Action, Horror, Police, Zombies

Hell of the Living Dead / Rats (1980 / 1984)

Comments Off on Hell of the Living Dead / Rats (1980 / 1984) 07 October 2014

Hell-of-the-Living-Dead Rats

Studio: Blue Underground

Theatrical Release: November 17, 1980 / August 3, 1984

Blu Ray Release: August 26, 2014

Director: Bruno Mattei

Not Rated

Review by Travis North

Blue Underground has provided a nice double feature of the purely B-level director Bruno Mattei. I have seen both before and had mixed reactions. I had first seen Hell of the Living Dead (1980) under an alternate title, Night of the Zombies, and thought it was a hacky piece of crap. Rats (1984) I have seen much more recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. This Blu Ray release provided an opportunity to re-assess both titles. I started with Rats since I was somewhat dreading re-watching the lessor of the two titles.

Rats (1984)

Right away you are hit with a backstory that pins this squarely in the nuclear war worried 80’s. Of course the only things left after the bomb are rats and bikers who look about as threatening as the cast of Fame. This should of course appeal to fans of post-apocalyptic films and those who enjoy a good Italian mash-up of American cinema homages (or straight up cheap rip-offs). The bikers stumble upon a facility that contains a large stash of food in addition to a well preserved hydroponic lab. It seems that they could settle down and live out their days here in piece, but that is before they find out that swarms of rats have eaten the previous occupants. What follows is a battle over territory that is as old as two ape tribes fighting over the same water source. In this case it’s the epic struggle of man vs. rubber rats.

This certainly isn’t a great movie, but it is a great time. Who can’t laugh when the only black character gets covered in flour and happily exclaims, “I’m white!”? I personally prefer movies to be in their native language and subtitled. I can’t stand horrible semi-racist dubbing that occurs with Japanese films. Italian movies are a different case. At the time of filming it is meant to be dubbed, and thank God for that. The dialogue is great and the familiar voice actors always deliver lines in a convincing, and oftentimes over the top, manner. The soundtrack to the apocalypse is, as always, heavily synthed and the music does not disappoint here. I wonder if Mattei had a harder time deciding which he could get away with more, the lead being a total Kurt Russell from The Thing knock off (flamethrower included) or the clear shot of a guy’s dong?

A final note is I previously mentioned rubber rats, but there are plenty of real rats in this as well. I say that as warning to anyone sensitive to animal cruelty. Italians may love it, but other may not find rats on fire or getting punted like a football hilarious.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

This was made probably in the middle to second half of the Romero created zombie craze. At this point there were still plenty of cheap-o cash ins and unofficial sequels to be made, but by 1980 it was already running out of steam and was ready to go dormant until the modern renaissance. The premise is beyond flimsy. At a pristine chemical plant two inspectors come up a rat (double feature synergy alert) behind some equipment. It appears dead, but once it is picked up it miraculously stirs, makes it’s way inside a hazmat suit, and bloodily kills the inspector. That of course sets up a scourge of zombies. What??

That has to be my major complaint about this movie; it is so goddamn stupid it become annoying. Mattei obviously was attempting to make a Dawn of the Dead type movie, but borrows too much and fails to deliver on the rest. Goblin was perfectly within their rights to be pissed at the re-use of their Dawn soundtrack, and the inclusion of a SWAT team escaping to an island to avoid the zombie plague is just lazy. And if that wasn’t bad enough, using lots of random nature stock footage borders on disdain for the audience. I originally couldn’t help but be aggravated at behavior that would come off as moronic in the worse 80’s slasher. They know to shoot a zombie in the head, but constantly fire round after round into midsections then act surprised when it doesn’t work.

On a second viewing I thankfully now knew all this going in, so I’ll try to point out a few positives. First off there is some hilarious gratuitous nudity, with breasts literally being thrust towards the camera lens. I now have to admit that I could enjoy the gore effects more on a second pass, and having seem much worse in the interim to give this some credit. At least I can say that in the years leading up to Rats, Mattei did get better as a director.

I first have to thank Blue Underground for keeping the original artwork for the Blu Ray cover. Shitty Photoshop jobs have never been an improvement over original poster or VHS box art. This is particularly true for Hell of the Living Dead, whose cover sucked (suckered?) me in ages ago. I only had Rats on DVD to compare the picture quality to, but there is the obvious improvements in color and clarity. To be perfectly fair though, I think the image on Hell is the better of the two. Maybe it was due to the darker cinematography in Rats? There are plenty of good extras on the disc for both movies, so this double feature is a perfect purchase for Italian horror lovers.

Rats Rating: ★★★★☆
Hell  Rating: ★★½☆☆
Blu Ray Rating: ★★★★☆


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