Hell of the Living Dead
|Hell of the Living Dead|
Italian theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)|
|Edited by||Claudio Borroni|
Hell of the Living Dead (Italian: Virus - l'inferno dei morti viventi) (but the very first title was only Virus) is a 1980 horror film directed by Bruno Mattei. The film is set in a laboratory in Papua New Guinea that releases a dangerous chemical, turning the technicians and locals into zombies. A French news reporter (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her crew land on the island to investigate.
Hell of the Living Dead was a project developed by producers and given to director Bruno Mattei, who attempted to create a film similar to Dawn of the Dead but lighter in tone. It was shot in five weeks in Spain with a script that was not Mattei's first choice and a score by the band Goblin, taken from other film scores that the band had performed. The film generally received negative reviews, noting bad dialogue and its obvious derivation of 1978's Dawn of the Dead.
At a top secret chemical research facility called Hope Center #1, a rat causes a chemical leak and dies. As two workers investigate, the rat suddenly comes back to life and kills one of the men, who likewise revives and attacks his co-workers. Subsequently, the entire staff of the plant turn into flesh-eating zombies.
A four-man team of commandos, consisting of Lt. Mike London (José Gras), Osborne (Josep Lluis Fonell), Zantoro (Franco Garafalo), and Vincent (Selan Karay), are deployed to eliminate a group of eco-terrorists who have taken hostages inside a large building at the US Embassy in Barcelona, Spain. The terrorists demand the closing of all the Hope Centers, which both the government and the military deny exist. The press, under orders of the local authorities, do not publicize the terrorists' demands or mention the disaster at Hope Center. After pumping tear gas into the building, Lt. London and his three commandos burst in, killing the terrorists.
Once the mission is completed, the team loses contact with Hope Center #1. Thinking that the complex has been infiltrated by terrorists, the team flies to Papua New Guinea. There they meet journalist Lia Rousseau (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her cameraman Max (Gabriel Renom), who are investigating a series of mysterious, violent attacks on the locals. While stopping at a native village, they encounter several flesh-eating zombies. The commandos and the journalists travel through the New Guinea jungle in the commando's jeep, trying to survive while evading the zombies. The group takes refuge at an abandoned plantation, only to come under attack from the zombie residents. The flesh-eating residents kill and eat Osborne, forcing the survivors to flee.
Rousseau and London's men battle their way to a beach, escape by raft, and finally arrive at Hope Center #1, where they find all of the workers either dead or roaming the facility as zombies. The zombies quickly kill Max and Zantoro, and infect London. Rousseau and Vincent learn about the experimental chemical that was accidentally released, which is causing the zombie infestation. From audiotaped notes and papers left behind in the lab's research offices, Rousseau learns that the chemical, codenamed "Operation Sweet Death", had been intended to curb the Third World population by driving it to prey on each other. Rousseau vows to tell the world, but a horde of zombies - including their now zombified comrades - close in and devour the last survivors of the team.
Some time later, the zombie contagion has spread beyond the borders of the country and throughout the world. While politicians and scientists dispute the matter, a young couple in the developed world are attacked and devoured by a horde of zombies in a city park.
- Margit Evelyn Newton as Lia Rousseau
- Franco Garofalo as Zantoro
- Selan Karay as Vincent
- José Gras as Lt. Mike London
- Gabriel Renom (Gaby Renom) as Max
- Josep Lluís Fonoll as Osborne
- Piero Fumelli as Coroner on TV
- Bruno Boni as Reporter
- Patrizia Costa as Josie
- Cesare Di Vito as Newscaster
- Sergio Pislar as Technician Lawson
- Bernard Seray as Technician Fowler
- Pep Ballenster as Josie's Husband
- Victor Israel as Zombie Priest
- Joaquin Blanco as Professor Barrett
- Esther Mesina as Woman in Bar
- Genarrino Papagalli as TV Executive
- Antonio Molino Rojo as SWAT Leader
- Tito Lucchetti as Terrorist Leader
Director Bruno Mattei noted that the production began as a specific request from the producer. Mattei planned to make a film inspired by 1978's Dawn of the Dead, but wanted a lighter tone for the film. Mattei said that initially two screenplays were written, and that the producers rejected the screenplay that Mattei preferred. The film was Mattei's first to be made under the name Vincent Dawn, a request made specifically by the film's Spanish production side.
Claudio Fragasso stated he wrote Hell of the Living Dead with Rossella Drudi, his frequent co-scripter. Fragasso felt there had been several zombie films made recently, and wanted to do something different after watching Dawn of the Dead suggesting the film would be like Soylent Green as well as envisioning the film as "an undead epic, a kind of Apocalypse Now".
Among the cast was Margit Evelyn Newton as Lia. Newton recalled that she felt a great sense of responsibility at the time, playing the film's protagonist. Newton felt nervous in a scene involving nudity in front of the indigenous people. She asked that everyone be removed from the set, with only indispensable cast and crew remaining. The scene was shot in one day.
Hell of the Living Dead was shot in 5 weeks. The film includes stock footage to suggest that the film was set in New Guinea. Fragasso stated that when the crew arrived in Barcelona to shoot the film they found they had no money and had to improvise and rewrite the previous script. The production had this footage from the beginning of shooting the film and had rebuilt some of the locations from the stock footage in Spain, where the film was shot. Fragasso commented on the use of stock footage in the film as producers wanted to reuse footage they had, which led to Mattei adding footage of a documentary New Guinea, Island of Cannibals into the film. Parts of the film were improvised on set, such as when a character enters a room imitating Gene Kelly in his film Singing in the Rain. The score is credited to the band Goblin, but is mostly taken from other film scores Goblin performed, such as Dawn of the Dead and Contamination. Mattei was a fan of their music and secured rights to it for the film through Carlo Bizio. Fragasso stated that the music was from other films and from their album Roller as Goblin were too expensive at the time to get for an original score.
Hell of the Living Dead was released in Spain in November 1980 and in Italy in August 1981 and released in the United States in 1983. It was described as "moderately profitable" in Glenn Kay's book Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide. It has been released under several titles, including Virus, Night of the Zombies and Zombie Creeping Flesh.
In a contemporary review, Steve Jenkins (The Monthly Film Bulletin) noted that the possibility of a subversive subtext involving Third World victims corrupted by scientific research was "truly buried here in an orgy of flesh chewing and vomiting, as well as dialogue that beggars belief." The review commented positively that the film had unexpected pleasures, such as "the ludicrous attempts to dub speech on to stock footage (featuring humans) and a story, low-budget UN meeting consisting of a handful of delegates hurling pieces of paper at each other."
From retrospective reviews, Glenn Kay (Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide) also noted the poor dialogue, as well as bad shot composition -- with scenes changing from day to night between cuts, slow pacing and overacting. AllMovie described the film as "cluelessly bad" with a script of "dreadful characterizations and dialogue," noting that it would be enjoyed by fans of cult and trash cinema. John Kenneth Muir (Horror Films of the 1980s) stated the film was not enjoyable to watch and that it added little originality to the zombie genre in the vein of other films such as Return of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead. Both AllMovie and Muir noted the film's similarity to Dawn of the Dead, with Muir referring to it as "perhaps the most blatant rip-off of Dawn of the Dead ever produced".
Mattei later expressed that he felt the film's dialogue was "pretty stupid" and that like all his films, he would reshoot it if possible. When asked how she felt about the film in 2013, actress Margit Evelyn Newton responded that "Obviously seeing it now, I would change some things. But that is okay. Virus has helped me get more work." Fragasso commented on the film later saying that the film "designed with lots of love, but in the end it came out a test tube baby, a kind of abortion [...] But I'm satisfied with the end results."
- Stine 2003, p. 166.
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- Curti, Roberto (2019). Italian Gothic Horror Films, 1980-1989. McFarland. ISBN 1476672431.
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- Muir, John Kenneth (2012). Horror Films of the 1980s. McFarland. ISBN 0786455012.
- Paul, Louis (2005). Italian Horror Film Directors. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-8749-3.
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