Monday, February 26, 2024

"I Heard That There's a Problem on an Island" - Zombies: The Beginning (2007)

The late Bruno Mattei's final film, Zombies: The Beginning (2007), is a direct sequel to his previous film, Island of the Living Dead (also 2007). Both films show that Mr. Mattei never lost his touch at making creative horror films that cannibalized bits and pieces from earlier movies to develop entertaining, surprising stories. 

Of course, some of your universe's critics don't understand Mr. Mattei's films. About Zombies: The Beginning, reviewer slothworx writes, admittedly with great eloquence, "This is stupid. I'm a big fan of zombie flicks, but this one is awful and stupid." Reviewer matthewhemmings writes, "This one stunk like the cheese counter at your local supermarket, or that big bag of especially dank green you just picked up." And reviewer Uriah43 writes, "I will just say that this sequel was just as bad as the first film in that it still had a bad script, bad character development and bad acting along with bad costumes and sets."

Read on for a more down-to-earth appreciation of Bruno Mattei's Zombies: The Beginning...

The film begins with the events that ended Island of the Living Dead (2007) as a woman (played by Yvette Yzon from the previous film) is rescued by a helicopter that finds her raft on the ocean. In the hospital, she is revealed to be a zombie with sharp teeth. She kills a nurse (in an echo of the first bite of 1978’s Dawn of the Dead), but the incident is simply a dream. Ms. Yzon’s character Sharon, who is a scientist in this film, explains to a board of directors that zombies killed the crew of the ship in the last film. Unfortunately, the board members fail to believe her. Defiantly, she says, “Look, I already know how this will all end up, but those creatures exist, and they are there.”

Sharon is fired from the company. The CEO’s parting words: “My advice to you is to start taking care of yourself and not these incredible resuscitated dead bodies!”

Six months later, Sharon sleeps in a Buddhist temple, still having dreams of the living dead attacking her. A man named Paul Barker arrives at the temple to tell her that her former company knows she was telling the truth. He wants her to join a rescue expedition to find a lost medical team that was, somewhat confusingly, transporting tissue samples of the zombies from one island to another island. Sensibly and predictably, she refuses, saying, “I’m not going back there. You can’t make me.”

After more nightmares, Sharon realizes she can’t keep running from her past, so she goes to a site identified as Submarine Base South East Pacific Ocean to join the rescue expedition. Here, a corporate paramilitary group prepares to leave on the voyage, for some reason choosing an exterior location in the middle of a downpour for a briefing. The officer in charge tells his troops, “I heard that there’s a problem on an island, and they called us. We’re gonna resolve that problem no matter what it may be. I expect the maximum effort of power here. Anything less, I can tell you, and you’ll regret the day you didn’t join the police academy. Is that clear? Do you want me to lead you? Cause if you don’t, then that strange sensation up your pants will be my foot up your ass.” The officer tells them about the living dead.

One of his troops laughs nervously. “You mean like zombies? Like George Romero?”

Sharon steps in to tell the troops her story, aided by some footage from Island of the Living Dead. She warns them eloquently, “You can’t kill what’s already dead.”

Sharon and the troops take a submarine to the new island. Their two Zodiacs deposit approximately fifty troops, including Sharon, onto the island. They immediately find a van, but its only occupant is a skeleton. Then they reach some kind of command post. Perhaps unwisely, the troops blow up a door marked “Biohazard,” which results in no particular danger, though the soldiers find some ambiguously human body parts on the ground.

Sharon and the commanders of the operation watch the troops’ progress on a series of video monitors from another command post. One of the soldiers on video remarks on what is happening: “It looks like we’re seeing a horror film, but I can guarantee you it’s disgustingly real.”

Once the troops and commanders are reunited, they find a lab where bloody dead fetuses are confined in large tubes. It appears the company was conducting experiments on pregnant women.

Suddenly, the troops’ wrist-mounted motion detectors go off, but the men have trouble finding whatever is setting their equipment off. In a tense moment (made even more tense to those who have not seen the film Aliens), the men are attacked from above by what appear to be a giant-headed zombie fetus.

Back in the other control room inside the truck (which must be far larger than it appears), Paul Barker supervises as his corporate flunkies scan the island for company employees. He explains about personal data, “Every member of Tyler, Inc. had theirs surgically tattooed on their arms.”

“Just like the Nazis,” says a flunky matter-of-factly.

“Yeah,” Barker says just as matter-of-factly, “just like the SS.”

When the scanner finds employees of the company, Barker and Sharon join a rescue party in the truck they found on the island. This leads to another sequence in which armed soldiers raid an apparently abandoned building. Director Bruno Mattei uses all his suspense-building skills as the men move through an empty room and see a strange liquid dripping down a wall. Their superior tells them over the radio, “Be careful before firing. Remember that we’re looking for civilians here.” Then he cries, “Look out!” but, perhaps surprisingly, nobody reacts to this admonition and nothing happens.

After several minutes of walking, the soldiers find a room full of body bags hanging from the ceiling. Then they find a room full of women’s courses that were either pregnant or recently pregnant. One woman is still alive. After begging for the soldiers to kill her, her belly erupts.

Mercifully, the soldiers blast the woman and the creature with flamethrowers.

The room is then assaulted from all sides by zombies. The soldiers shoot indiscriminately, yelling “Fire!” repeatedly before retreating through an open door. However, there is little hope for the solders until Sharon decides to start the truck and mount a rescue operation. She makes a skillful three-point turn in the large vehicle, then backs it up to the besieged building.

After a handful of soldiers are rescued, Sharon drives the truck back to a safer building, dodging a zombie that reaches through the perhaps poorly conceived opening in the roof of the truck’s cab.

Of course, once the humans are safe, they begin arguing. Sharon wants to destroy the facility on the island, but Barker, the representative of the corporation, refuses to allow this, though he is contradicted by one of the soldiers, who says he is now in charge. They hit upon a plan (whose details I must admit I do not fully understand) to restore an antenna in the facility, which will somehow allow them to leave the island and also destroy it. There is also a submarine involved, but this is only mentioned later. A female soldier, Kramer, takes on the mission to realign the antenna because she is the only qualified person. Unfortunately, Kramer is quickly ripped in half.

“We’d better barricade ourselves in the laboratory,” Sharon says from the comfort of the safe building. “They’re coming for us.”

In the laboratory, however, Kramer and his crony attempt to reanimate a zombie fetus because his assignment from Tyler, Inc. was to retrieve living zombies from the island.

Barker tells Sharon, “I’m really disappointed in you, you know, Sharon. I expected more from you. I thought you were smarter than that.”

Cleverly, Sharon replies, “I’m only happy to disappoint you, Barker.”

After she leaves, Sharon finds herself trapped alone in the lab with some zombies, but she is soon rescued by soldiers, one of whom flamethrowers a particularly grotesque zombie. The rescue allows Sharon to reveal to the soldiers that Barker’s plan was to recover active zombies for Tyler, Inc. Before they can punish Barker, however, more zombies invade the lab and there is another shootout.

Just as things look bleakest, the soldiers receive a radio signal from a nearby submarine. At the same time, Barker separates himself from the others, but too late discovers he has locked himself in a lab where the formerly pregnant zombies have come back to life. In a fitting punishment, Barker is ripped open and eaten by the zombie women.

In a creepy scene, the most cowardly of the soldiers is isolated inside a room where he is killed by a group of sharp-toothed zombies.

Soon, only Sharon and soldier Taylor remain, and Taylor is quickly bitten by a zombie. (Ironically, Sharon and Taylor had made a pact earlier in a scene that might have been intended to be romantic to shoot each other rather than be turned). Sharon gets him to the truck and drives to another facility. Leaving Taylor in the truck, she takes a large weapon into the facility, where she finds the ultimate expression of the corporation’s experiments: zombie children with giant heads.

She also finds a cave underneath the facility where zombie women are attached organically to the walls, presumably giving birth to the zombie children. The entire nightmarish scene is presided over by a suspended brain.

The brain speaks telepathically: “What do you want to do now, Sharon? Yours is a hopeless fight, you see. Come, my darlings. Come to your creator.” The brain offers her a choice to join it. “It’s such a sweet surrender to become one of a master race.”

“No!” Sharon cries. “You and your disgusting children from Hell have to disappear from the face of the earth.”

She flamethrowers the children as well as the zombie mothers. As a result, apparently, the brain spontaneously explodes.

Sharon runs back to the truck, which is besieged by more zombies. Taylor sacrifices himself to allow Sharon to escape. Meanwhile, the submarine surfaces. Sharon reaches a dock and turns around to see all the facilities on the island explode.

The End

(The final shot of the film is a quick scene showing Bruno Mattei, followed by the words “Ciao Bruno” onscreen as a loving tribute to the late master of a very particular kind of film.)

Cleverly, in a nod to Island of the Living Dead's tour through zombie film history, Bruno Mattei makes Zombies: The Beginning (an ingenious title for a sequel, by the way) a reflection of the James Cameron film Aliens. However, the finale with the possibly alien brain and the factory producing zombie children is one of the most creative, disturbing, and surprising endings of Mr. Mattei's career...and Mr. Mattei was the director of Rats: Night of Terror (1984), a film with a justifiably famous ending. Taking into account the various genres Mr. Mattei tackled in his life as a filmmaker -- from horror to action to pornography -- Zombies: The Beginning is not only a worthy modern zombie movie but also a fitting final entry in his storied filmography. May Bruno Mattei rest in well-deserved peace.