Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Hubrisween 2018 :: Z is for Zombi 3 (1988)

Somewhere in a super-secret bunker a group of scientists, led by Dr. Alan Holder, feverishly work to perfect something called Death-One; a chemical substance that can resurrect the dead for dubious military purposes. Here, Holder (Marius) injects a corpse with the latest batch of the Death-One formula, and then watches as the body reanimates. But before he can declare this a success, this revenant starts screaming as it’s body starts to melt into a reasonable facsimile of the iconic zombie found on the Dawn of the Dead (1978) posters much to the distress of Holder and his screaming assistant.

And while Holder thinks this latest lab test is another in a long line of failure, it’s close enough for General Morton (Monty), the man in charge, who forces Holder to turn over the unstable Death-One formula even though the scientist threatens to resign in protest over what he feels is a disaster waiting to happen. And sure enough, as Holder prepares to surrender the formula, secured in a briefcase, this exchange is ambushed by a small group of mercenaries. And while most of these intruders are killed, one manages to both survive and abscond with the briefcase full of zombie-goo.

Continuing on with our lesson in Romero 101, where things always get exponentially worse exponentially, as Holder warns Morton of what could happen if anyone is exposed to Death-One in a public area, and the general assures his men will capture this terrorist before anything like that can occur, during this pursuit, several stray bullets puncture the briefcase, knocking it out of the thief's hand -- let’s call him, Phil (Pagan), since the movie never bothered to identify him. So, when Phil tries to recover the briefcase, which has popped open and the contents shattered on impact, he cuts his hand on of the broken casks, exposing himself to Death-One. And as Morton’s dragnet closes in on him, the instantly feverish Phil seeks refuge in the posh Sweet River Resort and holes up in one of their hotel rooms.

Back at the base, as the search drags on, Holder has once more gone apoplectic despite Morton’s assurances they’ve traced the thief to a certain hotel. Meantime, Phil ain’t doing so hot as his infected hand slowly rots away -- and the man becomes so desperate he amputates the appendage to prevent further spread of the infection; but it was already too late as the rest of him soon falls to the effects of Death-One when he finally dies, and then reanimates. All the while, a bellhop has already been infected by the serum and is currently spreading it all around the hotel. And when a maid is sent to Phil’s room to help clean up whatever is causing that unholy stench emanating from inside, she is attacked and killed by Zombie-Phil.

Assessing this situation as dire, and not wanting any witnesses to what they’ve been up to, Morton orders scorched earth tactics on the hotel as his men, decked out in hazmat suits, round up all the guests and staff (-- and I’m guessing The Crazies (1973) finally made it over to Italy, too), gun them all down in cold blood, and then bury the bodies in a mass grave outside the hotel entrance. They also find and neutralize Zombie-Phil.

And while his corpse is taken back to the lab for proper disposal, Morton has the hotel quarantined and condemned as he cooks up a cover-story for what happened to all the missing guests. He also oversees the cremation of Zombie-Phil, which he ordered without consulting Holder, who immediately chastises the general for spreading Death-One even further due to the toxic ash currently belching out of the crematorium's flue. But Morton doesn’t buy these concerns, unaware of the large flock of birds currently falling out of the sky outside, who won’t be staying dead for long...

For last year’s Hubrisween, when I tackled Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979), I got into the convoluted history of that picture’s origin and subsequent release. How Dario Argento had negotiated the rights to re-cut and re-score George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), gutting out all the gallows humor, and released it in Italy as Zombi (1978) to much box-office success. And so successful it was, Flora Films and producer Fabrizio De Angelis wanted to immediately cash in with a sequel, exploiting a quirk in Italian copyright law, which allowed any film to be marketed as a sequel to an existing work, which resulted in the “unofficial” sequel, Zombi 2 (1979) -- later released in the States as Zombie, which shouldn’t be confused with Zombi, which was really Dawn of the Dead, of which Zombie is a kinda sorta sequel, which is also known as Zombie Flesh Eaters. Got all of that? Good. Because now I’m gonna try to explain what film exactly constitutes the official unofficial second sequel, Zombi 3.

After the success of Zombie / Zombie 2, which actually made more money in Italy than Argento’s Romero retread, Fulci and De Angelis reunited and struck out on their own for the Gates of Hell trilogy -- City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981), which all mined the same apocalyptic vein. But after the release of a couple later day thrillers, The New York Ripper (1982) and Manhattan Baby (1982), the director and producer had a bit of a falling out. Meantime, as the Italian film industry fell apart in the mid-to late 1980s, De Angelis’ replacement at Flora Films, producer Franco Gaudenzi, felt it was high time for a sequel to Zombie / Zombi 2 to hopefully delay the inevitable cratering of the studio for just a while longer; and managed to coax Fulci, who was suffering through some massive personal problems and health woes at the time, into the director’s chair.

The script for Zombi 3 (1988) was co-written by the husband and wife team of Rossella Drudi and Claudio Fragasso -- later of Troll 2 (1990) infamy; but Fragasso was also responsible for Women’s Prison Massacre (1983), Monster Dog (1984), and Rats! Night of Terror (1984), which was one of his many collaborations with notoriously awful filmmaker, Bruno Mattei, who would also play a major role in this cluster of a film.

When Flora announced the coming of the long awaited sequel to Zombi, it was originally slated to be shot in 3D. But this never materialized, and the production was moved to the Philippines because it was cheaper to shoot there. “I feel that Zombie was an authentic zombie film,” said Fulci. “I wanted to send them back to their origins. That is why we shot the film in Santa Domingo. My inspiration came from Jacques Tourneur, not George Romero.” And while Zombi 3 would also take place at a tropical location, Drudi and Fragasso’s script was clearly inspired by Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985) along with a few nods to the toxic zombies of Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead (1985).

From the very beginning, Fulci made no secret he openly detested Drudi and Fragrasso’s script, saying it was a mess; but his pleas to make any changes fell on deaf ears with Gaudenzi. Thus, when he arrived on location in the Philippines, while his producer stayed in Rome, Fulci went ahead and started tinkering and reworking the script on his own with an assist from his daughter, Camilla. And as the six week shooting schedule progressed, Fulci grew fed up with all the promises Gaudenzi had made, production and budget wise, and essentially threw his hands in the air and half-assed it the rest of the way, figuring if the producer didn’t give a shit about the movie, why should he? And when filming wrapped, Fulci sent a 75-minute work print to Gaudenzi -- a third of which consisted of his main characters rowing up a river in a canoe as kind of a middle finger to the producer and all those broken promises and never realized budget.

Thus the oft told rumor and tales that Fulci abandoned the film before it was finished due to ill health, and he was sick, liver cancer, were probably exaggerated and purported by Flora and Gaudenzi in an effort to save face and, more importantly, keep Fulci’s name in the credits. Meantime, a panicking Gaudenzi had to salvage the film somehow. This process began by chopping down Fulci’s version to about 50 minutes of usable footage. He then charged Fragasso to write a new wraparound story they could then plug Fulci’s footage into. And to direct this new footage, Gaudenzi recruited Mattei, who was already in the Philippines shooting Strike Commando 2 (1988) for the producer, and had even shot some second unit for Fulci on the zombie picture.

Mattei took the assignment, but was a little resentful over not being picked to direct the film from the get go. Still, he did his best under trying circumstances as he and Fragasso cooked up the expanded plot of the zombie outbreak origin, utilizing several still standing sets from Apocalypse Now (1979). And trying to tie it all together was made doubly-difficult due to the contracts running out on the cast from Fulci’s version and all the actors staunch refusal to ever come back to the Philippines any time soon for re-shoots.

Thus, everything we’ve seen so far was strictly new material cooked up by the two-punch combo of Mattei and Fragasso -- who have cameos as the two soldiers who put Zombie-Phil into the incinerator, making Fulci’s material nothing but added subplots as the film presses on from the zombification of the birds and picks up with three of Morton’s soldiers apparently out on leave, galavanting around in a jeep looking for chicks to pick up. Well, Kenny, Roger and Bo (Sarafian, Dell'Acqua, Vanni) just hit the mother lode when they start tailgating a Winnebago that is chock full of friendly women and exchange pleasantries and flashes of boobs at about 40mph.

Meanwhile, up the road apiece, two more tourists, Patricia (Ring) and her boyfriend, Glenn, bring their convertible to a halt due to the road being covered with dead birds. But as Glenn gets out for a closer look, the birds suddenly spring back to life and start viciously attacking and pecking at him. Patricia manages to get him back into the car, they speed away, and stop at a gas station to get directions to the nearest hospital as Glenn’s wounds already appear to be infected and leaking a strange goo. But the station is deserted -- well, save for one ninja zombie armed with a machete, who attacks Patricia, in a pretty intense scene, until she manages to set it on fire and escapes while the burning corpse sends the whole station up in smoke.

Back at the Winnebago, the occupants, Nancy (Reinthaler), Carol (Loi), Lia (Bergamini), Suzanna (Totengco), Jane, and her boyfriend, Tom, and Joe (all uncredited), the driver, are also attacked by a flock of zombified birds and are run off the road. The three soldiers manage to extricate everyone, and they all seem relatively okay except for Lia, who took the brunt of the bird attack; and her wounds, like Glenn’s, are already festering. They all limp to the now deserted Sweet River Resort, unaware that a horde of infected zombies are about to make their presence known. Meantime, the phone lines are dead, and so Bo and Carol take the jeep to go and find a doctor for Lia while the rest search the hotel for any supplies. And as the others search upstairs, Kenny and Roger find a crate of M-16s and a flame-thrower in the basement because, sure, why the hell not.

Out on the road, Bo and Carol can’t suss out where all the people have gone. And then the jeep overheats and comes to a halt. Bo struggles with the radiator cap, while Carol goes in search of some water to replenish the reservoir. She finds more than she needs with a community swimming pool, but something else is lurking just below the surface. When Bo hears her screaming, he finds her struggling in the pool and jumps in to save her. But when he pulls the girl out, her legs are gone -- completely chewed off from the buttocks down! 

And worse yet, Carol dies from this trauma, instantly reanimates, and attacks Bo, who manages to escape her and the massing horde of zombies due to the timely arrival of Patricia and Glenn. But this trio doesn’t get much further down the road before Glenn finally dies and zombifies, causing Patricia to wreck the car. Here, Bo sacrifices himself so Patricia has time to jump off the bridge, where they were trapped between merging zombie gaggles, into the apparent safety of the river below.

Back at the compound, as the size of this massive zombie outbreak comes into focus, Holder and his team feverishly work to find an antidote for Death-One -- and you’d think they would’ve worked on that concurrently but, eh, who am I to judge? Morton also gives the order for his stormtroopers to head back out and start eradicating zombies and civilians -- you know, just in case they’re infected, too. But even that may not be enough as Holder feels the infection has already reached the atmosphere due to Morton’s blundering, and may not be restricted to just this island anymore.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, our merry band starts getting picked off -- and none more ridiculously than Jane and Tom, who head to the kitchen to round up some food only to fall victim to a dismembered zombie-head they find in the fridge, which magically flies through the air and eats Tom while the rest of the body thunders on scene and kills Jane. Wow. No. Really. Wow!

Elsewhere, Lia turns, kills Suzanna, and nearly kills Nancy before her victim manages to throw the zombie off the balcony. Also of note, a soggy Patricia shows up and warns a horde of zombies is right behind her, which leads to a barricading scene, where these rocket-scientists use the thinnest of wooden slats to build a barricade, proving Darwin right once again.

So, we’re down to only four survivors now -- Nancy, Patricia, Kenny and Roger, who were forced to abandon the hotel and are now seeking refuge in a hospital, where they once again split up. (Insert head-slap here.) The place appears to be deserted, too, except for a woman in labor that Patricia and Nancy find. Nancy moves to help this woman, while Patricia must fend off Zombie-Glenn -- and where the hell did he come from?! Anyhoo, Patricia manages to lop Glenn’s head off, but Nancy gets her face torn off by another zombie while yet another, apparently full grown zombie, bursts from the pregnant woman’s womb and finishes her off. Again, wow, and wow again.

Thus and thus, the last three survivors flee both the zombies and Morton’s clean-up crew. They make it to a helicopter, but only Roger and Patricia manage to get on board and take off, losing Kenny, who couldn’t hang on to the skid and falls into a pack of waiting zombies. Zombies he manages to fight off only to be shot and killed by Morton’s goons. And as Roger and Patricia fly away from the island to apparent safety, radio chatter says all hope is lost and the island has been completely overrun with zombies.

One of the few fun parts of enduring this film is guessing who filmed what from scene to scene; but even this isn’t all that hard as Fulci’s contributions have some juice and are kinda creepy in spots, while, as a surprise to no one, the Mattei material is rather bland and the rush to get it in the can shows pretty badly. Basically, anything with Holder, Morton, and the hazmat suit guys were all shot later. And when it was finally finished for a second time, Zombi 3 consisted of about 50 minutes of Fulci material and 40 minutes of Mattei and Fragasso supplements. And I will give editor Alberto Moriani a lot of credit for making at least some sense out of a whole lot of nonsense.

Some of my favorite Fulci touches are the constant cutaways to Blue Heart (Del Russel), the lone DJ of the Apocalypse, who serves as commentator and Greek chorus as this film plays out, which ends on a bit of a twist when it's revealed he was infected all along. And I think Carol’s death at the pool must’ve been shot while Fulci was still giving a shit about the production as it's’ quite gruesome and provides a nice shock moment. The two subsequent zombie kill set-pieces, however, appear to be shot after Fulci gave up as the director goes completely bonkers with the pregnant chest-burster-face-rip combo and the dismembered, gravity-defying head in the fridge. Fulci would later claim the fridge gag was the only segment of the movie he was ever proud of.

Thus, this movie is a mess, and tonally inconsistent. However, after hearing about how gloriously awful and stupid this film was over the years, having now finally seen it, sad to say Zombi 3 kinda fell flat on me. And strangely, I think one of the things that turned me off the most was the ongoing inconsistencies with the zombies themselves: some are shamblers, others are fast and have mad ninjutsu skills; some are brainless, others can lay traps; and some can even talk, seek revenge, or spin some records. And to stop them, it appears a bullet to the head is no longer necessary as most seem to go down easily enough with a few bullets or sustained trauma, while others stubbornly refuse to go down. (And we’re not even talking about the head in the fridge.) That’s not how this is supposed to work, gentlemen. We need rules on these things. And once established, kindly stick to them. Fulci’s attitude on this I get, but Mattei and Fragasso I will just chalk up to brass incompetence.

Zombi 3 was released in Italy in July, 1988, after the censors had their say, where it was probably confused with Andrea Bianchi's Burial Ground (1981), which was released on video as Zombi 3: Nights of Terror; or Marino Girolami's Zombie Holocaust (1980), which used both aliases of Zombi 3 and Doctor Butcher M.D.; and José Luis Merino’s The Hanging Woman (1973), also known as Zombie 3: Return of the Living Dead; or even Mattei’s own Hell of the Living Dead (1981), which was in circulation as Zombie 3: Zombie Inferno AND as Zombi 4.

Man, trying to keep all that straight really makes my head hurt. And to think, there’s at least four more sequels, but then take that number and multiply it by six and you’ll have the true scope of films claiming to be part of this franchise over the years. Alas, none of these were made by Fulci, who had long promised a worthy sequel to Zombie / Zombi 2 before his death to atone for Zombi 3, but this never came to be. And that’s too bad.

What is Hubrisween? This is Hubrisween. And now, Boils and Ghouls, be sure to follow this linkage to keep track of the whole conglomeration of reviews for Hubrisween right here. Or you can always follow the collective head of knuckle on Letterboxd. That's 26 reviews up, and 26 reviews down, Boils and Ghouls! Up Next: We're gonna take a much needed break as we contemplate joining in on this nonsense again next year, which would mean I would have to review Fragrasso's Zombi 4: After Death. Eek! And eek again! Happy Hallowe'en, everybody!

Zombi 3 (1988) Flora Film :: Media Blasters / P: Franco Gaudenzi / D: Lucio Fulci, Claudio Fragasso, Bruno Mattei / W: Rossella Drudi, Claudio Fragasso, Lucio Fulci / C: Riccardo Grassetti / E: Alberto Moriani / M: Stefano Mainetti / S: Deran Sarafian, Beatrice Ring, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua, Massimo Vanni, Ulli Reinthaler, Deborah Bergamini, Antone Pagán, Robert Marius, Mike Monty
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