I’m a big fan of Italian horror films. While not always perfect, they have a unique style that lead to a viewing experience that’s one of a kind. The colors, the music, the gore, the women, the religious overtones, all of them contribute to a style that’s unmistakably Italian, for lack of a better word. When I saw that there was a super low budget American film called “The Italian Zombie Movie”, I was curious. Could a super low budget film get that vibe right? Could a director who’s last name isn’t Fulci, Deodato or Argento produce a film with that feel? Turns out, sort of. Unfortunately, the first part of “The Italian Zombie Movie” also finds itself with a lot of the flaws found in most super low budget horror films. The end result is a confused, fatally flawed film with a lot of heart and style.
While the plot starts simple enough, it quickly spirals out of control. The opening shot instantly sets the mood for the film, as we watch a soldier being killed by a zombie in a scene that fans of Lucio Fulci’s “Zombi II” (known as “Zombie” state-side) will love. We’re introduced to the protagonist, the soldier’s brother who is determined to find out what happened to his dead brother. While this sounds simple enough, more and more characters are introduced, each with their own plot thread that gets followed for the duration of the film. We have the brothers psychic girlfriend (a common trope in Italian horror films, and a nice touch), the rest of the militia men, a mad scientist type, his assistant (who’s actually a succubus!) and her scummy boyfriend, a feminist gas station attendant, the psychic girlfriend’s friend, some chick in a leopard print russian hat, another one of the psychic girlfriend’s friends, a mysterious woman in a black cloak, a village pervert in a luchador mask and, lest I forget, two aliens that drive a Wrangler.
Simply put, there are way, WAY too many characters for one film. And while not everyone one of these sets of characters are featured prominently, at any given time, there are on average five different plot threads being followed. As a result, we never get any development or depth to any of these characters. And since so many of them are throw-away characters that are introduced solely for comic relief or to serve as a punchline, the pacing suffers as it’s difficult to care for more than maybe three of them. In addition, it’s difficult to keep everyone straight (a problem which is exacerbated by the bland, flat acting and the similar appearance of many of the actors), and a lot of their backstory is skipped or not fleshed out. For example, I still don’t know why there are aliens in this movie. Or if they’re even aliens, for all I know they could be cyborgs or robots. Or maybe robot aliens. I just know that they’re not human, and that they’re here.
This film tries to be a comedy. Problem is, no matter how hard it tried, I rarely chuckled. While there are some moments here and there that made me laugh, the humor here is groan-worthy at best. There’s times when it seems like this movie is trying to be something like “Scream” and is riffing on the tropes of the genre. This is normally where the film is most successful in eliciting a laugh. When it starts raining eggs and one of the characters goes into a story his grandmother used to tell him when he was little about the end of days (a major trope of this genre), I thought it was pretty funny. When that same character is cracking jokes about deaf and blind kids and “retards”, not so much. And unlike a film like “Shaun of the Dead”, which drops the humor once “shit gets real”, that doesn’t happen here, meaning there’s no tension or suspense.
The more of these super low budget films I watch, the more I find myself being super annoyed by one major thing, sloppiness. I know these super low budget films can’t have the world’s best special effects, or professional actors, so I often don’t knock them on that. However, there is never, EVER, any excuse for outright sloppiness, regardless of budget. Now I know, this might sound nit-picky, but stuff like this stands out and just looks bad. The Italian in the opening credits is grammatically incorrect. We’re not talking crazy past participle conjugation either, we’re talking “a film by” is translated incorrectly. The character of Dr. Fulci (obviously a reference to the director of the same name) is spelled on screen as Dr. Fallucci as if nobody could be bothered to Google the director’s name or grab a DVD box. And the one that got me the most, during a montage of headlines, the headlines are simply taped over other headlines, with the other, completely unrelated, article still readable. Again, it sounds like nothing, but it’s on screen long enough to be painfully obvious. If you’re going to do a montage, do it right. I can understand poor special effects, but I can’t excuse taking an article on Alzheimer's, slapping a new headline on it, and prominently displaying it as the only thing in frame for 30 seconds and expecting no one to notice.
It’s not all bad though. At times, this movie really nails the vibe it’s going for. The music, the gore and the effects really replicate the Italian style nicely. You can tell that a lot of effort went into getting this right, and for the most part, it worked. The practical effects range from good to great, with the gore effects being spot on. They’re gross and actually got me to cringe a few times. The filmmakers should be proud of this. They managed to replicate a very unique and difficult style, while simultaneously avoiding one of the biggest pitfalls to low budget films. However, they made the odd choice to not fully run with the Italian gimmick throughout the entire film, and they only play up this aspect during gore scenes or with some of the characters. There are plenty of times when you’ll be watching some hillbillies run around Michigan with no indication that this is supposed to be an “Italian” movie.
Worse still, they also make what is in my opinion, one of the biggest sins a filmmaker can make: this film doesn’t stand on it’s own. There’s a sequel, “The Italian Zombie Movie, Part 2: Zombie Atrocity”. Unlike the two “Kill Bill” movies which stand alone as two separate films, this film needs the sequel to be considered a complete whole. The entire 100 minutes in this first half do nothing but set the scene and establish the second film. The movie abruptly ends after the zombies finally show up (yes, it takes 100 minutes for zombies to regularly appear in a film called “Zombie Abomination”) and we’re told to buy the sequel on Amazon. Sorry, that’s not an ending. Unlike “Kill Bill: Volume 1” which had it’s own rising action, climax and denouement (and a twist to keep us tuned to “Volume 2”), this film simply ends and prompts us to buy the sequel. Absolutely, 100% inexcusable.
Ultimately, I have a hard time reviewing this as a stand-alone film. It’s obvious this film was never intended to be viewed on it’s own. Yes, while the two “Kill Bills” and even “Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” require both films to tell the complete story, each individual half can stand on it’s own as being great (well, maybe describing “Jedi” as great is a bit much). Here, all you have is 100 minutes of setup. Given how much filler and extraneous fluff is in this first half, I would imagine it would not have been a difficult task at all to cut both these films together as one cohesive whole. Even worse, it’s not even a particularly good 100 minutes. I have to say, watching this first half has not made me want to watch the second half. But alas, I have a journalistic duty to you, the Bloody Good Horror readers. So tune in next week loyal readers, when I tackle the hopefully thrilling conclusion in the pretty lackluster saga of “The Italian Zombie Movie”, with “The Italian Zombie Movie, Part 2: Zombie Atrocity!”