The Films (4/5, 3/5)
ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD
Island Of The Living Dead opens in the 1600's with conquistadors, aided by priests, trying to rid an island of a zombie infestation. Things quickly go south and as they flee they are met by African pirate vampires. We are in for quite a ride.
Fast forward to present day and a team of treasure hunters (led by one Captain Kirk, Gaetano Russo) onboard a ship go through a fog bank and end up on an island. The Island Of The Living Dead. Here our intrepid team encounter zombies, vampires, ghostly zombies, zombie monks, vampire zombies and ghosts while trying to fend not only each other off, but also trying to find a way to escape the island. After zombies attack the ship mechanic and blow up the ship the crew end up stranded on this island of the damned.
Captain Kirk's crew is made up of two girls, Sharon (Yzette Yzon) and Victoria (Ydalia Suarez) with Victoria being the tough girl from the start and Sharon growing into her role ala Alien's Ripley. Master carpenter Mark, (Gary King Roberts) commando guy Snoopy (Jim Gaines), so named because he wears a Snoopy t-shirt the entire movie) and Max. After locating the treasure they discover that a curse was placed on the island so that no one could ever retrieve the gold without having to fight a horde of zombies, ghosts, zombie ghosts, zombie monks and vampires. I repeated that monster cast of characters to really emphasize that this island of the living dead is truly, ridiculously jam packed with otherworldly threats. On top of all that, our gang of treasure hunters are also fighting each other's greed.
The film includes homage’s to Romero, apes Fulci, references John Carpenter's The Fog and quite possibly calls back to The Blind Dead series. The acting, while not great by most standards, is hobbled by constant, interesting dubbing choices. Characters who appear to be relatively calm suddenly unleash a string of f-bombs and various curse words. Triumphant music cues swell up from nowhere over decidedly non triumphant scenes. Really this only adds to the entertainment. The zombie special effects are (surprisingly?) well done, goopy enough to satisfy the most discerning of Italian zombie gorehounds and we also have some of Mattei's trademark stock footage on hand.
ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING
Dr. Sharon, (Yvette Yzon) the only survivor of Island Of The Living Dead, is slowly recovering from her experiences there. After a period of convalescing she is summoned to a meeting with the corporation she works for to discuss what happened on the island. Despite her repeated assurances that zombies did indeed destroy their boat and kill the rest of the crew, the corporation doesn't believe her and she leaves to become a Buddhist Monk.
Six months later a corporation minion, Paul Barker (Paul Holme) shows up at the abbey and explains that a team was sent to the island and communications were lost and by the way, would she mind joining a rescue crew and see what happened? (Do you see where this is going?) After some cajoling she agrees and joins a team of marines (hmm) along with Barker to go get to the bottom of the mystery.
Instead of taking a boat, the team takes a submarine to the island because, of course they do. Here we get some of Mattei's famous stock footage except this time around it's from a much better known film: Crimson Tide. And we're not talking just some footage of a submarine submerging and remerging, although that is there, we're talking footage from inside the sub with actual dialogue from actors that were in Crimson Tide. I'm not sure how they got by with this other than the very real possibility that Crimson Tide's lawyers just haven't gotten around to seeing Zombies: The Beginning yet. I'm sure they will though.
After arriving on the island the majority of the marines are obliterated by the zombies, Barker reveals that the corporation wants to weaponize the zombies, and after voicing her disagreement with this plan Sharon gets locked in a room with zombies and the communications are turned off. Oh and a zombie fetus bursts out of a lady's chest. Yes friends, Aliens + a dash of Crimson Tide + zombies = Zombies: The Beginning.
From here, you know how the story goes. The marines are gung ho to blow anything and everything away, they find left behind evidence of medical experiments performed on the zombies, and a big zombie vs. marine battle ensues until only a handful of marines are left. Who will ultimately survive?
The effects aren't quite as strong in Zombies: The Beginning as they were in Island Of The Living Dead. The dubbing is similarly hilarious and awkward with foul language spouting out of everyone at any moment. Lots of films were influenced by Alien and Aliens but I don't know that I've seen one that took so much from them as this one. Bravo Mr. Mattei!
Audio/Video (3.5/5, 3/5)
Island Of The Living Dead was shot on a HDCAM and is presented in 1:78:1 widescreen transfer. The picture is quite clear and acceptable and looks, well, like hi def video. Audio comes in the form of a Dolby 2.0 track, dialogue was a little murky, I found myself turning up the television quite a bit, and music and sound effects came through fairly well if a little flat. No subtitles.
Again, just like Island Of The Living Dead, Zombies: The Beginning is shot on a HDCAM and looks like video. Again sound is presented in a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Dialogue was a little hard to distinguish, I think that could have been beefed up a bit, but otherwise the sound was okay. No subtitles.
Extras (4/5, 3/5)
Intervision has included a featurette titled Bungle In The Jungle (perhaps not the most confidence inspiring title) with producer Gianni Paolucci (who produced Dracula 3D for Argento, a film that this one bests, at least it's certainly more fun than Dracula 3D) and screenwriter Antonio Tentori. Also included are the trailer and a sales promo for the film.
For their release of Zombies: The Beginning, Intervision includes a trailer and a featurette entitled Zombie Genisys.
Island Of The Living Dead is a crazy entertaining film. It reminds me of a Spanish horror film of the 70's in the way that they threw everything and the kitchen sink in and more often than not it worked. It's unintentionally funny, the laughs are there, but not in a way that makes you think the filmmakers were idiots or untalented. If you're looking for a horror film of serious quality, move along. But if you're looking to be entertained, jump on board. I recommend this film if you are looking for a good, ridiculous time.
Zombies: The Beginning isn't as entertaining as Island Of The Living Dead in my opinion. There's still plenty of ridiculousness to go around but it's not quite as fun. It is very amusing to quickly realize it's a takeoff on Aliens and see the Crimson Tide footage incorporated. All that said, if you enjoyed Island Of The Living Dead (and why wouldn't you?) then I say see this sequel. RIP Vincent Dawn.