Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Zombies: The Beginning

Zombies: The Beginning
Original Title: Zombi: La creazione
Directed by: Bruno Mattei
(Vincent Dawn)
Italy, 2007
Horror/Zombies, 91 min
Distributed by: Ritka Video

Oh Bruno, Dear Bruno, Dear Meistro Mattei… what a superb final movie you left for us fans of cheap and cheerful entertainment to relish. A magnificent piece of popcorn horror with some of the most diabolical dubbing in the history of film, some impressing awesome moments of Helicopters, Submarines and previous movies, and a plot that uncannily rings a bell in the back of my head… But I wouldn't want it in any other way, this is Bruno Mattei at his best, and again, this is a perfect last movie from one of the grandmasters of Italian horror. A grandmaster who never hesitated to borrow a few ideas or two from a fellow filmmaker if it would enhance the story he wanted to tell.

Zombies: The Beginning opens up with an impressive and heroically toned rescue where Dr. Sharon Dimao (Yvette Yzon) sole survivor and somewhat action heroine from the preceding movie Island of the Living Dead is hoisted up to a helicopter and safety… at least for now.

Picking up directly from L'isola dei morti viventi (Island of the Living Dead) 2008, Zombies: The Beginning kicks right in as Sharon transforms into a deadly zombie demon and tears the throat out of an unfortunate night nurse. With a jolt Sharon wakes from her terrifying nightmare and proclaims that she will never be free… true in more than one way.

Trying to put the events of that terrible ordeal behind her, she seeks refuge in a monastery. Some months later Paul Barker [Paul Holme] from the Tyler Cooperation approaches Sharon and puts forth a proposition that she helm an expedition back to the island of the living dead… Or rather a nearby island where they have sent a second expedition to investigate the samples - that's zombies to you and me mate - which they have taken from the Island of the Living Dead to the nearby location.

After a pretty effective search and destroy sequence where the platoon of special forces troops secure the facility, Dr. Sharon and the Tyler exec’s enter the building which soon reveals itself to be a research laboratory where zombie foetuses and semi dissected adult corpses are scattered about on operating tables. You know that they will realise they are not alone in there and pretty soon the zombie infested action explodes onto the screen.

Just like Bruno's RoboWar – Robot da Guerra (Robowar) 1989, which is in some ways a frame by frame reproduction of Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop 1987 and John McTiernan’s Predator 1987, or Terminator II (Shocking Dark) 1990 which is Mattei’s modulation of James Cameron's Terminator 1984 - Zombies: the Beginning is more or less a frame by frame reproduction of Cameron's Aliens 1986 - but retold with a zombie angle instead of the alien angle… or is it...

Zombies: The Beginning is a great movie that totally feels like the old Mattei classics – but looks like a Mexican telemundo… which I obviously mean in the best possible way. [It’s the crispy video vs grain thing all over again] But despite that it still packs a punch, there’s some splendid low-budget special effects – and I can not point out how much freaky Alien, Zombie, headshots and gore splashes there are in this wonderful movie - cramped laboratories and workspaces that induce seventies Doctor Who locations, snarling and grunting solders, bloodthirsty zombies, spectacular birthing scenes - yes you sure as hell haven't seen anything like this in a zombie movie before!

Time to answer the question you all are waiting for: Does Yzon’s Dr. Sharon Dimao holds up as an action heroine like Ellen Ripley or Sarah Connor? The answer is Hell Yeah! When the shit hit’s the fan and the executives hide safely behind their video monitors as the tactical unit is slaughtered by the alien/zombie creatures in the factory, it’s Dimao who steps up, saves the remaining troops and sets the agenda for what need’s to be done. And it happens just past midpoint, propelling the movie into the final third, delivering some new antagonists to the plot and revealing the true intentions of going back to the island. Global Cooperation’s with their sights set on new fields of weaponry sure as hell do suck, and that’s without the final act twist that will blow your socks off. Supposedly the movie was intended to be the second part in a trilogy, but Mattei passed away before the third was initiated. Mattei has obviously established Yzon as a heroine to rely on, and the final shots of Yzon looking out over the destruction is a very classic cliffhanger pose. It would have been great to pop part three in the machine and see where Mattei would have gone with the story. It’s also possible to read the ending as a homage to those nihilistic endings of the eighties movies, which more than often ended with a final attack presenting the end of mankind after all.

It strikes me that the most of the Mattei movies I’ve seen actually have pretty strong female protagonists. Zombies: The Beginning is no exception. Dimao is in no way a passive character, which she easily could have become in the male dominated cast of grunts. But she looks at ease with being an action hero, walks the walk and talks the talk. When staring death in the eye, she reaches for the closest weapon and delivers the classic “I have something I need to do.” line instead of doing a 180 and running. It’s the same in that board meeting early on in the movie. Instead of obeying the authorities, she gives them a bollocking and goes her own way. So could it be so that Bruno Mattei actually was a man who enjoyed strong female characters in his movies…? Think about journalist Lia Rousseau [Margit Evelyn Newton] in Virus (Hell of the Living Dead) 1980… she’s a pretty strong character, after all she get’s her kit off and walks right into that village of primitives in the midst of a zombie outbreak… Mother Vincenza [Franca Stoppi] in L’altro inferno (The Other Hell) 1981 is a rather strong character, yes an evil one – or is she really, she’s only looking out for her child, a mothers strongest emotions… Emanuelle [Laura Gemser] in Violenza in un carcere femminile (Violence in a Womens Prison) 1982, well if there’s a euro trash archetype for strong female who makes it out on top of each submission she find’s herself in then Emanuelle is she. Victoria [Ydalia Suarez] in Island of the Living Dead, well she goes down in a blaze of glory… You see, there’s more than just coincidence here, and I could easily go on giving you more examples but I’ll just leave the thought with you and let you explore that pleasure all for yourselves. So you plainly can see that Bruno Mattei is more than just a seedy smut peddler, but a man who actually held feminist values close at hand in his storytelling.

Recycling footage is part of Mattei’s game, I’d even go as far as saying it’s a trait. In Zombies: The Beginning, you’ll find not only footage from Island of the Dead, but also a decent portion of Crimson Tide 1995 is used, and as per custom, the aspect ratio is off. I remember an old VHS I had of Hell of the Living Dead where the inserted material was full screen and the original footage presented in a letterbox format. Good old glory days and definitely an ingredient to the charm and experience of Bruno Mattei movies.

Zombies: The Beginning is a perfect final Bruno Mattei movie. Not only does it ooze of the atmosphere, attitude and style of the movies that once brought him to my (and fellow Matteiists) attention, but it also stands as an example of how dedicated Mattei was to his art. Because never mind how cheap his sets, locations, effects where they work. In his universe they work, they add to the movie and they elevate it. God knows I’ve seen major big budget productions come out looking worse than Zombies: The Beginning. Bruno Mattei’s movies don’t demand anything from me, they don’t try to be clever or arty or stylish, they simply offer me ninety minutes of mindless entertainment that will take me away to an imaginary world, the perfect escape from the daily grind. And for that I will always love the movies of Bruno Mattei. Cheap trash made perfect, and for this Bruno Mattei will always be one of my favourite directors.

There’s a clip with Bruno at the end of the movie, which shows a frail Mattei joking with the cameraman in what possibly is the editing suite. A sad reminder of what a true trooper Mattei was, a man who despite staring death in the face continued to make low budget trash for us to devour. Because we love it and he loved it. Rest in peace Meistro.

Widescreen 16x9

Dolby Digital 2.0, Czech Dub or English Dub with Czech subtitles.

Nothing but a few trailers for other Ritka Video releases.


Ninja Dixon said...

Man, you gave me tears in the eyes with this review! One of the few people who "gets" Mattei, that's you. I felt the final moment there in the end with Bruno is very touching, and very fitting to an amazing career.

CiNEZiLLA said...

Jup. Thanks Ninja. Mattei is not to everyone's liking, but I really dig the man. I'm also glad that I came up with that strong female angle too as my wife keeps asking who this Bruno Mattei I keep singing about is. :D

Disney Star Wars and the Kiss of Life Trope... (Spoilers!)

Here’s a first… a Star Wars post here.  So, really should be doing something much more important, but whist watching my daily dose of t...