Wednesday, August 13, 2014


Having been an Italian Horror fan for quite some time and having enjoyed both of the Bruno Mattei pictures featured on the Blue Underground double feature during previous late night marathons, I'm happy to report that this upcoming release features a significant upgrade over previous releases of both movies. Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of Terror don't seem worthy of the Blu-ray transfer they've been given. We are talking about perfectly imperfect features with questionable acting and story lines balanced with a heaping helping of insides-on-the-outsides ie gore galore. I grew up with Hell of the Living Dead, but I only recently had the chance to enjoy Rats for the first time. They are cult favorites or rather a cult of a cult; true fans of Italian Horror tend to find these movies more easily riffed than appreciated. So this double feature disc arrived which became the perfect chance to get in touch with Mattei and Claudio Fragrasso and then, that same day, the new issue of Gorezone appeared in my mailbox featuring none other than Hell of the Living Dead on the cover and an interview with Fragrasso in the pages. Call it synchronicity. Fate. Karma. Call it a great chance to get a balanced vision of two classic pukers and the legacy of two Italian Horror celebrities who worked in tandem on both of these double features, constantly shooting two productions at the same time.

Let's start with Hell of the Living Dead. The one I saw first.

Synopsis from Blue Underground: 

An accident at a chemical plant unleashes a horrific virus, and an elite SWAT team is sent to New Guinea to investigate. But when they arrive on the hellish island, they discover a plague of flesh-eating zombies as well as a beautiful female reporter who practices nude anthropology. Can the commandos survive this cannibal rampage, uncover a shocking government secret, and still find time for the occasional cross-dressing before the ravenous hordes of the living dead infect the entire world?

I first saw Hell of the Living Dead when I was a kid under the name Night of the Zombies. I loved that cover box at Long Valley Video and repeatedly begged my mother to let me rent it. That damn bald zombie in a two-tone brown and tan skin/suit combo... walking toward me... wanting to attack me from off the front cover. My mom finally gave in because the cover box didn't really giveaway just what was contained on the tape; she herself had the chance to see Night of the Living Dead in the theater upon its initial release. What harm could it do?

My first impression was that it was hard to watch; I had no idea what was going on and no full bodied appreciation for the Italian gore flicks. I also hadn't seen Dawn of the Dead at that point, so the similarities were lost on me. The effects and opening were strong but scenes seem to wander between a variety of plots, a cornucopia of strange rotten fruit that touched on most elements of zombie pictures I had scene and would prime me for my Fulci's, Living Dead and of the Dead sequels. It's possible that Hell of the Living Dead is actually my first Italian Horror picture though my time line is somewhat skewed (it could very well be Demons 2). Those were my first impressions, and as I've watched it over the years and most recently on the Blue Underground release I can say that I have gained a new appreciation for it.

Watching Hell of the Living Dead today after becoming fully aware of just who was behind the lens, the score and with a full history of Italian Horror knowledge to pull from, I can appreciate it as a work of brutal art focused on entertaining rather than providing social criticism or big scares. Sure it's flawed with with a recycled score and strange stock footage cut-ins (that actually work despite being out of place), but it certainly isn't boring. There are plenty of Italian stinkers out there that meander from line to line through paragraphs of dialogue with a sex scene shoved in between substandard gore sequences or even movies with less plot and fewer dots connected. When you really break it down, the only thing truly wrong with Hell of the Living Dead is the obvious nods to Dawn of the Dead which can take you out of the picture completely if you get caught up in those blue swat suits. As fans of Dawn of the Dead (aren't we all) we will revel in the subtle things that connect the two movies. Beyond that it feels like Hell of the Living Dead is most closely related to Nightmare City in that the zombies are created as a result of the environmental irresponsibility of big business (though don't tell Umberto Lenzi we're calling the City of the Walking Dead mutants zombies).

Also, just because the back of the box calls it a "gut-muncher" doesn't mean everyone can suddenly start turning that phrase. It is know... a gut-muncher. 

Moving on to Rats: Night of Terror, a movie with which I have less longevity but for which I have come to truly embrace; it truly is its own private post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Synopsis from Blue Underground:

In the year 225 A.B. (After the Bomb), a group of post-apocalyptic bikers discover an abandoned research laboratory filled with food, water... and thousands of rats. But these are no ordinary vermin; these are super-intelligent mutant rodents with a ravenous appetite for human flesh. Can a bunch of heavily armed but not-too-bright human scavengers survive a night of terror against the most hungry and horrific predators on earth?

Rats: Night of Terror feels like The Warriors or really Bronx Warriors only a sort of spin-off where we follow the pledges of the respective gangs who go off in search of food and find that they are the only thing on the menu. The look is somewhere between Mad Max and steam punk-lite with lots of grit and, of course, the obligatory radiation suit. Combine that with leaf blowers that spew toxic poison, shameless sexual intercourse without regard for company or cleanliness of environment and you've got a band of hedonistic futuristic gang bangers from the time called A.B. (After the Bomb). Oh and what about the horde of Guinea Pigs? Black with red eyes and smart as Alex Trebek with  bottomless stomaches.

My first experience with Rats really didn't do it justice. Again, without context it's difficult to appreciate this work of camp animal horror that actually tells a unique story and breaks some new ground especially in its twisted finish. Yes, the rats/Guinea Pigs, are real animals (for the most part) but the portrayal of attacks feel fake. Again, just like with Hell of the Living Dead, we start to consider Rats more of a laugh fest rather than taking it seriously.  Still, even with the feeling of watching a phony production rather than an engaging piece of horror cinema, you find moments truly terrifying if you get over the wholesale throwing and dumping of rodents all over the actors. The 70's and 80's were full to the brim of rat flicks from Food of the Gods to Deadly Eyes and even Of Unknown Origin and Willard. I assure you that the thing that separates this movie is the powerhouse finish, boobs and ability to take a rat to the face repeatedly. 

The disc comes with a few extras, but the most intriguing is the 50 minute Claudio Fragrasso interview  as well as other cast and crew members that puts both features and their productions into perspective.The love between Fragrasso and Mattei created a brilliant working relationship that stretched over many movies and through the golden age of Italian Horror. Also, you can see an interview with Bruno Mattei himself which is brief, but helps to generate a better appreciation for movies that often feel under loved if not solely used as the focal point of a drunken riff. The extra features are accessible through either the Rats or Hell of the Living Dead menus on the disc. Both feature powerful opening menu screens that is a welcome production enhancing piece of eye candy. The reverse of the cover art is a chapter menu for each movie.

Full list of extras from Blue Underground:
  • Bonded By Blood - Interviews with Co-Writer/Co-Director Claudio Fragasso and Stars Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua & Massimo Vanni
  • Hell Rats Of The Living Dead - Interview with Director Bruno Mattei
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Poster & Still Galleries
The Blue Underground release of this double feature tells a complete tale of two filmmakers who formed a solid working relationship, celebrated for their love of entertaining audiences, featuring gratuitous everything and even a hint of morality. These are beautifully transferred features that are clearly B flicks that demand an audience pay attention to some of the goriest moments now unhidden or obscured through this scan. Suspend all disbelief ye who enter here because the market for Italian filmmakers is slowly expanding beyond Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento. Even after years of Mattei and Fragrasso pictures and countless audiences being exposed to their brand of schlock and story, interest in their work continues to grow and receive "better late than never" recognition.

And then there's Gorezone #32. As a fan of Gorezone from my youth, I feel a certain closeness to the magazine and it just so happens that they did a cover story on Hell of the Living Dead or more specifically an interview with Claudio Fragrasso. The cover is the perfect tribute to the movie featuring three popular faces from classic moments in the picture (in various state of gore and decay). 

Chris Alexander's opening notes were surprisingly familiar to me. As I wrote my own review and read his experiences with Hell of the Living Dead, I realized that we both saw the same US release under the alternate title. Our observations were similar. That led me to believe that the appreciation I had for HOTLD was valid in some way. After all, how many more folks might experience that same sense of pleasure out of watching a movie so flawed (and yet not watching it to riff on it)? To watch Hell of the Living Dead you have to remove your critical glasses and put on your Grouch Marx disguise. It's meant to entetain not break ground.

The Fragrasso interview is the perfect companion piece to the extras featured on the Blu-ray from Blue Underground and as a way to better understand this production as well as the troubled production of Zombie 3 (directed by Lucio Fulci while he was very ill). Learn about the roots of the relationship between Fragrasso and Bruno Mattei from the formative years to the lasting working friendship that featured the two of these talented men creating not one but two movies for every production. This is value filmmaking at its most successful and most economical. Fragrasso also discusses some misconceptions about his take on Troll 2 and Best Worst Movie. 

Next up we get an interview with Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide creators Jake West and Marc Morris who walk us through the process to create this and its sequel Draconian Days. They offer up a brief beginner's history of the Video Nasty movement in the UK and then walk us through some of their favorites and the impact of the nasties on movie watching and collector culture. Great documentaries and absolutely worth picking up. We just saw a US release of the original from Severin Films and the sequel is out limited to 6666 from Nucleus in the UK (region locked).

Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog creator and Blu-ray extra veteran, gives us a list of some of the top Horror reference guides. Please note that for easy access my Amazon wishlist has been updated with these and is available upon request. I love Lucas' writing and he frames this list nicely with a tribute to Phil Hardy, acclaimed publisher and editor. I truly do need to pick up House of Psychotic Women and The Psychotronic Encyclopedia. 

You learn something new every day. Today's new thing was that there are small groups of people filming much lauded gore pictures in Russia. Enter the feature on Andrey Iskanov, a filmmaker responsible for a handful of movies I most certainly am unfamiliar with, but will be hunting down Ingression, Philosophy of a Knife and his contribution to The Profane Exhibit. Iskanov's story reminds me quite a bit of the German gore SOV movement in the late 80's only perhaps more dangerous under Putin's conservative reign. 

Adam Ahlbrandt created Crossbearer and Cemetery. For those of you who collect movies you recognize these two titles as the new Holy Grails on the block. Crossbearer has become very popular with the effects/gore crowd and has just scene two releases (one through Toe Tag in the US and the other on Blu-ray in Germany). He discusses his lesser known works, the movie he loves and how he got into filmmaking as well as his upcoming projects and working with Scream Queen Linnea Quigley. Keep an eye out for his next picture and try to locate the limited releases of his previous endeavors.

The centerfold... PIECES! One of the most infamous scenes in the movie cut up like a jigsaw puzzle in a two page spread. Oh it's a thing of beauty. To hang it on the wall and mar the magazine... that is the dilemma.

Interviews with Sleepaway Camp's Felissa Rose and Jonathon Tiersten discuss their time on the set of Sleepaway Camp and relationship with director Robert Hiltzik. There's a brief review of the new Scream Factory Blu-ray at the conclusion of the interview. For the most part the sentiments shared mirror what is scene on the Blu-ray interview on the Scream Factory disc, but these two actors clearly feel a sense of connection with this hallmark camp horror movie. It's great to see them remain attached to the franchise when so many seem to balk at their early horror experiences.

The Blood Beach article written by friend Matthew St. Cyr shines the spotlight on one of my favorite 80's releases. Granted I realize this is not a grand movie. It has amazing flaws, but it also has Burt Young and John Saxon. I think I've come to appreciate it because I saw it over and over again, taped off television as a kid. This article discusses the back story of production as well as the reason behind its lack of success including shady distro deal that ends in bankruptcy. Say what you want about the movie itself, but the poster art is genuinely perfect in all its simplicity. Great write up from a DOCTERROR buddy.

Other features include Tom Savini discussing the "Moose Clit" in Day of the Dead and includes a set of pictorial effects creation stills (you have to rad the mag to see what this clit of the moose is), a look at Die Die Delta Pi (the latest in sorority horror), a brilliant account of the trouble with the production on the set of Spookies including how not to create a budget for an effects driven picture, a continuation of a Jess Franco retrospective (more to come in this series... warning... boobs!) and the latest induction into the Splatter Hall of Fame. I won't ruin which movie was inducted but it features one of my favorite Goblin scores. 

Last but not least Gorezone interviews Jim Wynorski discussing plenty of his productions but focusing on The Lost Empire and its recent release with proper aspect ratio and restoration. We've been discussing Wynorski's picture quite a bit lately with our recent podcast focused on Chopping Mall and upcoming cast on 976-Evil II. You can tell that Jim is a fan of genre pictures and has thrived despite an industry that can be quite containing. Let the boobs fly, Jim!

The whole mag is one colorful bunch of the red stuff splattered on the pages in picture form. Great cover. Great read. I am a fan of Chris Alexander's magazines whether it's Gorezone, Fango, Delirium or the Fangoria presents line. This mag will touch old and new horror fans alike while focusing us in on some areas that Fangoria (Gorezone's sister mag) simply cannot. 

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