Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 (1988)
Directed by: Bruno Mattei, Claudio Fragasso, Lucio Fulci
Written by: Claudio Fragasso, Lucio Fulci, Rossella Drudi
Starring: Beatrice Ring, Deran Sarafian, Massimo Vanni, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins, 73 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A group of scientists are working on a serum called Death One, which reanimates the dead. Dr. Alan Holder resigns from the project, but as he prepares to surrender the serum to waiting military officers, a group of criminals ambush the center; all but one are killed, but the survivor manages to abscond with Death One, though he accidentally touches the serum when the container is shot at. General Morton promises Dr. Holder that he and his men will capture the criminal, but he has already succumbed to the disease. Several other people come into the area and find it in turmoil, with people coming back from the grave and attacking the living.…
Titles can be a difficult thing. In the end I decided to review this film under its British title as this is a British website, though it’s probably far better known as Zombie 3 – which as any fan of Italian horror will tell you was also the alternate title for several other zombie films from that country which all attempted to cash in on the success of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters which was of course originally known as Zombie 2. Having not long ago sampled the delights of Troll 2 and finding that it was entirely deserving of both its reputation as one of the worst films ever made and the cult following that it has because it’s so damn fun, I couldn’t wait to try out another film from its director and co-writer, a certain Claudio Fragrasso who seemed to me to be even worse than Luigi Cozzi [Starcrash, Hercules] but equally adept at making his shoddy movies curiously entertaining. And in a sense now I have, because Fragrasso both wrote and directed a fair bit of Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, which doesn’t actually follow on from Zombie Flesh Eaters at all and is more influenced by The Crazies and Return Of The Living Dead. Therefore, I’m not sure that the way this film was heavily rewritten and re-edited can be the only reason for its random, patchwork feel, and it’s tempting to say that Fulci directed the good bits and Fragrasso and fellow trashmeister Bruno Mattei the bad, though then again Fulci had been struggling to recapture his old form for some time when this film was made. But overall I don’t think that this movie is quite as awful as its reputation as there certainly is some good stuff in it as well as material that makes it as much a hilarious guilty pleasure as Andrea Bianchi’s ‘so bad it’s good’ zombie classic Nights Of Terror, from zombies who do martial arts to confusion over whether some characters are actually dead or not.
Though the film only credits Fragasso as screenwriter, it was his wife Rossella Drudi who wrote most of the script for Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, which was originally announced as a 3D film. Fulci then rewrote the screenplay with his daughter Camilla and spent six weeks in the Phillipines shooting, but then sources differ as to how much of the film he shot and why he walked. Some say that he was ill, others that he had a dispute with producer Franco Gaudenzi because his cut was either 70 mins long or was 90 mins long and dragged in places. It’s a known fact though that Gaudenzi then brought in second unit director Bruno Mattei to work on the production with Fragasso, the two having previously collaborated on another living dead epic Zombie Creeping Flesh. They cut a great deal of footage and wrote and filmed a large number of new scenes, but as they couldn’t get the main cast members again, their scenes became subplots. With the exception of the Far East where Fulci’s films were still really popular, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 was otherwise unreleased theatrically outside Italy where it did minimal box office and wasn’t even released on video in the UK. Most export video versions removed eleven mins of not just gore but the opening sequence, the infected terrorist fleeing to a hotel and demanding a room, and Nancy and Suzanna watching over Lia, no doubt just making things more incoherent. I once attended a convention where Fulci said that he would make a proper sequel to Zombie Flesh Eaters to atone for this movie, but sadly the project never came to light.
A nicely photographed scene with flickering green and red light opens the film as we’re introduced to Professor Holder and his assistant injecting a corpse with their magic serum which, in quite an effective moment, spits out blood and his face goes all slimy before he sits up, dead but having smashed the covering of the tank he’s in. Quite understandably, Holder resigns, but then there’s a gunfight between some soldiers and some terrorists, and one of the latter runs off with the formula and begins to become a zombie. Holed up in a motel room, he cuts off his infected hand, but that’s not enough and he soon attacks a maid in the first of so many curious scenes. He not so much smashes but rubs her face against a mirror but this still causes loads [and I mean loads] of blood to pour out. Soon the plague spreads mostly off screen, but never mind, we have the nice, level-headed General Morton on humanity’s side, whose idea of solving the problem is to order his troops to just shoot everybody, whether living or dead. There’s quite a few Day Of The Dead-type scenes of Holder and Morton arguing, though the acting of Mike Morton as Holder is hugely distracting. He’s very over the top, yet seems to struggle to get his words out, or is that the dubbing? Everyone seems to be speaking English here but some were probably dubbed by others. Morton’s burning of a dead zombie just makes things worse, because the contaminated ashes rise into the air and infect first some birds who attack a bus in what isn’t a badly done bit considering how hard these kinds of scenes used to be hard to pull off, then more humans.
Various folk – three horny soldiers, several female tourists, and a couple who are introduced chatting about ecology [in a really heavy handed attempt at messaging which is then forgotten about] get attacked and the survivors have to bunch together to survive, though people keep wandering off on their own to get water. They also feel a need to tell whoever they’re with what’s happening just so the viewer gets it. “It’s empty, looks like I’ve had it” says one person who’s quite obviously ran out of bullets and therefore didn’t need to inform us nor tell any other characters as they were way too far away to have heard him anyway. There are so many stupid highlights that it’s hard to know where to begin, like a zombie leaping at somebody who ducks out of the way so the idiot undead person can crash through a window to his death. Or when two of our heroes are threatened by three trigger happy soldiers in their Crazies-type white jumpsuits who then put down their guns so they can have more of a fair fight. Or when a zombie head flies out of a fridge to attack someone [this is quite well realised and shot though]. There are a few signs of being tongue-in-cheek, not least the finale where the radio DJ Blueheart who’s been filling us in every now and again on what’s happening and at one point advises survivors to approach “those heroic young men” who are mowing down all and sundry, is shown to now be a zombie and dedicates a record to “all the undead around the world.” But then there are also some quite exciting action moments and even some genuinely atmospheric ones, sometimes with lots of fog, when characters approach and explore some of the locations. Some outdoor scenes are soft-focus and almost beautiful to look at, like a boat trip which according to Fragrasso was originally a long and boring sequence. Its complete version should have been left in, because it may have allowed more of Fulci’s artistry to be seen and cause the film to be more favourably reviewed. Some of Riccardo Grassetti’s cinematography is rather good, but some of it isn’t. It looks like Fulci shot virtually all or most of his footage on location and tried to make most of it look as good as he could. By contrast, scenes taking place in obvious, unfinished-looking sets are often limited to one or two static set-ups, which isn’t a good idea when your acting is so poor!
The zombies deserve special mention. Some of them shuffle along in the usual fashion. Others run, leap, do karate chops, even talk. At one point a load of them just stand there doing nothing for absolutely ages which is oddly eerie at first and then just funny. We’re not even sure when some characters are ‘proper’ zombies or not. Initially it seems to be the usual idea of people dying, then coming back to life as ravenous gut-munchers, but there are occasions when characters seem to be still alive but are already zombies. The many instances of oozing and inflaming skin do look pretty good, and there are a few decent gory kills. It’s obvious though that makeup effects artist Franco di Girolami really struggled with the small budget he had at his disposal. Many of the undead are just people with gooey black stuff smeared all over their face, and there’s one potentially shocking scene involving a zombie baby that’s not fully realised. And having not one but two moments in a zombie movie where the undead crowd around somebody and seem about to feed but the camera then cuts away is just the equivalent of, to use a terrible and probably un-PC expression, a prick tease.
The dialogue is of the level of “Hey, this Blueheart’s music is great, huh?”, “Yeah, it’s making me horny”, and ”That’ll fix ya, you friggin’ monsters”. Stefano Mainetti’s score plays the same admittedly catchy ’80s-style synthesiser theme over and over again and rarely seems to be trying to match the on-screen action. Many aspects of Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 are indeed poorly done, and it’s easy to see why Fulci was unhappy with it, but you can’t say that it lacks imagination. Yes, it’s crammed full of ridiculous stuff, but overall it’s immensely entertaining in the best bad movie manner without a single dull moment, and I enjoyed it a lot. The strange mixture of blatant cribs from American zombie films [the climax even involves a run to a helicopter that seems to have appeared out of nowhere and is just waiting for our last few survivors to use it], crazy ideas, stilted dialogue, hammy acting, non-stop action, graphic gore, poorly executed scenes but also some pretty good ones makes for a film that may not be much good in the conventional sense but one that the Doc would proscribe to any horror fan who’s feeling a bit down and needs cheering up. And as for Fragrasso – well – he went on to make Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 aka Zombie 4: After Death. A review of what will no doubt be another masterpiece of terror will appear on this website in the near future.