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Wednesday, March 4, 2015


The lone female survivor of a ship's crew is found floating in the middle of nowhere and rescued. The company she works for blames her for the ship's destruction and death of her crewmates, not believing her story that the company's remote research facility was invaded by monsters. But when its residents suddenly stop checking in, she must redeem herself by serving as advisor for a platoon of rough, tough Marines sent in to face the same lethal threat.

I'm describing James Cameron's sci-fi classic ALIENS, right? Wrong, zombie-breath! It's the plot of Italian schlockmeister Bruno Mattei's final film, ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING (2007), a sort-of sequel to his previous effort ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD. And yes, screenwriters Antonio Tentori and producer Giovanni Paolucci have cribbed Cameron's story almost scene-for-scene, except this one takes place on an island instead of another planet and substitutes zombies instead of aliens.

The idea is just so nutty, so stupefying, so bizarrely audacious, that it can't help but be entertaining in a weirdly perverse sort of way. Especially since Bruno's budget for the entire film was probably less than the cost of James Cameron's daily supply of Q-Tips.

Cute, plucky Yvette Yzon repeats her role as Sharon, except instead of playing a treasure hunter as in the previous film, this time she's Dr. Sharon Dimao of the doomed research vessel funded by Weyland-Yutani--I mean, Tyler Inc., and is picked up by the Coast Guard while floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean.

The first indication that we're watching a replay of ALIENS is when Sharon wakes up in a darkened hospital room. While chatting with the nurse, she starts to act strange...before suddenly turning into a zombie! But wait, it's just a nightmare. I was thinking, "This is like the 'Gateway Station' scene from, uh, that other movie." Then she meets Barker, a company man who's a clone of Paul Reiser's "Burke" character, who offers her a deal to join the Marines to investigate the loss of contact with the island scientists, and...

Zombie scenes from ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD are repeated a total of three times as Sharon continues to have nightmares (footage of her having these nightmares is repeated as well) until finally she accepts Barker-Burke's offer. Cut to her and the cocky Marines traveling to the alien planet via spaceship--excuse me, sailing to the island in a submarine, courtesy of extensive borrowed footage from much more expensive submarine movies.

Naturally there's an inept, inexperienced commanding officer, a Hudson clone who acts all gung-ho before turning coward later on (but without the memorable one-liners), and a scrappy female Marine not unlike Jenette Goldstein's "Vasquez" except she's not very memorable either. Scenes from ALIENS are checked off the list one by one as the platoon reaches the island and scours the research facility looking for survivors before finally encountering not xenomorphs but a whole bunch of hungry, pee-oh'd zombies.

Finally, this is the point in which all hell breaks loose. Low-budget hell, that is. Mattei has to make do with cardboard sets instead of a cool found location as in ISLAND, but again, he has the advantage of a SPFX crew who know how to pack each frame with cheesy-but-elaborate zombie makeups and extensive gore effects.

The weirdness factor is ratcheted way, way up here as well, since these zombies are the result of some kind of perverse genetic breeding experiments, yielding bizarre pinheaded variations on the traditional zombie which Elvis-walk naked through the dark hallways and do all sorts of unexpected and yucky biological stuff with their malformed bodies.

I'd go into more detail about the plot, but if you've seen ALIENS, you already know every single beat. All that's missing here (besides a Newt equivalent) are the sharp editing, nail-biting suspense, masterful direction--well, pretty much all the good stuff from that other movie. The story just sorta plods along while our interest is maintained by (a) lots of violence and gore, and (b) the fascination of seeing just how the director manages to translate Cameron's expensive alien epic into no-budget zombiana.

Still, the final sequence which takes place in the bowels of the island's power plant is actually pretty impressive in its own way. In fact, it's rather mind-boggling. This is the part where the heroine has to go back into the monsters' lair (I wasn't quite sure why) and finds out what's birthing all these newborn zombie babies. The sequence is so over-the-top that it struck me as kind of a horrific, gore-drenched mash-up of Dante and Bosch, with Yvette Yzon doing an endearing rendition of Ripley's warrior-babe-with-a-flamethrower persona.

The DVD from Intervision Picture Corp. is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo sound. No subtitles. In addition to the film's trailer, there's a featurette entitled "Zombie Genisys" in which screenwriter Antonio Tentori reminisces about working with the late Bruno Mattei and Lucio Fulci.

While ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING will never be confused with the kind of film that it's imitating, the fact that it even exists is weirdly wonderful in its own way. "Normal" moviegoers, beware. "Junk film junkies"...enjoy.

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