In my twisted opinion, one of the funniest films to come out of Italy during the 1980s wasn’t meant to be a comedy at all. Instead it was noted shlockmeister Bruno Mattei’s thinly-veiled attempt to cash in on the successes of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (aka Argento’s “Zombi”) entitled Inferno dei Morti-Viventi, or, as it is known on these shores, Hell of the Living Dead. This hysterically bad and endlessly entertaining film has been paired up with one of Mattei’s other “masterpieces”, the post-apocalyptic rodent revenge abomination, Rats: Night of Terror in a double-feature Blu-ray set from Blue Underground that is an absolute treat for fans of “so-bad-it’s-good” cinema, and Italian horror in general.
We start off with Hell of the Living dead, which opens with a chemical leak that turns the local workforce into carnivorous zombies. Before we get to know the purpose of the Hope Center working on ‘operation: Sweet Death’ we are informed that “some kind of degenerative process has begun that may be catastrophic for everyone”. We then cut to a group of four special military forces types contending with a band of terrorists who’ve overtaken a government building and are holding the city council hostage unless their demands that all of the Hope Centers be abolished. Our heroes burst in, lay waste to the terrorist threat in a hail of gunfire, and, whilst still basking in the glory of their latest heroics, are then sent off to New Guinea where the natives are apparently going insane and indulging in a spot of cannibalism. From here on out we are treated to some of the most unintentionally hilarious dialogue this side of a Mel Gibson wiretap.
Here’s just a few beauties -
“She may not know much about chemistry but in bed her reactions are terrific.”
“When did you start worrying about our balls, Daddy?”
“Dumb broad! The living image of a modern mother. You couldn’t be so mean to leave your kid in a nice safe school for a couple of week! Not her! Ah no! Not to bring our boy along would be cruel, it doesn’t matter if he’s eaten up by mosquitoes or wounded by a native lunatic!”
“I’d prefer to concentrate on the delightful water nymph who is about to quench my innate primordial thirst.”
“Maybe there are some chicks in grass skirts.”
“Maybe there’s some without grass skirts.”
"Suppose we met at a cocktail party in Washington, we'd be in the sack together by now!"
The list is endless...
Hell of the Living Dead is the very definition of “must be seen to be believed.” Mattei is absolutely shameless in his cribbing of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, borrowing not only much of the plot, but literally lifting Goblin’s score, as well. In his defense, he claims that he bought the rights to the music before Romero. If this were true, did he also purchase the rights for the soundtracks Goblin composed for Contamination and Beyond the Darkness? Because he also uses the music from those films as well!
It’s just brilliantly bad stuff, chock full of nudity, gore, heaping doses of misogyny, and more stock footage than Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, but as bad as Hell of the Living Dead is, it’s nothing compared to Rats: Night of Terror!
To give you an idea how bad Rats is, the opening of the film features a narrator giving us the lowdown about the apocalypse, and how, two hundred years later, man is all caveman-ish and such. This is presented to us as text on a vellum sheet being dragged over stock footage of some desert, and the "clear" sheet is covered with stains, scratches, and goo, as if the sequence was put together by a child with especially dirty hands. We are then introduced to our gang of protagonists who are dressed in the appropriate POST-APOCALYPTIC wear, like leather pants, big futuristic boots, spiked wristbands and militant garb. The only person who looks out of place is the girl in the leather bikini and cape, but then again, capes are always in style. Oh, and there's a bald guy in yellow pajamas with a triangle doo-dad on his forehead that keeps changing shape, but only because it was drawn on with marker.
Our group is led by Kurk (Dell'Acqua) who sports a mean, trimmed beard and feathered hair. In the future, this will be considered tough. In the present, this will get you killed. Kurk proves he's the leader on several occasions, mostly by hitting people and lighting them on fire with his flamethrower. Yep, Kurk has one of those. Meanwhile, the rest of his gang has maces and sticks with nails in them. Anyone wanna guess why Kurk's the boss? If you said "Because he has the best weapon", give yourself a Twinkie.
Anyway, the gang of dusty trail-riders on their motorcycles and armored vehicles (where'd they get gas, anyway?) cruise into an abandoned town and find a storage of food, as well as a water filtration system and a hydroponics set-up. The fact that all of this is surrounded by thousands of rats, and freshly eaten corpses does little to deter the group from settling down for a while. Soon they realize that the rats are super intelligent and one by one they get eaten by what look like large gerbils being thrown at them by production assistants.
Bruno Mattei freely admits that his films, especially Rats, are not the stuff of Citizen Kane, so he knew he was making crap but, so long as he got paid for it, he was fine with that. In Rats, Mattei must have gotten a giant bonus to make the worst movie he could possibly make, because this is some seriously bad stuff, folks. We get painted rats and guinea pigs being thrown onto people, whacked with brooms and sticks, and even set on fire (watch 40:55 into the film when Kurk decides to blast a sewer full of rodents with his flamer. You can clearly see at least a half-dozen of the poor things scurrying around ablaze!). After about 80 minutes of that we get a conclusion that's supposed to be the big twist ending, but it's about as surprising as winning a medal in the Special Olympics.
Blue Underground bring Hell of the Living Dead and Rats to Blu-ray in a delightfully deranged double feature. The two films, both presented in 1.85:1, look exceptional, with vivid transfers that really highlight Mattei’s use of color, especially as seen in Rats where scenes are drenched in bold primary colors. There’s a surprising amount of detail on display here, as well as a fine sheen of cinematic grain present in both films. Each is accompanied by a DTS HD Mono track that are remarkably free of the distortion and high-end brittleness that plagued the Anchor Bay DVD releases from several years back. The synth-heavy scores sound especially beefy, while dialogue (albeit terribly dubbed dialogue) is up front and center, for better or worse.
Bonus features include a brand new collection of interviews entitled Bonded by Blood, which feature an assortment of the late director’s former collaborators waxing nostalgic about the making of these (and other) films, as well as some new footage featuring a few key locations used in Rats!
Hell Rats of the Living Dead is an old featurette from the aforementioned Anchor Bay release, which features an interview with Mattei that is incredibly candid and funny stuff. Also carried over (but now presented in HD) are the film’s theatrical trailers, and a stills gallery.
Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Night of Terror make for the perfect double feature, so it only makes sense that Blue Underground present them as such. These are not good movies by any stretch of the imagination, but they’re incredibly entertaining and charming as hell, and, if you’re a bad-movie aficionado like myself, definitely worthy of a spot in your collection!