Zombie 3 Blu-ray review (originally published 2018)
A serum dubbed Death One, which reanimates dead animals, is stolen and unleashed in a small resort community. The army tries to contain the spread of murderous living dead, while a group of GIs and coeds on vacation fight for survival.
In 1979, a hard-working Italian industry regular named Lucio Fulci finally achieved an international breakthrough with Zombi 2 – released as Zombie stateside and Zombie Flesh Eaters in the UK). The film was marketed as a bogus sequel to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), which was called Zombi in the region and, when Fulci’s outrageously gory jungle romp managed to outsell the movie it was ripping off (though, in reality, the two films have little in common beyond their Italian titles), the trend-driven Italian film industry jumped on a new zombie bandwagon. Among these increasingly ridiculous and cheaply-made flesh-eating opuses were a number of movies that were either titled or retitled to imply that they were part of the same faux-franchise as Romero and Fulci’s films.
By and large, these movies are remembered by other names – for instance, very few fans remember Andrea Bianchi’s Burial Ground (Italian: Le notti del terrore; aka: The Nights of Terror, 1981) as Zombie 3 – but there is a small canon of movies that are generally considered Zombi 2 sequels, in part due to their shared production credits, but also due to the way they were shared and compiled on home video. These are: Fulci & Bruno Mattei’s Zombie 3 (1988), which was actually planned as a direct follow-up; Claudio Fragasso’s After Death (Italian: (Italian: Oltre la Morte, 1988), which was initially retitled Zombie 4 for Japanese home video; and Claudio Lattanzi’s zombie-free Killing Birds (Italian: Uccelli assassini, 1988), which was renamed Zombie 5: Killing Birds by DVD American distributor Shriek Show.
The Italian extreme horror wave that Fulci had helped kick-off (along with increasingly violent giallo thrillers and cannibal movies) was comparatively short-lived, because it spawned at a time when grindhouses and drive-ins were rapidly being replaced by home video as the prime market for niche genre titles. Awkwardly, the international fanbase was broadening at the same time that its distribution was shrinking. Fulci, who had already made three superior and reasonably successful zombie-themed movies in the years directly following Zombi 2, was on an industry-driven career downturn and was initially eager to revisit his biggest money-maker. Fan magazines (the internet forums of their era) exploded with excitement at the prospect of the Godfather of Gore returning to his stomping grounds. That enthusiasm was quelled when it was reported that Fulci had been replaced by Bruno Mattei, who had drawn ire with his first zombie movie, Hell of the Living Dead (Italian: Virus - l'inferno dei morti viventi; aka: Night of the Zombies and Zombie Creeping Flesh, 1980). According to Fulci, Fragasso and Rossella Drudi’s script was so bad that he chose to cut the whole thing down to about 70 minutes. Fragasso himself seems to verify this and stated that producer Franco Gaudenzi demanded a longer film. Other versions of the story, sometimes attributed to Gaudenzi, claim that Fulci, who had been suffering from diabetes (some say cancer, which is probably inaccurate), was simply too ill to complete the project. The truth is probably a mix of the two.
What’s more important is how the division of labour worked for the film and the results were troublingly generic. Expectedly, there’s none of Fulci’s early ‘80s era gothic glory, though, strangely enough, it doesn’t really feel very much like the less impressive STV movies he had been churning more recently, either; outside of the foggy, diffused look that was popular for the time. Zombi 3 isn’t even particularly Mattei-esque, but there are some especially tedious slow-motion shots of characters skulking around in white hazmat suits, as also seen in Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of Terror (Italian: Rats - Notte di terrore, 1984). Given what we know about Fulci’s drastically short original cut and what was said about its tone, I do think we can credit Zombie 3’s incredibly frantic action scenes to the maestro. That said, both directors and writers were clearly inspired by Dan O'Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead, which had popularized the concept of running, cognitive, tool-using zombies a few years prior in 1985 (Umberto Lenzi’s pseudo-zombie Nightmare City had done something similar as early as 1980).
Zombie 3 is not good – not even by the specific standards of trashy Italian horror – but, if we separated it from that short-lived golden era of post-Dawn of the Dead Italian splatter and couple it with the faster and dirtier mid-’80s action model, it manages to surpass a glut of uninspired, made for the video market Z-exploitation. Like Fulci’s worst and Mattei’s best, it is propelled past its boringest moments with sudden bursts of insanity and ridiculous violence. The fact that it was cobbled together from at least two different productions makes for a particularly patchy experience, which I suppose is part of the charm. If anything, the boring parts are so dumbfoundingly dull that they kind of circle around to being amusing. And, once you accept that the storyline makes even less sense than the typical Italian splatter thriller (the shortest description is “Return of the Living Dead meets Hell of the Living Dead”), it’s easy enough to sit calmly and rub your hands with anticipation for the next sprightly action sequence and gooey gore scene. Highlights include a manic bird attack on a Winnebago, a zombie going nuts with a machete only to be blown to bits when he cuts a gas line, and a floating head that inexplicably flies out of a fridge to eat a man’s throat.
Zombie 3 was apparently shot on 35mm, but its foggy cinematography, gritty handheld look, and fact that it was really made for the VHS market set it well below the likes of Zombie. It was never released on tape in the US, though it eventually appeared on DVD from multiple countries, but the only worthwhile versions came from Shriek Show in the US and Another World Entertainment in Norway. Severin’s North American Blu-ray debut is reportedly taken from a new 2K scan and supposedly different from 88 Films’ 2015 UK BD transfer, despite the two companies occasionally sharing sources. I don’t have the 88 Films disc on hand, so I’m only comparing Severin’s 1080p, 1.66:1 transfer to memories of the Shriek Show DVD and old VHS bootlegs. Overall, I’m pleasantly surprised with the quality of the image. Grain levels appear natural, rather than buzzy and chunky, which is an important distinction, given all of the diffused white lights. Sharpness and dynamic quality can shift wildly from scene to scene, but this makes sense, given that two different crews shot the movie. The lush Filipino locations and use of green/red gels ensure that colors are rich and punchy. Print damage is limited to a handful of vertical lines and spots. Compression artifacts are slightly more common and crop up in the form of hot spot bursts.
This disc does not include the original Italian dub, but that doesn’t really matter, since the film was shot without sound (in the Philippines, with a mixed Filipino, American, and Italian cast) and largely intended for an international video release. Also, the English dialogue sits around Mystery Science Theater 3000 levels of hilariousness. You wouldn’t want to miss it. The English dub is presented in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio mono sound. The track is loud without major distortion issues or volume inconsistencies. Sound range and depth is also decent, considering the single channel treatment. Stefano Mainetti’s energetic, danceable soundtrack is a major highlight, though he recycles a small handful of themes.
Commentary with actors Beatrice Ring and Deran Sarafian – This light-hearted track isn’t particularly informative, since neither actor has much knowledge about the production, but it’s still pleasant enough, because everyone is having fun.
The Last Zombies (18:49, HD) – Co-writer/uncredited co-director Claudio Fragasso and uncredited co-writer Rossella Drudi talk about the extensive behind-the-scenes issues. Fragasso paints himself as the good guy of the situation – one who refused to do rewrites/reshoots without Fulci’s permission, which is contrary to older interviews, but not uncommon or even necessarily untrue. Drudi is a bit less charitable, which leads to disagreements.
Tough Guys (4:55, SD) – Actors/stuntmen Massimo Vanni and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua recall shooting the film on abandoned Apocalypse Now sets, working with Fulci and Mattei, and coordinating/performing the wacky action scenes.
The Problem Solver (8:30, SD) – In this archival interview with Mattei, the co-director discusses the logistics of filming the new scenes for his cut.
Swimming with Zombies (4:30, SD) – A second archival interview with actress Marina Loi, who recalls working in the Philippines and shooting her particularly spectacular death/rebirth scene.
In the Zombie Factory (5:56, SD) – In the final archival interview, FX artist Franco Di Girolamo talks about his work, complete with props – some of which still kind of work.
CD soundtrack (limited edition exclusive)
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.