Thursday, March 17, 2011

Hell of the Living Dead

Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead, also known as Night of the Zombies, Zombie Creeping Flesh, and simply Virus in Italia, offers little in the way of creative storytelling, as a group consisting of the most inept SWAT-style commandos ever portrayed on film, a reporter, and her cameraman try to survive a zombie-infested jungle of Papua New Guinea. Shot in 1980, Hell of the Living Dead guiltlessly rides the coattails of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and to a lesser extent, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. In fact, Mattei borrows more than just the aforementioned SWAT team from Dawn of the Dead, as he also rips-off Dawn’s signature soundtrack composed by synth super-group, Goblin. However, despite this overt appropriation the overall feel of the film is more Fulci than anything else. This is evident in the film’s themes, mood, setting, and characters.

Lauren's take:
Watching this film is kind of like dividing your attention between a knock-off of Fulci's Zombie 2, and a string of randomly related jungle clips on YouTube. 1970s National Geographic-style stock-footage is spliced together with scenes of naked white woman wandering around with googly eyes to construct a narrative of exploring the jungle to discover the origin of the zombie virus. This montage of shots from the French film La Vallée is really banking on being exotic, and at this point in the film you kind of have to turn your brain off, quit picking up on the discrepancies, and laugh it off.

Many elements come together to make Hell of the Living Dead one of those "so bad it's good" films. For example, the most ineffective SWAT team with the most inconsistent approach to doing their job. I think the trailer contains all 6 or 7 successful head shots of the entire film. This careless group of gun-wielding jerks is painfully bad at killing zombies and keeping themselves alive. It seems like the director, Bruno Mattei, lifted these guys right out of the beginning of Romero's Dawn of the Dead.

Though it might be argued that the special effects are cheesy, I prefer latex and make-up special effects any day to CGI, so I am a fan of the gore in this film. The carnage is not realistic, but I think the special effects can be applauded for their creativity. I think Keith and I had to hit rewind a couple times to watch scenes that make you look on in disbelief, wondering, "did they really go there?"

Though the characters are too absurd to relate to, the story line is muddled by excessive stock nature footage, and many aspects appear to be stolen from popular zombie films of the time, Hell of the Living Dead should not be written off as a complete waste of a movie.

Keith's Take:
Hell of the Living Dead is not a one of those Italian horror films treasured for the way it unabashedly stylizes violence and gore amidst nightmarish atmosphere that, in some ways, often supersedes the attempts of Hollywood’s horror legends. Instead the films of Bruno Mattei represent a certain reality of Italian popular cinema, that is, pure trash. For those that venture beyond the trodden paths paved by The Greats, Argento, Fulci and Bava, Bruno Mattei is well know for his exploitation-film making efforts. In this regard, the man has an impressively large resume, tackling nazisploitation, Italian sexy-comedies, pornography, women-in-prison films, nunsploitation, mondo films, etc., all with a sense of urgency exclusive to those with the lowest of budget constraints.

What sets Hell of the Living Dead aside from Romero and Fulci is a detectable lack of sincerity. The film’s origin of the zombie outbreak, which concerns a government-designed virus used to quell the raucous third-world, is suggestive of some radical, political statement regarding injustices towards indigenous peoples. Yet Mattei’s P.C. intentions do not seem entirely honest, as right from the get go the whole native sub-plot comes off as an excuse for some bare-breasted action. However, in the film’s defense, inclusion of zombified indigenous peoples seems to be a consequence of the Cannibal Boom, a barrage of cannibal films, primarily of Italian origin, peaking in popularity between the years 1977 – 1981. That, and Fulci’s Zombie had just come out a year prior. At any rate, beyond the questionable native sub-plot and a reel of stock footage, Hell of the Living Dead does deliver decent gore and some unforgettable zombie-violence dished out by and eight-year-old.

Hell of the Living Dead begins to make sense once one has an understanding of Mattei’s penchant for producing exploitation type films. Now, this does not necessarily justify the film’s shortcomings, but it does beg that a different set of criteria be used when discussing the film. A film like Hell of the Living Dead is not about suffering through the ridiculousness of the film to get to the good parts, it’s about embracing that ridiculousness for what it really is, and realizing that it’s gone past bad and straight back to good.

Rating: 6/10

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