Director: Lucio Fulci (with Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso)
Screenplay: Claudio Fragasso
Cast: Deran Sarafian (as Kenny); Beatrice Ring (as Patricia); Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (as Roger); Massimo Vanni (as Bo); Ulli Reinthaler (as Nancy)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) # 25
Synopsis: A military project to resurrect the dead, a chemical contagion called Death One, breaks out into the public and even when the military themselves deal with it, their method of disposing of one of the bodies both makes the contagion stronger and spreads it over a wider area through the smoke created. In the midst of the resulting chaos and attempt to clamp down on the new epidemic, a group of soldiers, friends caught by the contagion infecting the wildlife, and a woman called Patricia (Ring) with her infected boyfriend find themselves having to survive the rampaging zombie hordes and the military trying to cover it up violently.
Zombi 3 is as much effected by your attitude to its production history as much as the content itself. At this point the Italian genre industry was in severe decline in the late eighties, though considering my opinion on this film, it wasn't that bad if you could still appreciate the cheese factor, the likelihood that whilst the industry could still churn out films it couldn't survive by the nineties, killing it off (sadly) to this day baring an occasional film getting into international festivals. Zombi 3's history is interesting in itself, and that's not even including the (unofficial) sequels to this afterwards that weren't necessarily even zombie films. For those that don't know, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1978) was co-produced by Italy in the midst of their genre renaissance, recut for Italy and dubbed Zombi, doing extremely well and leading to an unofficial sequel called Zombi 2 (1979), known famously as Zombie Flesh Eaters in the UK. Made by Lucio Fulci it did extremely well around the world and lead to a boom of Italian zombie films into the eighties. By the later eighties there's not even that many zombie films in existence, barring one or two, from even the US and Fulci's career was slowing down as his health was declining. Fulci gets to make a sequel to his film, only for his health to be at its worse during the production shot in the Philippines, and the result Zombi 3 having to be drastically fixed to be releasable.
It varies how much Fulci actually shot for final work, but at least fifty minutes or so of what is seen is his work, the other thirty minutes having to be made in collaboration with screenwriter Claudio Fragasso and his longstanding colleague Bruno Mattei, having worked together many times before in the early eighties. It's confusing how to judge what was Fulci's work or not, as a Frankenstein creation of three different voices, because Fulci before Mattei even got hold of the footage decided to make an action horror film. The result feels like an odd sequel to one of Mattei's Strike Commando films with Reb Brown fighting zombies, a more manic tone as you have characters having to actually run away from an occasional undead who can run, alongside Return of the Living Dead (1985) enough evidence that the argument about whether zombies should run or not is pretty pointless even in terms of the historical canon of these films.
Some of the old Fulci magic is still here, his obsession with fog machines and bold colour lighting reminiscent of his best horror films with their ominous moods; particularly with this film transitioning from a grimy Vipco release version I first saw to Blu-Ray quality, it's amazing how good the film looks despite the late eighties being when the money was bleeding out of the Italian film industry. What's a flaw is that it's not remotely scary or eerie, not even haunting or visceral like other Fulci films, instead the entertainment to be found in its various bursts of energy that defy the fact Fulci was violently ill during the entire production. Famously Zombi 3 is known for the zombie head in the refrigerator scene - utterly silly but succeeding by not caring about logic whatsoever - but there's plenty of manic moments throughout the film to like. Such as a zombie failing a machete about with surprising intensity or a gruesome, nicely set up shock with a pool of water behind a motel. Then there's the truly bizarre sequence, never evoked again in the narrative, of birds dying and coming back from the dead as zombified contagion carriers, clearly part of Fragasso's obsession with ecological issues throughout the film but a truly strange moment from Italian genre film history that, in hindsight, is one of the few cases of a zombie film showing non-human entities being infected.
The film does have a rollercoaster structure in terms of when its well paced and when it suddenly staggers along like a drunken men, its history visible in how messy the pace is, but when its paced well its amazingly swift in how the scenes play out. The other thirty or so minutes of Zombi 3 had to be built on by Claudio Fragasso and Bruno Mattei which is a lot of this reason. I once made a very cruel opinion of them, worse having barely seen the films of theirs, that they were amongst those responsible for killing the Italian genre industry. A lot of that was from suffering through the latter's Cruel Jaws (1995). Nowadays its clear they were working filmmakers who find themselves in the position of not being amongst the best (Dario Argento, Fulci, Mario Bava, even someone underrated like Enzo G. Castellari or Sergio Martino) but gaining a personality and reputation from their more infamous work, people who made films but were between them more drastically effected by their budgets then most and with Mattei notorious for using other people's material. Fragasso here at least comes off as an entertaining screenwriter who never feels boring, from the zombified birds to something he openly admits to taking from the carsploitation film Vanishing Point (1971), a blind African American radio DJ who is also the narrator in Zombi 3 as a strange stylistic quirk. He is, alongside Mattei, responsible for a lot of the moments, while fun, that, ironically their work to salvage the production leading to the tonal problems with additional footage of the military and frustrated scientists discussing the outbreak of Death One. The resulting footage is surprisingly naive in tone, such as the naming of the contagion written into these scene "Death One", a charm of a fifties b-movie in them which redeems them even those such scenes cause the film to loss its swift pace immediately. The other moments - action scenes and helicopter shots without the main cast - come off a lot better.
Not a great deal to go through as I've covered a lot of the production history already, but it's worth repeating how a Blu-Ray transfer really redeems a film many would call trash. It's not up to the aesthetic style of Zombi 2 but it's still distinct, its Philippine locations and tropical look giving it some distinction alongside the late eighties aesthetic.
The music as well is worthy of mention. Yes, the main glam metal song is utter gorgonzola, memorable if just for its mid-song voice echo, but Stefano Mainetti's score aside from this is a nice dread inducing synthesiser work that makes up for the lack of scares. I'll likely uncover some of the worst Italian genre films from this period and nineties, but generally there were always bad films from the country even in the golden period, usually ones never talked about or unlikely to get Blu-Ray treatment like Zombi 3 has. Particularly against some of the terrible horror films from this era not from Italy, than this is still a bar higher in quality than I first viewed it as. Its definitely better than some of the worst of zombie cinema within the last decade if anything.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque
In terms of their collected filmographies, this is far from the weirdest film in either Fulci's or Mattei's careers. (I haven't seen enough of Fragasso's yet to make comment). The only true disappointment returning to this, and why I hated it originally, is that it has none of the strangeness of Fulci's best films even when it came to some of his none horror films. He had a knack for the irrational in his work that was compelling and incredibly well made, of decay and the illogical, that is almost non-existent here baring the briefest of moments.
Abstract Tropes: Body Parts Used in Inappropriate Ways; Decay; Fog; Rich Coloured Lighting
Considering my original low opinion of Zombi 3, if you accept its flaws it's still an entertaining Italian genre film. I don't find it a disappointment like before, the fact that the genre industry of the country was declining no longer an issue now especially as, when these films are getting releases you couldn't fathom just a decade ago, I release that even on their declining period films like this one are still so much more entertaining and better made than more modern horror films in the same template.