Review Date: April 18, 2002
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 2/19/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen: 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Michelangelo, DaVinci, Botticelli. Italian visionaries all. These men created mankind's most beautiful works of art with all of their inspiration derived completely from within their own minds. However, not all Italian artists mine such rich fields of originality. Take Bruno Mattei. Here's a man who has proudly dabbled in every genre of Italian rip-off film known to man. "Mondo" films, concentration camp films, spaghetti westerns, he's done them all. Anchor Bay has blessed us with two of his copy films. First, there's the Dawn of the Dead clone, Hell of the Living Dead. Then there's his entry in the "spaghetti-Road Warrior" category, Rats: Night of Terror. We'll talk about Rats soon enough, but first, let's take yet another trip to New Guinea, courtesy of an Italian filmmaker.
Our story begins in a chemical plant (with Goblin's score from Dawn of the Dead in the background) as scientists work on "Operation Sweet Death." And who says science isn't about man's progress? Anyway, something goes wrong, there's a chemical leak, and surprise! They all become zombies!
Next we have a SWAT standoff (hey, Romero's formula worked, why mess with it?) and we get to know our manly heroes (Frank Garfield, Gaby Renom, Luis Fonoll, and Piero Fumelli). After the situation with the terrorists is settled (Hint: They don't rely on negotiation), the quartet heads to New Guinea for some as-yet unmentioned assignment.
Random plot threads continue, as we are introduced to a foursome traveling with a young child. The group includes reporter Lia Rosseau (Margit Evelyn Newton), her assistant Max (Selan Karay), and the parents of the very ill child, who are desperately looking for help of any kind. An abandoned mission doesn't provide help, but instead more flesh-craving zombies! Whew! It's been 20 minutes since we've seen a zombie.
Finally, a semi-cohesive plot develops when the SWAT team merges with Lia and Max. Seems Lia is an anthropologist, and can navigate the group through all the stock footage natives they'll encounter on their way back to civilization, while the SWAT guys dispatch the zombies they find. After a few fights (with each other and the zombies) and some improv tutu dancing, the group arrives where it all began, and learns the truth behind "Operation Sweet Death."
It seems like I'm putting down Hell of the Living Dead as an obvious rip-off of Dawn of the Dead. That's half-right. It is a rip-off, but it is quite clearly MEANT to be one, and at least I appreciate the honesty. Not only does Mattei admit it (and the Goblin Dawn music back it up), but one needs only to look at Mattei's resume to see how all of his films bear the mark of the popular Italian genre copies. And while there is none of the social commentary of Dawn, at least Mattei attempted to make an entertaining and competent film. So many other low-budget directors seem to forget that even if a movie is not to be taken seriously, it should at least be MADE seriously.
Of course, the dialogue is excruciatingly bad, and the excessive effects are sub-par. But the bad dialogue is ripe for viewers to make their own Mystery Science Theater 3000-type wisecracks, and gorehounds will love the over-the-top violence. The plot is quite incoherent, but I've seen a lot worse. And at least Mattei does try to tie everything in at the end. Thus, one can at least have fun watching this movie, and that's a lot more that you can say about many other films of it's like.
Stock footage abounds in Hell of the Living Dead. Mattei was also making his attempt at a jungle film, yet he filmed entirely in Spain! All of the jungle scenes are inserts of stock footage; some of it inserted seamlessly, most of it quite poorly. Again, more fodder for the jokesters watching the movie. And at least Mattei eschewed the animal violence that's so prevalent in the Italian jungle film genre.
It's been said, you can't polish a turd. Well, Anchor Bay has tested that theory to the max with this release. OK, Hell of the Living Dead is a bad movie, no matter what. But would a decent transfer make it bearable? I'm happy to say, yes! Mattei may not have been a genius with his storytelling, but the film isn't terrible visually. Of course, the image quality does jump around as stock footage is exchanged with the actual story, but the scenes filmed solely for this movie are done quite nicely. There's more than enough gore, and with this version, every drop of blood is crystal clear. It's almost TOO clear, since you can easily notice the poor appliance make-up done on the zombies. But let's face it, people are buying this movie for the splatter, and it delivers in that department admirably. It's presented in widescreen, enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Colors are generally rich, minimal grain is present, dark scenes are quite clear. Even though all the polish in the world can't make this a good film, at least it looks good, and that's one reason we all bought DVD players in the first place
Hell of the Living Dead is presented in a 2-channel mono mix. It's par for the course as far as cheap Italian movies go, but I found a lack of balance between the music and the dialogue. The music often comes in very loudly and harsh, forcing the viewer to drop the volume. This makes the dialogue a little harder to hear, although I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. Still, if Anchor Bay can play with the levels in Suspiria to tone down the music, they can do it here as well.
Anchor Bay provided another well-done supplemental section for a very obscure film, something we've come to expect from them. What the fans will love most is the 9-minute interview with Bruno Mattei. However, this is the same interview on Anchor Bay's other Mattei film, Rats, so viewers should be aware that two discs yield one documentary.
The original trailer shows up here as well, and if you don't have 100 minutes to watch the film, you can see most of the film in the trailer, which clocks in at an astounding 4 minutes. You do get to see most of the goriest scenes in this trailer, without all of the mind-numbing dialogue. A highly recommended alternative to actually watching the whole movie.
Last up are a rather extensive stills gallery (around 70 photos) and a Bruno Mattei biography. I appreciated the bio, since I knew very little about Mattei before seeing this film. I wish I had read it first, since it basically paints Mattei as an unapologetic exploitation director, and that puts his on-screen results in a proper context.
Hell of the Living Dead is a pretty bad film, but at least Anchor Bay makes it look fairly decent. The blood is plentiful, and in lovely color. Now, a lot of people will not be able to look past the sheer awfulness of the film, but there are many of fans that just dig cheesy gore-fests. My friends, this movie is for you. Enjoy.
Movie - D+
Image Quality - B
Sound - C-
Supplements - B+
- Running Time - 1 hour 43 minutes
- Not Rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital Mono
- Hell Rats of the Living Dead - an interview with Director Bruno Mattei
- Theatrical Trailer
- Poster & Still Gallery
- Bruno Mattei Bio