30 Second Review: Hell of the Living Dead (1981)
I know I’m pushing March’s theme of “1980′s Italian Horror Flicks” early, but I can’t help it. This is the Golden Age of Horror in my opinion. So join me as I review Bruno Mattei’s Hell of the Living Dead. What’s your favorite Italian horror flick from the 1980′s?? I wanna know!!!
This is a zombie flick for completists only. It’s one of my favorites but not because it’s a great flick but because it has that good old 1980’s Italian zombie charm. No one in their right frame of mind would call this “a great movie.” Bruno Mattei is credited as the sole director but his frequent collaborator, Claudio Fragasso, said in an interview that he directed half the movie himself. Not sure which is the real story, but when you see it you’ll get the feeling that two separate directors had a go at it. But no matter who directed it there’s no denying that this is either a huge homage to Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead OR its one of the biggest rip-offs of the century. Everything from Mattei using the alias “Vincent Dawn”, to our heroes being members of a SWAT team, to the little kid zombie, to the same exact soundtrack by Goblin (and I mean it’s EXACTLY the same soundtrack) is the same in both films. I sure hope Romero got his royalty checks!!
But let’s focus on this flick. The Hope Center, which operates in many 3rd world countries, accidentally releases a noxious gas that turns the residents of New Guinea into the living dead. It turns out though that this may not have been an accident and may have been more sinister. The Hope Center was trying to solve the two main problems that plague Third World
Countries: Over population and hunger. So they developed a gas that would make people wanna eat the dead. Oops. Who could have predicted bad things would result from this? So after a very Dawn of the Dead-like opening in which an “American” SWAT team storms a building, this same SWAT team is deployed to New Guinea to stop the outbreak. I know; it doesn’t make any fucking sense.
Why would an “American” SWAT team (suspiciously made up of Italian speaking and looking guys) be deployed to another country to establish law and order in said country? Look, if ya start asking questions like that you’re gonna end up in the loony bin. Mattei’s flicks aren’t known for their coherent plots. And besides, you won’t really care that this plot is more confusing than trying to figure out how Jennifer Aniston keeps getting movie roles. There’s no logic to it; but it’s really fun.
Everything that makes a 1980’s Italian zombie flick great is here: Ridiculously fun dialogue (in the opening minutes two scientists
are talking about a female scientist: “She may not know much about chemistry, but in bed her reactions are terrific.” What the fuck??!!!?); there’s tons of stock travel footage that would make the Travel Channel blush (in fact the footage of the New Guinea tribe is real documentary footage filmed of a burial ritual); and of course there’s a lot of gratuitous gore. A lot.
The entire atmosphere of the movie is casual and laid back. Nothing here is taken seriously. As the SWAT team members, the photographer, and the journalist who they hook up with in New Guinea make their way to The Hope Center facility they run into all kinds of ridiculous trouble that always ends the same way — in blood and guts. Two memorable scenes are worth noting:
One has the female journalist stripping down and joining the above mentioned tribe’s death ritual for absolutely no other reason than to show off her nice tits. (And yes, I appreciated that). The other has our group holed-up in an abandoned house fighting off a horde of the living dead, and another logic-defying moment one of the SWAT team members decides he’s gonna cross-dress and put on some women’s clothing. The result: He’s torn apart limb from limb. Is that an anti-gay/homophobic message? Yeah, I don’t think so. That’s giving Mattei way too much credit. (I must say that this scene always reminds me of the stupid biker towards the end of Dawn of the Dead who, in the middle of battling the zombies, decides to sit down and get his blood pressure taken.
The result is the same). There are tons of silly scenes like this, and if I had to guess I’d say they were added in by Fragasso to “spice things up.”
Bottom line here folks: The acting is atrocious, some of the f/x are laughable (though the f/x when a zombie puts his hand up through a girls mouth and its fingers poke out of her eyes sockets is very well done), the zombie make-up is bad, and there’s no attempt at trying to keep the zombies here consistent. Some zombies lumber about, others run; some moan and make noises when they attack while others are completely silent. These criticisms aside, this is a hugely entertaining zombie flick that embodies everything that is great about the long lost Italian Zombie Era of the 1980’s (one that I hold dearly to my heart, if you couldn’t tell by now). This is a classic in my book and if you love the zombie genre and are a completist then this is a must see. Check it out.
Director: Bruno Mattei (and Claudio Fragasso)
Plot: 2 out of 5 stars
Gore: 7 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 4.5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer