So for the next excursion we took a trip with the dearly departed Bruno Mattei and his schlock slinging splatter fest...
HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD aka NIGHT OF The ZOMBIES(1980) D. Bruno Mattei aka Vincent Dawn Anchor Bay 1.85
Somehow this Italian zombie gut crunching anti-classic has sat on my shelf for seven years and I had never, ever watched it. I've known exactly what it was, known all about it, even known about it's more outrageous and funny scenes, but never gave it a spin. I remember my mom and step-dad going to the drive in when I was a very small lad to see a double feature horror bill that turned out to be this and BURIAL GROUND, which they came home and told me about. I was terrified of horror movies at that time of my life, yet I always wanted to know about them when other people saw them. I had HORRIBLE night terrors when my Step-Dad's daughter saw the trailers for MAKE THEM DIE SLOWLY at the local grindhouse and came back to tell us all about the gruesome details. Who knew that years and years later I would be involved in the re-release of that movie on VHS in some distant and unsavory way? But back to HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, it was finally time to break the virgin wrapping on this one and check it out. Boy, did it live up to the legends surrounding it!
I have a huge soft spot for Italian splatter from the 80's. I can't help it. I know most of them are dumber than shit, and Mattei's work is dumber than most. But there is a flavor to them, just like Italian food, that cannot be denied. So even when they suck, they can be enjoyed and savored for the high camp, entertainment value. Not every Italian movie has to be Fellini or, hell, even Argento for that matter. Sometimes Mattei's work will suit one just fine. On a night like that, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD comes out right at the top.
An unapologetic DAWN OF THE DEAD rip off, right down to lifting that movie's imaginative score from GOBLIN, this starts out with some bozos working at a bio-chemical plant in New Guinea. When a rat crawls into the containment suit of one of the workers, he accidentally lets loose a green gas that turns the staff into flesh eating zombies. Before you can say BOO, the staff is out and about, hitting the countryside, eating up locals and natives alike for lunch. So a crack squad of Military thugs (who show they mean business by outright murdering a team of eco-terrorists who are only trying to get their message out that the chemical plant was poisoning the world!) are sent in to investigate. They find a reporter and her cameraman along they way that were attacked by zombies, including the sick little boy they were traveling with that ate his dad in front of them. They shoot this zombie kid in the chest several times before someone figures out the whole head shot deal. After traveling into the jungles of New Guinea, they discover that the natives are restless, so the female reporter informs them that she spent a year in the bush with the natives studying their culture, and that they should allow her to go ahead alone so she can find out what's going on. That also means that she needs to strip off her clothes in order to properly communicate with the "savages". Cut to her running in slow motion six feet in front of their jeep, painted head to toe in jungle paint, naked except for a loin cloth while the native music plays on! Her boobs bouncing away freely like a young boy in a field in the spring! As they drive, they witness the most intense and amazing display of stock footage probably ever used in a motion picture. Animals from all over the planet make an appearance from elephants, monkeys, a dingo, all kinds of crazy birds, bats, hopping creatures I wasn't sure what the hell they were, vultures, hawks, owls, you name it. And then there's the stock footage of the natives she's "interacting" with. Doing dances, rituals and a very real and disturbing funeral rite with an actual bloated, rotting corpse. Yuck. The stock footage will become a recurring character in the movie from this point out, often having more screen time than any of the actors
They discover the zombie virus has whipped out the native tribes here, and is traveling through the bush country rapidly. We visit the UN to see how the ambassador for New Guinea is really, really pissed off, but no one else in the UN gives a flying rat's ass. Then we see stock footage of a flying rat, I think. They travel on, get attacked by the living dead, battled amongst themselves, and on to an abandoned mansion, where one of the soldiers puts on a green tutu and a top hat and does an impromptu dance number that gets his ass eaten. At the same house, a corpse of an old lady is filled with live kittens that jump out of her belly before she comes back to life and tries to attack the head of the crack commando squad who is apparently not a cat lover like she was. Finally, they make it to the chemical plant (to what ends, it's not explained), where the film really begins to ape DAWN OF THE DEAD's last act, but thankfully comes into it's own with a really ugly downbeat ending that is quite unexpected.
While consistently funny as all get out, this is a weird movie because it's very gory, moves at a really quick pace, has plenty of action and does a lot of brave and ballsy things, like killing kids (way before that was a fashionable thing to do in the genre). The cinematography, editing, and even most of the effects are all pretty good, especially the gore effects ( I may be a heathen for saying it, but I think the zombies and gore effects here are better than in DAWN OF THE DEAD!). By all intents, this should be a good movie. But it ISN'T! It is dumb as shit! Even in the supplemental interview, Bruno Mattei admits it! He was a weird filmmaker who seemed to be very technically proficient and solid, but couldn't help himself when it came to just making dumbass movies. I think he genuinely just LIKED this kind of stuff. But you know what? That's perfectly okay by me. I loved RATS, ZOMBIE 3, and now this one. Rest in peace, Bruno Mattei, and I hope you are using all the stock footage in heaven for a good dumb movie.
Reviews © Andy Copp