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Friday, September 26, 2014

Hell of the Living Dead


Hell of the Living Dead (aka Virus aka Night of the Zombies)
1980
Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn) and Claudio Fragasso (Uncredited)

At Hope Center #1, things go awry when a contaminated rat bites a scientist. Within minutes, the place is crawling with flesh eating zombies. Elsewhere a commando team makes short work of a terrorist group who warned that the Hope Centers where up to no good. The team heads to Papua New Guinea, where they meet a journalist named, Lia (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her camera man, Vincent (Selan Karay). As the group tromps through the jungle, they discover the natives are under attack from their own dead. The group makes to Hope Center #1 only to discover the contagion may not be an accident after all.

Hell of the Living Dead is neatly fractured into parts that have little relation to one another. It feels like one kind of film is interrupting another. We start with a horror film in which a lab accident the produces zombies (and a really mean rat). Without warning we then run into an action film, and then a jungle movie before finally looping back around to the horror film again. The movie follows the thinnest trail of a plot. A plot which amounts to the audience waiting for the characters to finally figure out there are zombies. This doesn’t happen until the half-way point of the film, so it can be an agonizing wait. Once the movie reaches the third act, it feels less like the narrative is coming to a close and more like a race to kill off characters as fast as possible. Hell of the Living Dead is a mess.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the quality of the script, Hell of the Living Dead is still an enjoyable ride. The zombie attacks are plentiful and filled with gruesome sights. Our heroes are a weird mix of resoundingly stupid off-beat characters. There are also quite a few moments of unintentional comedy. Random insertions of nature footage and Lia stripping down to go native being a couple of highlights.  Goblin composed the score. Most tracks are recycled from other films, most of which come from Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Contagion (1980). Still even rehashed Goblin gives the film a funky menace it wouldn’t have otherwise.

I love you this much!
If there is a movie you could hold up as a typical example of trashy Italian horror, Hell of the Living Dead may well be it. It pilfers from every available source in an attempt to appeal to an audience as much as possible. These elements are then filtered through an Italian perspective and become unique in their own way. The bravado of the Interpol SWAT team transforms them into throat slitting lunatics who will gladly throw on a dress and a top hat in the middle of a zombie crisis. The astute social commentary of Romero becomes an incomprehensible plot twist that has bio-weapon zombies used against 3rd world nations for reasons that still escape me. Weave in the prog/funk soundtrack, plenty of guts beings spilled, some nudity, and you can see why this particular sub-genre has lived on in the hearts of b-movie fans worldwide.

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