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Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Penultimate of several films Italian schlockmeister Bruno Mattei made in the Phillipines shortly before his death, ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD (2007) bears the usual hallmarks of his filmmaking style--very low budget, very high violence and gore content, derivative script, laughable dubbing and dialogue, acting that's pretty much all over the place, and a general "so bad it's good" dynamic that makes it all worth checking out at least once if you're in the right frame of mind.

Here, working under the name "Vincent Dawn", Bruno (MONDO CANNIBAL, IN THE LAND OF THE CANNIBALS) continues his fascination with cannibalism while segueing back into the Romero-esque zombie genre. But these aren't just your usual stagger-and-munch living dead brought about by radiation or some other science mishap--they're supernatural, ghostly creatures as well, which means that they can do pretty much anything including appear and disappear, change shape, regenerate dismembered limbs, and chomp you like fanged vampires.

After a prologue set in the 1600s in which Spanish soldiers and monks are overrun and eaten, we join a group of present-day sunken treasure hunters whose ship sets ground on the shore of this uncharted zombie isle (after Mattei stages a visually impressive sequence of the ship going off course in a freak fogbank). Still hoping to find vast riches, they enter the crumbling monastery where the bloody prologue took place and, before we know it, are up to their necks in shambling corpses looking for their next hot meal.

In addition to the lush jungle setting, Bruno has found an ideal real-life location to stand in for the old monastery, which gives ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD's production values a needed boost. He's also got some talented gore effects people on his team who can churn out loads of the stuff we want to see in a film like this. Granted, it looks cheap because it is. But the hardcore blood-and-guts scenes (including lots of dismemberments and exploding heads) and crowds of zombies in full facial and body makeup (with extras who seem really into their roles) should have gorehounds squirming with delight.

Mattei seems to relish directing these scenes and coming up with fun ways to shoot his undead characters. Some of them are even borderline erotic, which may give the viewer a weird necrophilia vibe. But needless to say, with their piercing neon eyes, mouths full of dripping fangs, and rotting, hanging flesh, you won't want to be cuddling close to any of these ambulatory heaps of detritus any time soon.

In between the all-out zombie attacks, members of the crew have their own individual encounters with the ghostlier denizens of the island. One guy meets a flamenco-dancing woman and decides to join her in a twirl around the dance floor before her inevitable zombo freak-out; another frantic dude meets the ghost of the ill-fated Spanish captain from the prologue, who's looking a tad creepier these days; and my second-favorite character, hyper-bitchy babe Victoria (Ydalia Suarez) finds a "cask of amontillado" that's not quite what it seems to be.

Bad movie fans will have much to celebrate with the references to past films and other literary works, the sometimes awful dialogue ("Shit!" is the most frequent line), and some hilariously over-the-top performances by our heroes. Main acting honors go to the cute and wildly energetic Yvette Yzon as Sharon, whose pluckiness helps her survive the group devourings suffered by several of her less fortunate cohorts as she earns "final girl" status the hard way.

As so often happens in horror films, Sharon can't just escape at the end--she must go back into the monastery for some inexplicable reason so that she can take part in the film's grand finale. Here, Bruno stages a gore-stravaganza that resembles a low-budget version of Dante's vision of zombie hell. And that squeaky sound you hear is the director stretching the budget tighter than one of those giant Acme slingshots that Wile E. Coyote once used to launch himself at the Road Runner.

The DVD from Intervision Picture Corp. is in 1.78:1 widescreen with Dolby Digital stereo sound. No subtitles. In addition to a trailer and an international sales promo, there's a featurette entitled "Bungle in the Jungle" in which producer Giovanni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori talk fondly about their work on this and other films for the late Bruno Mattei. (Bruno followed up this film with a semi-sequel, ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING, which would be his last.)

While definitely in the lower echelons of low-budget video productions, ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD is Bruno Mattei going all out with the resources at hand and coming up with a lively, old-fashioned gorefest that hovers between just plain bad and just plain fun. If that's what you're in the mood for, this is one you can really sink your teeth into.


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