Taking a leaf from the clever marketing ploys of 1970s Italian producers, this poorly acted, low budget gore-o-thone shamelessly attempts to hitch a ride on the revered coat tails of George A. Romero's ongoing Zombie Dead series -- nicking its title from one of the films and masquerading as a sequel to it (the same scam was used after "Dawn of the Dead" was re-titled "Zombie" in Italy, so when Italian producers Fabrizio DeAngelis and Ugo Tucci came to create their own cash-in on Romero's highly successful film, they cheekily titled their Lucio Fulci directed opus "Zombie 2" despite its having no connection whatsoever with the US original). The irony is, that had the indie filmmakers behind this mildly entertaining flick had the strength of their convictions and not resorted to such desperate tactics, one might have been better disposed towards its cheesy, blood-drenched comic horror.
Unlike "Zombie", this film explicitly tries to bind itself to the Romero mythology, although the attempt fails to convince since, despite starting events with a prologue set in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 1968 in a sequence which is, presumably, meant to explain the origins of the plague that appeared from nowhere in "Night of the Living Dead" -- what actually occurs in the film doesn't really match the details of Romero's Living Dead films at all! In fact, the tone and style of "Contagium" is more akin to the classic Eighties, tongue-in-cheek gore shockers of Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna -- films such as "Re-animator" and "From Beyond" which brought outlandish bloody comedy to the genre in an attempt to build on the success of Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead". For this reason, despite the superficiality inherent in the film's attempt to find a ready-made audience of Romero fans, things actually kick-off rather promisingly as the flick gets straight down to business: a military hospital in Pennsylvania is overrun with the flesh-eating living dead, and Special Forces are called in to torch the place and everybody in it to stop the zombie infection from spreading. It seems a top secret Russian spy plane crashed nearby and the pilot was brought to the hospital for treatment; the plane was carrying a flask containing a highly contagious biological virus which mutates the DNA of anyone who comes into contact with it. The pilot of the plane was infected during the crash and turns into a pizza-faced, super-agile killer with an insatiable craving for human flesh! Even worse, the bite from an infected person kills the unlucky victim who is then reanimated as a flesh-eating zombie! Obviously, this "zombie origin" back-story bears little relationship to Romero's first film where the dead all rose en-mass from the grave, and neither was there any sign in that film of the pulp-faced murderous monsters who are the prime cause of the infection here. The ultra-low budget is well disguised though (we even get a CGI helicopter and a few army jeeps whizzing around) and the film actually looks pretty good!
The film then jumps forward to the present, where there is no indication that the apocalyptic scenario depicted in Romero's "Day of the Dead" ever took place, thus negating the whole point of the title! Instead, it seems that despite the seriousness of the events that occurred there, the site of the military hospital is now being put to use as a civilian mental institution! We are introduced to a group of patients and their liberal-minded doctor who reside on the "Romero" Ward. The acting here is less than stellar: it appears that mental illness in adults is best portrayed by having adult actors behave like ten-year-olds ... at least according to this film! We get lots of back-story concerning the main group of patients -- such as the relationship between a suicidal male and a self-harming female -- but the characterisation is mostly so cardboard that it would have been best forgotten. For a brief moment, the film threatens to turn into a zombie-infested version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" with the introduction of the unsympathetic and cold-hearted head of the institution and a male orderly who is not above abusing the patients!
Eventually, the more liberal-minded member of staff and a bunch of his patients find a flask left over from the zombie plague of thirty years ago and, naturally enough, one of them opens it, infecting the entire group with the virus (which comes in the form of glowing, CGI animated spores which waft around in the air)! Soon the group find that they have developed a telepathic link which enables them to tell when the others are suffering pain. Their skin starts to peel away from their bodies; they vomit black goo and begin to develop an insatiable hunger for flesh. The one female member of the group also suddenly becomes pregnant -- despite not having had sexual relations with anyone! The virus is mutating the group and turning them into new, non-human, undead creatures! When one of them bites the unpleasant, abusive orderly when he tries to attack them, he gets a bite taken out of his arm for his trouble which infects him with the virus and causes his body to slowly disintegrate until he becomes nothing more than a disgusting bloody mass of rotting flesh, but with lightening fast reactions and an insatiable need for flesh! Meanwhile the rest of the group try desperately to fight the affliction which is gradually attacking their humanity.
The second half of the film, thankfully, ditches the clod-hopping comedy mental patient routines and gets down to some very convincing gore-drenched splatter with limbs being torn asunder, entrails being flung around with irreverent abandon and bodies ripped apart in extremes of orgiastic delight. There is also a satisfyingly gruesome-looking monster on the rampage. The film has nowhere to go in terms of story development and the ending is ridiculously abrupt -- it is difficult to know who we are supposed to be rooting for, since all of the main characters are mutating creatures who are causing the infection to spread through the hospital. In fact, there is little consistency in the depiction of the virus and its effects, with some characters becoming raving flesh-hungry lunatics very quickly while others (the "heroes") appear almost unchanged throughout; but you can't fault the gore set-pieces which are just about successful in holding the flick together! Anyone buying or renting this flick in the belief that it represents a continuation of the Romero film's zombie mythology will doubtless be outraged by the liberties taken with the source material; but accept it for what it is -- a completely unrelated comic splatter-fest that merely borrows elements form a whole host of zombie movies -- and the film does have its moments.
The widescreen anamorphic transfer looks fine and a basic DD2.0 Stereo audio track does the business well enough -- although (despite what the press release claims) there are no extras whatsoever included on the disc. This is hardly groundbreaking stuff but it's bloodier than many blockbuster Hollywood horrors and often makes for quite enjoyable (if undemanding) zombie fare.