In the realm of Zombie and Italian films, very few directors stir emotions like Lucio Fulci. Considered to be the “Godfather of Gore”, Fulci’s achievements in the horror genre can not be denied with titles such as A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971), Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), The House by the Cemetery (1981), The New York Ripper (1982), Manhatten Baby (1982), Touch of Death (1988), A Cat in the Brain (1990) and Voices From Beyond (1991) to name just a few, but the movie that people seem to ask the most questions about is 1988’s Zombi 3 aka Zombie Flesh Eaters 2. The movie holds many questions for fans not only because the film delivered a feverish pitch of gore and fast moving zombies and is very different in tone than any of Fulci’s other undead films, but also because the commercial failure of it seems to be due to the fact that Fulci himself did not complete the whole film (which we will touch on in a bit). Certainly stylistic and more than a little campy, the film certainly holds it own against many of the modern day zombie films that are dumped into our laps…
Anyone who loves the Zombie genre knows the details, but part of the allure of these films is the back story and what made the dead rise. Anyone with a sharp eye for detail will tell you that not only does Zombi 3 not logically follow-up on the original, it is more of a laid back version of 1985’s Return of the Living Dead and 1980’s Zombie Creeping Flesh (which, by no small chance, was also written by Claudio Fragasso). “When a terrorist's body, infected with a stolen chemical, is recovered by the US military, the corpse is cremated, unintentionally releasing the virus/bacteria into the atmosphere over a small island. Soon the infected populace mutate into flesh-hungry zombies, and a trio of soldiers on leave must team up with a group of tourists and board themselves up in an abandoned hotel as they try to fend off the agile and aggressive living dead.” Sounds almost exactly like Return of the Living Dead right down to the toxic gas that raises the dead and damn near is a clone of Zombie Creeping Flesh for lifting the Third World elements, but that is where many of the similarities end…
Certainly more over the top in terms of comedic/hammy acting than any of his previous films, it still delivers on many different levels. The locations are lush and you always feel as though you are trapped in the villa with the survivors. Your adrenaline will surge as they are all chased by the newly re-animated corpses at breakneck speed and dispatch of them by any means at hand. One of the best scenes in the film (which will always be compared to Lamberto Bava’s Demons (1985) and possibly Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1992)) is where one of the women in the group gives birth to a zombie baby, but not in the fashion you may be expecting. In a scene that has to be seen to be believed, the baby rips and claws its way out of its mother womb in a shower of grue and blood sure to delight any gore fan and is much more satisfying than what we got in 2004’s Dawn of the Dead remake. On the subject of the Special FX work, one could argue that the zombie work is just as powerful here as in any other of Fulci’s films, but the difference lies in the fact that these are VERY fast moving and tool using zombies. The gore continues all through the movie, including a very nice stake through the throat and a FLYING zombie head that bites the shit out of a guy! The humor that Fulci injected into the film does wonders to break the tension but it also manages to disrupt your suspension of disbelief. Whether Fulci was aiming for comedy or not, it certainly takes hysteria to a whole other level!
The rest of the cast and the crew can not be written off or forgotten for this film either. In addition to Fulci as the main director, you also have Claudio Fragasso (Hell of the Living Dead (1980), Scalps (1987), Troll 2 (1990)) and Bruno Mattei (Hell of the Living Dead (1980), Women’s Prison Massacre (1983), Rats: Night of Terror (1984)) behind the lens as well as Deran Sarafian (Alien Predator (1985), Hemlock Grove (TV Series, 2013), The Strain (TV Series, 2014)), Beatrice Ring (Interzone (1987), Ritual of Love (1990)), Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (Zombie (1979), Nightmare City (1980), Zombie 4: After Death (1989)), Massimo Vanni (The House by the Edge of the Lake (1979), The Wax Mask (1997)) and a host of others in front of it. The actual talent was not the problem with the film, but quite possibly due to two different things: Fulci’s health and his lack of being able to change the script more to his liking. In fact, Fulci’s health was so bad that he was rumored to have brought in a witchdoctor in hopes of finding relief!
In Jay Slater’s “Eaten Alive! Italian Cannibal and Zombie Movies” (published in 2002 by Plexus Publishing), Slater mentions an interview he did with Claudio Fragasso in 1997 about the film and what Fulci turned in: “It was supposed to be a direct sequel to Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (aka Zombi 2) and was written by my wife [Drudi] and I. When we had finished, I met Lucio Fulci and we spoke extensively about the film. At that time, Fulci and myself were working full-time for the producer, Franco Gaudenzi, and, soon after, Fulci left for the Phillippines to shoot Zombi 3. Later, Fulci had finished directing while Mattei was making Born To Kill. Unfortunately, Fulci was ill and the ned result wasn’t as good as we hoped for. In fact, we were twenty minutes worth of footage short of completing a feature film. Gaugenzi was now very worried and asked how we could save the film. After discussing the possibilities, Gaudenzi said I could cut the existing scenes but was not allowed to make them longer. So, my wife and I wrote extra scenes, and Gaudenzi then said that I had to go to the Philippines to shoot the new footage.”
In an earlier interview that is also quoted in the book (but orginally appeared in the book “Spaghetti Nightmares”, written by Luca M. Palmerini and Gaetano Misretta) Fulci stated “ I didn’t finish making Zombie 3 but the reason wasn’t anything to do with illness. I finished off an hour and a quarter film. Also we were working with a dreadful script, which we couldn’t get changed because the second-rate scriptwriter was the producer’s trusted man. Consequently, I had to modify the script as I went along, assisted by my daughter (Antonella Fulci) and we were working in the heat of the Philippines. When it got to the fifth week, I asked to be relieved of the task of directing the film and a certain Mattei, whom I don’t know, was brought in to finish it off. He added a few scenes with the scriptwriter, whose name is Fragasso.” Sadly, we may never know the complete truth about who filmed what in the movie and who was responsible for what scenes in the scriptwriting process since Fulci has passed away, but we will always have this frenetic paced zombie romp that all fans should see for all of the right and wrong reasons!
FUN FACT: It has been rumored that a print of Zombi 3 had a sequence shot in 3-D. The version with the additional scene was released on video in Japan, where a doctor injects a bald corpse with the living dead serum. The scene obviously remains flat on tape, although the image is fairly blurred and fuzzy. Another scene that might have been rendered in 3-D is that of a human head flying out of a fridge towards the camera (This bit of trivia is from the notes section of Jay Slater’s “Eaten Alive! Italian Cannibal and Zombie Movies”. I have watched the scenes they are talking about, and while I can not find any confirmation that there were segments of the film shot in 3-D, I can state that the scenes in question do appear to have been set up for that type of effect and it would be amazing if they could ever be replicated for DVD/Blu-Ray viewing. It could be even more historical if actual film prints of this were ever found!).
“Because I am the Dedman, and you are not!”
Michael “Dedman” Jones