Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

Who would call the sequel to a movie "The Beginning"? Bruno Mattei is who, demonstrating the crystal clear sense of logic you expect from his body of work.

Now, you may remember that Island of the Living Dead ended with our last survivor Sharon (Yvette Yzon) being declared dead by her rescuers and rising again as a zombie. Curiously enough, this hasn't actually happened, and Sharon (who turns out to be a doctor of biology, by the way) is alive and well and suffering from regular nightmares. If you're a more generous person than I am, you might read the first movie's ending as one of Sharon's nightmares, but dear Bruno doesn't actually bother to sell it that way. Anyhow, it also turns out that the protagonists of the last movie were lying to us when they repeatedly called themselves treasure hunters and acted that way, for they were in fact working salvage operations for an evil corporation, Tyler Inc.

Obviously, Tyler Inc. doesn't believe Ripley'sSharon's story about alienszombies killing her crew mates and fires her for reasons of mental instability and "the inexplicable explosion" (cough, self-destruct button, cough) of her ship, leaving RipSharon with working at the docksbecoming a Buddhist nun as her only career option. If you know Mattei's films, you'll probably now have flashbacks to the other times when he ripped off James Cameron's Aliens, and verily, he does it again. Only this time around, Mattei keeps even closer to Aliens' narrative structure, leaving Zombies with nary a scene that isn't mirroring another one from what we must imagine to be the Italian's favourite film. Good old Bruno (or his script-writers, returning Antonio Tentori and new guy Giovanni Paolucci) manages to borrow even more of the original's dialogue than he and his buddy Claudio Fragasso did in the best movie ever aka Shocking Dark, though I am a little disappointed he didn't find a way to include anything about nuking the place from orbit. I also decry the sad absence of androids.

Given that everybody really should know the plot of Aliens, there's no need for me to do any further plot synopsising for Zombies. Just imagine Aliens without Newt and Bishop (and of course without anything taking the place of Newt in motivating Ripley/Sharon, because we can't have her act in a way that makes sense, right?) and with mutant zombies and later on conehead mutant zombies replacing the aliens, and an inexplicable and unexplained talking - of course with a British accent, for all brains are British - brain in a glass cage standing in for the alien mother. If much of the plot doesn't seem to make much sense to you after these replacements, hey, it's a Mattei movie, and the man aimed to please. I think.

As a matter of fact, I found myself hard pressed to not be pleased by Zombies while watching it. This reaction to what happened on screen is probably on the same level as the delight of a certain kind of anime fan confronted with scenes of female characters whose breasts make "boink! boink!" noises when they move, but what can a guy like me do when confronted with a guy like Bruno Mattei not having learned a bit about filmmaking in all the years he worked as a director.

All the shoddiness the connoisseur expects from a Mattei movie is there and accounted for: acting on school play level with an especially hysterical performance by the guy standing in for Bill Paxton (Yvette Yzon who was one of the least terrible actors in the first movie also manages to top her performance there and sometimes reaches the levels of overenthusiastic horribleness the film surrounding her deserves); action directed without an eye for the position of the characters taking part in it; dialogue that is borrowed from another movie not exactly known for brilliance of dialogue and then dumbed down until it fits the quality of the acting; a sense for weird, stupid and peculiar details that manifests in things like flame throwers that seem to work without fuel (I imagine they use fire elementals), that brain in a glass cage, or a fascination with mutant foetuses that really shows by comparison how tasteful H.R. Giger's shtick is; sets that include empty brown rooms, empty grey rooms and not much else; a complete lack of sanity. In other words, Zombies: The Beginning is an awesome film that never ever wants to waste a single second boring you or talking sense. After all, there's still a scene from Aliens it hasn't transformed through the magic of its $100 budget it needs to rip off.

Some may find it tragic that Mattei's last film is a shot-on-very- visibly-digital rip-off of a James Cameron movie, without a budget and clearly nobody of talent involved, but if I am honest, I think this is the perfect, honest end point for the man's career. Mattei's talent did after all always lie in his ability to make highly entertaining crap, and in this regard, he couldn't have succeeded more than he did with Zombies: The Beginning.


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