Pardon us for this thing we have created
Somewhere in Papua New Guinea, the Hope 10 research facility is working on a project called “Sweet Death”… A chemical agent that would curb population in the Third World by turning them into zombies and feeding on each other. When two engineers clad in the weakest looking bio-hazard suits find a zombified rat in the plant, all hell breaks loose and the contagion spreads through the compound.
Meanwhile at an American embassy in some undisclosed country, some eco-terrorists have taken hostages and are demanding that all Hope research facilities be shut down in the time span of ten minutes. An INTERPOL SWAT team, led by Lt. Mike London (Jose Gras) is called in to neutralize the situation killing the tree hugging terrorists with the enthusiasm seen in a hastily made Al-Qaeda training video… but not before the terrorist leader blathers something with his last breath about everyone eventually being devoured. Back to New Guinea. Our fearless squad of ass kickers are on what I presume to be a seek and destroy mission. Television journalist Lia (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her cameraman Max (Gabriel Renom) are hard at work, using their hard-hitting investigative work ethic to capture important events like Lia filling a canteen full of water. Zombies attack and the two groups join together out of necessity to unravel the secret behind Hope 10 and “Sweet Death”.
(Mild spoilers follow…)
Hell of the Living Dead is a lot like store brand cereal. Sure, it may look and smell like the name brand stuff and you will surely save a couple of bucks. It probably has a similar sounding name to confuse you into buying it. But it will leave a nasty aftertaste in your mouth, intense vomiting, or give you explosive diarrhea. Director Bruno Mattei and co-conspirator Claudio Fragasso crafted whole careers pulling off their little scheme of aping more popular films to unsuspecting audiences… each with varying results.
Hell of the Living Dead is the duo’srip-off that is less than a sincere form of flattery to George Romero and more of a celluloid shit stain. First, Bruno Mattei adopts the pseudonym ‘Vincent Dawn‘ in obvious reference to Romero‘s film. Second, the INTERPOL SWAT team is dressed exactly like the Philadelphia SWAT units in DoTD… right down to the silly looking hats and gas masks. Thirdly, DotD had a little running ‘joke’ about the fact that Stephen/Flyboy (David Emge) couldn’t shoot a zombie in the head to save his life. In Mattei‘s film, one of the squad members, Zantoro (Franco Garofalo) figures out that the only way to put a zombie down is a headshot only to have the characters continue to shoot zombies everywhere else on their putrid bodies. I guess that there must have been a financial crisis involving head shot effects. To top it off, HotLD used a few songs from Goblin’s soundtracks (without the band’s initial permission) from Romero‘s film and Luigi Cozzi‘s . Feeling queasy yet?
Meant to capitalize on the zombie craze that Dawn of the Dead(by way of Dario Argento‘s trimmed down 119 minute Zombi cut) and Lucio Fulci‘s Zombi 2 created, Hell of the Living Dead was doomed from the start. When Dara Films (Spain) and Beatrice Films (Italy) optioned Jose Cunilles‘s initial treatment, they realized that his vision of the film would be too expensive to produce. The original script was to be set in Africa and included scenes of ships full of zombies and a corpse mincing facility. Sounds like a decent movie. Instead, Dara/Beatrice realized the kind of massive budget Virus (the original title of the treatment and not to be confused with the Kinji Fukasaku film) would need and they brought in husband and wife team Fragasso and Drudi to dumb the… I mean write a film within budget. Mattei, who made a career working with meager budgets, was brought on to direct with assistance from Fragasso. The filming occurred outside of Barcelona for a month and when the production returned to Italy to shoot interiors, it was discovered that most of the Barcelona footage was inadequate and partially unusable; making the film’s plot so goddamn confusing.
To add insult to injury, there was an attempt to make the film look more exotic, so Bruno Mattei suggested using footage from the 1972 French pseudo-mondo film, La Vallee. Sets were hastily built around the borrowed footage to make it look seamless (the scene when Lia gets naked, body paints herself and goes to the natives’ village… and it kind of works). However, the film grain on the stock footage is noticeable enough to make it distracting. There are also more stock footage of random animals that are placed in the movie during inappropriate times. While cannibal films used this technique to demonstrate how wild and dangerous a particular jungle was, we are treated to shots of monkeys, birds that sound like turkeys, and kangaroo rats. Seriously, I am not making this up. When I first saw HotLD on VHS, I thought someone may have tried to tape an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom on my dub copy. Constantly on the verge of collapse and numerous set-backs, producers at Dara and Beatrice were so nervous that they would’ve probably agreed to anything at that point to get the film back on schedule. Even slow motion shots of monkeys flying though trees. Claudio Fragasso‘s only positive contribution was that he was given free reign to shoot new special effects in order to ‘gore up’ HoTLD which was desperately needed. Once the incoherent mess reached a 100 minute running time, everyone agreed that the film was finished.
Hell of the Living Dead is utter crap that redeems itself with some inventive (if cheesy) gore. The acting is deplorable, the use of stock footage is reprehensible and the blatant plagiarism of Dawn of the Dead is unforgivable. But Mattei‘s first credited zombie offering is the epitome of guilty pleasure. And when I write ‘guilty pleasure’ I mean it is truly difficult to admit to liking this film to fellow human beings. I imagine there are support groups that meet weekly to watch this movie in secrecy. Anchor Bay released the film on DVD in 2002 and Blue Underground’s release came in 2007. Both versions contain the same extras. The flick itself is given a decent treatment, which is more than it deserves: An anamorphic widescreen presentation that looks ten times better than the VHS dubbed copy I paid way too much for back in 1991. There is also 2 pages of liner notes written by Fangoria editor Michael Gringold and director Scooter McCrae where they poke fun at the film. Other extras include a 9 minute interview in Mattei entitled “Hell Rats of the Living Dead”, a gallery of posters/production stills and the plot-spoiling trailer. Gluttons for punishment and lovers of extremely terrible cinema are the only ones capable of keeping Hell of the Living Dead down in their gullet. For everyone else… stick with watching the trailer then proceed to run as far away from any Bruno Mattei film as you can.