Wednesday, October 05, 2016


Despite its reputation, watching Bruno Mattei's NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES (aka HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) was a watershed moment in my appreciation of trash cinema. ER co-founder and longtime pal Lou Goncey and I rented it on VHS one September evening and enjoyed the hell out of its mix of zombies, bloodshed, gore, nature footage, Play-Doh masks and borderline incoherence. In other words, we'd found a movie to champion. A few weeks later we watched in amazement as a print of the flick – under the title HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD – unspooled at the Super 130 Drive-In on a cool, nearly deserted October evening. Naturally, when the projectionist/security guard started showing the reels out of order we got out of our lawn chairs, hid our beers and made our way back to the "projection booth" to inform him of his error. What we got instead was a shrug of the shoulders as he admitted "yeah, I know... I just didn't think anybody would care!". That event only enhanced the film in my eyes and it remains a favorite of the genre to this day. So, when Evan Romero professed his mutual love for the flick and offered up an appreciation of the VHS for a combo 31 Days of Fright/VHS Wednesday, how could I resist... 

When Bruno Mattei's name is on the marquee, everyone is guaranteed to have a good time. With NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES, not only do you get Mattei, but you get gut-munching zombies as well! Seriously, what's not to love?

A facility called the Hope Center leaks a toxic chemical which turns people into zombies. Elsewhere, a team of commandos dispatches some eco-terrorists, then head to the Hope Center as all communication has been lost. En route they encounter a female reporter and her Yanni look-a-like assistant, who accompany them on their mission. Standing between the group and their destination are hordes of flesh-eating zombies ready to chow down at a moment's notice! Can our heroes elude the living dead and make it out alive? Or will they become nothing more than zombie fodder?

NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES has a reputation as being one of the worst zombie films ever made. I mean, with the crack team of Mattei behind the camera and TROLL 2's Claudio Fragrasso behind the script, what else should you expect? Sure, the flick is a bit loopy and unpolished, and it "borrows" liberally from other sources (Goblin's DAWN OF THE DEAD score and footage from the 1976 documentary THE REAL CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST being the most obvious), but if good films are all about providing entertainment, then NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES is a good film.

What NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES lacks in refinement it more than makes up for in fun, and the first ten minutes shows it isn't here to fuck around. Wham! Bam! Zombies! Oh, you wanted some build-up and character development? Forget it pal – this is Mattei. The best you're gonna get is right here, right now; and some walking, talking cardboard cutouts. But hey, you do get Zantoro, played by Frank Garafalo, one of the coolest characters ever to traipse through a zombie movie. Oh, and you get a commando who likes to engage in a bit of cross-dressing. Green tutus and top hats never looked so good.

Of course you get plenty of guts and crimson spillage. Gorehounds, rejoice! Fun is at hand! And I've got to admit the effects are pretty solid. And where else are you gonna see a cat tear its way out of a zombie's stomach? Talk about indigestion... Oh, and did I mention that NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES contains one of the coolest zombie kills ever to grace the silver screen?

If I really had to bitch about anything, it's that the VHS transfer from Creature Features is horrible. Everything is dark and fuzzy and grainy – so much so that at times it is hard to tell what is going on, especially during the village attack. Was that a zombie that just passed by? Who's shooting who? Hello, I'd like a bit of light with my nighttime so I can tell just what in the hell is going on! Thankfully though, the DVD from Blue Underground (under the title HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD) is clearer than Caribbean waters. So pick that one up if you can.

NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES is tacky, wacky, crude, cheesy – in short, a poor man's zombie film. But it is a whole helluva lotta fun, guaranteed to go well with your beer. So check it out and make this an October worth remembering. – Evan Romero

Evan Romero is a regular contributor to the pages of ER and spends much of his time reading morally questionable books and watching movies no sane person would touch. He is the vocalist/bassist for the punk band Porno Holocaust (you can find them on Facebook and listen to some demos if you’re inclined). You can read more of his reviews at or at He last wrote about MAD COW for Troma Tuesday.

NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES aka HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD is available from Amazon (on a double feature BluRay with Mattei's RATS: A NIGHT OF TERROR).

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