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Tales From the Vault

Tales From the Vault: Zombi 3 (1988)

Lucio Fulci (the maestro behind many Italian gore flicks including The Beyond and The New York Ripper) is perhaps best known for his 1979 Dawn of the Dead ripoff flick Zombi 2 (later released in the States simply as Zombie). Though the film was intended to dupe audiences into believing it was a legit follow-up to Romero’s apocalyptic mall opus, Fulci’s film stood on its own, with voodoo-based, grotesquely rotten zombies attacking scientists and reporters on an island in the Caribbean – some of the most intensely gory throat-rippings to grace cinema screens to that point. After its success, producers hired Fulci to crank out another living dead flick, and this is how Zombi 3 came to stalk cinemas the world over.

Playing like a meth-injected crossbreed of Zombi 2, The Crazies, and Return of the Living Dead, Zombi 3 is goofy and semi-incoherent, but never boring. Zombi 3 is batshit crazy; in the sub-genre of Italian zombie films, a genre known for being nuts, it stands out as particularly gonzo. The film is an odd mishmash of 80’s gore, ham-fisted ecological posturing, cringeworthy dialogue, and a running subplot involving a Wolfman Jack-esque DJ that ends on a note that really has to be seen to be believed. The production, too, was a bit crazy. Depending on the source, the stories go that Fulci either fell ill and could not complete the film, or had disagreements with the producers and chose to leave the production; either way, Fulci completed up to possibly 2/3rds of the film, and the film was finished by fellow Italian horror schlockmeisters Claudio Fragasso (of, OH MY GOOOOOOOD, Troll 2 fame) and Bruno Mattei (he himself a master of ripoff cinema, having helmed Cruel Jaws and Shocking Dark, which was falsely advertised as Terminator 2).

The action begins with a weaponized chemical – laughingly named Death One – being stolen from a government facility. This chemical reanimates the dead, and, in the ensuing pursuit/escape, the thief is wounded, with the bullets breaching the canister containing Death One and subsequently infecting him with the toxin. Soon enough, the would-be bio-terrorist is zombified and wreaking havoc at a local hotel. The government, lead by General Morton, sweeps in, kills the infected, and retrieves the corpse of the thief. Unfortunately, the man is cremated, and his ashes, now airborne, infect a flock of birds, who, in turn, die, reanimate, and attack the locals, including some vacationing GI’s and their girlfriends. Before you can say “George Romero did this first,” shit hits the fan, and many people are killed, killed and then reanimated, or gunned down by the government’s clean-up squad.

Yes, Zombi 3 is fucking insane. The zombies in the film, following in the grand tradition of Nightmare City (1980’s Incubo sulla città contaminata), are really quite something. Not simply content with being the shambling, rotting mounds of flesh that helped make Zombi 2’s ghouls so atmospheric, these zombies run, jump, and even employ machete-wielding-ninja skills to kill their victims. Going further than simply turbo-charging its living dead, Zombi 3 employs some of the most bonkers and enjoyable set pieces of the sub-genre, including a FLYING ZOMBIE HEAD and a woman whose pregnant stomach bursts when a rotting zombie hand shoots from it to grab an unsuspecting friend playing makeshift midwife to the unlucky mother-to-be. If this wasn’t enough, the aforementioned Wolfman Jack-esque radio DJ, “Blue Heart,” adds an “environmentally friendly” commentary throughout the film and ends up, SPOILER, as a zombie himself; a zombie, if you can dig it, who dedicates his continued broadcast to “all the zombies in the world.”

Despite its silly premise, troubled production, and almost total lack of coherence, Zombi 3 is a whole lot of fun. This is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an absolute blast to experience, and doubly so if accompanied by beer, pizza, likeminded friends, and maybe your favorite herbal refreshment on the side, just to boost the already batshit, gonzo nature of the flick. While there are many legitimate zombie films available, the aforementioned Romero picture and Fulci’s own Zombi 2, for example (a zombie fights a FUCKING SHARK in that movie), Zombi 3 is definitely a worthwhile watch for fans of gore cinema and silly exploitation films.

*Zombi 3, along with an in-name-only follow-up (After Death: Zombie 4) and Mattei’s faux Terminator 2 flick Shocking Dark have recently been released by genre stalwarts Severin Films on a special edition BluRay, absolutely packed with extras and featuring the best transfer this film could ever likely expect. Visit severin-films.com for more information.

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