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Night Of The Zombies
(a.k.a. Hell Of The Living Dead)
(1981)
 

Director: Bruno Mattei            
Cast:
Margrit Evelyn Newton, Franco Giraldi, Selan Karay


Special guest review!
 

By Jason Alt

 

If you are anything like me, you relish really awful films. Films with a plot full of more holes than the SS Titanic. Films that will inevitably have the word ‘Zombie’ in the title. Films that are made in exotic countries like Turkey, India, or Kuala Lumpur. If you are anything like me, you try your best to find these pieces of cinematic trash, and when you do, you take them home and watch them for recreation! Maybe you even invite friends over so that they can share in the pain and suffering you so willingly inflict upon yourself.

If you are like that, then I suggest you find a copy of Night of the Zombies. It will not disappoint you. The film is easily one of the worst movies ever made (that weren’t deliberately made badly.) The movie tries very hard to be interesting and fresh, but it fails at this miserably due to a formulaic plot and a cast of un-exciting characters.

The music in this movie is a joke. The beginning tune does little to set a mood and would be more at home in a video game like Final Fantasy. Most of the songs are of a ridiculous techno variety, and they are out of place in what claims to be a horror movie. The person (or thing) credited with the music for Night of the Zombies goes by the handle ‘Goblin’, "Hell" is right!and that’s the only name he/it is mentioned by in any of the credits(*). If I had composed such inappropriate and contrived music for a bomb like this movie, I would probably use a pseudonym as well fearing that Night of the Zombies would forever tarnish my reputation. Or maybe ‘Goblin’ doesn’t have one.

The characters should be people that you can relate to. They should be interesting, down-to-earth people, and you should want things to work out for them. But the characters in this movie fail in that respect, and after the first half hour you stop caring whether or not they all die. The bulk of the characters are part of some sort of Italian terrorist-response team. They all wear identical royal blue jumpsuits, which are supposed to be some sort of uniform. If we can learn nothing else from any American crisis response teams, we can at least learn that pockets look cool. This is a well-known cinematic device; if you want to make a bunch of guys with guns look cool, you give them a lot of pockets. The soldiers in Night of the Zombies don’t have any pockets, so instead of a SWAT team, they look more like some sort of clan of disgruntled auto-mechanics with World War 2 era weaponry. Since the movie was made in the 1980's, surely they could have used more technologically advanced weaponry? In the beginning of the film, the team enters an American consulate in Italy. The news reporters standing by assure the public that they are highly trained, and equipped with ‘the most technologically advanced weaponry’ at the same time a group of them shuffle by the camera in their blue jumpsuits (which function as urban camouflage about as well as huge neon signs that say ‘COP’) clutching Thompson machine guns, and other ‘technologically advanced weaponry’ you may recognize from Saving Private Ryan.

The only thing more ridiculous than their attire is their strategy. When they encounter a terrorist, one soldier will point a gun at the terrorist and say ‘drop it!’ As soon as he does, another soldier will sneak up behind him and cut his throat. I got the feeling while watching the movie that these were not acceptable rules of engagement. That doesn’t seem to bother anyone but me, however and they continue with their unorthodox techniques. To dispatch the terrorists, they decide to shoot teargas into the room where all the hostages are being held (which has no effect on the terrorists besides slowing their dialogue and causing them to cough every third word or so, which makes the dialogue seem to take about 300 times as long.) After the teargas, they put on their (World War Two) gas masks (which you see them put around their necks when they are outside the building, but that they don’t seem to have until the gas was shot in) and, in an unprecedented display of gusto and testosterone, proceed to kick the door open and shoot all the terrorists in the head at a snail’s pace. Any self-respecting terrorist could have returned fire, but these guys must have been to busy coughing every third word on the tear gas.

In any case, the men decide to take it upon themselves fly to Papua New Guinea personally on what their leader calls “an important mission”  where they will check out the HOPE facility. Apparently the HOPE facility has been conducting horrible chemical research, and the goal of the ‘terrorists’ was to get these facilities shut down. An accident in one of these facilities has released a ‘vapor’ (not my word, the movie's) that turns people into zombies. The head terrorist had, in a ten minute soliloquy hampered by the bullet hole in his chest (and the teargas, probably) that they were all, “doomed to die horrible.. deaths…eaten…by men…men like you….*cough*….all eaten.” (It goes on for another whole minute, you get the picture.) 

It is in Papua New Guinea that we meet the rest of the cast of characters. A reporter, named Leia, and her cameraman are in the area documenting the behavior of the natives. The camera they are using looks like it was bought at a garage sale, but judging by the picture quality of Night of the Zombies, it may have been the same camera used to shoot the film.

The characters speak most of their lines with no conviction, and other times they begin shouting for no apparent reason. It is not only in this respect that the movie makes absolutely no sense at times. I suspect that a great deal of this movie ended up on the cutting room floor, which is ridiculous when you consider that the movie is only an hour and a half long (It seems more like 7 when you are watching). For all of the movie that must have been cut, they could have used stock footage less. It was almost disgusting how they abused stock footage; they used the exact same shot of the outside of the HOPE center in the movie 5 times! This has to be some sort of record. It is one thing to reuse an external shot of an important building, but it is quite another altogether when they reuse shots of zombies dying. In one altercation one man shoots a zombie with a revolver. It cuts to a shot of a zombie (with a different face!) lowering its face and groaning (it is an extreme close up so all you see is the face). The very next zombie that is killed is shot 3 times with a machine gun. It then cuts to the exact same shot of the yellow-faced zombie.

The whole movie is spliced together with unnecessary nature footage. This is the straw that broke the camel's back for me. Instead of cutting straight from scene to scene, they think it necessary to put a few minutes of a coyote eating a chinchilla, or a heron diving after a fish. I am not even sure some of the animals featured were indigenous to Papua New Guinea, but if not, that would not be the biggest liberty the director took with this movie.

Some of the dialogue is so hilariously bad it almost makes the movie worth watching. Take, for instance, when one genius observes “buildings have people in them.” Spotty dialogue like this could have something to do with the fact that it was translated from Italian, but that is really no excuse. Lines like “some sort of degenerative process has begun that could be catastrophic for everyone” make me thinks that the dialogue was written by a team of 7th graders trying to sound intelligent.  

I wish I could completely ignore the dialogue as well as most of the players in the movie. One soldier discovered the only way to kill a zombie was to shoot it in the head. After sharing this fascinating discovery with his colleagues, they all celebrate by shooting the next zombie they see in the chest about a dozen times. I lost count of how many times they reminded each other to aim for the head, then turned around and wasted nearly a clip of ammunition shooting a zombie in the chest and yelling things at him. Really nasty insults like “Come on, you vegetables!” or “Back, you mothers!” If the bullets don’t work, it’s always just as effective to destroy the zombie’s self esteem.      

The characters all seem unwilling to lend any sort of aid to a comrade. In any scene where someone is eaten by a zombie and there is someone else around, they will just watch for what seems like an entire minute. It is inevitable; someone will be surprised by a zombie, or a zombie-rat, or a zombie-toddler and whoever is with them will not react at all. There are huge long minutes of facial close-ups of the horrified looks on their faces, but they do nothing but watch. It sounds like human nature, but in the film it looks ridiculous. A zombie will be chewing on someone making a half-hearted attempt to get away while their friends stand on and look horrified, and the zombie will divide his time between eating and making menacing faces at the horrified spectators.           

There are also huge continuity errors in the movie that aren’t explained. In the HOPE center, for example, there is one scene when a whole team of scientists goes down into a sector of the plant where the “vapor” leak was discovered. The head scientist (indicated by his white hair) is flanked by nearly a dozen other scientists when they encounter a zombie. The scene cuts to a shot outside the center (a shot you will be quite familiar with at the end of your cinematic experience.) When it cuts back, the head scientist is alone, in a completely different sector of the building, and pursued by almost 15 zombies. This was never explained, but I don’t even want to ask. He calmly strolls into his office and makes a recording on his tape recorder, then you never see him again. He makes no attempt to get out the building alive. There are dozens of other continuity errors, but I’ll leave you the immense joy of finding them for yourself (you may even get to watch the movie again to find them all.)

The movie is not completely without merit however. It does have its good points (though they are far outweighed by continuity errors and unnecessary shouting.) First off, kudos to the props department of Night of the Zombies. Time after time they managed to create wholly realistic fake bodies for the zombies to eat. One particular scene features a zombie duo squatting on the floor picking pieces of human remains out of the chest cavity of one of their victims. They really did a nice job with the chunks of humans that they fed to the zombies.

Also, if you one of those people that are willing to forget how bad the first 45 minutes of a movie were the second you are shown a pair of breasts (a common device used most effectively by James Cameron in Tit-anic.), then you will probably get a kick out of the one scene of gratuitous toplessness. It isn’t enough to save the movie, but it is a noble effort, and should be commended.

If Night of the Zombies wasn’t enough to whet your appetite for cheesy cinema, the VHS edition comes complete with previews for other cheesy films you may enjoy. It previews The Incubus, Mortuary, The House on Sorority Row, and my favorite, The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane. This title may sound familiar to you as it did me. This is the same movie that stars ‘Academy Award Nominees Jodie Foster and Martin Sheen’. Night of the Zombies is a veritable treasure trove of movies that everyone involved in have spent many long nights drinking trying to forget. If you are serious about ignoring my stern warnings and actually renting Night of the Zombies, it is available at some chain rental places in America, and has been released on DVD under the title Hell Of The Living Dead. Don’t say I didn’t try to warn you!

* Editor's note: "Goblin" is actually an Italian music group, one that has provided the score for many famous horror movies. You can see their filmography here.

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)
Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for availability of Goblin soundtracks (CD)

See also: Curse Of The Cannibal Confederates, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Nightmare At Noon

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