Hell of the Living Dead / Rats: Night of Terror:
I love you Blue Underground, you're my only friend. I mean, what else can I say? Here's an imprint that has the guts to give a fair shake to two of the shittiest horror movies to ever come from the Golden Era, and my only reaction is to leap and claw over my fellow reviewers, slavering to get my hands on the good stuff. Yes, times at DVD Talk HQ can be quite savage, and many a drop of blood has been spilled as we duke it out over the movies left sitting out on the screener table. (As an aside, there are tens-of-thousands of shittier horror movies that have been made since the Golden Age, but they are all shitty in the WRONG WAY.) So here then, my friends, is a review of the Blue Underground Double Feature Blu-ray that dares pair two of Bruno Mattei's shittier efforts on one disc. Bruno Mattei, shlockmeister extraordinaire, of whom it's been said - I read, I know not where - "There's good, there's bad, and there's Bruno Mattei." (Sorry that the rhyme scheme sort of fell apart there at the last minute.)
Hell of the Living Dead
So, in honor of the crazy-scary 2014 outbreak of the Ebola virus, Blue Underground has seen fit to release Hell of the Living Dead, the sensitive story of a horrible viral outbreak that threatens to take over a third-world country. Coincidence? Hell no! But is the movie great, and will it help us stave off the massive swarm of Ebola infected victims about to swarm all over us? Probably not, since this is just another risible early '80s hunk of Italian Zombie cheese, and even this self-proclaimed craphound found it tedious, stupid, and of course so bad it's good. Then they popped her eyeballs out from the inside.
I'm pretty sure in the '80s I had already seen Hell under another name, perhaps Night Of The Zombies or Virus or Zombie Creeping Flesh; it has had many baleful lives. Then, I rented it again a few years ago. And now, well, I guess you can understand the risks and rewards of watching movies from this realm.
Nevertheless, I still couldn't tell you what it's about.
The upshot is that some chemical manufactured by a global super-power is turning a bunch of Third-Worlders into cannibalistic zombies. A team of 'scientists' or something heads to newly contaminated New Guinea to sort things out. After half an hour of stock footage of wildlife and tribal dances (including bits boosted from The Real Cannibal Holocaust) they encounter about 15 zombies who slowly stagger around in the trees. A group of company soldiers (who look like The Monkees hanging out with The Three Stooges and Che Guevara's idiot cousins) mug obnoxiously for the cameras before repetitively forcing themselves on the lethargic zombies, mocking and tormenting them in a bit of truly inspired lunacy. Eventually the zombies get it together enough to capitalize on this situation, and carnage like never before ensues.
Er ... not exactly, because the standard gore effect in this movie consists of quick cuts to zombie mouths pulling what looks like strips of raw chicken off from where they were gently draped over an actor's forearm or knee. These low-rent, totally ineffective effects go hand in hand with the leaden pacing of this film. Scares are projected well in advance in every scene. If you see a mysterious figure with back turned to the camera, rest assured that you have about 5 minutes to get ready for the moment when that figure turns around revealing he's ... A ZOMBIE! At this point, the would-be victim will likely stare dumbfounded for another 5 minutes before taking a few mincing steps backward in a pointless attempt to either flee or just kind-of reflect on what it might be like to be eaten by a zombie.
No movie is totally without virtue, and just like getting hit in the head with a crowbar can be an enlightening experience, Hell Of The Living Dead has some bright spots. One instance has the sexy blonde scientist suddenly stripping and painting her body in order to communicate with the native tribes, who quickly begin to revere her. We also get a toddler zombie who gives the kid from Eight is Enough a run for his money, and finally, that awesome moment when the naked scientist gets her tongue ripped out and her eyes popped out from the inside. It's as unconvincing as an effect can be, and thoroughly, incomprehensibly awesome.
Though pretty artfully shot by Mattei and co-writer Claudio Fragasso, the film ends with a blurry close-up of a cross-eyed zombie, which really sums up Hell Of The Living Dead far better than I ever could.
Rats: Night of Terror
Of note, my daughter, whom I recently forced to watch Monster High Clawesome Double Feature, had this to say about Rats, "why just one night of terror?" No, I didn't make her watch Rats, but she's a sharp one, and I had no answer for her. Although she is only 8-years-old, how could I have made her sit through Rats, a movie so daft it makes Hell of the Living Dead look like outtakes from The Magnificent Ambersons? How can I explain that I've never seen Ambersons? Well, it's because I've been sucking down my share of Italian exploitation pictures from the '80s, that's why.
So yeah, Rats throws us into another post-apocalyptic world - so popular in the '80s (but probably way more relevant now) - in which survivors have either gone underground - the smart move - or stayed above ground. The above ground idiots tend to look like an over-aged pop band that would make the Village People blush. They've got distinctive costumes, (lots of leather in various forms) bad hair, and stupid names like Taurus, Lucifer, and Kurt. They roam the streets in modified VW Buses, shooting at nothing and looking to do little else but argue and shag each other while everyone else is looking. All is well, you might say, until they enter a building with water and a little greenhouse setup. Some of the women have virtual orgasms when they see a little bit of kale growing. Unfortunately, they soon discover the building is owned by a bunch of timid rats who seem to want to torment them. Thus is a night of terror spent, as our loser protagonists can't seem to get their shit together enough to simply walk out of the building. Really, it doesn't look that hard, people!
Mattei's forte in filmmaking (and no mistake, he has a good eye for composition, and his editors tie things together quite nicely) is in draining the suspense out of every possible scenario. As noted above, if our heroes see a lone figure either sitting or standing, back turned, they're going to approach it slowly, oh so slowly, for five or ten minutes, before gingerly causing the figure to turn around, only to reveal ... wait, what were we talking about? If not boring you to tears with 'suspense', the characters are acting as dumb as stumps. For instance, if you see your friend suffering with like, three rats on his shoulders, you probably wouldn't think the best idea would be to incinerate the dude with a flame thrower, but in Rats that's the way to go.
It's not all bad, Mattei (or someone, maybe right-hand-man Claudio Fragasso) employs an Argento-esque color palette, and there are some nice moments of semi-OK gore to enjoy, but come on man! Our rats are mild and meek lab rats - referred to as guinea pigs in the extras, but I ain't never seen no guinea pig like that. They're white lab rats coated in coal dust - and they're so recalcitrant that offscreen hands are forced to throw them into the shot or dump them from buckets onto the actors. And when we need to see an army of them advancing, it's a bunch of plastic rats on an undulating conveyor belt, seriously. What's worse, dubbed vocal talent reaches a new low of ineptitude and sheer laughable crapulence in this movie. It's only fitting for dialog like this exchange: (regarding the rats) "They're just trying to frighten us." "This is a message of DEATH!" "Stop talking crap!"
OK, I'll stop talking crap now too. Rats sports probably the best final reveal of any horror movie ever, and both Rats and Hell are defiantly in the "so bad they're good" category. Sure, neither film is scary, neither film delivers the chunk-blowing goods Chas Balun loved - not even close - and neither film makes a lick of sense. But they are both artfully and skillfully assembled, and they both indicate a great love for the genre. If bad horror is your thing, this ridiculous double feature is Highly Recommended.
Both features come lodged on one 50GB Blu-ray disc, with MPEG-4 AVC encoding. Considering the esteem with which these movies are held, it's nice to have them in HD, but single disc editions might have been better. Both features, however, look about as good as they're going to. Probably most noticeable are the gorgeous, rich and deeply saturated colors present in both movies. This aspect really highlights Mattei's ventures in copping Dario Argento's lush color palettes, especially as far as Rats is concerned. And those dopey blue uniforms the soldiers in Hell wear fairly leap off of your screen. Hell arrives in a new HD transfer from the uncut and uncensored negative, in a 1.85:1 ratio. Is there film grain? Yes, but it's not bad. No film damage is evident, and fore and mid-ground details are pretty sharp, with only background details looking a little soft. Transfer problems are limited to a few instances of blurring around the edges of stationary objects against swiftly moving backgrounds.
For what it's worth, Rats might have come from slightly rougher elements, or maybe it just wasn't filmed that nicely in the first place. Also presented in a newly-mastered-in-HD, 1.85:1 ratio, from the uncut, uncensored negative, the colors in Rats are extraordinary, and black levels are deep (for both this and Hell). Film grain is again evident, and details are a little bit softer all around for this feature. Transfer problems however, are not in evidence, though details overall are slightly soft for the realm of HD. But you know what, rats are kind of soft too, so just sit back and enjoy!
DTS-HD Mono soundtracks in English accompany both movies. Clearly then, there isn't anything to say about sound design for either release, but let it be noted that the audio elements are clear, clean and undamaged. You'll be able to hear every bit of horribly dubbed, ludicrously acted dialog with frightening clarity. You'll be able to hear every inappropriately shrill, frequently recycled scream with all the tepid power such screams convey. So laugh while you can, monkey boy, because this is the good stuff.
Each film comes with English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles. Theatrical Trailers and Poster and Stills Galleries are also on hand. Lastly, enjoy a new featurette, Bonded By Blood, with 50 minutes of interviews from Co-Writer/Co-Director Claudio Fragasso and Stars from both movies; Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua & Massimo Vanni. It's a worthy trip down memory lane that also revisits some of locations from Rats to boot. Also included is a 9-minute featurette, Hell Rats of the Living Dead - a fun interview with Bruno Mattei ported over from the previous Blue Underground release of Hell from 2007. It's not a ton of extras, and certainly commentary tracks would have been welcome, but hey, we lovers of bad cinema sometimes have to take what we can get!
I love you Blue Underground! Thanks for squirting these two bits of Italian spray cheese exploitation on a Blu-ray disc in great-looking new HD transfers. Yeah, by all accounts, these movies are ludicrous and stink to high heaven. Cheap gore, utter lack of suspense, and horrible dialog - dubbed in facepalm fashion - will have you laughing all the way to the nuthouse. Which is my way of saying that if bad horror is your thing - and you can deal with two movies on one disc, minus significant extras - this double feature is Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com