"Operation Sweet Death must be considered a complete failure" ...
And with that line alone, is it not fair to consider this film a failure too?!
But Bruno Mattei's shlocky low budget affair is oddly compelling. Overlong, yes. Devoid of suspense, I agree. But curiously agreeable. Well, it is if you're a very tolerant gorehound or simply a sucker for the halcyon days of pre-cert video nasties ... lucky for me, I fall into both categories.
The opening title sequence offers a flimsy backbone to the ensuing plot. A team of scientists working to cure the 3rd World famine crisis inadvertently unleash a virus that compells the locals toward cannibalism (stop laughing at the back!)
A SWAT team (led by Frank Garfield) are introduced to our banal script in 'America', rescuing a group of hostages from the American Consulate. They're being held by terrorists who demand America provide more support for the 3rd World ... cosy plot coincidence, eh?!
The SWAT team's next assignment is a hush-hush affair - they're sent to New Guinea to investigate a strange virus that has recently broke out at a Chemical plant there. Upon reaching the island they meet a glamorous TV reporter (Margit Newton), her aide/cameraman and two guides. And immediately the team are greeted by zombies ...
Although initially at loggerheads (an observation that predates Romero's DAY OF THE DEAD), the reporters and the SWAT team work together to fend off zombies and find their way to the chemical plant in a bid to discover exactly what caused this nightmarish tragedy: the SWAT use their guns a lot, while Newton does her part by stripping off in an attempt to identify with a local cannibal tribe ...
Along the way, we're 'treated' to plenty of brief gore scenes (some effective, most amatuer) and stock wildlife footage that was blatantly lifted from a separate source. And while we're on the subject of lifting, yes that IS the Goblin soundtrack for DAWN OF THE DEAD you're hearing!!!!
The gore FX are unremarkable but regular enough to maintain interest - there's plenty of flesh-eating, and a show-stopping eye-poker scene towards the end. And, hey, the more I see the cat bursting out of the old lady's belly, I love it!
The main faults of this film are the following:
lousy, predictable, cliche-ridden script
cheap cheesy, unconvincing FX
a racist sub-text
no tension, suspense or pacing
Yet curiously, the film still entertains - perhaps not in spite of these draw-backs, but because of them. Only Mattei and Jesus Franco have that ability (I hesitate to call it talent) that enables them to be so inept yet watchable.
All in all, HELL ... is a cheap zombie flick that will disappoint some with it's bargain-basement FX and time-filling stock footage. But others will no doubt find it's misgivings endearing, and revel in the frequent gore scenes accompanied by Goblin's exciting score.
The disc itself is a nice presentation of a non-too-loved film.
Presented in it's original theatrical ratio of 1.85:1 (anamorphic), the picture's been digitally remastered and looks superb. OK, there's noticeable grain on the stock footage sequences and the image is generally soft (not overly so), but this is the best this film has ever looked.
Sound is mono - and is fine. Music and dialogue are clear and hiss-free.
The extras are few, but welcome. A 9 minute interview with director is brief and sadly padded out with gory scenes from this film and RATS: NIGHTS OF TERROR. But when Mattei actually speaks, it's interesting nonetheless. Did you know the 'rats' in RNOT were actually guniea pigs?! He also speaks about the filming of HOTLD and explains how he was able to attain the rights to Goblin's score.
The menu screens are nice - filled with gory cannibalistic scenes from the main feature. A stills gallery offers 30-odd screen-grabs of the film, followed by lobby cards and international video/cinema artwork. The UK is represented by the pre-cert/ post-cert video, and original theatrical artwork - all of which are a joy to behold!
There's a trailer - almost 3 mins in length - that's interesting but full of spoilers - and gore! Very nice, though it does help to highlight how dumb the title HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD truly is.
Lastly, I must mention the 4 page booklet inside the keepcase packaging. It includes a text conversation betwen Fangoria editor Michael Gingold and SHATTER DEAD director Scooter McCrae. McCrae belittles the film - which I find highly ironic when you look at SHATTER DEAD (OK, it was made on vid with a mega-low budget, but it's still a turd!). Coupled with the back-cover notes, their conversation makes the prospect of buying the disc a most unsavoury one. For some reason, Anchor Bay seem intent on letting everyone know this particular release of theirs is a turkey ...
Overall though ... a nice disc. Picture and sound quality are better than one could have ever reasonably hoped for such a crap film. Yes - I said crap. But crap in the most enjoyable, endearing sense. I can watch this movie with ease. I can then give it a fortnight, then enjoy the whole experience all over again. But I fully appreciate the arguments of anyone who retorts by telling me how bad this film truly is.
But as bad films go, it's an immensely entertaining ride. It's just a shame that Anchor Bay seem to be so ashamed of it (why the Hell did they release the film if they hate it so much?!?!)
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Anchor Bay|
|Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)|
|Bruno Mattei bio; Trailer; Stills gallery; 9 min interview with Mattei|