I’ve been in love with the work of Italian horror legend Lucio Fulci since the age of ten, when I saw his undead classic Zombie (1979); from the smiling undead VHS box art to the creeping, gory grey dread contained within, I was hooked. That was the movie easy to find at the boom of the video era, as it was a big hit and everyone stocked it; but further success eluded his work on North American shores, and the horror buff had to scrounge and scour to find his releases. (Except for The Gates of Hell; that one did make it over.) Nearly ten years after his biggest hit (which was an unofficial sequel to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and released in Italy as Zombi 2 to Romero’s retitled Zombi), he was set to make a triumphant return to gut munching glory. The result? Zombi 3 (1988), a wonderfully batshit half a Fulci lovingly restored by the demented folks at Severin Films, who continue to drag the underseen into the light for seasoned collectors and neophytes alike. And trust me, half a Fulci is much better than none at all.
So why is Zombi 3 half a Fulci? A large part of the film’s notoriety, the blood stained asterisk splattered beside its name, is due to the fact that he turned in a cut of the film that was only around an hour. A convergence of ill health and ill prep work before jetting to the Philippines left him less than satisfied with the footage; he shot around 40 minutes of usable footage and 20 of our heroes floating on a canoe, before returning to Rome. Producer Franco Gaudenzi, less than pleased and knowing the river footage would have to go, brought in Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso to bat cleanup as they had just finished up shooting Gaudenzi’s Strike Commander 2 in the Philippines as well. Fragasso and his writing partner Rossella Drudi furiously rewrote their own screenplay to fill in the holes and fill the screen with something resembling coherence. Naturally, none of the main actors wanted to set foot back in the oppressive heat (and depending who you ask, oppressive regime), so an entire side story had to be concocted with secondary characters, and an entire new wraparound. The end result? A film no less coherent than most Italian horrors, and a hellblast of zombies, gunfire, homicidal avian, and disembodied heads flying on the attack. Maybe more movies should be made this way?
What Zombi 3 doesn’t have is that signature Fulci style, and it certainly plays not only as fractious in narrative (which is part of his aesthetic), but also in tone; Fulci could create a mood better than any other Italian horror director, save for Bava and Argento. So, I choose to look at it as a collaboration between a notoriously grumpy maestro and a couple of get it done journeymen. It’s a great, goofy blend.
Oh, the story? Well, it’s essentially Return of the Living Dead, except the Uneeda Medical Supply Company is a government run research facility. When a terrorist steals the Death One serum which reanimates the dead and he himself gets the goop on him and turns, they cremate his body which infects the air, the birds, and the people. Said government sends out the fellas in the white suits and gas masks with guns to, as they put it, “decontaminate” the populace. Toss in some good soldiers and a few tourists, stir vigorously, and pour on top of your cranium. Do not operate heavy machinery for several hours after viewing.
This vigorous mix of (literal) guts and glory has no higher purpose than lining them up and knocking them down; its done with so much energy that Zombi 3 practically vibrates off the screen. If you’re here for the Greatest Hits of Italian horror, they’re all accounted for as well; the florid dialogue, the misplaced emotion, the dubious dubbing – check, check, and check. And for those who complain about the languid pace of Italian cinema, Zombi 3 has more than enough going on all the time to keep you occupied. This isn’t a Fulci Fever Dream, it’s his 28 Days Later 20 Years Earlier.
As a fan, I have to be honest and say that The New York Ripper (1982) is the last strong and complete vision that I enjoy from Fulci. But Zombi 3 isn’t a complete vision, so I’m judging it on a different scale; what that scale is, I have no idea. I’m just glad it exists.
Of course, when you’re done watching the film, you must slide over to the Special Features, as Severin Films once again sets out a banquet for a film previously afforded no more than a silver food truck:
The Last Zombies – Interview with Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso and Co-Writer Rossella Drudi
Tough Guys – Interview with Actors/Stuntmen Massimo Vanni and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua
The Problem Solver – Interview with Replacement Director Bruno Mattei
Swimming with Zombies – Interview with Actress Marina Loi
In the Zombie Factory – Interview with FX Artist Franco Di Girolamo
Audio Commentary with Stars Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring
All great features, with the interviews from Fragasso, Drudi, and Mattei being of particular interest to those who need to know the real story behind the legendarily troubled production. All this and a gorgeous, uncut 2K scan for the discriminate gorehound to drool over. Once again, Severin Films more than earn their keep.
Sure, Zombi 3 isn’t “pure” Fulci, but what he does contribute is as entertaining as an army of machete-wielding infected Filipinos. Which is saying a lot.
Movie Score: 4/5, Disc Score: 4.5/5