Terrorists get hold of a biological weapon called Death One in the Philippines, but the lone survivor in their group accidentally contaminates himself. The US Army tracks him down and burns the corpses of everyone in the hotel he was staying in, but this causes Death One to enter the atmosphere, kill birds, and bring them back to life to infect humanity. Soon a bus full of tourists and a handful of G.I.s find themselves facing off against a horde of the undead while containment squads wander around killing anything that moves. Can the world survive this spreading zombie plague? Or will the hubris of the United States military end the world?
Have you seen much Italian schlock cinema? The US army almost always kills us all in these kinds of films, especially when guys like Lucio Fulci (Zombi 2), Bruno Mattei (Hell of the Living Dead), and Claudio Fragasso (Troll 2) are at the reins. Fulci is credited as the director for Zombi 3 but had to quit partway through, ostensibly for hepatitis but also possibly because of disputes with the producer. Producer Franco Gaudenzi then brought in Mattei and Fragasso to finish the film without Fulci’s consent, with Fragasso writing new material for Mattei to direct.
The end result is about 60% Fulci’s work and 40% Mattei’s, a strange scattershot of a movie stuck between two different visions of zombies. In some scenes, the zombies are slow shamblers intent only on biting people, while in others they move quickly, know how to fight, and can even talk. One particular zombie head even flies. Generally speaking, the shamblers were Fulci’s work, while the runners were Mattei, though the flying zombie head was Fulci’s idea. Also, Mattei starred as the general’s bald right hand man, Tracey. The other one, Cheney, was in fact played by Claudio Fragasso.
As a result, the response from Fulci to the film was to distance himself from it. He even tried unsuccessfully to have his name removed from the credits, and he has gone on record as saying that he only really enjoys the flying zombie head scene. Conversely, Mattei still considers Zombi 3 to be Fulci’s film, with him just stepping in to help out. Ultimately Zombi 3 was a loss, and Gaudenzi had Mattei and Fragasso work together on another zombie movie called After Death to make up for the money. After Death is sometimes labeled Zombie 4 to keep this messed up series going.
As for my opinion, even with all of the problems, I found myself enjoying it. It feels more like Mattei to me, despite Fulci having filmed the majority of it. Hey, Mattei got final edit. Zombi 3 is more than a little ridiculous and over the top, but between its weird history, its environmentalist message, and its complete lack of character development, it’s still a pretty creepy piece of cheese with an awesome soundtrack. That is how we like our cheese, isn’t it? Just don’t think about it too hard. It is a mess.
Also, ivy apparently grows really fast in the Philippines. There is a rundown hotel in Zombi 3 that the heroes hide in which is completely overgrown and in ruins, despite only having been closed a week before. Wow. The plant life in that country is really gnarly.