The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Hell of the Living Dead (dir by Bruno Mattei)


Hell of the Living Dead, a 1980 Italian zombie film, is a movie known by many different names.  Some of these names are more memorable than others.

For instance, it’s known as Virus, which isn’t a very good name.  It’s kind of boring.  Plus, a virus could lead to anything.  Sure, a virus could turn someone into a zombie but it could also just mean a week in bed.  Plus, there’s already a thousand movies called Virus.

Night of the Zombies is a bit more specific, though still rather generic.  Just about every Italian horror film that came out in 1980 was about zombies and most of them took place at night.

Island of the Living Dead, at the very least, let’s you know where the majority of the movie takes place.  That said, it’s kind of a dishonest title.  The island isn’t just occupied by the living dead.  There’s also a primitive tribe, the members of which pop up occasionally to throw spears at a group of soldiers and a journalist.

I absolutely love the title Zombie Creeping Flesh.  Seriously, I don’t know why they bothered to come up with so many alternate titles when they already had Zombie Creeping Flesh.

However, this film is best known as Hell of the Living Dead and, actually, I guess that’s a pretty good title.  I mean, it’s totally and completely over the top.  Add to that the title almost feels like a challenge being specifically issued to the fans of George Romero’s zombie films.  It’s as if the film is saying, “If you can’t handle the Night or the Dawn, the Hell is absolutely going to kill you!”

Anyway, this is an extremely low-budget film from director Bruno Mettei and screenwriter Claudio Fragasso.  The team of Mattei/Fragasso were famous for producing some of the most ludicrously silly horror films to ever come out of Italy.  (Outside of his collaboration with Mattei, Fragasso is best known for directing Troll 2.)  A typical Mattei/Fragasso film is entertaining without being particularly good.  They were never ones to allow a thing like a lack of money to stand in the way of their narrative ambitions.

For instance, in Hell of the Living Dead, there’s one isolated scene that’s supposed to take place at the United Nations.  The scene appears to have been filmed in a lecture hall at a small university.  One delegate angrily declares that he is sick of everyone exploiting his zombie-occupied country.  Someone else suggests that maybe they should take a break until tomorrow.  It’s an incredibly inauthentic scene that adds nothing to the story but that didn’t keep the team of Mattei and Fragasso from including it in the film.  They were determined to have a UN scene and they weren’t going to let a lack of money or access stop them.

Anyway, the majority of the film deals with a zombie outbreak on a small tropical island.  The island is almost exclusively made up of stock footage.  A typical scene will feature a character like journalist Lia (played by Margit Evelyn Newtown) standing in the middle of the frame.  She looks to the right and we get some grainy stock footage of a bat or something similar.  She looks to her left and we get some faded stock footage of a tiger.

As I mentioned previously, the island also has primitive natives.  Whenever you hear the drums in the distance, it’s important to toss off your shirt, paint your face, and start jogging.  Otherwise, you might get killed.  You know how that goes.

And then there’s the zombies, of course.  The zombies get an origin story, something to do with an accident at top secret chemical plant.  At the start of the film, a rat attacks a scientist.  I’m assuming the rat was carrying the virus but it’s just as possible that Mattei just decided to throw in a random rat attack.  (His best film was literally just 90 minutes of rat attacks.)  Regardless, the zombie effects actually aren’t that bad but the problem is that whenever the zombies show up, they have to compete with all of the stock footage.  When the zombies aren’t dealing with animal footage that was originally shot for a mondo film, they keep busy by eating nearly everyone that they meet.  A group of soldiers have been sent to take care of the zombies but since none of them are particularly bright, they don’t have much luck.

Hell of the Living Dead has a reputation for being one of the worst zombie films ever made.  I don’t know if I would go that far.  It’s watchable in a “what the Hell did I just see?” sort of way.  And in the end, isn’t that kind of the point of a film like this?

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Life and Death in Dawn of the Dead


Today’s horror scene that I love is from George Romero’s 1978 zombie masterpiece, Dawn of the Dead.

The first time I saw this film, I was so upset when Roger died.  Not only was Roger my favorite character but I also knew that if Roger — who was so funny and so charismatic and so competent — couldn’t survive then that meant that no one was going to survive.

Horror Film Review: The Girl With All The Gifts (dir by Colm McCarthy)


It says a lot about the state of things that movies about the end of the world have recently become not just popular but also extremely plausible.  It seems like every time I look at a list of upcoming films, I see predictions of fear, desperation, and apocalypse.  Almost every end of the world scenario now seems to come with zombies.  Perhaps people are taking that famous line from Dawn of the Dead to heart.  When there is no more room in Hell, the dead will walk with Earth.

The British film The Girl With All The Gifts is one of the latest examples of the apocalyptic genre.  It has everything that we’ve come to expect from films like this: flesh-craving zombies, blighted urban landscapes, soldiers trying to maintain order as the world collapses into chaos, sinister scientists, children faced with rebuilding the world, and that one lone idealist who doesn’t want to give up on the present.  It’s a familiar story but The Girl With All The Gifts tells it well.

In this case, the end of the world has been brought about by a fungal infection.  Those afflicted not only lose the ability to think but are also transformed into flesh-eating maniacs.  Interestingly enough, the term zombie is never used in the film.  Instead, the infected are called “the hungries.”  I assume that’s because the infected aren’t actually the living dead.  In fact, even after transforming them, the infection still eventually kills them.

(If you really want to freak yourself out while watching The Girl With All The Gifts, consider that the fungal infection is actual thing, though it only affects carpenter ants.  For now…)

In an isolated army base, a group of children are kept in cells and guarded over by soldiers, like the gruff Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine).  They are experimented on by scientists, like Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close).  And they are taught by a kind-hearted teacher named Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton).  One of the most intelligent of the children is Melanie (Sennia Nanua), who often asks Helen to tell the class a story.

The children are often bound and required to wear masks.  The adults are under strict orders not to touch or even get too close to the children.  Why?  Because the children are hungry too.  Born after the end of the world, the children are unique in that they crave flesh but they also retain the ability to think and speak.  The soldiers view them as freaks and potential enemies.  Dr. Caldwell views them as test subjects.  Only Helen views them as children.

You can probably already guess where this is going.  When the hungries overrun the army base, only a small group of people manage to escape — Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Parks, another solider, and Melanie.  They eventually make it to London, which is now overgrown with vegetation.  Some of the film’s most haunting and tense moments come as the group attempts to maneuver through a crowd of docile, unsimulated hungries.  They know that making the wrong move or the least little sound will result in the hungries waking up and attacking.

It’s in London that a lot is revealed about both the nature of the disease and why Melanie is, as the title states, the girl with all the gifts.

For the most part, it’s all very well done.  The film has such a strong opening and powerful ending that it’s easy to forgive the fact that the middle of the film occasionally drags.  Director Colm McCarthy creates some haunting images of the post-apocalyptic world and, even if he does borrow a bit heavily from 28 Days Later, at least he’s borrowing from the best.  He makes good use of his cast, too.  Glenn Close is as perfectly sinister as Gemma Arterton is perfectly idealistic.  Sennia Nanua is both sympathetic and a little bit frightening as the girl who might eat you as quickly as she might save you.

The Girl With All The Gifts is a good movie but it left me feeling incredibly depressed.  Post-apocalyptic ruin no longer seems as safely far-fetched as it once did.

Halloween Havoc!: NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (The Walter Read Organization1968)


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The late, great George A. Romero’s first feature, NIGHT OF THE LVING DEAD, was shot in the wilds of Pittsburgh, PA on a budget of $114,000. This unheralded,  gruesome little indie became a landmark in horror, influencing and inspiring generations of moviemakers to come. Better scribes than your humble correspondent have written countless analyses on the film, so I’m going to give you my perspective from my first viewing of the film… at the impressionable age of 13!

My cousin and I, both horror buffs, first saw it as the bottom half of a double feature in 1970. The main attraction was EQUINOX , which came highly recommended by Forrest J Ackerman , editor of the Monster Kid’s Bible, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND. As we eagerly awaited the main attraction, we sat through the warm-up, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. At first, we thought it was an older rerelease, because…

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Halloween Havoc!: SUGAR HILL (AIP 1974)


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The worlds of Horror and Blaxploitation intersected frequently during the 70’s, beginning with American-International’s BLACULA . The vampire tale spawned a subgenre of black oriented riffs on familiar themes: BLACKENSTEIN (man-made monsters), DR. BLACK, MR. HYDE (Stevenson’s classic novel updated), ABBY (demonic possession), and SUGAR HILL, a crazy voodoo-zombie revenge tale that’s creepy, outrageous, and entertaining as… well, as hell!

Foxy lady Marki Bey plays foxy lady Diana “Sugar” Hill, whose boyfriend Langston runs the voodoo-themed Club Haiti. Southern-fried gangster Morgan (Robert Quarry) wants to take over the club, and sends his goons to ‘persuade’ Langston. When he refuses, they stomp him to death in the parking lot, leaving Sugar no recourse but to return to her ancestral home and ask ancient voodoo queen Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully of THE JEFFERSONS) for help. Mama conjures up voodoo god of the dead Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley), who gives Sugar control over an army of…

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The Zombie King: RIP George A. Romero


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Way back in 1970, my cousins and I went to a horror double feature at the old Olympia Theater in New Bedford. The main attraction was called EQUINOX , which came highly recommended by Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine.  Quite frankly, it sucked, but the bottom half of that double bill was an obscure black & white films that scared the shit out of us! That movie was George A. Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

NOTLD (1968)

From the creepy opening in a cemetery (“They’re coming to get you, Barbara”) to the gross-out shots of zombies feasting on human entrails, from the little girl eating her father’s corpse to the tragic final scene when the hero (a black man, no less!) is shot by the cops, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was an edge-of-your-seat nightmare of horror. There were no stars in it, unless you count Bill Cardille, a local…

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A Few Thoughts on …. The Walking Dead 7.5 “Go Getters” (dir by Darnell Martin)


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So far, season 7 of The Walking Dead has been pretty inconsistent.

Often times, I have felt like a lone voice in the wilderness, vainly defending the season premiere and continuing to hope that, at some point, Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of Negan is going to become something more than a one-dimensional caricature.

Like a lot of people, I kind of enjoyed the second episode but, in retrospect, that was mostly because of the weirdness of King Ezekiel and the majesty of Shiva.  The episode itself was extremely slow and featured one of those overly sentimental musical montages, the type of thing that never holds up particularly well on repeat viewing.

The Cell … oh, I tried to enjoy The Cell but basically, it was just an hour of Daryl not speaking and Negan doing his Negan thing.

And then there was last week’s episode, which appears to be going down in the history books as the consensus pick for the worst episode of The Walking Dead ever.

So, with all that in mind, I am going to cautiously state that I think that the latest installment, Go Getters, was a definite improvement over the last few episodes.  It was hardly a classic.  It certainly wasn’t The Walking Dead at its absolute best.  But, at the very least, it held my attention for 60 minutes, it seemed to actually move the story forward (as opposed to just being a stagnant portrayal of doom and gloom), and it left me looking forward to seeing what would happen next week.  Coming nearly halfway through an uneven season, Go Getters provided just a little bit of hope for the show’s future, telling us,  “The Walking Dead‘s not dead and growling in Herschel’s barn just yet!”

Of course, it helped that Go Getters was centered on Maggie, the only one of the main characters who has not left me pissed off or disappointed this season.  Following the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, Maggie and Sasha are hiding out at Hilltop Colony.  Gregory wants to kick them out, Jesus wants to protect them.  Eventually, the Saviors show up and we get to know Simon (Steven Ogg, investing the role with such menace that it’s hard not to wonder how different the season would be if he had been cast as Negan), who is one of Negan’s liuetenants.  Simon collects his tribute, humiliates Gregory, and leaves.  Meanwhile, Carl and Enid show up at Hilltop, having run away from Alexandria.  One-eyed Carl has decided to take revenge on Negan and who can blame him?  At this point, he has to know that his red-eyed, sniveling, neutered father isn’t going to do anything…

(Which brings up an interesting issue: we’re supposed to look down on Gregory for being so weak and subservient to the Saviors but really, he didn’t do anything different from what Rick did last week.  We’re supposed to give Rick a pass but not Gregory, which doesn’t seem quite right.  Gregory may be an ass but, as we should all know by now, nice guys don’t survive the apocalypse.)

So far, each episode this season has featured a different community being harassed by Negan.  I’m assuming that these communities are eventually going to come together to take out the Saviors.  If that’s the case, I can understand and even respect the deliberate build-up.  At the same time, this season is moving so slowly (and has been so repetitive) that it’s hard not to get frustrated when you’re watching on a weekly schedule.  One gets the feeling that Season 7 will be better when binge-watched but, for now, I find myself wishing the show would pick up the pace.

But, with all that in mind, I liked Go Getters.  I love the fact that Maggie refuses to surrender.  Despite all of the terrible things that have happened to her and the people that she loved, Maggie has not given up.  She hasn’t turned into a weak shell, like Rick or Daryl.  Nor has she retreated to a world of fantasy, like Carol.  Instead, Maggie lives, Maggie fights, and Maggie endures.  Glenn may be dead but Maggie the Cat is alive.

GO MAGGIE!