Contains mild spoilers.
At its heart we've got quite the straightforward zombie survival story with mad scientists, an over zealous, over confident military and a group of disparate survivors. This time it's 'Death One' a bacteriological, radioactive pathogen or agent or something capable of reanimating the dead and as with all top secret, highly dangerous experimental compounds the first chance they can, someone loses control of it, mistakes are made, and giant swaths of the countryside are contaminated and the dead are up and miffed.
I say the dead are up. Death One is more the infect, transform, kill and reanimate sort of pathogen/virus/whateveritis and there's no climbing out of graves or sitting up in coffins. There's no ambiguous voodoo/science mix here with corpses rising from the grave and the infection somehow further spreading through scratches and bites. Here the airborne toxin is fully explained; we have back story and there's an attempt to provide a rational coherent template to all the zombie gubbins. I'm sure Mattei and Fragasso are responsible for the new more western Day of the Dead-esque narrative but in moving too far from the Fulci ambiguity template they're less able to hide the whole host of plot holes and narrative inconsistencies that abide.
Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 isn't about strong interesting narrative or coherent deep characters really though, and if you go at it with this in mind you'll be painfully disappointed. Whether it's the cookie-cutter GI's on leave or the pretty flirtatious American girls on the bus, the characters are there to drive the zombie action from one scene to the next. People get killed, people get bitten, barricades are made, barricades fail and the zombies keep coming. There's no big meta narrative or attempt to be clever, just lots of fights and lots of desperate survival. There's no depth or character development either and the actors do a poor wooden job at delivering the trite monosyllabic lines provided, but it doesn't really matter as you're not supposed to be listening to the strange, but of it's time English redub of English lines anyway. What we're all here for is the zombies and watching them dispatch said easily forgettable characters en masse with as much gratuitous well presented typically exploitative Fulci unpleasantness as possible. We're also here to see zombies dispatched en masse on a scale not previously seen in a Fulci film too. It's a win-win really, and I know Romero's influence can be seen but it doesn't detract from the high octane, quite stylishly presented zombie killing shenanigans.
The Fulci Zombie Flesh Eaters zombies are still there. They're foul grotesque, slow and shuffling, it's just this time they've been joined by all their friends, some of whom were quite unexpected. There's a fight with an extremely fast, hatchet wielding resident evil like junior executioner, there's all the fights with leaping, hiding, ninja zombies that fall from the ceiling and flip and climb with the best of them, and there's even quite the hilarious head; actually I won't spoil this one, but it's so out of place I was more shocked by the fact it was included, than it's sudden appearance. It's such a mishmash of styles though once you've accepted it all for what it is (if you can get over), it's all highly entertaining and even enthralling. Each high action scene comes with new surprises and new challenges for the unfortunate heroes to deal with, and you almost start to recognise some consistency in each zombie type encountered. I should say there is still a little trans-genre consistency though. They all die very much as they would if they were alive and there's no head trauma required. It's a moment of strange calm.
Mattei and Fragasso took Fulci's moody little sequel and turned it into a Zombie Flesh Eaters/Return of the Living Dead/The Crazies mash up and I can tell it's going to become a guilty pleasure of mine. Woeful wooden acting, a cliché story with no narrative, character or zombie coherence, a style that's a complete hodgepodge that's frankly ludicrous and bafflingly incoherent, my summation should be unanimously negative yet from start to finish I found myself laughing and cheering along. The action, deaths, blood and gore all flow in abundance and for all its faults it's all presented extremely well and even paced quite nicely, never dawdling. Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 is an accidental festival of everything zombie that approached the right way is implausibly brilliant and a must see spectacle, 7/10.
The ten year old DVD I watched has a terrible picture quality as if someone has smeared the screen with butter. It doesn't deride too much from the lunacy and there's not much choice available but it's not close to the beautiful crisp new HD release of Zombie Flesh Eaters. Here's hoping for the same treatment.