The first thing to say about Bruno Mattei’s Zombies: the Beginning is that its title is misleading. The film functions as a sequel rather than a prequel to Island of the Zombies, picking up where its predecessor had left off.
Indeed, in order to do so it also immediately recontextualises that film's shock ending, in which the sole escapee from the island and the destruction of the Dark Star, Sharon, had transformed into one of the flesh eaters, into one of her recurring nightmares as she wakes up in the Middle East Asia General Hospital. (Here we also get the use of the “Dr Davis telephone please – Dr Blair, Dr J Hamilton, Dr J Hamilton” radio voice.)
Finding none of her corporate masters willing to believe what seems like an absurd story about zombies, Sharon retreats to Wat Sung temple for six months where she is then approached by Paul Barker, a representative of another corporation, Tyler Incorporated.
Barker tells her that a consignment of materials were taken from the zombies’ island to research facility on another island, which has not been heard from since. A squad of corporate marines is ready to accompany Sharon on the mission, for which she will be rewarded with a comfortable place in the Tyler corporate machine...
From here on, as you can perhaps tell, the film unfolds as an earth-bound, contemporary set Aliens rip-off with zombies in the place of aliens, repeating situation after situation from James Cameron's film.
The sole exception, as Sharon meets the equivalent of the alien queen, is more reminiscent of Luigi Cozzi's Zombie-meet-Alien crossover, Contamination.
If the film obviously doesn't match up to the standards of its primary model, it is nevertheless not at all badly made, with dynamic camerawork and editing – here remembering Mattei's background prior to becoming a director – and a commendable straightness amongst the performers even when uttering the most cliché dialogue or repeating scenes straight from Aliens playbook.
There are also some nice stylised Suspiria / Bava style lighting effects inside the submarine that takes the team to the island, along with neat use of frame-within-frame monitor screens to present the chaos of the zombie ambush in the powder room, although the viewer more concerned with logic rather than effect may also question the appropriateness and consistency of the POVs expressed within these.
Whatever its limitations – and here the sound, in terms of both dubbing and scoring is less satisfactory – Zombies: The Beginning emerges as a fitting tribute to its director, his sheer belief in the viability of this kind of cinema and his willingness to take it into the digital realm.