Terrifying Tuesday: Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

Happy St. Paddy’s Day, and welcome back to a special Terrifying Tuesday. Last week I was feeling a bit under the weather, so instead of a post for TT, I gave you Lair-ers about a chance to pick this film for this week. With three votes, I’ll be bringing you Hell of the Living Dead this week, but don’t you worry you two folks who voted for The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, that will get it’s time next Tuesday. Then the week after that we’ll get the third place finisher, with zero votes, The Man from Deep River. Therefore, in the end you still get to hear me ramble on about each of these films, but tonight Rev, Keith, and Nigel this one is for you fellows. The second part of this week’s Mattei-in…..
Hell of the Living Dead (1980) starring Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garafalo, Selan Karay, Jose Gras, Gabriel Renom, and Joseph Lluis Fonell. Directed y Bruno Mattei.

An accident breaks out in a U.N. controlled research facility located in Papua, New Guinea. It seems these ‘Hope Centers’ claim to be working on some kind of means to end world hunger, but after a rat is infected by chemicals in the facility, it chows down on the nearest worker. The rat gets in the man’s hazmat suit, and as he falls to the ground dying, he manages to release even more of the dangerous chemicals. Soon the whole of the ‘Hope Center’ is filled with flesh eating zombies, and the contagion makes its way across the country infecting the native tribes.

The U.N calls in a four man, elite, INTERPOL strike force to make their way into the country and determine the cause of the plague, and after a spot of routine terrorist busting, they make their way into the country. Meanwhile, journalist Lia Rousseau and her camera operator friend Vincent are exploring the country for a story. The husband and wife they are traveling with soon become zombie food, and if the strike force had not arrived, the same fate would have struck the reporters. Lia and Vincent soon become unofficial, and mostly unwelcome, members to the team as they delve deeper into the country trying to reach the ‘Hope Center’ and stop the plague of the living dead.

The Bugg Picture

Compared to yesterday’s travesty, The Other Hell, Hell of the Living Dead is leaps and bounds better. Now that is not to say that it’s a perfect, or even near perfect flick, far from it. What we do get is an interesting storyline, some unintentionally funny dialog, and copious amounts of the good old red stuff. Therefore, while there are a great many problems with this film, at least it tried to get itself together. Of course, after The Other Hell, my judgment might be a bit skewed. There are so many bad, or somewhat bad, things in this picture that I’m going to start with those then leave you folks with my thoughts on what makes Hell of the Living Dead an entertaining way to spend 101 minutes.

There are two glaring mistakes I have to get off my chest to right off the bat. The 101 minute running time I was just talking about there. Well, if you shaved out all the stock footage the film contains you could probably knock a conservatively estimated 20 minutes off the running time. There is some Mondo style footage of the natives which was surely not shot for this film which goes on far too long, but still provides some degree of entertainment as Mondo movies usually do. The other stock footage used in the film is of what are supposed to be native animals. Two things to say here. First off, they didn’t even bother to find footage of animals that might be in Papua, New Guinea. There are no elephants or jackrabbits anywhere near the island nation. Secondly, all the footage of animals is shown in super slow motion. If we are to believe that is how the animals move in the jungle, why would anyone need a ’Hope Center’ to work on the food crisis. I mean really when you can walk as fast as a jackrabbit hops (even though it should be hopping in another country) then you should be eating pretty well.

As if the movie had not cribbed enough from other films, the score is a knock off too. Goblin is credited as providing the music, and they did. Unfortunately, they had already provided it to Dawn of the Dead and Alien Contamination respectively. Now this film has been lambasted for years for stealing from Dawn of the Dead, and the use of the other film’s score does not help things out. While the music is as good here as it was originally, it was jarring to hear main musical themes from those two films pop up here.

Then there is the dialog. The Blue Underground DVD that I purchased had no option to watch the film in Italian with English subtitles. So instead, I sat though a huge amount of poorly delivered or translated dialog. Among the classic lines uttered were such gems as “Buildings have people in them” and while taunting a group of zombies, “I guess I’m not on the menu.” Yes, there were more strange lines like that, but they would take too much to explain. Suffice it to say, this film did not receive he best translation or voice actors to carry off the part. The best voice and delivery came bubbling out of Lia’s camera operator, Vincent, whose voice was provided by Ted Rusoff. Ted was a long-standing overdub actor, but he also may be familiar to folks from his role as the metal faced ticket giver in Demons .

In the end, it’s hard to say how the acting was because of the dubbing. Franco Grafalo, who we saw yesterday as the creepy groundskeeper, shows up here again as the nutty member of the strike force, and he provides a few pretty good laughs. Also carrying over from yesterdays film is the screenwriter ,Claudio Fragrasso (along with 3 other writers) , who penned a more cohesive script this time around. He even tried to inject some message into the film a la Romero, and I think this is why Hell of the Living Dead has been labeled a Dawn of the Dead clone. Yet unlike Romero’s commentary on consumerism, Mattei's film to be making a statement about world hunger. While he never really got his point across, but what I took from it was if we don’t solve world hunger, the world may get hungry for us. If this is the point Bruno was shooting for, I do wish he had hit the mark. While world hunger is still an issue, it is rarely addressed in film, much less genre film.

In the end, Mattei helmed a zombie movie, which was neither the best or worst effort I have seen. While the slow motion animal footage made me want to call in Marlon Perkins and the inserted Mondo scene stayed way past it’s welcome, the film overall is quite entertaining. A good many of the zombies sport some gory makeup, there’s some decent gore, and the payoff scene in the end, well, it’s a real eye popper and worth staying to the end to see. While this film is obviously inspired by other zombie fare to come before it, Hell of the Living Dead did attempt to do something original. While it did not completely succeed, the things it did excel at were at least done competently and in a fashion which made the film an entertaining watch. Zombie fans and Italian horror nuts should give this one a shot.

Bug Rating

1 comment:

  1. Hell yes!

    Glad you mentuioned the stock footage! There is that delightful moment where the guys in the giant clay masks hand over a ceremonial mask to the woman who went native and the mask shrinks by ooo about 80%.

    I ve got a copy of this gathering dust somewhere in a distant corner of some shelf or other, time to replay methinks :)


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