04th Jun2021

‘Zombi VIII: Urban Decay’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Jennifer Nangle, Erik Anthony Russo, Ronnie Angel, Mel Novak, Shawn C. Phillips, John R. Walker, Ken May, Noel Jason Scott, Pat Kusnadi, Ashley Morgan Kilbride, Julie Anne Prescott, Ricky Egan | Written and Directed by Dustin Ferguson

I’m not going to lie, I had absolutely no idea this film even existed, or was part of an unofficial offshoot of the Zombi series first started by Lucio Fulci. That film was an unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and had its own sequel, Zombi 3 some years later. And whilst the Italians released some unrelated films as Zombi 4 and 5, it would seem John (Sleepaway Camp superfan) Klyza’s Retrosploitation label has put out not one, not two, but FOUR “Zombi” films prior to this, which is part EIGHT of their series… Like I said, I had zero idea this film was even a thing until I saw a review pop up on our very own John Morrazini’s personal website.

But once I did, I knew I had to check this one out for myself!

Directed by indie filmmaker Dustin Ferguson, under his Dark Infinity monicker, Zombi 8, or to give it its full title, Zombi VIII: Urban Decay, opens with a daft old-school “Our Feature Presentation” title card, followed by what seems like an hour (though is more like 7-8 minutes) of rough stock footage of a voodoo ceremony – so rough it looks WORSE than an nth-generation VHS copy AND it’s in full screen (when the rest of the film is widescreen) – then we get to the film proper…

Zombi 8 tells the story of Hannah (Jennifer Nangle), a young woman who’s spent years looking for her father who, it turns out, is somewhere on the island of Matool. Well that’s what an email tells her. Now you may recognise that name, Matool, for that’s the same island Lucio Fulci took us too in 1979 – and if you’re not aware of that we get some “investigating” from Hannah, insomuch as she watches a YouTube video that explains everything and gets new viewers not familiar with Fulci’s film (why they hell would you be watching this if you had no idea about the previous Italian Zombi movies?) up to speed. Hey, at least THIS YouTube expert is not another Coolduder/Shawn C. Phillips cameo – though he IS in this film!

Without so much as a thought Hannah flies to Matool with her friends Tom and Tim. Though this Matool looks remarkably like Hawaii to me (or for all I know its the backwoods of California). Eventually Hannah finds her father – and guess what? He looks just like the big chunky-looking zombie from Fulci’s film! Though apparently he’s also patient zero, the zombie that started it all. Which is why, of course, Hannah takes him home to L.A. Of course she does… The film is subtitled “Urban Decay” after all! Though Hannah and co. seemingly don’t take the bag off her father’s head at ALL, he’s even flown home in it… If only they had, they would have seen he’s a bloody zombie before its too late!

One of the major issues with Zombi 8 is the cheap production. Now yes, complaining about cheap production in an ultra-low budget genre film may seem futile but there’s a huge difference between making films of the cheap and just shooting whatever the hell you can. Here its the latter, which suffers from far too much “point and shoot” filmmaking, the in-camera audio getting drowned out by ambient noises such as car tyres on asphalt and chirping birds. Goddamn the chirping birds! We also get a ridiculous amount of stock footage thrown in too – which kind of took me back to the days of watching censored UK tapes of Italian horrors, which ended up being tons of footage of jungles, islands etc. that made films feel more like travelogues rather than feature films.

Eventually Hannah’s father escapes and goes on the rampage, killing a group of stoners – including Shawn C. Phillips who’s munched on by a fellow topless stoner. The film then cuts between the zombie rampage and news reports, a la Night of the Living Dead, about a virus sweeping the States that is reanimate the dead; and a phone call between Mel Novak’s Governor Hadley and Dr. Mattei (yes, Mattei, it seems Fulci is NOT the only inspiration here). Talk about padding things out… There’s actually quite a fun, if ridiculous nod, to the way governments across the globe handled the Coronavirus pandemic amongst all that but it’s a small glimmer of irony in a film that is more like dumb fun rather than timely satire.

But what of Hannah, Tom and Tim? I have no idea. It’s almost as if this was filmed in two entirely separate halves, one telling the rescue of a zombie dad, the other a traditional zombie outbreak movie and there was no plan to tie the two together at all… Did the cast of the first half not get paid and therefore didn’t return for the second half? Or were they busy on the day? Who knows. The only character to cross between the two halves is Noel Jason Scott’s undead parent… It’s only one of this films ridiculous amount of gaping plot holes. Though I can’t really complain too much, after all you should know what you in for with a shot-on-digital, ultra-low budget, unofficial Fulci sequel. After all, the original Italian sequels weren’t masterpieces either. Though they did have some charm, which Ferguson’s film lacks if I’m honest. Charm, even with films as cheap as this, gets you a looong way, just look at Mark Polonia’s films!

Produced by SCS Entertainment and John Klyza’s company Retrosploitation Direct, Zombi VII: Urban Decay is not a patch on the original Zombi sequels but then that was to be expected if I’m honest. And whilst this is a cheap and cheerful affair it does have one major thing going for it. An amazing soundtrack that channels the synth cores of Italian horror to a tee. A soundtrack so good that it deserves its own Waxwork Records hipster re-release some day!

Zombi VII: Urban Decay is available on DVD and Digital (you can rent/buy via Vimeo in the UK) now from Retrosploitation.

One Response to “‘Zombi VIII: Urban Decay’ Review”

  • Dustin Ferguson

    Tom was shown dead on the couch, leaving his daughter Hannah alive. Tim went home the night prior after he helped bring the Zombie home. And that extended “Voodoo” intro is only on the International/Vimeo version, it was tacked on to be a throwback to the extended “Gypsy” intro from 1984’s “The Prey”. The regular version is only 62 minutes, that one is 70. There was a possibility of a Zombi IX, so we left it that way with Hannah on purpose…which is also why her Father was left to roam California too. The amount of stock footage was intentional, I studied “Cannibal Ferox” prior to shooting this and wanted to replicate the exact style with the “jungle footage”, wild animals, etc. I LOVE the jungle scene in that movie and wanted to attempt to do the same thing. We mixed actual footage of the Caribbean (where Matool is said to exist) with animal stock footage and some very specific locations in Southern California that were scouted prior so it could best match the other footage. This was a love-letter more than anything and we appreciate you watching it! One final note, you mention the cheap production…but I bet you didn’t know it was made on about $750? That’s Seven Hundred and Fifty Dollars, not $750,000. When people find out the actual budget, it’s hard to not look at the whole thing and be a little surprised at what we pulled off. I’m proud of what we did on that, I can’t see anyone else being able to do the same on that kind of money. I paid for it out of pocket as a fun “quickie” I was hired to do between bigger projects. We were literally shooting scenes for 4 other movies at the same time with many of those Actors.

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