Zombies: The Beginning DVD Review
Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Written by Antonio Tentori, Bruno Mattei and Gianni Paolucci
2007, Region 1, 95 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on February 24th 2015
Yvette Yzon as Sharon
Alvin Anson as Mark
Paul Holme as Paul
James Paolleli as Capt. Jurgens
BB Johnson as Sgt. Zamora
Dyane Craystan as Patricia Kramer
Gerhardo Acao as Thompson
Mike Vergel as Ludmann
Stop me if my description sounds familiar:
When the lone survivor of a monster attack is invited to assist a team of soldiers on a follow-up mission to re-establish contact with a colony of scientists, her worst fears are realized as even more of the creatures that killed her crew await. She watches helplessly as the soldiers are ambushed and then bravely rescues them by commandeering a transport vehicle, thus earning their respect. She receives some weapons training before the monsters invade again and soon she will face their leader...alone.
All right, well if you said Zombies: The Beginning, you are correct. Okay, sure it sounds a little tiny bit like James Cameron's classic Aliens, but I don't see his name anywhere on this puppy. Bruno Mattei, the infamous rip-off artist, the “Italian Ed Wood”, is back and still hiding behind the “Vincent Dawn” moniker. Despite sitting in the director's chair over fifty times, he never once took proper screen credit for his work, instead choosing to use multiple aliases. Decades of legal shenanigans led Mattei to the Philippines, where he made over a dozen films featuring zombies or cannibals before his death in 2007. Zombies: The Beginning is a sequel to Island of the Living Dead, and somehow manages to surpass the previous film in every way. While Island is a plodding zombie-ghost story involving deep-sea scavengers who steal cursed treasure, Zombies is a fast-paced popcorn flick that suggests Mattei knew he was not long for this world and just threw caution, and originality, to the wind.
This film is laughably bad and incredibly entertaining. It has everything a bad movie needs, starting with a giant pair of balls to lift so much recognizable material from an acclaimed Hollywood blockbuster. At least when Mattei made In the Land of the Cannibals he mixed elements from Cannibal Holocaust with Predator and offered a wacky hybrid time-killer. By tackling Aliens head-on, the bar is raised significantly and I am surprised to say that he surpasses my expectations and meets the challenge like a champ. The script reads as though he just did a “find/ replace” search and substituted the word “alien” with “zombie.” I am half serious when I suggest that Cameron should have received a co-writer credit. It is truly amazing that 20th Century Fox didn't shut Mattei down the way Universal did when he used actual footage from Jaws in his knock-off production Cruel Jaws (aka Jaws 5).
Yvette Yzon returns as Sharon, the sole survivor of Island of the Living Dead, but is now somehow a biologist with an inside knowledge of re-animated tissue. This Filipina Ripley substitute hits every beat of the Hollywood version and even manages to improve as an actress from her work in Island just a few months earlier. Her performance is still dubbed (even though she is speaking English), but her actions are more consistent with that of a rational human being. Filipina Ripley is plagued with nightmares of previous events, but here they are represented by ninety-second flashbacks of slowed down footage from the first movie. I mention this because she has the same nightmare three times in twenty minutes and each time we pause to watch the exact same clips play out in slow motion for an additional ninety seconds. There is little chemistry among any of the supporting cast, as they are merely cardboard cutouts of their Aliens counterparts that yell all of their dialogue... actually they are all dubbed too, so their dubbing artist yells for them. Everything plays by the numbers with zombies substituting for aliens until the grand finale, which I will not spoil.
The special effects in Zombies: The Beginning are pretty weak, but they are a substantial improvement over the shoddy work in the previous film. It is fairly comical to see Mattei up to his old tricks this late in the game, having spent decades borrowing from better filmmakers and recycling material from his own works for shits and giggles. What could have been an epic trilogy of mediocrity remains unrealized, since the director passed away before he could film the third chapter. I can only imagine what cinematic wonders have eluded me. God speed, Bruno. May you discover Heaven is filled with movie lovers who adore your efforts because they do not know any better.
Video and Audio:
Zombies: The Beginning is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and doesn't look half bad. Sure it's cheap, but it's a shot-on-video movie from less than 10-years ago, so the problem isn't the transfer. There are no technical issues to complain about on this DVD, so I blame the source material for any shortcomings in picture quality.
A Dolby stereo mix is serviceable but dialogue and all other audio cues have been added in post production. Every actor is dubbed, even though the majority are actually speaking English. Dialogue is occasionally difficult to understand when things get loud, but that is also likely due to source material.
Screenwriter Antonio Tentori discusses his time working with Lucio Fulci and Bruno Mattei in the featurette Zombie Genisys (17 minutes). The interview is a little plodding at times, but he has some nice things to say about working for some great Italian directors.
The trailer for Zombies: The Beginning spoils the ending in the first shots and then manages to show every major kill from the film, so avoid watching this before seeing the movie.