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Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

Review

Author
Date
07-24-2002
Comments

Heaven help anyone who makes the mistake of taking Hell of the Living Dead seriously. Bruno Mattei's 1981 anti-classic is arguably the worst film to come out of the Zombie films that flooded out of Italy in the wake of Dawn of the Dead. A cult item in its native land, it was released in America as Night of the Zombies, and has garnered an equal status among low-budget horror fans.

The plot, such as it is, involves an isolated research lab wherein an accidental leak causes its staff to turn into flesh-hungry zombies. The toxin spreads across the land, threatening to overtake the civilized world. To combat this dread doom, four cops who play like extras from the SWAT team scene in Dawn drive around looking at stock footage from a nature films and mondo documentaries, and shooting at badly made-up extras. There are also cannibals. And nudity. And second-rate make-up effects. And a Goblin soundtrack stolen from Dawn and Buio Omega.

Whether a good film can be made from these elements is a question director Mattei has no interest in exploring. Instead, he is content to let the film degenerate into parody, slapstick, and gross effects. Admittedly, the film is better made then it needs to be, with competent camera work and actors who are game for the nonsense. The make-up effects, while repetitive, are workman-like, gruesome and extreme. But shackled to a script full of disconnected clichés and god-awful dialogue, as well as a director who doesn't care, they are all for nothing.

Unless, of course, the film is comedy. Coming at the tail end of a whole slew of gory zombie and cannibal opuses, Hell of the Living Dead plays more like an Airplane-style spoof than as a serious (bad) film. Certainly no one involved thought they were making a scary movie. Or even a competent one. By recycling endless clichés, cheeky, poorly matched stock footage, and over-the-top gore, Mattei has made a film that is compulsively watchable. Hell of the Living Dead has maintained a shelf-life longer than a great number of its contemporaries. Just don't watch expecting the zombie Citizen Kane.

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