Monday, January 7, 2008


Rip-offs are prevalent in every genre, as money-conscious producers are eager to cash in on proven commodities, and horror films are especially prone to this trend. But there are rip-offs and then there are movies like 1981's HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD, which wants so desperately to ape the success of DAWN OF THE DEAD that it not only carbon-copies many of its plot elements, but cribs Goblin's score as well.

Known in various incarnations as VIRUS, ZOMBIE CREEPING FLESH, and NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (under which it received most of its domestic video exposure), HELL aims for the same socio-political commentary that underlined DAWN's zombie action. This time, the subtextual theme is starvation in the Third World. The zombies arise as the result of an experiment that was intended to solve the world's hunger, though I don't see the practical applications of feeding people to the living dead. The main plot deals with a SWAT team--modeled so closely on Ken Foree and company that they wear identical uniforms--and pair of journalists in New Guinea dealing with the initial stages of the zombie outbreak. The action is sporadic, it takes a while for things to gear up and there are dreadfully long stretches that scream for the fast-forward button (no surprise, since the film's a collaboration between tedium maestros Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso), but when it finally serves up the mayhem it really heaps it on. The gore is what you'd expect from an Italian zombie picture, and Mattei manages to cobble together a couple of interesting sequences; most effective is the scene involving a re-animated child, who seems to enjoy taking off-camera direction, and his parental snack. Oh, and the dubbing is terrible, so that should keep you entertained in between gut-spillings.

Where HELL really reveals it's no-budget status is its frequent use of stock footage to "enhance" many of its scenes. Culled from Barbet Schroeder's LA VALLEE and the documentary OF THE DEAD, it consists of jungle animals and various tribal rites of the people of New Guinea. But it's the way that the footage gets edited in that's most entertaining, especially the scene where a native woman in stock scenes plucks maggots from a corpse and, thanks to a little post-production trickery, eats them.

In spite of its numerous shortcomings, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD stands as the quintessential Italian zombie picture: slavishly copying an international hit, with generous gore, and all the bad-movie trimmings (though its pacing is so terrible that sometimes it feels as though the movie is never going to end). Worth at least a cursory viewing, but keep the remote control handy.

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