Bruno Mattei…. one of my favorite Italian directors and if you want to know why go watch that delirious Rats: Night of Terror. He started as an editor and then directed the hardcore footage to be inserted into the Jess Franco film 99 Women. He did a lot of co-writing with Joe D’Amato on films such as Emanuelle e Francoise: Le Sorillene (my favorite D’Amato flick) and Eva Nera. On his own Mattei directed a few Nazi death camp sex movies (5 words that shouldn’t go together but do) and a couple sexy Mondo movies with D’Amato which showed his proficiency at working with a low budget. So when two film companies, Dara Films in Barcelona and Beatrice Films in Rome, decided to collaborate on a zombie film it’s writer Claudio Fragasso suggested his buddy Bruno to direct. Oh the movie is epically bad, ultimately in a fun way though that was never the filmmakers intention. Though this is 100% a Bruno Mattei fun, cheesy romp right up there with Strike Commando and Rats. So what went wrong with this movie?
FROM EPIC IDEA TO NOT-SO-EPIC EXECUTION
Hell of the Living Dead started as a film treatment called Virus (which is a title on some releases of the movie) by Jose maria Cunilles. It was fleshed out and turned in to an epic script by Claudio Fragasso and his wife (the powerful writing duo behind Troll 2). Unfortunately their script was far too ambitious. It took place in Africa, had ships full of dead bodies and required a scene involving a corpse mincing plant. Oh it all would have looked pretty awesome, I’m sure, but Dara/Beatrice didn’t have the money for that. So now the story takes place mostly in the jungles of Papua New Guinea (with the countryside outside Barcelona serving as this exotic locale) with the remaining footage shot at Studio Mafera in Rome. Now it’s not uncommon for an ambitious script to be scaled back before production and it can work out (Romero’s Day of the Dead originally started as a much larger idea). But what happened with Hell of the Living Dead?
Well remember how I said that Fragasso wrote a very ambitious screenplay from the treatment provided? Well the problem with two different film companies from two different countries collaborating together is things get lost in communication. So Beatrice Films got the new, scaled back version of the screenplay and would give Mattei instruction to direct that. Dara Films did NOT get the new copy of the screenplay and would be going off the more ambitious version. Depending which producer on set that day that’s the script Mattei was directing. Depending on the day of the week Mattei was either directing a zombie movie that took place in Africa or New Guniea – he didn’t know which. It wasn’t possible for either Mattei or Fragasso to know which movie they were making because either studio had their own opinion.
So if Hell of the Living Dead seems messy and random and like there’s two different movies going on with the same cast, that’s part of the reason why. PART of the reason….
Upon returning to Rome to complete the film Mattei discovered that pretty much all the stuff shot in Spain was not usuable or for the wrong movie. So Mattei opted to use footage from a 1972 French film, La Valle (which I’ve never seen but apparently the Pink Floyd album “Obscured by Clouds” is the actual soundtrack to this movie), and constructed a quick set to look like that movie taking place in Papua New Guinea. Then a lengthy sequence was added to the script where the characters find a villa and spend a good portion of the film there only because Mattei happened to have a set available and needed SOMETHING to make-up for all the lost Barcelona footage. Then it occurred to the production staff that there were hardly any zombies at all. While Mattei shot busy with studio filming Fragasso went out and shot a bunch of special effects shots, mostly just zombies getting shot in front of a dark backdrop to be added haphazardly in to the film at the producer’s request? Which producer and which shots? Depended on the day of the week I guess.
Still not enough footage to turn this hobbled and abused production into a feature. Mattei desperately scrambled to edit in stock footage and shot low budget scenes of news reports – anything to try and get this thing to feature length. Of course he didn’t have control of the editing so different producers were adding or removing sequences at their own discretion.
Then what to do about a soundtrack? There was no money to record one – so they just took Goblin’s music from Dawn of the Dead and Contamination and used that throughout the whole movie. Of course they didn’t have permission which caused some legal issues later on. I’ve no idea how these legal issues resolved themselves but considering that all copies of the movie still use that Goblin soundtrack