Zombies: The Beginning was the final film for Bruno Mattei, an Italian trash-film mainstay who kept the faith by making his cheapjack brand of genre fare long after the rest of the Italian b-movie brigade moved on to t.v. work. He found himself working on a small budget in the Philippines and shooting on video but this didn’t cut into his ambition or his kleptomaniac creative tendencies. As a result, Zombies: The Beginning is a weirdly ambitious affair that directly models itself on Aliens(!).
Anyone familiar with the travails of Ripley in the Alien series will recognize the plight that the heroine of Zombies: The Beginning faces: Sharon (Yvette Yzon) survives a zombie holocaust on a mysterious island (chronicled in Island Of The Living Dead) only to find her sanity and motives questioned by the authority figures back home.
However, she’s the first one “the company” turns to when they have a zombie-related mishap. It seems they used samples of the undead for genetic experiments on another island but the crew in charge of the experiements has gone mysteriously silent. Sharon travels to the island with a batch of gung-ho military types only to discover a gaggle of zombies running amuck. Even worse, the experiments done on them has allowed them to mutate in ways that make them even harder to defeat.
Zombies: The Beginning starts with a lot of the usual Mattei hallmarks: the dialogue is ridiculous, the performances are goofy, the pacing is glacial and it shamelessly borrows from a better inspiration. However, the surprise here is how seriously Mattei takes emulating Aliens: the first half-hour is totally plot-driven and lacks gore except for one nightmare sequence. However, things get a little more splat-happy once Sharon and the soldiers make it to the lab. From there on, it’s a mixture of amusing bone-headed attempts at suspense and cut-rate splatter spectacles, like a zombie birth sequence.
You have to be fascinated by Mattei’s “bizarro world” approach to genre filmmaking to stick with Zombies: The Beginning – but even naysayers might fascinated by the film’s gonzo finale, which throws out all the stops with a barrage of weird sci-fi concepts and ambitious splatter/pyro effects. It’s one of the maddest sequences in the Mattei filmmography and something his fans will adore. Like Ed Wood, he kept pursuing his bizarre vision of commercial entertainment to the very end.
DVD Notes: This title recently made its home video debut in the U.S. via a DVD edition from Intervision Picture Corp. The anamorphic transfer makes the most of the film’s video cinematography and the stereo mix does the same for the film’s post-synch soundtrack. Extras include a trailer and a nice 18-minute interview with screenwriter Antonio Tentori. The writer not only discusses what it was like to work with Mattei but also discusses his collaborations with Lucio Fulci and Joe D’Amato. It’s rare to see supplements about this twilight era of Italian horror so fans will want to check this interview out.