Damn I hate Bruno Mattei. That is to say, everything I've seen of his directorial work just stinks. Sometimes it's so good it's bad, sometimes it's simply awful. But no matter how you get there, it's the sheer level of aggression involved in getting across Mattei's putative ineptitude that's magnificent. Zombies: The Beginning, lensed close to the end of Mattei's life, follows suit. This movie is bad in ways that can't begin to be understood. Will you delight in the badness? Or will you feel like stealing some kid's lunch in a blind rage? My guess: both.
Zombies closely resembles James Cameron's Aliens, except that it's no good. And when we say 'closely resembles' we mean it's a bit like a shot-for-shot, line-for-line remake, except with zombies, and shot in the Philippines (perhaps slightly exaggerated, but the functional truth). From the opening shots of our heroine as she's rescued from a life-raft, to scenes of her waking up from nightmares-within-nightmares while in hospital, to her dressing down of boardroom members while slides of her fallen crew-mates scroll in the background, you'll know that ... that ...
Wait, what were we talking about again? Well, it doesn't really matter, unless your fancy is ultra-derivative crap festivals with the very worst of values as far as anything cinematic is concerned. I always walk into a Mattei film looking for shameful entertainment, but by 2007, the movies Mattei made became simply shameful. For instance, Zombie's shot-on-video look does nothing to help the fact that it appears Mattei simply rented out a hotel conference room for a few days to shoot Zombies. Save for a few startlingly (for Mattei) effective submarine shots, the rest of the movie's production values follow shabby suit.
This goes also for the actors, whose miserable performances are only exacerbated by atrocious dubbing. It's called the double-down approach to making sure your movie sucks. In addition to directing the weird, broadly comic mannerisms put forth by actors clearly not in a comedy, Mattei delivers unto viewers, humans on screen who probably aren't actors at all. Folks resembling drunken rural Wal-Mart customers with just enough money to keep themselves out of jail populate the infamous Weyland-Yutani (I mean 'Tyler Inc.') boardroom scene. They deliver lines in weird, halting rhythms. They're extremely sweaty, as if they've been brought in off the street.
But hey, it's not all bad! To balance off the heavily recycled zombie dream sequence from the start of the movie, (which looks like it was shot in a travelling carnival spook-house) Mattei almost makes it up to us with plenty of juicy zombie kill-shots-to-the-dome in the final third. And then, he screws up in a good way, (finally!) with jaw-dropping bullshit that should never be in any movie ever. Complete cognitive dissonance. Zombie dwarf fetus. "It's dead! Holy shit!" exclaims a soldier. Or maybe naked adolescent zombie-alien hybrids with black bug-eyes and cone-heads. Something like that. You go Mattei!
Zombies: The Beginning fails on every cinematic level. It looks horrible, it's horribly directed, it's basically just Aliens remade as a crap zombie exploitationer shot over three days in the Philippines, with a totally uneven tone (not in a good way) and shitty acting. Mattei's ultimate picture is so bad it's bad; charming like your sloppy-drunk friend, whose antics you shamefully enjoy, knowing the evening will be over, thankfully soon. Skip It. (Obviously there is a subset of readers who will be emboldened to watch Zombies: The Beginning after reading this. Knock yourselves out!)