DVDSleuth.com is your source for daily DVD news and reviews.
Hell of the Living Dead (1980)/Rats
Night of Terror (1984)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/26/2014
All Ratings out of
Hell of the Living Dead
Rats Night of Terror
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/20/2014
It seems that every time I review an Italian zombie movie, I re-hash the story of how George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (which was re-titled as Zombi in Europe) was a huge hit in Italy and quickly spawned many imitators. I'm going to skip that history lesson today and jump into the question of why none of these imitations actually looked or felt anything like Dawn of the Dead. Shouldn't an imitation, I don't know, look like the original? That question is the perfect set-up for an examination of Hell of the Living Dead, which is the first part of a new double-feature Blu-ray Discs of films by Italian Director Bruno Mattei from Blue Underground.
Hell of the Living Dead opens in a chemical plant, where we learn that "Experimental Project Operation Sweet Death" has been a failure. (Is that a good thing or a bad thing?) The scene then switches to a hostage situation at an embassy where commandos London (Jose Gras), Zantoro (Frank Garfield), Osborne (Josep Lluis Fonoll), and Pierre (Gaby Renom) (whose jumpsuits look juts like those worn by the SWAT-team members in Dawn of the Dead) diffuse the situation. Next, we travel to New Guinea where reporter Lia (Margit Evelyn Newtong) and Vincent (Selan Karay) have stopped to look for water, only to find themselves confronted by the walking dead. Fortunately, London and his squad arrive for some reason and save the duo. Now, this ragtag group must make their way through the jungle to safety, but this won't be easy, as zombies are everywhere.
Now, everyone knows that Dawn of the Dead was set in a shopping mall, but the first Italian knock-off, Lucio Fulci's Zombie (released under the shameless title Zombi 2 in Italy) had a tropical locale, which felt more like the Italian jungle cannibal films like Cannibal Holocaust. For some reason, the other imitators jumped on-board and we got films like Hell of the Living Dead in which the zombies are in the jungle. (I can't say that I'm an Italian zombie film completist -- Was there ever one which hijacked the mall idea?) And if this isn't supposed to be a nod towards Romero's film, then why is Mattei billed as "Vincent Dawn" in the American version?
Given that, the film plays like a greatest hits of other Italian movies. The zombies here were created by a chemical spill, so they definitely shuffle around and attempt to consume human flesh, but we don't see anyone rising from the grave. As this is taking place in New Guinea, we also get scenes with tribal natives, which requires Lia to get topless...which was all in service of the story, right? And as the movie progresses, we get more and more zombie attacks which, of course, include lots of gore. What we don't get here is much of a story. True to form of this sub-genre, everything is very vague. Lia and Vincent are in the jungle to do a story, but the details on this are never really fleshed out. The reason why London and his team are in the jungle is meant to be a secret until the end, and I'm still not sure if I understood what they were doing. The mystery of "Experimental Project Operation Sweet Death" is sort of explained, but by that point, it really didn't matter.
Hell of the Living Dead has garnered a bad reputation from fans, due in part to the overuse of stock footage which includes natural photography of various animals (some of which don't live in New Guinea) and scenes of native rituals and activities. There is no doubt that these very obvious inserts cheapen the overall feel of the film and clearly pad the running time. However, outside of that, I can't say that Hell of the Living Dead is any better or worse than the other jungle-zombie movies out there. It contains the same sort of gore and questionable dialogue found in its counterparts, and if you don't take any of it seriously, it's goofy fun.
Hell of the Living Dead teaches us to not taunt the undead on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only a trace amount of grain and very few defects from the source materials. I don't know how Blue Underground does it, but they can take an old, obscure movie and make it look great. Now, there's no mistaking the fact that this is an older movie, but the clarity of the image is outstanding. The colors look very good, and the image is never overly dark or bright. Movies like this can often look flat, but there is actually some depth here and the picture never gets too soft. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.6 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track doesn't show any cracking or hissing and the music (which was cribbed from other movies) never overpowers the dialogue. The stereo effects aren't overwhelming, but the track does have a layered sound.
The Hell of the Living Dead portion contains a few extras. "Bonded by Blood" (50 minutes) opens with a moment in a restaurant kitchen which simply made me ravenous. From there, we get an interview with Co-Writer/Co-Director Claudio Fragasso (Is he really a 49ers fan?) who discusses his background and shares some anecdotes about the production of the film. Next up, actress Margit Evelyn Newton talks about her experiences with the movie. We also hear from actor Franco Garofalo, who appears to be joining us via Skype. This trio gives a very frank overivew of the film, discussing the budget and script challenges and what it was like to worth with Bruno Mattei. The scene then shift to a movie studio in Rome, where Fragasso is joined by Rats cast members Ottaviano Dell'Acqua and Massimo Vanni to tour the places where that film was shot. This leads to a discussion of that film, specifically what it was like to work with the rats. The stunts and action sequences from the film are also discussed. The Disc offers the International Trailer and Italian Trailer for Hell of the Living Dead, as well as a Poster & Still Gallery.
If you're like most sci-fi or action fans, then you've seenEscape from New York and The Road Warrior, and you most likely enjoyed and remember those films. But, are you aware of the impact those films had on Italian filmmakers? In the 80s, the Italians were notorious for jumping on bandwagons and they were all over the post-apocalyptic action movie genre. Movies like 2019: After the Fall of New York, 1990: The Bronx Warriors, and Warriors of the Wasteland did nothing to hide the fact that they wanted audiences to think of Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell when they were paying to watch the films. Into this fold comes Bruno Mattei with the awkwardly titled Rats Night of Terror.
Rats Night of Terror is set in the year 2224, 225 years after "atomic bombs devastate all five continents" (So, other than Antarctica, who got spared?). Due to this, most live underground, but some scavenge the Earth. As the story opens, a group of nomads lead by Kurt (Richard Raymond) enter an urban area. The first building which they check has crates full of food, a water purifier, and a hydroponic garden. They also discover some dead bodies and a weird control room with a computer. So, instead of taking the food and leaving, they decide to stay. This is unfortunate, as the place is crawling with rats. Once the rats have apparently killed two members of the gang, the group decides to barricade themselves inside the building...with the rats. Will they be able to survive the night?
We've all seen a movie that we didn't understand. (If you say that you haven't, you're either lying or you don't watch enough movies.) Whether it was a foreign film, or something with one too many weird twists, you just couldn't wrap your head around the story. Rats Night of Terror is something different. The movie simply doesn't make any sense. The confusing opening text aside, Rats never lets us in on why the group doesn't simply loot the building of as much food and water as they can and get out of there. Perhaps in this land, the dead bodies aren't a deterrent to spending the night. But, then the really stupid thing happens: They barricade themselves inside the building, knowing full well that the rats are in there with them. Is this supposed to be funny? These issues make it impossible to become the least bit invested in this movie. Beyond all of that, the story is razor-thin and we never learn anything at all about the characters or what their quest is.
We may be able to excuse the script if the movie was interesting in any other way. If nothing else, the rats themselves should be creepy or squirm-inducing. However, they all look very tame and aren't the least bit intimidating. In fact, the rats all look into the camera and sniff and appear undeniably cute. During the attack sequences, it's clear that some poor stage-hand is off-screen simply tossing the rats at the actors. (I don't think that the ASPCA would appreciate that.) As the movie progresses, the scenes with the rats become more and more ludicrous, and we are forced to endure moments where the actors are screaming in terror and the rats look as if they simply don't care.
The truly crazy thing about Rats Night of Terror is that (special effects aside) the twist ending is actually intriguing. It's somewhat predictable, but it's still effective. But, after sitting through 80-plus minutes of buffoonery, the ending doesn't save the film. Rats would have actually made a good short, but it's a failure as a feature film.
Rats Night of Terror needed a cat to liven things up on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Blue Underground. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 18 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, although there is some fine grain on the image at times and a few very minor defects from the source material are visible. Unlike Hell of the Living Dead, the picture here does look a bit dark at times, but the colors still look fine. Due to the overall darker appearance, the depth doesn't stand out as much here. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 2.1 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. Again, we don't get any dynamic audio effects here and the dubbing is a little more obvious, but the track is clean and free from any hiss or crackling.
The Rats Night of Terror portion of the Disc contains a few extras. "Hell Rats of the Living Dead" (9 minutes) is an interview with Director Bruno Mattiei, which is clearly archival, as the man died in 2007. In this talk, he talks about his films, specifically Rats Night of Terror and Hell of the Living Dead. Specific to Rats, we have two International Trailers for the film, as well as the Italian Trailer and a Poster & Still Gallery.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long