Italian genre cinema is something I didn’t quite understand once I started discovering movies outside the confines of my normal comfort zone. I remember discovering Lucio Fulci with his 1979 classic ZOMBIE and being perplexed at how Fulci could blatantly borrow from other films, but also bring us one of the most iconic scenes in horror (Zombie Vs Shark, people). As I delved further into Italian genre cinema (mostly Fulci: The Beyond, City Of The Living Dead, Conquest) I discovered these filmmakers had no problem straddling the line between homage and blatant rip-off. Which leads us to Bruno Mattei.
Mattei didn’t seem to care if his films crossed the line into blatant rip off. Hell, he took actual footage from Jaws 3 for his own shark film Cruel Jaws! Mattei is mostly known for Rats: Night Of Terror (a film still on my ever growing “to watch pile”) but his filmography is wide and varied. After watching his last two films back to back, I’m looking forward to visiting his other films if I can get my hands on them.
In 2002, Bruno Mattei went to shooting Direct-To-Video on high quality (for it’s time) digital video. His last being Zombie: The Beginning. Since these were shot on digital video pre-HD, I doubt a blu-ray release of these films would make any sense. However, InterVision (an offshoot of Severin Films) has given us two DVDs of Mattei’s final works, Island of the Living Dead and Zombies: The Beginning, that will satisfy the Bruno Mattei completest.
Island Of The Living Dead begins with your standard Zombie flick set-up. A rag-tag group of treasure hunters are shipwrecked on an island inhabited by flesh eating zombies! Though as we find out through the course of the film, all is not as it seems. Before our treasure hunters enter the picture, the opening scene involves 17th Century Plague, Spaniards, Voodoo Ceremony and exploding zombie heads. It’s a fantastic opening scene and sets the tone for the rest of the film. These aren’t classic Romero zombies. We are in for something a little over-the-top and a little different.
What I enjoyed the most in Island of the Living Dead was the use of practical effects. This flick is bonkers gory. Exploding heads, severed arms, gnarly zombie bites. Mattei doesn’t hold back and knows his audience well. Sure, the acting and audio dubbing can be horrendous. Yes, the music seems borrowed from season 2 of Survivor. And, yeah…the plotting is ridiculous. But, all that adds up to an extremely entertaining film that should please fans of Italian trash cinema.
Island Of The Living Dead ends with one survivor left (Yvette Yzon) and Mattei brings her back for his last film Zombies: The Beginning. Here’s where things get incredibly insane as Mattei ret-cons the end of Island Of The Living Dead, takes the script to James Cameron’s Aliens and adds zombies. Yes, Zombies: The Beginning is a zombified version of Aliens. One of my all-time favorite films. My jaw was on the floor.
Once I realized Bruno Mattei blatantly ripped off Aliens I almost just turned it off. Aliens is one of those movies I know verbatim, so seeing a rip-off is just redundant. There’s no way I can be suprised, right? The only thing keeping me from abandoning my viewing was knowing I had to write up a review.
Zombies: The Beginning goes 100% bat-shit. What he substitutes for the Alien Chestbursters is kind of brilliant. What happens to pregnant women when they die on the zombie island? Their babies turn into zombie babies of course! This sets up mountains of WHAT THE FUCK moments once this flick takes that turn. Wait until you see how Mattei translates the Alien queen. If you’re patient, the last 30 minutes of Zombies: The Beginning goes places that are completely grotesque, somewhat brilliant and genuinely skin crawling.
InterVision’s DVD transfers of Island of the Dead and Zombies: The Beginning are serviceable. Not outstanding, but that is because these films were not shot on film. They were shot on the digital video of the early 2000’s. Which at the time was just above DVD quality. On a LED/LCD screen you’re going to notice a lot of digital noise. I don’t think there was much that could have been done. On a tube TV or on an older HDTV Plasma screen these actually would look pretty great.
Regarding special features, there’s not a lot but Intervision makes up in quality what it lacks in quantity. Island of the Living Dead features an interview with producer Giovannie Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori. These interviews give a lot of insight into Bruno Mattei and the making of this low budget gem. Also included are some International Promos. For Zombies: The Beginning we have an interview with Antonio Tentori as well. This one is pretty great because he explains Bruno’s thought process in taking the Aliens script and translating it into a zombie flick.
It would have been great to house these movies together in a double feature. But for now InterVision has separate DVD releases. The original MSRP was $19.98 each however, they have dropped a more reasonable price. These are great little Italian Trash oddities and work perfectly as a bonkers zombie double feature.
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