By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring; Chuck Peyton and Candice Daly; Cristopher Ahrens and Haven Tyler
Directed by Lucio Fulci; “Clyde Anderson” (Claudio Fragasso); “Vincent Dawn” (Bruno Mattei)
Written by Claudio Fragasso; Rossella Drudi; “Clayde Anderson” (Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi)
Continuing to dig deeper into the Italohorror vaults, Severin Films has unearthed and polished to a shine two in-name-only ZOMBIE sequels and SHOCKING DARK. The latter is particularly noteworthy, as it has never been officially released in the U.S. before, and has previously been visible there only on cropped, blurry bootlegs. Seeing SHOCKING DARK (1989) in this spiffed-up widescreen edition has the effect of making it seem like a different movie—though not, alas, a better one.
VHS collectors of a certain age might recall first being exposed to SHOCKING DARK via a trailer on the widely tape-duplicated Japanese laserdisc of MEET THE FEEBLES. That preview and the alternate title (ALIENNATORS) used therein indicated why no American distrib might have wanted to touch it: It’s virtually a scene-by-scene ripoff of James Cameron’s ALIENS, combined with a number of scenes stolen from the director’s original TERMINATOR, done with absolutely none of Cameron’s skill or finesse. (The film is also known as TERMINATOR 2, a moniker that appears on the slipcover for a limited edition available from Severin’s website “until a cease and desist arrives.”)
The purloined plot follows a group of marines, wearing ridiculous uniforms decorated with random flair, who face inhuman creatures and a deadly cyborg beneath the streets of a postapocalyptic Venice. Many of Cameron’s key scenes are recreated verbatim, though the monsters are not lithe, speedy H.R. Giger nightmares but rather stiff, rubbery frog- and fishmen, and the Newt stand-in rescued along the way is not a resourceful little girl but a whiny, helpless brat played by clearly early-20something Dominica Coulson with a ribbon in her hair. The acting and dialogue are awful, and though there’s one gobsmacking plot twist in the final act, so much of SHOCKING DARK is second-hand that it fails to establish a gonzo identity of its own, and the amusement at its plagiarism runs dry before long.
Directed by Bruno Mattei under his frequent nom de film “Vincent Dawn,” SHOCKING DARK is so inept that the opening credits misspell “Clyde Anderson,” the pseudonym of scripters Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, as “Clayde Anderson.” This duo was also behind the same year’s ZOMBIE 4, which sports that nom de film correctly spelled for Fragasso’s directing credit, with Drudi billed under her real name. Like their trash classic TROLL 2, this one was shot as a standalone feature (AFTER DARK is the onscreen title) but sold by the producers as a sequel, though any sense of aesthetic connection to Lucio Fulci’s original is dispelled very early on. The movie opens with a voodoo rite on a tropical island that threatens to erupt into a musical number at any moment, and is invaded by a group of soldiers played by terrible actors (at least, as very clearly post-dubbed).
A little girl survives the ensuing zombie rampage and grows up to be Jenny (Candice Daly), one of a boatload of unfortunates who wind up back on that island. They join a small group of scientists (one played by Chuck Peyton, a.k.a. adult-film star Jeff Stryker) in facing a new infestation of the living dead, who here are not just mindless shamblers but in some cases can talk and fight gunfire with gunfire. The filmmaking itself is every bit as shambolic as it is in TROLL 2, though the ingredients are much more familiar, and thus lacking that movie’s jaw-dropping sense of surprise.
ZOMBIE 3 (1988) is the best-known of the trio, a notorious patchwork begun by Fulci and finished by an uncredited Mattei, from a script by Fragasso. Fulci helmed about two-thirds of what we see in the finished film, though you’d never know from watching it; other than an setpiece at a eerily mist-shrouded lakeside, the severely budget-challenged ZOMBIE 3 features little of his gory-Gothic style, and his regular cinematographer Sergio Salvati is sorely missed behind the camera.
By all accounts (including several on the disc extras), Fulci was gravely ill while making his portion of the movie, in which military guys and a busload of women have the misfortune of traveling through an Asian resort area just as it is being overrun by the walking-dead byproduct of scientific experimentation gone awry. The relentless nightmare logic that fueled his first ZOMBIE as well as THE BEYOND et al. is lacking in ZOMBIE 3, replaced by random appropriation of tropes and scenes from other, better undead films and a hectic pace that at least means something’s always happening, though it doesn’t add up to much genuine excitement.
Nonetheless, all three movies have acquired cult followings among devotees of spaghetti splatter, who will be mightily impressed by Severin’s widescreen 1080p transfers of the original uncut versions. All three movies look terrific, boasting sharp, stable pictures with strong colors that belie their very low budgets (even when what’s in front of the camera does not). Severin and Freak-O-Rama also provide new interview segments on each disc featuring Fragasso and Drudi (and their cat); on ZOMBIE 3, they dish dirt about the troubled production—which, they reveal, Mattei originally didn’t want to finish because he was angry Fulci got the initial call to direct it. The duo are entertainingly frank about ZOMBIE 3’s shortcomings and the reasons for them, and even close with a couple of fun anecdotes about Dario Argento.
ZOMBIE 3 also comes with numerous extras ported over from the previous Shriek Show DVD. Several interviews from that disc have been re-edited and streamlined here: Actors/stuntmen Massimo Vanni and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua offer details about making the film on Filipino locations (including some previously seen in APOCALYPSE NOW); the late Mattei fills in more specifics of his contributions, noting that he got the gig because he was shooting STRIKE COMMANDO 2 in the same area—and candidly says, “My movies are all bad in my opinion”; actress Marina Loi shares brief but fond memories of her time on the film; and effects artist Franco Di Girolamo, in his workshop, gives a literally first-hand look at a gore gag and shows off ZOMBIE 3 props, including the infamous flying head. Then there’s an entertaining audio commentary by stars Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring, who talk both positively and negatively about Fulci, point out the reshoot scenes they weren’t around for and (Sarafian especially) joke about the many implausibilities and inconsistencies.
In Fragasso and Drudi’s ZOMBIE 4 interview, the former calls the film “my own personal revenge on zombie movies,” which explains quite a bit. On the other hand, he claims that this flick introduced running, active ghouls to the genre, apparently forgetting Umberto Lenzi’s NIGHTMARE CITY/CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD. In another new featurette, Peyton delves into both his porn career and his ZOMBIE 4 experiences, which he remembers as pretty chaotic, and, on a more sobering note, reminisces about Daly, whom he reveals was murdered in 2004. Before that tragic event, Daly recorded a very brief interview for Shriek Show that’s reproduced here in even shorter form, though it retains her reference to “Francis Ford Fragasso.” A few minutes of behind-the-scenes video of that opening scene—which, we learn from Fragasso and Drudi’s chat, was staged on sets left over from Michele Soavi’s THE CHURCH—are thrown in as well.
For SHOCKING DARK, the screenwriting duo discuss the challenges of knocking off ALIENS and TERMINATOR (but not PREDATOR, “since we used that for ROBOWAR”) on a tiny fraction of their budgets. This segment overall is a refreshingly candid examination of the derivative side of an Italian genre scene that, as they point out, saw a whole string of movies misleadingly sold as follow-ups to THE EVIL DEAD (known as LA CASA in their country). Italo-cult-fave actress Geretta Geretta (billed in DARK as Geretta Giancarlo Field) also sits down for Severin’s camera to enthusiastically chronicle her life as a performer, from her first film role in Susan Seidelman’s SMITHEREENS and modeling work to her collaborations with Mattei on both DARK and RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR as well as Fulci on MURDER-ROCK, and her makeup-intensive stint on Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS. Rounding out these supplements are the alternate Italian-language TERMINATOR 2 opening credits.
As extra bonuses, the first 3,000 copies of ZOMBIE 3 and 4 come with bonus CD soundtracks. The former’s music was composed by Stefano Mainetti, and the latter’s by Al Festa—several years before he would make his own contribution to WTF Italian horror as director of 1996’s FATAL FRAMES.