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Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (1988)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (1988)

Terrorists steal a secret toxin from a secret military base which infects one of them during the botched heist. He is promptly killed by the army and his body is incinerated. However the ash produced from the incinerator gets into the air and the toxin proceeds to reawaken the dead as flesh-hungry monsters. A trio of soldiers on leave help a group of teenagers stranded in the outskirts of town fend off the zombies. All the while, the army is trying to prevent the spread of the toxin by forming a quarantine zone and killing anyone who comes out of it.

 

Bear with me here. This is a review for Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (to give the film the name that it received on the UK DVD release that I watched). However its original title is Zombi 3. You see it’s a supposedly a sequel to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2, which is more commonly known as Zombie Flesh Eaters. And Zombi was the name given to George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead when it was released in Italy, to which Fulci’s Zombi 2 was marketed as a sequel. This is all well and good because to throw a further spanner in the works, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (this film) has nothing to do with any of the films made by anyone before it and instead seems to be an Italian knock-off of Return of the Living Dead, complete with rock music opening sequence and a zombie epidemic that is caused through the ashes of a cremated zombie. And for good measure the film also includes ideas from The Crazies and The Birds, just to cover all of its bases. So with all of this in mind, it’s time to get cracking with the review.

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 will never win any awards for the quality of its final output but I have to say that, unashamedly, it’s one of my favourite zombie flicks simply for the fact that it’s a lot of goofy fun. Its uber-trash: terribly-edited, badly scripted, features a random plot which zips all over the place for the sake of creating set pieces and contains some jokey zombie make-up effects. But if you like cheese, including flying zombie heads that stealth-attack from freezers and the US army developing the gas canister which they worrying call Death One, then you’re going to have a field day with this one.

Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 has little plot. Once the virus has spread and zombies are on the loose, then it becomes little more than one chase-and-escape scene after the next as the characters attempt to flee for their lives from the hordes. I guess the writers had a great time coming up with set pieces but having to build a film around them seems like an ask too much. The film generally repeats itself over and over again, as a couple of characters split up from the others, go looking for something and then end up being attacked and eaten by the zombies. Rarely anyone survives whenever they’ve been the focus of the film for the last five minutes! Thankfully there’s a rather generous cast to dwindle down for the finale so you’re never a few minutes away from another flesh feast. And feast you shall because the effects team have a field day with the kills in this one. Aforementioned flying zombie head aside (because it looks rubbish), there’s a whole array of meaty dispatches which happen regularly and culminate with a zombie baby.

The ‘Godfather of Gore’ Lucio Fulci directed most of this but Bruno Mattei took over the reins and finished the film at some point when Fulci fell seriously ill mid-shoot with only fifty minutes filmed. Mattei was asked to devise a secondary plot to pad the film out with new actors and the result is a jarring and blatantly obvious dual-plot film which rarely crosses threads in any cohesive manner. You get the feeling you are watching two films.

It’s pretty easy to spot who filmed what though as Mattei, not noted for his amazing films, apparently just added loads of things that he thought would look good to the film. Fulci’s moments have tension and a sense of atmosphere and dread. His scenes are properly shot, constructed as best as they could be and generally give you the sense that the guy knew what he was doing behind the camera, even if it didn’t translate well in the final film. His scenes include the shot of the zombies waiting outside the hotel with lots of fog blowing around, eerie blue lights back-lighting the figures and a haunting score building up anticipation of the attack. In other words, the best bits of the film. Mattei’s scenes are blatantly hack-job quality, with all the trademarks of his other low brow horror films like Zombie Creeping Flesh (don’t ask what the name is supposed to mean) and Monster Shark in evidence here.

Perhaps this also explains why the zombies act differently depending on the requirements of the scene. Some of the zombies can run, some walk and amble around slowly, some hide away in the bushes or behind walls and spring out at their victims, others just let them walk past without batting an undead eyelid and some pull ninja-like moves. Some of them even start to use weapons like machetes. I think it was George A. Romero who once said that as soon as zombies started to move quickly and act human, then they might as well be any other cinematic monster. Zombies with weapons and running at full pace towards their unarmed and injured victims seems to be a bit of a mismatch in my eyes. I don’t know whether this inconsistency was down to the duel directing but it’s annoying, frustrating and really harms the film.

 

Far too disjointed to be anything but a cheesy midnight viewing with a few mates and beers, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 is an unbelievably idiotic, incoherent and inconsistent splatter flick that does deserve a lot of the flak it gets from fans of Italian horror – but I can’t help but be entertained by its nonsensical charms. It was one of my first forays into Italian horror and therefore holds a unique place in my cinematic splatter education, becoming one of my favourite zombie films. Plus the soundtrack is rather good!

 

 ★★★★★★★★☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)

Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)

They eat the living

After a chemical leak at the Hope Centre in Papua New Guinea (an organisation devoted to feeding underdeveloped countries) turns its staff into flesh-eating zombies, a four-man commando squad led by Mike London are sent to investigate. They run into a TV news crew led by celebrity reporter Lea, who are after the same story, but what they discover is that the area is overrun with zombies and the virus is quickly spreading.

 

Known in various countries as anything from Virus to Hell of the Living Dead to Zombie Creeping Flesh (which is the guise under which I’m reviewing this), it makes no difference what title is slapped on the credits, there’s one thing that will never change: this is a terrible film. Coming in the midst of the Italian zombie and cannibal horror boom of the late 70s/1980s, Zombie Creeping Flesh is like a ‘best of’ selection box, featuring all of the hallmarks of this exploitation sub-genre (cheapness, nastiness and violence) and throwing in as much from both the zombie films and the cannibal films it is stealing from.

I’ll give credit to the overall plot idea – that the rich nations of the world have developed a toxin which turns the population of the Third World into cannibals, letting them eat each other so that we can pilfer their resources – but in the hands of cult Italian exploitation director Bruno Mattei, arguably one of the worst directors I’ve had the misfortune of enduring, the overall idea was never going to matter. That’s because Mattei does his usual hack job, helming what only can be called a complete shambles of a production. The narrative is a mess, more so than Mattei’s usual films, and seems to have been stuck together with only the flimsiest of ideas.

Not only does the story make no sense and flitter from scene to scene with little to no furthering of the plot, but Mattei feels the need to add even more randomness into proceedings by splicing in all manner of nonsensical stock footage of animals and the rain forest. Getting bored of a scene between actors? Mattei goes ahead and slaps in some random footage of an owl in mid-flight. Or maybe a monkey flying through the trees might be more suited to your tastes. The stock footage inserts don’t even come during natural transitions – they’re just inserted into the film whenever the editor has either got bored, forgotten to edit properly or made a massive cock-up and had to put something in as a filler. Words alone can’t really describe how bad and disjointed this footage is.

The script continues to baffle the mind the further the film progresses. Despite knowing and being constantly reminded by their crazy comrade that the only way to kill the zombies is to shoot them in the head, the bulk of the soldiers continue to fire away without a care in the world, frustrated at their attempts to stop the hordes from getting closer. The zombies move slowly and I mean slowly. Mostly it’s meant to be for dramatic effect, as hapless victims stand petrified to the spot and allow the zombies to get closer to them, arms outstretched and moaning horribly. But it has the tendency to slow down action scenes to a crawl. It’s an agonising wait for the zombies to catch up to their ‘meals’ and some characters see it as an opportunity to prance around them and taunt them. Not a good move amidst a swarm of flesh-eaters. Some of the zombies have a habit of remaining perfectly still and allowing the humans to walk up on them from behind to see if they’re ok – cue the quick turn and face the camera to reveal the zombie ready and eager to bite! Pretty clever tactic if you ask me but what happens if no one comes up to you?

For no apparent reason, the survivors run into a cannibal tribe in the middle of the rain forest. Well I say for no apparent reason but knowing Bruno Mattei, the reason is perfectly clear – it’s to pad out the running time with a load of copious stock footage of an actual tribe from Papua New Guinea. The footage of the burial ceremony was real and has been lifted from a documentary – kind of a tasteless thing to do by sticking it right in the middle of a tacky exploitation film where the recently deceased is then turned into a flesh-eating zombie. It’s no wonder there’s so little dialogue during the ten to fifteen minutes of screen time that this portion of the film receives. It’s such a distracting sidestep from the zombie carnage that preceded it that you wonder whether the survivors really have a clue what is going on, let alone the audience.

Mattei has also copiously ‘borrowed’ the soundtrack from other films scored by Goblin. I say ‘borrowed’ because apparently the producers allowed him access to the music but it still reeks of cheapness. There are cues from Dawn of the Dead and Contamination in there. Whilst the soundtracks are a little jarring because they don’t really correspond to what is happening on screen, the fact that they’re kick ass soundtracks in their own right means at least they’re getting appreciated once more.

At least there’s one thing you can expect from a Mattei film and that’s copious amounts of gore. The bulk of the film features the usual neck biting and arm chewing zombie action that you’d expect. It’s in the finale where the money shot lies: an awesome tongue-ripping, fist-smashing, eye-popping sequence in which one character suffers a horrific fate at the hands of an off-screen assailant. It’s a great set piece which comes about thirty seconds before the credits roll.

 

Zombie Creeping Flesh is one of the tackiest zombie films ever to come out of Italy, a derivative, badly-made mess which stops and starts as much as one of its walking dead stars. A truly bad movie on every level, there is some enjoyment to be had out of identifying how many other films Zombie Creeping Flesh rips off in some way but even hardened Italian horror veterans will find this tough work.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

After a space capsule returns without its compliment of astronauts and only strange blue rocks in their place, psychic cave explorer Thelma receives one such similar rock as a gift from a friend. Taking it with her on a spelunking trip into underground caves, Thelma and her friends soon realise that the rocks are host to alien lifeforms. Once hatched, it appears that mankind is no longer the dominating force on Earth.

 

Ah the good old Italians and their shameless exploitation. During the late 70s and early 80s, Italian cinema saw an explosion of films ‘loosely based’ on successful American films – by ‘loosely based’ I mean these films were billed as ‘sequels’ to US blockbusters (like Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters, which was marketed as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, released as Zombi in Italy – confused?). These unauthorised sequels drew the ire of Hollywood but, in the case of Alien 2: On Earth, where Ridley Scott’s seminal classic Alien was the target, the courts actually decided in favour of the Italians due to some obscure 1930s book called Alien and the inability of anyone to trademark the Alien name at that point. It’s a good job that we film buffs can distinguish the difference between a true sequel (Aliens) and a dodgy hack-job cash-in like this! Think of The Asylum or SyFy and the sort of terrible cash-ins they release today like War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave or Titanic II (yes that does exist!) to give you a flavour of what these older films were like.

Alien 2: On Earth is terrible. There’s no sugar-coating the issue. Even as a failed ‘sequel’ it doesn’t even attempt to make any connections to Ridley Scott’s film – I’m assuming the opening shots of the astronaut landing on Earth are meant to be Ripley and the emergency shuttle from Alien? Who knows because there are so many ideas floating around in the first fifteen minutes that it’s almost impossible to get the gist of what is happening. As well as the space landing, we’re introduced to a psychic spelunker (the main character) who foresees lots of doom and then a kid finds a rock on the beach which can explode and melt away faces. It’s a trying time to sit through and Alien 2: On Earth trudges its way slowly along, without any real focal point, and clearly just padding out a lot of screen time before the alien finally appears.

Thankfully, the low budget doesn’t really show that much once the action switches the caves. There is a decent amount of suspense created with the minimal use of lighting in the dark caverns and, coupled with the use of the lamps on the characters’ helmets, the cinematography works better than it should do. Though nowhere near the same level of sophisticated or claustrophobic underground terror, these scenes reminded me of The Descent. I’m not sure whether they filmed on a set or real caves but it’s a credit to the film that the difference is hard to tell. Even if they’re not being attacked, there is still something unsettling and nervy about these scenes underground.

It’s in these caves where the alien finally starts to do what all sci-fi horror film aliens have to do and that’s pick off the cast. With about thirty minutes to go, Alien 2: On Earth does wield out the big guns in the form of its gory set pieces. The one trump card that the film has going for it is the practical gore effects. But if you go onto Youtube and search for the trailer, you’ll pretty much see everything in that and save you the job of sitting through the rest of the film. There’s a head explosion, melted faces, an eye-bursting moment, a gruesome internal beheading and people being crushed inside rocks. Throw in almost a full can of red paint for added effect and its decent stuff but really not worth the wait if you watch the trailer first.

The other disappointing thing is the actual title beast. The alien is never really seen in any specific appearance and seems to have multiple forms depending on the situation. Is there more than one alien? Do they come in different types? Rocks come to life to kill people. There are small flying worm-like creatures. The alien has the ability to control human bodies and make their heads explode. Then in the final scenes of the film, we get an alien POV where it appears to be some form of messy blob-like substance. As no explanation is given to the alien at any point, we’re left a little baffled as to the creature’s true appearance.

 

Alien 2: On Earth packages everything together with a creepy synth soundtrack which, coupled with the underground cinematography and borderline nasty gore scenes, do offer some moments of genre delight. However the continually-telegraphed scares, the ultra-low budget which forces the decent stuff to be put on the back burner in favour of time-consuming stock footage and conversation-heavy scenes, and general sense of ‘what the hell is going on?’ doesn’t allow Alien 2: On Earth to be anything but a long-forgotten footnote in Italian horror history. If you’re going to pretend that you’re a sequel to one of the greatest sci-fi horror films ever made, at least make an effort!

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Anthroprophagus (1980)

Anthropophagus (1980)

It’s not fear that tears you apart…it’s him!

A group of tourists take a trip to a remote Greek island where they find that the local townspeople have all disappeared. After their boat drifts away, and with no phone service or electricity, the group takes refuge in one of the abandoned houses. It isn’t long before they discover why there is no one left on the island – a crazed cannibal with a taste for human flesh is prowling the streets.

 

An ultra-notorious Italian shocker, Anthroprophagus was one of the infamous ‘Video Nasty’ titles that the UK banned in the early 80s. So shocking was one particular scene in this film that Anthroprophagus was successfully prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act in 1984 and banned from publication for over eighteen years. It joined an elite list of films to be given the boot from the video store shelves including The House by the Cemetery, Cannibal Ferox and The Last House on the Left. It’s laughable to realise that the film was passed totally uncut in 2015, just showing how times have changed and how much more de-sensitized to horror films we are nowadays.

Like a lot of the titles that were successfully prosecuted, Anthroprophagus became something of a Holy Grail for horror, where a dodgy black market of rough VHS copies were traded behind closed doors. If you wanted to see it, you’d know an uncle or the best mate of a mate who had a pre-certification copy stashed away in a loft somewhere. But this is 2016 and what was shocking in 1980 is nowhere near as bad today – not exactly saintly however! Anthroprophagus’ reputation precedes it, overshadowing it somewhat much like the reputations for the likes of Cannibal Holocaust or even The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When a film comes with a hefty reputation, nine of out ten times it usually ends up being a let-down.

Anthroprophagus is one of those nine out of ten times. What a complete dud of a horror film! Being branded a Video Nasty, you’d expect something, well, nasty or even remotely graphic and disturbing. The only reason I can see Anthroprophagus being banned was for the infamous scene in which the cannibal eats a fetus. Yes, it’s pretty gross to see though this is more to do with the thought and implications of what he’s doing rather than actually watching him tuck into a piece of butcher’s meat. The rest of the kills are tame and fairly weak given the nature of other Italian horror films from around the same time period and what they were doing in regards to gore. Ironically the best kill is saved for the end of the film and features a pick axe and a load of intestines. It’s scant pay-off for the previous eighty or so minutes.

Talky and with a plodding pace, Anthroprophagus will try and test the patience of hardened genre fans. Those weaned on giallo or late 70s/early 80s Italian horror flicks may be able to cope with the tedious speed of the narrative but anyone dipping in to this type of film for the first time will find it immensely hard going. With little plot, the uninteresting characters mope around the desolate Greek village with little purpose for the good part of forty minutes. They just go through the motions, in particular the guys who show no distinguishing features and I’d even forgotten their names by the end. Whilst this is annoying as far as the film goes, its impact on the viewer will be more so – total disengagement from the proceedings. This means that when things do perk up in the final ten minutes, you’re already so bored that you don’t really care what happens as long as the film finishes. At least the shots of the empty village look eerie and, coupled with the suitably atmospheric synth score, add up to some decent atmosphere. It’s a shame that nothing actually happens.

The film’s best asset is its imposing killer. This cannibal monster of a man looks intimidating and has a powerful physical presence but he’s hardly used – it’s a good fifty minutes into the film before we first see him. On a number of occasions, the film teases us with appearances, where something has happened or we see a point-of-view shot. But then nothing. This can be effectively managed and we know that the killer is lurking around somewhere close. But to be scared, we need something for us to be scared of and not just thunder and lightning or cheap scares with cats jumping out from nowhere. His eventual reveal, hiding behind a closing door, is good and director Joe D’Amato, famous his skin flicks and cheap horror efforts, uses natural lighting to slowly reveal his disfigured facial features. George Eastman, who also co-wrote, stars as the cannibal and brings the film to life in the final fifteen minutes. There is a chilling sequence inside some catacombs (where aforementioned fetus is eaten) and there’s a great stalking sequence where he climbs up a ladder after Tisa Farrow – but this is literally the final ten minutes of the film. Far too little, too late to save it.

 

Anthroprophagus has clearly relied upon one or two shock moments of infamy to become the cult classic that it is today but don’t be fooled by the reputation. You can do a whole lot worse when it comes to Italian horror but this is nowhere near as deserving its status that it has. There is something memorable about Eastman’s cannibal though and he’ll stick in your mind long after watching. I guess that counts for something.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 (1989)

Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 (1989)

The dead rise again

A group of scientists in a remote island are trying to find a cure to cancer. Unfortunately their work angers a voodoo priest on the island who raises the dead. The scientists are wiped out with the exception of one little girl who manages to survive. Years later, she ends up back on the island along with a group of mercenaries and finds that the living dead are still roaming the island.

 

As was the case with the previous film, Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is a standalone Italian horror flick which was rebranded under the Flesh Eaters umbrella for release overseas. Originally titled After Death, the film has no connection to the previous entries (though laughably it struggles badly to make connections between scenes in its own film let alone a prior entry!) and was rushed out the same year as Zombie Flesh Eaters 2.

Claudio Fragasso, who took over duties from Lucio Fulci in the previous film after the director had a stroke, gets the chance to helm his own zombie film here and does a reasonable job – though having watched this, it’s easy to see which parts of Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 are his work and which are Fulci’s. Fragasso has little style and here his film is a mess of ideas, poor editing, sloppy script and awful dubbing. It shamelessly rehashes the usual zombie tropes in abundance, as well as throwing in some half-baked The Evil Dead-style book reading which is supposed to reanimate the dead through voodoo.

Consequently, none of this matters as there are people on an island filled with zombies but a little bit of effort could have been made to make the story make some sense. I mean the girl wasn’t that old when she survived the original massacre so for her to forget everything within the space of twenty years is a bit far-fetched given the traumatic nature of the incident. There’s a secondary story about a trio of explorers looking for the old research lab and come across the book that raises the dead – even though they’ve already been raised and have been walking around the island for years. Nothing makes sense from scene to scene so just sit back and go with the flow and see what other crazy stuff happens.

The characters are your token issue bunch of military types and college kids, complete with some awful dubbing jobs. As is usually the case, the dubbing adds a certain level of comedy to proceedings and the performances of the voice actors are laughable.  As I recall, one character aggressively shouts “don’t waste any ammunition” as a bunch of the guys stand their ground outside a cabin each armed with assault rifles. No sooner had he just said those words, everyone starts unloading their magazines like they’re in a Rambo spoof. And just how did they know to shoot them in the head? It’s a well-known rule but one which every zombie film needs to establish early on in its own little universe (unless you’re in a semi-spoof like Zombieland).

Someone skimped on the zombie make-up for this one and the extras are forced to dress up in black rags, looking like lepers from an old Biblical film rather than intimidating monsters. The zombies, I assume to be sick of boring eye-gouging, throat-ripping and stomach-tearing methods of dispatch, don’t act like traditional zombies in this one. Sprinting around the forest, hopping and leaping around for their hearts content, and even talking, these killing machines have been given the ultimate upgrade: the ability to use firearms! Yes, these flesh-eating friends are happy to pick up an assault rifle and give as good as they get! Like in the previous film, Fragasso has selective memory when it comes to presenting the threat – if the scene requires them to move slowly like the traditional walking dead, they do that. If he requires them to move like ninjas, then they do that as well. Trying to keep track of continuity is a nightmare. Almost every close-up of a zombie features it spewing a load of green goo out of its mouth.

One thing you can always count on is that the Italians always liked to get messy in their zombie films. Whilst the zombies themselves are shambolic representations of their usual deadly selves, the damage that they inflict is still as gruesome as ever. Faces get peeled back. Chests smashed out from behind. There’s plenty of grim stuff in here for gore hounds though a little bit restrained from earlier efforts. With a lot of the stuff on display, its only half-hearted commitment to the usual zombie conventions. Boxes are ticked off and the generic twists and turns are all met – Fragasso’s heart is in the right place, but it’s a pity that he didn’t have the talent or budget to back it up.

 

Like the previous film, Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 is almost totally inept but has an innocent, goofy charm which is almost impossible to hate on. A grand Z-grade movie which is good for laughs and seeing how far the film can dazzle you with its ludicrousness, it will not win any awards for quality but has bags of a different kind of entertainment.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

When the dead first walked, they had no time for appetizers.

The sole survivor of the treasure-hunting group who become stuck on a zombie-infested island, no one believes Sharon Dimao’s story about what happened. That is until the shady Tyler Corporation approach her a few months later and ask her to return to the island with a team of soldiers. The corporation had sent a team to the island to experiment on some subjects but they have now lost contact. Reluctantly, Sharon agrees to go back but on the island they find that the corporation has been attempting to breed a new species with human subjects…with disastrous consequences.

 

Cult Italian exploitation horror director Bruno Mattei’s final film, Zombies: The Beginning, is a sequel of sorts to Island of the Living Dead which goes off on an even more bizarre tangent than simply revisiting the zombie formula again. I mean, does the above plot sound familiar to you? A sole female survivor, scarred by a previous encounter with a hostile lifeform, is coerced into going somewhere with a team of soldiers to face down her fears on behalf of some shady corporation. Mattei, producer Giovanni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori have literally ripped off the entire script for James Cameron’s Aliens. And I don’t even mean the plot, I mean pretty much everything! It’s virtually a frame-by-frame re-run of the sci-fi horror classic only with zombies in place of aliens. Considering Universal threatened a lawsuit over Enzo G. Castellari’s Jaws rip-off The Great White for being a blatant copy, you’d have expected 20th Century Fox to have done something similar here.

The great thing about this is that Aliens is a fantastic film and so by copying the format scene-by-scene, you shouldn’t really go wrong – unless you had the budget and talent of Mattei. The pace and the flow of the film is great once they’ve figured out what happened to the scientists. I guess the ‘fun’ with Zombies: The Beginning is to try and watch it with Aliens running through the back of your mind. Remember how Cameron’s classic pans out and try and see how closely this follows it. See how they’re literally aped some scenes shot-for-shot. See what they’ve substituted in given that we’re not dealing with xenomorphs but zombies and weird mutant kids with large heads. See how some of the well-rounded characters like Hicks and Hudson appear in cheap Italian knock-off form (Hudson’s ‘replacement’ is hilariously bad in this).

Not only is the script directly lifted from Aliens but the explosions are stock footage and there’s even a copious amount of footage from The Hunt For Red October as a submarine heads to the island to rescue the survivors. Allegedly you can briefly see the likes of Viggo Mortensen and Denzil Washington but I wasn’t paying full attention to the film at the time. Mattei also recycles some zombie dream footage from the beginning over and over and over and over again to the point of nausea. In a consumer world where we are continually encouraged to recycle to save the planet, Mattei was taking it to new levels in his filmmaking.

It’s hard to get rid of the thoughts of Aliens when watching Zombies: The Beginning but the actors do a good job in trying to make us forget. Just like in the previous film, the acting is appalling and the dubbing is even worse. The actors deliver their lines unnaturally, with stilted tones and plenty of stops and starts – it’s just not a natural way of talking. Characters shout certain lines when they don’t need to. They whisper others when the situation calls for the opposite. Clearly this is not the total fault of the actual actors, though their mannerism and facial expressions don’t exactly match the situations they’re in, but of the voice over artists who did the dubbing. The worst offender is Gerhard Acao, who plays this film’s equivalent of Pvt. Hudson – his absurd over-performance actually enhances the film. It’s like he channelled the spirit of Bill Paxton whilst doing an enormous amount of cocaine before shooting began.

With the Aliens script providing predictable plot turns (for those who have seen Cameron’s film that is), the film runs like clockwork for the most. However, it’s the finale where everything goes bonkers in Zombies: The Beginning. We’re introduced to this film’s version of the alien queen, a gigantic brain, along with her mutant zombie-hybrid children, and their enslaved horde of pregnant women giving birth to zombie babies in incubation machines (which is pointless given that zombie bites turn people into zombies – so why the need for babies?). I’m not sure what Mattei was smoking at this point but whatever it was must have been strong because this finale is just absurd and a complete deviation from everything that had gone before it. It is still fun though because it’s finally unshackling itself from the Aliens script, albeit slightly and temporarily.

 

You’ll have more fun with Zombies: The Beginning than a lot of Mattei’s films. Whether it’s the shameless way he pulverises Aliens into the ground or just the fact that there’s a lot of gore and mayhem to keep you entertained throughout, Zombies: The Beginning is a fitting epitaph to a man, and a whole genre, that provided bucket loads of splatter nonsense without much fuss.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

Zombie Holocaust (1980)

Tonight, the dead shall rise again

In New York, body parts are going missing from a morgue. It is discovered that one of the hospital orderlies, a member of a cannibal tribe from a small island in the East Indies, is responsible. Anthropologist Lori Ridgway recognises the name of the island and, along with fellow expert Dr Peter Chandler, his assistant George and news reporter Susan, they head off on an expedition to track down the cannibals. However when they arrive on the island, cannibals are not the only problem that they face as a rogue doctor has been experimenting on the dead.

 

Zombies! Cannibals! Mad doctors performing unnecessary surgery! Zombie Holocaust has it all. Coming hot on the heels of the successes (and notoriety) of Italian cannibal films (most famously represented by Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust) and zombie films (Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters), a producer clearly had a quick brain surge and decided that a combination of the two would lead to even greater rewards. The result of this unholy union is Zombie Holocaust, another of the legendary cult classic Italian splatter films of the 80s and made in the same year. Its mixed reputation proceeds it and it is definitely a love/hate kind of film.

For a start, Zombie Holocaust is a mess of ideas so it’s best to just unplug your brain and go with the flow. The film works better as a ‘tribute’ piece to its inspirational predecessors and director Marino Girolami certainly demonstrates that he has seen many of them with a ‘best of’ selection. In between the set pieces, the narrative does its best to keep the thin plot from falling apart…but let’s face it, as soon as the characters set foot on the island you don’t really care what happens because you know they’re going to suffer. The similarities with Zombie Flesh Eaters are obvious – openings both set in New York, Ian McCulloch playing pretty much the same character (and dressed like he’s off on safari), a small group of white folk heading off to what suspiciously looks like the same island, having the same guide and arriving at the same church building for the finale.

The writing is so weak and flimsy that you wonder why they bothered to begin with. How is this mad scientist doing Frankenstein-like experiments in a shanty hut in the middle of an island without any real equipment save for an operating table, some drips and a few scalpels? Why would a doctor and a nurse from the hospital decide to take an expedition to the cannibal island? What were they hoping to accomplish there? Why, when one of the female members of the expedition is captured by the cannibals, do the survivors just shrug shoulders and decide to escape? There are so many questions that this film raises. But the beauty is that by the end of it, you won’t care.

Everyone knows that it’s going to be exploitative but you will never guess at how badly. From having lead actress Alexandra Delli Colli get stripped full-frontal and placed onto a large sacrificial rock (which looks suspiciously like the one Ursula Andress got strapped to in The Mountain of the Cannibal God) to the copious amount of intestines on display, Zombie Holocaust punches for the lowest common denominators to hook its audience. Combining the two bloodiest sub-genres going promised that Zombie Holocaust would be a messy ride and it was certainly that. From open skull brain surgery to a zombie getting a motor boat propeller right to the face, there are plenty of gory set pieces on display. However it is the cannibals who get a bigger slice of the action and they’re very handy when it comes to offing the cast early on. Porters are killed left, right and centre with bamboo traps and such and one of the unlucky Westerners falls victim to a bunch of them who slice open his stomach and gouge his eyes out. Its intense stuff and extremely gory. Sadly, the zombies don’t do an awful lot and only appear for the first time around the fifty-five minute mark. They leave the flesh-eating to the living.

One thing that these Italian horrors usually guarantee is an excellent soundtrack, regardless of the eventual quality of the visuals and composer Nico Fidenco doesn’t disappoint here. He recycles an earlier soundtrack from Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals but the keyboard emits a nice brooding, ominous vibe to certain scenes. The other aspect of the sound, the dubbing, is done reasonably well but it’s easy to see that the actors were there for a holiday and no more. As I’ve said, Ian McCulloch plays pretty much the same character as he did in Zombie Flesh Eaters and stands around looking scared or getting involved in the action as and when he needs to be the hero. It is Donald O’Brien as Dr Obrero who has the most fun, delivering scene-chewing cheesy lines such as “I could easily kill you now, but I’m determined to have your brain!” with so much unnatural depth and feeling.

 

It’s not one of Italian horror’s shining lights of the two sub-genres it straddles but there’s no denying that Zombie Holocaust isn’t a lot of silly, sleazy and gory fun. You’ll be reminded of all of the other films that it is ripping off but the innocent way it tries to stick it all together will have you forget that in a hurry. And if not, the film will drown you in glorious 80s gore instead.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Island of the Living Dead (2007)

Island of the Living Dead (2007)

Where the hungry dead feast on the flesh of the damned!

A group of sea-faring treasure hunters are forced to take shelter on an apparently deserted island when their boat becomes damaged during a storm. Exploring the island whilst repairs are being carried out, the group are unaware that the island is victim to a centuries-old curse which has reanimated the dead and they still roam the place looking to feed.

 

Cult Italian exploitation director Bruno Mattei gets a harsh rep from me most of the time due to some of his 80s hack jobs including the likes of Zombie Creeping Flesh and Rats: Night of Terror. His was a legacy of shameless filmmaking featuring copious use of stock footage, blatant plagiarising from superior films, inane dialogue, awful scripts….and that’s just for starters. Called the ‘Ed Wood’ of horror in some quarters, Mattei was never going to become one of the greats but perhaps one of the most loved. His films are awful but in an entertaining way – the master of the ‘so bad, they’re good’ horror film.

So it’s both amusing and ironic to know that, in a modern era of filmmaking where directors are desperately trying to ‘recapture’ the look and feel of horrors of the 80s, Bruno Mattei was actually still making the same films (up until his death in 2007). It’s like he missed the memo telling him that the era was done and dusted. The end of the 80s brought an end to the glorious era of Italian cinema and the classic splatter fests that we have come to know and love today. Mattei kept on going though, never losing that ‘style’ and, save for the shot-on-digital look to the film, you could have sworn Island of the Living Dead was straight out of the gory Italian zombie flick period.

I suppose this is why I wanted to like Island of the Living Dead more than I should have done (though due to the second half of the film, I ended up hating it more than I should have done!). It looks, sounds and, more importantly, feels like it was from that glory era. The plot is all over the place but finding decent narratives for Italian zombie films is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Some people arrive on an island or remote location, either looking for someone or are stranded there, and they fall prey to the hordes of the living dead. The set-up changed little in the countless Italian zombie films I’ve seen and it starts the same here. The gear change midway where the zombies start talking and explaining what the whole curse is about is confusing and things just go from bad to worse in the final third with a lot of ghostly goings on. This turns the film into a haunted house-like attraction, where the characters walk around looking in haunted mirrors, listening to phantoms playing music, drinking dodgy-looking wine and so on. This is not really that interesting and you’ll be hoping that the zombies get down to business sooner rather than later.

The make-up effects look ok – not exactly believable from a ‘these zombies have apparently been dead for hundreds of years’ point of view but they fit right at home with the traditional Italian zombie look (i.e. a bit of paint and some glued-on oats). The zombie priests look more like something from The Blind Dead films of the 70s than anything from Fulci.  The zombies are pretty useless too, unable to overpower the humans in a number of ten-to-one situations, and allow them to escape numerous times. Perhaps this explains why the gore is so thin on the ground. Those expecting a return to the glory days of the gruesome Italian zombie film will be sorely disappointed at the lack of intestine-rippings, eye-gougings and skull-smashings.

The acting is clearly appalling, even before the audio track has been looped and the characters dubbed. Lead actress Yvette Yzon is great to look at but she and the rest of the cast are mind-bogglingly awful. Literally everything they say is communicated with the wrong tone of voice. People shout when they should whisper. They talk quick and aggressive when the scene dictates a quiet word. This always used to be a problem back in the glory days of dubbing but things seem to have gotten worse now. The captain is the worst culprit, one of the most awful dubs I’ve ever seen but you clearly see that he is really acting this way in the original track by his body language and facial expressions.

 

 

Whilst many of his comrades retired or moved on, Mattei stuck it out till the last and was making these horror films right up until his death. You can’t fault him on commitment. It’s this nostalgia factor which goes a long way to papering over the multitude of sins that Mattei spoils us with. Made on a low budget and with the usual Mattei trademarks, Island of the Living Dead starts off promisingly enough but when the focus shifts away from being a throwback zombie film to the nonsense with the ghosts and talking zombies, it loses its charm factor and rarely manages to capture it again.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Killer Crocodile 2 (1990)

Killer Crocodile 2 (1990)

Liza Post is a New York journalist interested in a story about the cleaning up of a stretch of polluted river and swamp in the Caribbean which is to be made into a holiday resort. However she finds out that some barrels of radioactive material are unaccounted for when she arrives to investigate. This nuclear waste, responsible for mutating a giant crocodile that wreaked havoc in this area before it was cleaned up, has given rise to another giant crocodile which is killing off anyone unfortunate to be on the water. Crocodile hunter Kevin Jones, responsible for killing the original monster, is called on for help when Liza goes missing.

 

Quite why, in 1990, the Italians were still trying to rip off Jaws remains to be seen. That fad had all but died everywhere else thanks to the countless scores of shameless imitators in the years following Spielberg’s original. But the Italians still saw quick cash in this sub-genre and were content to churn out these progressively-worse creature features. The first Killer Crocodile was passable at best – the typical product of Italian exploitation cinema with cheap special effects, over-the-top gore, sloppy editing, actors desperately slumming and then being dubbed by even worse voice actors and soundtracks which were usually the most original thing on offer.

If a lot of Killer Crocodile 2 looks familiar, it’s because that it was shot at the same time as Killer Crocodile just with different directors shooting different parts (the special effects guy was given a week to shoot extra for this sequel). In fact the films are so alike that it’s almost impossible to tell them apart. There even seems to be a lot of similarities with earlier Italian exploitation croc flick The Big Alligator River. Three films which blur into one is never a good sign of the quality and originality of any of them. At least two of the stars of the original, Richard Anthony Crenna and Ennio Girolami, are back reprising their roles to add some continuity.

Killer Crocodile 2 is a flimsy sequel which for all intents and purposes could have been edited together using leftover footage and outtakes instead of separately-shot material. There’s little in the way of story and what there is could have been written on the back of a postage stamp. Set pieces are impractical (the croc seems to be able to rear itself out of the water and walk along the surface), laughable (one character falls off the back of the croc and the slow motion shot of him falling makes it look like he’s taken a parachute dive out of a helicopter for the amount of air time he gets) and badly edited (in one attack scene the croc’s position relevant to a boat changes with every shot, giving the impression that the croc is swimming away from its meal).

This isn’t to say that Killer Crocodile 2 doesn’t have its moments. There’s a decent attack scene in which the croc bursts through the wall of a jungle hut to snack on its occupants. Some scenes just embody the “anything goes” nature of these Italian exploitation films. In America, harming kids is a major no-go area as far as films go but the Italians think nothing of feeding a boatful of kids and their guardian nun to the crocodile after it attacks their boat. Not high on scares or quality but definitely top for some unintentional chuckles!

I’m not sure whether it’s the same crocodile model from the original or a new one but it looks alright. The problem is that you see too much of it and so its effect gets less and less over time. Crocodiles are clever hunters in real life, remaining hidden for as long as possible before they strike but this reptile is quite happy posing for the camera. In the final confrontation, it appears that a toy model with an action figure strapped to its back is thrown into a pond to recreate the effect of Kevin attempting to ride on its back. Not exactly cutting edge effects work but good for some laughs.

Riz Ortolani does his best John Williams impersonation with an overplayed score that sounds so much like the Jaws theme that it’s a wonder Universal didn’t come calling with the legal papers.

 

I think you get the message that Killer Crocodile 2 is very low on quality and originality but very high on cheap cheese. It is every inch the lazy cut-and-paste job that it was meant to be, designed to maximise profit whilst cutting costs at every opportunity. You may find some daft amusement from this but the original is a far better film overall, something that I never thought I’d see myself write.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Great White, The (1981)

The Great White (1981)

A quiet, restful summer in the lazy coastal town of Port Harbor is abruptly about to end.

A giant great white shark stakes it claims to the waters off the coast of Port Harbor, a peaceful fishing village. When a windsurfer is killed, the mayor stubbornly wants to keep the beaches open for the annual Regatta and refuses to believe there is a problem but with a huge shark killing off his guests, is that really a good idea?

 

If ever there was an award for the most blatant rip-off ever made then surely The Great White would win hands down. The Italians were noted for their ability to shamelessly exploit popular American releases by making cheap and nasty versions. One of their favourite films to ‘mimic’ was Steven Spielberg’s classic 1975 blockbuster Jaws and the country released a handful of pathetic knock-offs in the following years. But none were more blatant than The Great White, a film which follows the structure and plot of Jaws to the point where it’s almost scene-for-scene at times. This film never saw an American release because it was such a copy (even down to the poster) than Universal Studios decided to sue the producers for copyright infringement. It was promptly withdrawn from cinemas and only available on dodgy bootlegs from Europe and Japan.

But I’m not sure whether anyone from Universal actually saw the finished article because if they had, they would have realised there was nothing to worry about. As derivative as The Great White is, there is no mistaking which is the masterpiece and which is the forgery. The torrid history of this film is more notorious than its content and what you get is virtually a budget copy of Jaws with a couple of bits of Jaws 2 thrown in for good measure. Even though the film has a bit of a cheaper feel to it, you could easily pass this off as Jaws 5 – in fact it’s much more entertaining than Jaws 3 and Jaws: The Revenge both were. Make no mistake about it, The Great White is a terribly-made film. But boy, it sure is entertaining.

One of the strengths of Jaws was that when the film was landlocked or the shark wasn’t on the screen, the characters were able to hold your interest. In Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, you had a trio of great actors who all managed to captivate the audience and at times, their interplay was so good that the meddling of the shark was something of a disappointment to break-up the banter. There’s nothing of the like here and despite James Franciscus and Vic Morrow doing their best Chief Brodie/Matt Hooper (Franciscus is a combination of the two) and Quint impressions (Morrow chews the scenery like a madman), the script never makes their exchanges anything more than plodding filler in between attacks.

The highlight and the problem of the film is the same thing: the shark. There’s no question that it looks terribly phoney. It has little movement apart from opening and closing its jaws and seems to only move forward in a slow, jerky fashion. Plus it roars. But that’s precisely the fun of it – the shark looks terrible but at least it’s physically there. No CGI or stock footage sharks here, just an old school model (though stock footage is used for the shark swimming, it’s not during the actual attacks). Dummies are thrown into its mouth when it’s chewing its victims up and the shark gets well fed. It seems to swim around in slow-mo for added impact and the cheesy disco-esque theme it gets given is nowhere near the same level as John Williams’ iconic score.

This leads to all manner of gory moments as people are bitten in half or have their legs ripped off. Whereas other films have only suggested the brutality of a shark attack, The Great White is only too happy to show the consequences. The finale aboard the broken off dock is particularly memorable for an icky moment but this review wouldn’t be complete without mention of the helicopter attack. The logistics of trying to catch a shark by dangling a piece of meat out of a helicopter have to be seen to be believed and the resultant use of a miniature helicopter to film the aftermath is the highlight set piece.

 

I guess your enjoyment of The Great White will come on whether you have a tolerance for something as trashy and as blatantly exploitative as this and you desperately want to see an Italian Jaws knock-off or whether you think the makers of this have a cheek and it is just bottom of the sea rubbish. It may be junk but it’s entertaining.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆