Color, 2006, 97m.
Directed by Bruno Mattei
Starring Yvette Yzon, Gaetano Russo, Alvin Anson

Color, 2006, 95m.
Directed by Bruno Mattei
Starring Yvette Yzon, Alvin Anson, Paul Holme
Intervision (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Island of the Living Dead

Despite the complete collapse of the Italian horror film industry in the 1990s, director Island of the Living DeadBruno Mattei somehow managed to find a way to churn out a string of very cheap, very trashy, and very entertaining cash-ins during the final years of his life in the mid-2000s. Severin unleashed two of his cannibal cash-ins from 2003, and now here are two gory, ridiculous zombie outings, the final two credits on his filmography. And what a way to go!

Still credited under his familiar pseudonym of "Vincent Dawn," Mattei returns to familiar Hell of the Living Dead territory with Island of the Living Dead. This one kicks off with perhaps the most ambitious, impressive sequence of his later career as a prologue establishes our setting, a Spanish island (presumably in the Philippines where this was shot) where a bunch of residents including some conquistadors are overtaken one night by a zombie plague. It's actually pretty well shot and atmospheric with the nocturnal revelers suddenly besieged by a growing undead army, but once it's over we're back on familiar ground as a boatload of incredibly incompetent treasure hunters gets stranded on the same island centuries later after getting stuck in some fog and losing their latest stash of gold coins thanks to a Island of the Living Deadcrumbling treasure chest. Upon arrival they start swapping dialogue from Night of the Living Dead (really!), engage in kickboxing bouts with the local zombie populace, try to pilfer a stash of gold guarded by a crouching skeleton, and read from a bunch of creepy Latin books providing a handy heaping of exposition. Of course, their number starts dwindling rapidly as the zombies keep on coming, interspersed with occasional ghostly apparitions and a truly insane flamenco dancing sequence complete with a rotting guitarist.Island of the Living Dead

As you can tell by now, there's plenty of nutty fun to be had here if you're in the right mood. The very canned dubbing is atrocious throughout (despite the fact that over half the cast appears to be speaking English) and the video lensing is flat as can be, but some sequences are actually pretty effective. In particular, a basement encounter between the new arrivals and a bunch of thrashing slave zombies chained to the walls is fairly nightmarish, and the climax is a pretty lively showdown on the beach in broad daylight, a nice change of pace. Some of the zombies also sport fangs, a fun little nod to the look of Filipino horror, and the rambunctious synthesizer score seems to get excited even when people are walking around essentially doing nothing.

Intervision's DVD features a solid anamorphic transfer that's about as good as a production with these technical specs can accomplish, and the stereo audio (there's a Dolby Spectral Zombies: The BeginningRecording logo at the end!) sounds fine given the rinky dink music and (intentionally?) abrasive dialogue track. You also get some extras this time around, too, including a 2-minute trailer, a 5-minute international sales promo (that apparently didn't do such a great job since this wasn't picked up in very many countries and only hit video in Japan and a tiny handful of European countries before this edition), and an 18-minute "Bungle in the Jungle" featurette with producer Giovanni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori. It's a fun, affectionate piece with lots of positive comments about father figure Mattei, including discussions of his collaborative process, the reasons for the Filipino locations, and the circumstances of the illness leading to his death. They also cite Mattei as a role model for lots of younger filmmakers, who presumably do not include Christopher Nolan and Wes Anderson.Zombies: The Beginning

Now we move on to the last film Mattei ever made, Zombies: The Beginning, a sort-of sequel that (spoiler alert!) rewrites the previous film's ending to bring the sole survivor, Sharon (Yzon), back to land in a non-zombie state courtesy of a helicopter rescue at sea. At the hospital she has horrible nightmares about her ordeal and even has a delusion in which she turns into a nurse-chomping zombie, but no one on the investigating board seems to believe her story when she tries to explain how the salvage ship's disappearance occurred. It's here that the film becomes an oft-noted virtual remake of Aliens with Sharon spouting dialogue that sounds an awful lot like a certain Sigourney Weaver character, except with the word "ass" used a lot more often. Sharon decides to retreat to a monastery, but the company sends one of its reps to retrieve her for an expedition to the cursed island along with a crack military team. There the gung-ho newbies find themselves under Zombies: The Beginningattack in the dark from waves of zombie attackers, with all their hi-tech gadgetry helpless against the primal forces of undead horror.

Complete with a higher body count, a lot more blood, and a new set of goofball elements like a furry fanged monster, a pint-sized zombie, grisly dissection of a dead zombie baby, and a jaw-dropping revelation about the monstrous source of the zombie pestilence, this is quite a film to behold. The Aliens nods are surreal in their accuracy at times including a reenaction of the tunnel grenade dual suicide scene and a pretty impressive transposition of the James Cameron film's finale complete with a breeding room and flamethrower attack. All told, it's hard to imagine how anyone could not enjoy this one.

Again the Intervision DVD appears to be true to the standard def source with a solid encoding and stereo English dialogue track. A spoiler-laden trailer is included here and should definitely be watched after the film, while Tentori returns for "Zombie Genisys," a 17-minute chat about his career as a writer starting out thanks to Lucio Fulci with Demonia and continuing with A Cat in the Brain. (Incredibly, or perhaps not so much upon reflection, his most recent credit is Dario Argento's Dracula 3D.) There's a brief radio interview with him and Fulci from '87 included, too, and his discussion encompasses other familiar figures like Mattei and Joe D'Amato, too. He cites Island as his favorite of the two films but has a "weird fascination" with this one, which he feels could have led to a third chapter. Had Mattei lived, it's stunning to imagine where they might have gone from here.

Reviewed on February 11, 2015.