Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media
Night of the Zombies aka Hell of the Living Dead (1981)
Review by Dan Taylor

Call me crazy, call me nuts... but of all the post-DAWN OF THE DEAD Italian zombie-fests, this bad boy and Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE are my two favorites. Unlike Umberto Lenzi's CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD, NIGHT doesn't rely on an inventive, off-the-wall gimmick to get your attention... it simply and blatantly rips DAWN off to the maximum.

As NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (not to be confused with the Joel "BLOODSUCKING FREAKS" Reed film of the same name) opens, The Hope Center suffers a heavy-duty radiation leak that leads the professor in charge to utter the understatement of the decade: "Experimental project 'Sweet Death' must be considered a complete failure." What tipped you off? Was it the zombie rats and co-workers ripping each other open for a little snack?

Cut to the Americam Embassy where terrorists have taken eight hostages. (The DAWN similarities begin to mount.) When a crack INTERPOL anti-terrorist squad is called in, hardened Italian gorehounds can be seen gleefully rubbing their hands together in anticipation. And director Bruno Mattei/Vincent Dawn doesn't let us down. The crack squad bursts through the Embassy and begins to blow away any terrorist scumbag they can get in their sights.

At this point you're probably asking yourself, "What the hell does this have to do with the rest of the movie?" As far as I can tell, nothing other than the dying terrorist's "you will be eaten by your fellow man" speech.

Mattei changes the scenery to a native island where we meet up with a television reporter, her cameraman and two non-descript people who are travelling with their injured son. Who are these people? Why are they travelling with the tv chick? Why did they bring their son along? Since these questions are not answered one can only assume that they are the equivalent of new characters on 'Star Trek'. In other words, meat for the lions. And true to form they buy it, with the Oedipus Zombie taking out dad, and the ever popular Zombie Priest making mom's face look like it was run through a Salad Shooter.

Once the SWAT Team arrives, NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES kicks into what can only be described as Italian Zombie Geographic Overdrive. In an effort to pad it out to a comfortable 90 minutes, Mattei inserts a ton of National Geographic outtakes of birds, animals and generic jungle flora and fauna.

The most brain-staggeringly bizarre part of the film comes when the tv reporter bares her breasts for a gratuitous close-up, paints them and her face and goes ahead to talk to the native chieftan. But Mattei's attempt at matching his cheesy Play-Doh masks with the elaborate masks worn in the actual footage regularly sends me into fits of hysterical laughter. (I was pleased to know Mattei hasn't lost this jarring touch – his recent flick THE LAND OF DEATH combines shot on video clarity with grainy filmed footage of tigers.)

At this point the Mattei blows his superb sense of pacing by forcing us into an extended maggot munching spectacle and what passes for romantic dialogue like: "Suppose we'd met at a cocktail party in Washington and liked each other...we'd be in the sack by now."

I guess zombies really bring out the romantic in you. Not to fear, though, as the lull ends and the zombies, villagers and SWAT guys get together for some wholesale carnage, limb loss and organ chomping!

A house on the island is the set piece for the highest degree of absolute gore, ridiculous dialogue and over- the-top acting this side of a Fulci film! Just some of the highlights at this House of Horrors: a grandma getting eaten by a cat; zombie grandma with Alka Seltzer froth; zombies eating a SWAT guy who is wearing a tutu and a top hat (don't ask); an absolutely haywire en masse zombie attack; and these priceless gems of dialogue from the Standard Issue Maniacal SWAT Guy: "You rotten, wormy, putrid corpses..." and "I figure we'll all meet again...IN HELL!!!"

From this point NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES steamrolls towards its inevitable conclusion... everyone in the cast DIES!!! Mattei finds time to insert a few eye gouges and tongue rips to keep the masses entertained, despite several failed Romero-esque attempts at dark humor and social commentary.

A true classic.

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