From L’Avventura to Zombie 4!

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I was cruising the mean streets of Twitter one day recently, well if Twitter could have streets but if it did then they would certainly be mean, and I stumbled upon a post by Russ Hunter aka @sorgono in which he referenced a book on Italian Horror Cinema which he co-wrote along with Stefano Baschiera (available from Edinburgh University Press).

After briefly chatting with Russ online I discovered a man with not just a passion for but also a phenomenal knowledge of Italian genre cinema and a passion for Italian zombie cinema in particular.

A man after my own brain…and not in a Richard Johnson kind of way. But back on track and I had to share with everyone a terrific presentation he gave earlier this year in Slovenia at the Kurja Polt genre film festival.

In the presentation Russ discusses how the foundations of Italian genre cinema were laid, the societal context in which these films were born and of course how all of this resulted in Italian zombie cinema. Give it a watch and the fellow a follow!

Get on you janner!

ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS 2 (1988) BY BRUNO MATTEI & LUCIO FULCI

Reviews

Alternative Titles: Zombi 3; Zombie 3
Director: Lucio Fulci / Bruno Mattei
Writers: Claudio Fragasso, Rosella Drudi (uncredited)
Year: 1988
Starring: Deran Sarafin, Beatrice Ring, Ottoviano Dell’Acqua, Massimo Vanni, Gli Reinthaler, Luciano Pigozzi

Synopsis:
Scientists in a government laboratory develop a chemical, aptly named Death One, that turns those infected into pus faced flesh-craving zombies.  The army deal with the initial outbreak but foolishly decides to cremate the bodies, thereby sending the virus airborne.

Review:
Coming so late in the the zombie splatter cycle (it was practically dead) it is important to note the various contributors to the film. In particular, the contribution made by the iconic director Lucio Fulci who began working on the film but quit after around six weeks of shooting. 

Now many conflicting reasons for this exist, with illness being the main reason, although the great man himself claimed that it was in fact due to a terrible script and arguments with the production crew. As always the truth is probably somewhere in the middle especially when Lucio Fulci’s own daughter admitted that the humid temperature was contributing to her father’s ailing health.

Upon his departure, rather than leaving a sellable product Lucio Fulci left producer Franco Gaudenzi with a rough 70 minute cut which had to then be trimmed down a further 20 minutes. As a result of this the infamous second-rate director Bruno Mattei (ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH; RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR; ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING and ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD) was called upon to complete the film.

However due to the contracts expiring and subsequent scheduling issues with the original actors drastic plot changes were required and it is estimated that around 40% of the final film was added in by Bruno Mattei reducing much of that shot by Lucio Fulci to a sub-plot, and giving us the version we have today.

The majority of the lead cast are pretty much unknown in front of the screen, including the American actor Deran Sarafin, who would go on to have a decent career as TV director, and French actress Beatrice Ring. However there are one or two that you may recognise here – Ulli Reinthaler would also appear in Lucio Fulci’s AENIGA, Luciano Pigozzi had several minor roles in popular films while Massimo Vanni got around a bit being credited in the Maurizio Merli Eurocrime flick VIOLENT CITY aka ROMA VIOLENTA, Lucio Fulci’s original ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS aka ZOMBI 2, Bruno Mattei’s RATS:NIGHT OF TERROR, Claudio Fragasso’s ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH not to mention Sergio Stivaletti’s THE WAX MASK. He certainly had good contacts.

Although these pale in comparison to stuntman Ottoviano Dell’Acqua also known to many zombie fans as the wormface from ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS aka ZOMBI 2. However Ottoviano is much much more than that, having been a stuntman since 1973 he has plied his trade in many films including IL GRADE RACKET, STARCRASH, CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE, DEMONS,DIAL:HELP, LA SETTA and THE STENDHAL SYNDROME not to mention bigger Hollywood fare such as LADYHAWKE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE and ANGELS & DEMONS as well as the TV series ROME. Ottoviano, as evidenced in ZOMBI 3 also managed to snag more than a few acting roles himself and can count amongst his many credits ROMA A MANO ARMATA, RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR as well as many uncredited such as in FELLINI’S SATYRICON, VIOLENT NAPLES, NAPOLI SPARA! and NIGHTMARE CITY. 

But what about the film itself? 

We start with some very impatient doctors administering some sort of serum to a green deceased body, the influence of Stuart Gordon’s REANIMATOR is clear from the outset (and becomes rammed down your throat later on) but before you can dwell on this the writer Claudio Fragasso quickly takes us not only into NIGHTMARE CITY territory but also revisits parts of his own ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH.

What will strike viewers almost immediately about the opening few scenes of ZOMBI 3 is that the budget required for any additional material had clearly already been spent as we witness a gun fight without any muzzle flash or exploding squibs. It is just a bunch of guys running around with toy guns and sound effects. Once again Bruno Mattei lives up to his reputation. 

Once we have been introduced to our two groups of characters (and an additional sub-plot established) the movie has a bit of flexibility and therefore variety. As group one (some soldiers and travellers) become embroiled in a vicious zombified animal attack while group two (a girl and her boyfriend) barely have much more luck as they happen upon a seemingly abandoned petrol station. 

It is this second scenario that leads to the films first genuinely well shot, creepy and almost supernatural sequence that is pure hallmark  Lucio Fulci. Had it not been for the sped up mad machete zombie attack, this could have been the start of something comparable to the gates of hell trilogy. Although I am sure the phrase mad machete zombie attack will appeal to more than a few people reading this review.

As the film progresses some elements and scenes seem to make no sense at all either in terms of  continuity or logic but this is all irrelevant (and expected due to the production nightmare noted at the beginning) as we are treated to several fast paced rock fuelled set pieces, one in particular being a sequence set in what appears to be an abandoned resort complete with overgrown reeds and decaying furniture but which we are meant to believe was populated just one week earlier. Again, minor details we don’t need to worry about because we are about to get another suspenseful scene broken only by screaming and blood in a true what the hell happened there moment.

Then, as always the film shambles forwards, never quite displaying the consistent development needed but rather one of a cobbled together collection of scenes that never quite knows what it is meant to be, or even what it wants the zombies to be. 

By the beginning of the third act it ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS 2 appears to have settled on the low budget zombie film classic staple of becoming a siege movie but as proven, never one to settle on a single stolen idea this, rather pleasingly, is blown off less than five minutes later for another idea until ultimately the required minimum running time is reached and things are brought to an end.

This film has plenty of fun scenes, some genuinely well constructed, some brutal (a zombie reverse caesarean) and some just down right bizarre (how do zombies get in cupboards or hide under tumbleweeds we just saw moving in the wind?) but ultimately it will be an entertaining watch for any zombie fans.

Claudio Fragasso, Bruno Mattei and Lucio Fulci give us a nonsensical, fun, if extremely derivative, patchwork piece of trashy entertainment that benefits just as much from the references (or should that be stolen pieces) of other films as it does it’s own innovation.

As you would expect with the amount of time that had passed, this film has an entirely different aura to the one that preceded it and ultimately is a sequel in name only (where have we heard that before) but one that is still worthy of adoring your shelf. Also, what a great audio title track.

Furthermore it is rumoured that Zombi 3 was due to be filmed in 3D but both technical and financial limitations ended this plan. Oh what could have been. 

Oh and keep an eye out for writer Claudio Fragasso and replacement director Bruno Mattei both of which appear in the film playing a couple of soldiers who put a corpse into an incinerator.

Version Reviewed:
I watched the 88 Films blu ray release of the film. Benefitting from a new HD transfer the film looks and sounds fantastic, easily the best version on the market while the disc itself also features several extra’s; from the almost pointless Italian opening and closing titles to the interesting interview with the prolific stuntman/actor Ottaviano Dell’Acqua who talks about his time working with Lucio Fulci on this and the original ZOMBI 2, ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS as well as other memories of his time on set.

The 88 Films release also treats us to an audio interview with Beatrice Ring which despite it’s less than engaging slideshow visual actually contains a few terrific anecdotes and stories about how she became an actress and her thoughts on both Fulci and the film. A further interview (we are being spoiled) is also contained, this time with infamous producer and writer Claudio Fragasso (TROLL 2) who gives us an interesting insight into the film and it’s troubled production.

Rather oddly, and it has been discussed online why, but we are also treated to a Q&A with Lucio Fulci video nasty star Catriona MacColl which is an enjoyable watch thanks to her recollections of working alongside Lucio Fulci but doesn’t really explain why it is on this disc. Overall however 88 Films have put together a very strong package and I can’t see how this film could be improved for future releases, not that it even deserves further improvement, but if you are a zombie fan you can’t go far wrong with this release.

Of death…of life…of many other things?

Articles and Interviews

A personal look into Dellamorte Dellamore (1994).

In 2017 a list went viral online detailing landmarks in European Queer Cinema and I was a little surprised to see Michele Soavi’s DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (aka CEMETERY MAN) listed. As aside from the sexuality of leading man Rupert Everett, which has absolutely no relation to the film or his casting, I could not see exactly how the list maker came to their conclusion.

Now, being a self-entitled millennial I obviously took to social media to debate it and to hopefully gain alternative viewpoints and interpretations of the film. Thankfully having a diverse and articulate network group I discovered several reasons behind why some agree with it falling into this queer category, such as it “daring to be non-normative” while possessing a “very queer sensibility” (@schmollywood666, 2017).

These types of discussions I believe are vital to film fans in helping us to see what others see. It allows us to challenge our own thoughts and serves to open our minds to other points of view, regardless of whether we agree or not. Ultimately this is a skill that we can and should take into our real lives.

Regardless of the movie (although the vapid dross Michael Bay creates is excluded), we can each form our own unique interpretation of what we have seen, filtered through our own experiences and thoughts to find meaning, and it is because of this I love the medium. So here, I am going to detail exactly what DELLAMORTE DELLA MORE means to me. 

It is one of those films that is clearly open to interpretation thanks to a layered approach touching on several subjects and allowing viewers to choose whether they just want to dip in and out of a titillating (no Anna Falchi jokes please) and bonkers Italian zombie flick or if they want to contemplate the existence of their own personal world and its confines. Depending on how many beers I have had I can do either. Full disclosure however, I have never read the Dylan Dog graphic novels and so that avenue at least cannot be explored by me,

Now if you are unfamiliar with this unconventional 1994 movie, then the premise itself when simplified may not sound all that much but when you begin to expand the narrative then things suddenly become a lot more abstract, philosophical and let’s be honest at times, humorous.

Fundamentally the film follows Engineer Francesco Dellamorte (Rupert Everett) and his simple assistant Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro) who work as the guardians of the Buffalora cemetery. A cemetery where for some reason approximately seven days after being buried the dead come back to life and must be put back to rest once more.

With only the child-like Gnaghi for companionship, and fed up with his lot in life – unappreciated by all of the townsfolk who are unaware of his real work and instead make snide sexual comments about him – Francesco decides that there must be something more for him out there, be it love or adventure. Anything to break the monotony and sheer futile nature of his life. After all if the dead return to life and we are all destined to die, why wait for it to happen. At this point of the movie, he feels impotent to make a change, needing a catalyst he eventually is sparked into action by the power of love. However much like his mental state, events soon unravel pushing him to his limit. And on further reflection we start to consider is his impotence related to his fear of losing his job, his identity or even his masculinity?

If you haven’t realised by now this piece is certainly not a review of the film, or at least not in the traditional format, and therefore I have no need to reiterate the praise for Mauro Marchetti’s fantastic cinematography, the memorable music by Riccardo Biseo and Manuel De Sica or even the excellent work by all of the crew regarding set and costume design. Perhaps there is room for me to reminisce about that Anna Falchi scene however, but I digress.

Right, back on track and what we do need to talk about is the terrific script by Gianni Romoli (TRAUMA), who was working from source material in terms of initial characters and set up by Tiziano Sclavi and his Dylan Dog comics – the character Dylan Dog was of course originally modelled on Rupert Everett and therefore only he could have played Francesco. Despite this, some American producers attempted to line up Matt Dillon for the role. To be fair I can see this logic from a visual perspective but this role really was handcrafted for Rupert Everett and him alone.

In his script, Gianni Romoli grants Francesco a wry, sardonic sense of humour (of which Rupert Everett skilfully delivers) while simultaneously managing to lead us through the highs and lows of our leads mental state. To do this the writer took an interesting approach ulitising a device that one does not see all that often, if ever, in Italian genre cinema – a monologue voiceover. The effect being something that comes across as a very internal, personal film – a journey. Due to this approach as the viewer we can empathise and place the actions that we witness into a much wider emotional context.

Sure, sometimes the visual representation of these ‘states’ is a little heavy handed but at other times they are open to interpretation and if I may borrow from the art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, who when describing the works of the Baroque artist Caravaggio stated that (of the artist) “He habitually collapses the immensity of the world into the confines of a room…” I feel that this also speaks of Francesco’s world and to those of us who grew up in more remote locations, where the world is limited in physical reach and scope. One may also interpret this as an internalisation due to the use of the internal dialogue.

“The rest of the world…who knows if the rest of the world even exists.”

With this point it is also important to remember that the film was made in 1994, a time when the world was not as interconnected as today, a time when you could not simply go online to communicate or learn or discover the world. It was a time when the world for most of us was only as big as our social network (and possible few foreign holidays) would allow it to be. Where events occurring even in our own continent must seem unconnected, at least directly, to our way of life. It is in this situation that, like Francesco, we are most likely to ask – does the rest of the world really exist? 

This feeling plays off the concept of object permanence and fascinates me in regards to how we see, interact and understand both our world and that of the wider one. These points incorporate our social interactions and by the final act of DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE we begin to question the very nature of the film due to the almost absurd actions of several characters, giving rise to the argument that perhaps all of this is played out in Francesco’s head. How much of this is his interpreted reality? 

We ask are the Police Marshall and Francesco’s friend Franco merely manifestations of his own mind? Perhaps in some sort of Freudian way they are elements of his conflicting psyche (the id, the ego and the super-ego) as they try to justify his ever erratic actions which culminate in his realisation and liberation.

This ending is what leads me to believe that the film is talking about how we perceive the world based on our own experiences. 

Of course there are other subjects tackled in the film; one example is the self-centred Mayor exploiting his daughter in order to win an election is extremely cynical, perhaps here the film is displaying a distrust for politicians and disillusionment of the system. This would hardly be surprising considering the Italian political system. I will leave you to discover the rest for yourself.

Ultimately for me DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE is not a horror as such but a darkly comic, bizarre, profound and stylistically violent drama. Possessing a sly, dark wit with several humorous throwaway lines peppered throughout in order to keep the film fresh and preserve a balance to the more serious topics that are touched upon.

For me this is a film about existentialism, for others it is about non-conformity (and the personal damage of appeasement) but what about for you? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter over @cinemaeuropa.

If you have not watched the film I implore you to track down a copy, remove any distractions and give it a watch. Perhaps the last great Italian genre film.

If you are in the UK the film is available from Shameless Films.

I’ll leave you with one line from Francesco You can never be too different”. So perhaps daring to be non-normative is not far off the mark at all.