso. Like Fulci, Fragasso was something of a celebrity filmmaker in the world of Italian horror, but for very different reasons. Fragasso wrote the scripts for such films as Night of the Zombies/Inferno dei Morti-Viventi, The Other Hell/L’Altro Inferno, and Women’s Prison Massacre/I Violenti. In other words, there’s a good chance he was the single worst screenwriter in all of Italy, which is really saying something. He was also the man Flora wanted to write Zombi 3. Lucio Fulci hated Fragasso’s screenplay, and apparently didn’t get along at all with the writer on a personal level— probably because Fragasso was in the habit of hassling Fulci over the script changes he wanted to make in order to prevent the movie from sucking more ass than a team of ass-sucking ass-suckers. It’s also worth pointing out that Zombie 3, like its predecessor, was being shot in the Philippines. This hadn’t been a problem in 1979, but in 1988, Fulci was a sick old man, and the hot and soggy climate was only making him sicker. Between his deteriorating relationship with Fragasso, his utter loathing of the screenplay he was being forced to work from, and the adverse effects of conditions in the shooting location on his health, it wasn't long at all before Fulci made like Eric Cartman and said, “Screw you guys— I'm going home.”
The movie wasn’t anywhere near finished at that point, but quite a lot of money had already been spent on it. So instead of simply scrapping the doomed project, Flora went and hired someone new to helm Zombie 3, and their choice of replacement directors was both eminently logical and completely disastrous. Bruno Mattei had collaborated with Claudio Fragasso on a number of movies earlier in his career, and so he could be expected to have a good working relationship with the writer. But what Flora’s producers either didn’t realize or didn’t care about was that every last one of the movies the two men had made together was terrible. Terrible in an entertaining way on occasion, it is true, but terrible nonetheless. Zombie 3 would continue this almost majestic losing streak.
Mattei and Fragasso get off to an inauspicious start by ripping off themselves. As in Night of the Zombies, we pick up with a scientist (Luciano Pigozzi, from Werewolf in a Girls’ Dormitory and Baron Blood) experimenting with a chemical that brings the dead back to life. He is doing this at the behest of the military, personified here by a general (Mike Monty, of Escape from Blood Plantation and Raiders of Atlantis) who seems to have wandered in here from some Larry Buchanan movie or other and gotten lost. I must concede here that I can’t make heads or tails of this part of the story. The general openly scoffs at the scientist’s claims to be able to reanimate corpses, but since the project is codenamed “Death 1,” I can’t imagine what else he thinks the doctor and his team might be up to. Nor do I have any idea at all why the military (and note that no indication ever surfaces as to whose military we’re talking about) would want a zombie-making drug in the first place. I also couldn’t tell you who the white-garbed, assault rifle-toting men who ambush the scientist on his way to the lab’s helipad and steal the perfected Death 1 serum might be. Honestly, I bet Claudio Fragasso doesn’t know either. The only thing I do understand about this part of the film is that all of the thieves but one are killed, and that the one who survives to escape with the doctor’s chemical-laden valise is wounded, and manages to spill some of the toxic slime on his hand while trying to evade his pursuers.
Mr. Chemical-Stealing Guy eventually limps his way over to a hotel and gets himself a room. Sickening rapidly, he locks himself inside and eventually turns into a zombie. This is bad news for the hotel maid, who gets sent to clean up the room because of the unbearable stench that is being emitted from it. The zombie kills her, and then begins sneaking around the hotel, offing guests and staff members alike.
At this point, I should probably say a thing or two about the zombies we’ll be dealing with from here on out. Most zombie movies have a fairly coherent body of lore that determines the way the zombies behave: whether or not the living dead are intelligent, how (or indeed if) they can be destroyed, what their capabilities are with respect to strength, speed, and the like. Not this one, though. Some of the zombies are Romero-esque brainless shamblers. Others can talk and even play mind-games with their prey. At least one seems to have gained some kind of martial arts mastery in the process of rising from the dead. And while most of the zombies can be destroyed by any injury that would prove lethal to a living human (which is awfully strange, considering that a lot of them come back to life sporting mortal wounds in the first place), there are a couple that absorb an enormous amount of punishment before going down for the count. Basically, I think what we're seeing here is that Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei just don’t give a fuck.
Anyway, back at the military base, the general orders the bodies of everyone who was killed in the earlier raid on the lab cremated. This is a really bad idea, because our buddy Claudio has had a chance to see The Return of the Living Dead since the last time he penned the script for a zombie flick, and the result is a cloud of vapor that will zombify any living thing that breathes it— like that big flock of birds, for instance. Oh, and God help us if it should happen to rain. Still not believing in zombies, the general nevertheless sends a team of soldiers in white anti-contamination suits around to quarantine the hotel to which his men have just traced the escaped robber, which they do by exterminating everyone in the place. (Gettin’ bold, there, Claudio— ripping off The Crazies now...) All of this, of course, runs directly counter to the recommendations of the scientists, who think it would be better to devote all available resources to developing an antidote to Death 1.
Now about those birds... A trio of soldiers who don’t appear to be affiliated with the general and his outfit are out on liberty, bored and looking for action. Their jeep ends up behind a Winnebago full of vacationing college kids, and when one of the girls— Susana is her name— leans out one of the back windows and unbuttons her shirt about halfway down, the troops figure they have found what they were searching for. No sooner has this connection been made, however, than that flock of zombie birds attacks the Winnebago, flying in through the open windows and pecking the living shit out of Lia (Deborah Bergamini). The unnamed boy driving the vehicle lurches over to the side of the road, and the three GIs realize something is wrong. Bo (Massimo Vanni, from 1990: The Bronx Warriors and After Death) is the first one on the scene. He somehow shoos the birds away, and suggests that the lot of them head over to a nearby hotel from which they might be able to call an ambulance for Lia.
Meanwhile, another pair of vapid young people are out driving some miles away. Patricia (Beatrice Ring) and Glenn could be a full-fledged couple, or they could just be out on a first date— with writing like this, it’s difficult to be sure. Patricia (who at least has good taste in automobiles) screeches her mid-60’s Corvette convertible to a halt when she sees the strange circular formation of bird carcasses in the road in front of her. When the two kids get out to have a closer look, the birds come alive and start pecking holes in Glenn’s face. Patricia’s first attempt to get help is an utter washout. The gas station where she stops is entirely deserted except for a small pack of walking, homicidal corpses (including that ninja zombie I mentioned a few paragraphs ago). The girl quite reasonably puts as much distance as she can between herself and that gas station as soon as she makes it back to her car.
As for the rest of the cast, the hotel Bo was talking about turns out to be the very one that had earlier been visited by the general’s “decontamination team.” The vacationers don’t like the look of the big, empty place, and that goes double for the soldiers. Bo and a girl whose name I never did figure out take the jeep and go looking for a hospital. The other two soldiers, Roger (Ottaviano Dell’Aqua, of Cut and Run and Ironmaster) and Ken (Deran Serafian, who directed To Die For and Alien Predators, demonstrating here that he’s no more talented in front of the camera than he is behind it), split up to search the hotel from top to bottom. There’s no sign of anything that could explain the building’s abandonment, but Roger does find a crate full of M-16s in the basement. And before you ask me, no. I have no idea why there should be a crate of military rifles in a hotel basement, nor would I even like to hazard a guess as to why everyone in the building immediately decides that they need such a thing. It’s not like they’ve seen any zombies yet, you know!!!!
That last part begins to change in the next scene. The radiator in the jeep blows before Bo and his new bitch get anywhere near a hospital, and they are forced to go on foot through the strangely empty town looking for water with which to refill it. They find zombies instead. The girl gets her legs chewed off, Jaws-style, by a zombie hiding in some kind of swimming pool or reflecting pond, while Bo just barely escapes with his life to the nearest major road. Once there, he is coincidentally picked up by Patricia, who is still looking for someone who can tell her what is wrong with her now-pustulating boyfriend. Only one of them ever makes it to the hotel, though, because Glenn picks that moment to go zombie on them (The Return of the Living Dead rears its head once again), forcing them to stop long enough for Bo to get eaten by more of the undead. Patricia gets away by leaping from a bridge into the fast-moving stream below. She limps up the hotel steps just as the zombie problem is making itself felt there.
This brings us to the closest thing to a redeeming feature Zombie 3 has to offer. While Carole (Marina Roi, from Demons 2) and Nancy (Ulli Reinthaller) are tending to the fast-zombifying Lia, Susana and one of the boys (we’ll never learn this guy's name, either) go wandering off to look for food. There’s a refrigerator in the kitchen, alright, but instead of food, there’s a zombie head inside it. No, really. And when Meatboy Number Two opens the fridge up, that zombie head comes levitating out of it and flies across the room to chew his throat out. No, really! Then the zombie’s body (and we can tell it’s the one whose head was in the fridge, because the camera never shows us anything above its chest— that would have cost money, you know) comes out of hiding to dispatch Susana. I swear, this has got to be the stupidest shock scene I’ve ever borne witness to. I mean, really— we're supposed to believe that this zombie, rather than just leaving the kitchen to chow down on the tasty live humans in the lobby, went to all the bother of taking off its head, stashing it in the refrigerator, and then hiding in a cabinet somewhere so as to be ready for an ambush on the off chance that somebody might come looking for a midnight snack?! I guess even zombies get bored sometimes... And while that’s going on, Lia gets up and goes after Nancy. The undead girl falls face-first out of a second- or third-story window and goes splat! just about the time that Patricia reaches the hotel with the whole zombie horde in pursuit. From here on out, Zombie 3 is more or less completely interchangeable with every other post-Romero zombie flick you’ve ever seen. Except, of course, that it’s much, much stupider.
You know, I’ve seen some awful, awful zombie movies in my time. I’ve seen Toxic Zombies, I’ve seen Burial Ground— hell, I once even made myself sit through all of The Alien Dead. But with the possible exception of the almost unendurable Redneck Zombies, Zombie 3 is beyond question the worst I've ever encountered. What passes for Claudio Fragasso’s script is both totally nonsensical and vexingly directionless— it’s as though the man had invented some kind of Random Scene Generator, fed the premise for the film into it, and let the machine do all the writing. There’s an almost complete lack of linear plot, there is obviously no reason at all for anything that happens during Zombie 3’s 96 meandering minutes, and not a single character exists for any reason other than to get eaten (or occasionally to escape being eaten) by the zombies. Even your average 80’s slasher movie has more fully realized characters and more believable dialogue. It’s also perfectly clear that Flora Film was hemorrhaging money at the time this movie was made. It looks to me like most of Zombie 3 was shot on video, and then tinkered with in an effort to make it look more like celluloid. The zombie makeup is uniformly terrible, on par with a micro-budget student film. And the music— my God! Even latter-day Charles Band atrocities like Hell Asylum have better scores. And you know what the worst part of it all is? Flora released Zombie 3 giving sole directorial credit to Lucio Fulci, even though relatively little of the debacle that wound up on the screen was really his creation! Granted, Fulci was doing a pretty impressive job of tarnishing his own good name by the time Zombie 3 arrived on the scene, but to have this Bruno Mattei outhouse explosion attributed to him too? That’s just fucking insulting!