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Review: Hell of the Living Dead

Well, I suppose I have nobody to blame but myself. I knew what I was getting into when I decided to watch Hell of the Living Dead. After all, director Bruno Mattei (the man of a thousand aliases; this particular production, for example, credits him as “Vincent Dawn”) wasn’t exactly known as a purveyor of prestige cinema. Nor, for that matter, was his screenwriter, Claudio Fragasso (responsible for such “gems” as Troll 2). Naturally, I went in expecting a typical Italian zombie flick: sleazy, gory, and unapologetically schlocky.

I was not, however, remotely prepared to be bombarded with images of actual human corpses. In an apparent effort to minimize the budget, the film incorporates elements of the mondo genre—a sensationalistic style of “documentary” (and I use that term charitably) that explores “exotic” foreign cultures, with an emphasis on shocking violence and sexual taboos. Thus, "repurposed" stock footage depicting authentic tribal funeral ceremonies, political unrest in third world countries, and the ritualistic slaughter of animals is awkwardly spliced into the action, giving the impression that our protagonists have inadvertently wandered into a National Geographic television special.

This grotesque exploitation masquerading as “social commentary” (despite seemingly sympathizing with victims of colonialism and imperialism, Mattei nevertheless portrays them as primitive savages) might have been somewhat forgivable if the rest of the movie was otherwise entertaining; unfortunately, it’s just a miserable slog. I’m not averse to cynicism and moral ambiguity on principle, but in this specific case, the irredeemably despicable characters and utterly nihilistic themes are simply off-putting and unappealing. Even the soundtrack, allegedly composed by the usually dependable prog rock group Goblin—in reality, the score was cannibalized from various sources (much like the visuals), which explains why the music resembles the final gasp of a dying synthesizer—is flaccid, inert, and uninspired. Hell of the Living Dead is a thoroughly unenjoyable experience, and I regret watching it; what an insufferable waste of time!

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