Zombies: The Beginning (2007)
"When the dead first walked, they had no time for appetizers"
As the sole survivor of a 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. Ironically Mattei already ripped Aliens off with his own bootleg version, Shocking Dark, back in the 80s.
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 if you were doing a cloned version – unless you had the budget and talent of Mattei. 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’ve literally aped some scenes shot-for-shot. See what they’ve substituted into the script 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). The pace and the flow of the film is great once they’ve figured out what happened to the scientists but that should be the case given how closely it follows Cameron's narrative.
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 Crimson Tide 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'm not going back and watching this just to prove myself right or wrong. Mattei recycles some zombie dream footage from the beginning of the film 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. Thankfully, Zombies: The Beginning is gory with lots of the red stuff flying around from all of the usual zombie tropes.
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 Mattei film, the acting is appalling and the dubbing is even worse. The voice 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 either. 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. The sight of the zombie-child army at the end is definitely a highlight.
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.
Zombies: The Beginning
Director(s): Bruno Mattei
Writer(s): Giovanni Paolucci (story), Antonio Tentori (screenplay)
Actor(s): Yvette Yzon, Alvin Anson, Paul Holmes, James Gregory Paolleli, Robert B. Johnson, Diana Croystan, Gerhardo Acao, Mike Vergel
Duration: 90 mins