Island of the Living Dead
Originl Title: L’isola dei morti viventi
Directed by: Bruno Mattei (Vincent Dawn)
Distributed by: Ritka Video
Despite being commonly referred to as one of the biggest hacks of Italian cinema, The king of recycling footage and a completely talentless copycat, Bruno Mattei continued making low budget genre pieces until the day he passed away. He’s one of the few who never strayed from the path and continued to churn out cheap, enjoyable trash when many of the others either lost their touch or simply retired. For this reason alone one should stop hounding Mattei and instead start to appreciate his dedication to genre cinema. Bruno Mattei demands your respect, and if you are not prepared to give him it, then you should stop reading now, burn all your low budget trash flicks and go back to watching rom-coms with Hugh Grant, as you obviously don’t appreciate what Mattei is all about.
Time for a quickfix to fill you in on The Island of the Living Dead. A boat full of treasure hunters and scientists get caught in storm whilst on a mission and end up on an abandoned island. This is obviously an island where the undead – in various shapes and forms – roam the dark labyrinth of the desolate buildings. They encounter the flesh eating monsters and in a varied manner of ways they start to decrease in numbers. The most unlikely of characters survives and in the best fashion, there’s a last minute shock in store after a highly spectacular rescue sequence…
…especially considering where Mattei went on the movie that followed this one.
As you can see, it’s a good old zombie nightmare story with all the frills and chills that you would come to expect from a Bruno Mattei movie. He even directed it under his old classic pseudonym, and believe me, this movie is all Vincent Dawn. In all fairness this isn’t one of Mattei’s best movies. But it’s not one of his worst either, because if there’s one thing that shines though the somewhat poor acting – mostly due to the cheesy dubbing – it’s an overall atmosphere that simulates the eighties movies. There’s a somewhat lack of predictability that was one of the ingredients that drew me to Italian genre to start with. Here Mattei presents us with a somewhat evolved zombie flick as we meet vampire and ghost incarnations of the old classic gut-munching ghouls. Kind of like a smorgasbord of horror paraphernalia, as long as they get the job done.
Any self-respecting movie wants’ to either set the force of antagonism from start of open so we know what we have pending a threat to our world in the original world. Island of the Linving Dead does both, after a lengthy initial attack taking place hundreds years ago Conquistadors fight off hordes of living dead. It has to be said that musket shots to the head of the bagged undead may remind of the opening to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi, although the pack these shots punch are fucking hard. The soldiers can’t hold back the horde and finally the church is overthrown leaving the governor and his men to their bloody fate. The initial attack has been presented, if by chance I’d never seen a zombie movie before, I at least know what the hell is threatening the characters.
Much like the old classic Italian Zombie flicks, there’s a wraparound story, something that establishes the ordinary world – the treasure hunters on the boat. This plants that these are active characters, and it also shows that they are capable of the most challenging tasks – salvaging the treasure – even if they do fail at times. It gives dimension to them, and there would really not be anything at stake if they had succeeded getting the treasure, navigating through the fog and then just chugged on to the next challenge.
There’s a neat back-story about the vessel “Natavidad” which sank off the coast of the island. This boat plays an important part in the genesis of the undead, and a boat from which all the evil unravels. It's not to hard to connect the dots between the looted treasure in the segment that introduced us to the characters, and the boat that they stole it from… to the spirits of the dead come back to claim revenge for having been disturbed.
Island of the Living Dead also uses the classic device of mixing in a few gags before a horror moment. Perhaps not in the formatted way of the American popcorn horror flicks, where the gag and the horror share the same moment, but more like a gag and then over to the horror. A line of dialogue like “oh I think I shat my pants…” is delivered before cutting to the other half of the cast and an attack made on them by a zombie passing by. In it’s own peculiar way it works and once you get into reading the movie in that way and taking it for what it is – it get’s the job done even if it means watching a flamenco dancing scene.
Island of the Living Dead has plenty of amusing nods to classic moments in earlier genre movies. If you know your stuff you will be laughing at referents to classic scenes from Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Fulci’s Zombi and Bianchi’s Burial Ground – well at least the monks that live by the prophesy of the black spider.
I have a problem with the video look of the movie, but hey, if that’s what it took for Mattei to get out there and shoot, then I guess I can lay my grain fetish to one side. Shot on HighDef video, there’s crispiness to the film that makes it feel very much like a TV soap, which kind of takes away from what Mattei’s after. Although this isn’t made for TV, and there’s enough moments to prove it.
As said, Island of the Living Dead may not represent Bruno Mattei’s best work, nor his worst. But it is a entertaining flick that definitely captures the atmosphere and feeling of the old school classics that appeal to me so profoundly. I enjoyed Island of the Living Dead and pretty soon I stopped moaning about the image, and just got into the story and found myself swept away by the flick and the magic of Bruno Mattei once again.