Tagline: They eat the living!

Year: 1980           Runtime: 101 min

Director: Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn) & Claudio Fragasso

Writer: Claudio Fragasson & Jose Maria Cunilles

Starring: Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Selan Karay

There are any number of things that go awry that result in a b-movie: no budget, no talent in front of the camera, no talent behind the camera, no talent planning the film, etc., etc. There is no shortage of the preceding list which means there’s no shortage in b-movies. That’s great for the fans, and even better for us here on The Lost Highway, but the thing is, not all b-movies are “so bad they’re good.” That magic something that makes a bad movie entertaining is as elusive as Nessie and Sasquatch and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar.

Is it genius? Is it luck? Madness? A little column A, little column B, little column C? Like how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop, the world may never know.

One avenue where I’ve noticed a high amount of success is where filmmakers ride the coattails of a more popular movie. The idea is simple: latch onto something that’s making money and exploit it with a cheap reproduction. Italian filmmakers in the 70s and 80s were particularly brilliant at capitalizing on this maneuver. Every genre is open to such exploitation, and infamous filmmakers were all too willing to slop something together for the fans lucre, I mean, enjoyment. Hell of the Living Dead sets the bar higher in that it tries to capitalize on three genres: zombies, cannibals, and natives (i.e. dark skinned people who are generally portrayed as cannibals) at once—and fails at them all.

There is no mistaking the je ne sais quoi of a spaghetti [fill-in-the-genre] film. Hell of the Living Dead reeks of it. One would think that in the light of such overwhelming ridicule these films received the filmmakers would call it quits after one, maybe two, flops. But no matter how far off the mark a exploitation movie landed, most of these filmmakers made many more schlock films. Unlike the specially designed javelin used to correct for Lamar’s limp-wristed throwing style, there is no correction possible for a Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso hot mess of a film.

Buddha be praised!

Word of Caution: because Hell of the Living Dead is a cinematic disaster of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink calibre, it will appear I am having a hard time staying coherent. If you find yourself wondering, “What in the hell is he blubbering about?” don’t worry, it’s not because I’ve stroked out. That’s just the movie. Don’t think too deeply about the incongruities. Attempts to untangle the jumble will only cause you stress related injures. Allow the madness to wash over, and away, from you. The hollow feeling and night terrors will pass. The rocking, though, is permanent.

Hell of the Living Dead

The film opens in an industrial complex, a Hope Center. There are lots of white coat clad people with clipboards walking about with airs of important business. These are the world’s top scientists working on world hunger and stuff. How does flipping switches in what looks like a nuclear power plant solve the problem? No idea. Thankfully the movie exposits that the Hope Centers’ mission is to achieve Satiety, Peace and Good Happiness Stuff through the top secret project, Sweet Death.

Oh, Sweet Death, huh? Makes less sense than flipping switches, but OK. Interesting name though.

What’s more interesting is Sweet Death is a gas which kills people and then reanimates them as flesh eating zombies.

Uhm… I suppose “hope” has a special meaning in Italian that doesn’t quite translate into English.

One of the capsules has a meltdown during this flurry of activity, or as one worker puts it, “a routine spot check,” and Sweet Death gets out. The whole facility is infected. Another generation of idiots are removed from the gene pool, just in the nick of time. It’s not too bad though, this Hope Center is off the coast of New Guinea, which means there’s still a chance to keep this mishap under wraps. Keeping this PR nightmare quiet is important because most (third world) people are happy to have Mosanto, eherm, I mean, the Hope Centers in their countries, helping them with hunger and stuff.

(The movie says there are Hope Centers, i.e. more than one. It only shows the one. It hints of the others in moments of exposition that serve only to confuse and annoy the audience. Are they all working together? Are they independent? Who is paying for all this? Who knows.)

But not everyone is blind to Evil Corporate Big Brother Reich’s real plans. A band of know-it-all college hippies takes an American embassy hostage to expose the truth, man. What they get for all their planning and effort is a special Interpol commando team (SICT) with itchy trigger fingers. Wearing protective gear wasn’t part of their course at university, and they’re too smart to duck and/or get behind cover, so another generation of idiots are removed from the gene pool, just in the nick of time.

That concludes the unnecessary but entertaining portion of the film. Now that the film’s introduced SICT, on to the zombie action!

Because the Sweet Death outbreak is confined to New Guinea the UN sics SICT on it. SICT is supposed to… well… the movie never says. Mike, the SICT leader admits, when they finally arrive at the Hope Center, that he doesn’t know what their supposed to do. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

SICT flies INTO the country, where they then have to make their way cross country to the coast, then out to sea to the Hope Center. While this would seem to be as smart a lighting your pubic hair on fire to remove a lice infestation, it turns out to be a necessary contrivance. It’s only in hindsight that one learns that this lame planning is to pad out the film’s runtime. Without the cross country adventure the movie would run about 30 – 35 minutes.

None of the journey is necessary to the story. Actually, there’s not really a story, so tacking this scene on to that scene and another to this other one is as good a plot as Hell of the Living Dead offers. Cutting through the country is simply an excuse to pick up Lia and her cameraman, show some natives doing native things, and have the zombie attacks.

To add realism to the native scenes the filmmakers incorporated a bunch of footage from a documentary.  They did the same for establishing shots of traveling through the jungle. As you can expect the footage doesn’t match up. The editing is so bad that it doesn’t come close to fitting in with the original footage. In one scene there’s a kangaroo rat running through a desert that’s supposedly next to the Landrover as they’re driving through the jungle. In another scene we see natives canoeing in a wide river, but the commandos are in a thick jungle nowhere near water.

But it’s the sound dub for the animals that’s the tops. I thought there was nothing funnier than seeing a Kung Fu movie dubbed into Spanish. I was wrong. Hell of the Living Dead does one better, they dubbed different animal sounds for the ones shown. The best is a scene of what looks like storks dubbed in turkey gobbles. Priceless.

What would a 80s B horror flick be with out gratuitous nudity? Not a 80s B horror flick, that’s what. At least not an Italian one. As there’s only one woman, it’s Lia who has to show one for the team. Why she does so is classic horny teenage boy logic. The only way to get into the savages’ village is for Lia to go in topless and a vine g-string. Why? Because she lived with the tribe for a year. Uhm. OK. Does that mean she ran around naked save for a vine g-string that year? Is this what all women do, or just white women? Eh, who cares. She jogs ahead of the vehicles for a bit for some nice jiggle action. Bonus (for the extras playing natives that day): All the tribe members get to touch the naked white woman. SUH-weet!

Ultimately Hell of the Living Dead is to zombie movies what Taco Bell is to Mexican food. It will give you diarrhea and shaves an hour and a half off of your life. Yet, for some crazy reason, you keep going back for more.

roadside attractions

  • Hear the racism in lines like: “What kind of terrorist? Palestinian? Iranian? New kind?”!
  • Gape as the characters do while their close friends and co-workers and lovers are eaten by zombies!
  • Witness a vicious zombie rat attack!
  • Learn what the UN truly is: a big theatre with 12 people waving and throwing papers at one another!
  • Wonder why everything is contaminated and turning people into zombies except for our heroes!




Buckets of blood, black slime, and sundry goop.




Lia, the sole woman, has to strip to get into the natives’ village.




Loads of Poo-Faced™ Zombies.


Watch the trailer for “Hell of the Living Dead”