What an absolute pile of trash. I loved every minute of this film. Well, almost every minute of it. I loved the exploding heads and zombies munching on guts. I loved how director Bruno Mattei slipped in some nudity and pretended it wasn’t gratuitous. I loved how wild and unrealistic were the main characters. And I loved how no one in the movie seemed to absorb, for more than a second at a time, that zombies have to be shot in the head to stop them.
What I didn’t love was Mattei’s liberal use of footage from the 1974 documentary Nuova Guinea, l’isola dei cannibali (New Guinea: Island of Cannibals). Specifically, the footage of tribal mortuary feasts, wherein natives eat parts of their dead and rotting relatives, was hard to stomach. But, I cannot deny that this did much to make Hell of the Living Dead a memorable shitty movie watch. (As an aside, Island of Cannibals has, as of this writing, one of the weirdest IMDb pages one will come across. It’s an Italian documentary, with a Japanese writer and a Japanese director, and the only people listed in the cast are Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, in what I can only assume is archival footage. There isn’t even a description of what the film is about, nor have any of IMDb’s unpaid army of users posted a review. Even more strange, the only footage of this film I could find on the internet, outside of Mattei’s usage, is a short intro and title screen.)
From 1980, Hell of the Living Dead is Mattei’s and screenwriter Claudio Fragasso’s attempt to cash in on George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The first act introduces us to the principal cast. There is celebrity television news reporter Lia Rousseau (Margie Newton), her cameraman (Gabriel Renom), and the most reckless group of international commando police ever put to film. They are Lieutenant Mike London (José Gras), Osborne (Josep Lluís Fonoll), Vincent (Selan Karay), and the insane Zantoro (Franco Garofolo).
Rather than a shopping mall, this group find themselves on the run from zombies in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. There, an evil corporation has been conducting secret experiments away from the prying eyes of Western civilization. An accident caused by a rat releases a chemical into the environment that turns the locals into flesh-eating zombies. Why the cast is in the area to begin with, as it relates to the plot, is unimportant. It’s all about the production, apparently. Mattei and company had access to the documentary footage, and built their movie around it.
When not using the documentary footage, or random nature stock footage, the film features the cast fighting and fleeing from zombies, with rural Spain standing in for Papua New Guinea. It works well enough.
The zombies in this flick are very much the stiff and rambling sort from classical zombie cinema. They’re so stiff and rambling, in fact, that everyone who manages to get bitten by one seems to do so by accident. Zantoro takes particular pleasure in wandering in and out of packs of zombies, taunting them, and not bothering to kill all that many.
So, these zombies aren’t very frightening, but the lack of frights in this film is made up for with a stunning amount of gore. Besides the real stomach-churning stuff from Island of Cannibals, Mattei’s effects team of Antonio Balandin and Guiseppe Ferranti brought the blood and guts. The zombie makeup isn’t very good, but the pair made liberal use of raw meat and blood in their effects. The second grossest thing viewers will see in this film, after the footage of a tribesman picking and eating maggots out of a rotted corpse’s eye sockets, has to be zombie extras chewing on raw chicken thighs. Yuck.
There isn’t much of a plot to speak of, so this film lives on its gore, and on the outrageous commando characters. These are supposed to be elite…police? Soldiers? Carabinieri? It’s not clear. What is clear is, in real life, these dudes would be more of a danger to life and limb than the criminals and terrorists they hunt down. Besides Zantoro being nuts, the four cops are exaggerated clichés of gun-toting movie tough guys, waving their rifles around and shooting at anything that moves. There’s something charming about their total lack of familiarity with anything approaching real law enforcement or gun safety. It only adds to the patina of shittiness.
An outrageous amount of gore, both real and fake, and silly characters that will stick with a viewer for at least a couple days after viewing, make this a fantastic shitty horror watch. One might want to watch this with the drapes closed. Hell of the Living Dead shoots into the top half of the Watchability Index, taking over the #67 spot from Frogs. Check it out.