Island of the Living Dead DVD Review
Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Written by Antonio Tentori, Bruno Mattei and Gianni Paolucci
2007, Region 1, 97 minutes, Not Rated
DVD released on February 10th 2015
Yvette Yzon as Sharon
Ronald Russo as Capt. Kirk
Alvin Anson as Fred
Ydalia Suarez as Victoria
James L. Gaines as Snoopy
Thomas Wallwort as Max
Gary King Roberts as Mark
Curtis Carter as Balboa
Miguel Franco as Tao
I love a good bad movie. An entire realm of titles lovingly referred to as “so bad, they're good” enables me to torture friends on any given Friday night; it's kind of a ritual. There are groaner comedies, silly action fests and mind-numbing horror duds that all leap to the list of recommendations. Some examples of good-and-terrible viewing options include director Vincent Dawn's Hell of the Living Dead, David Hunt's The Tomb, Stefan Oblosky's Guardian of Hell, Bob Hunter's Cop Game and Pierre Le Blanc's Fine to Die 2. These are all worthy “shit flicks” that have something in common beyond their unintentionally laughable moments; they were all directed by Bruno Mattei. Nicknamed “the Italian Ed Wood”, this is a man who made more than fifty movies and never once used his real name as the credited director. Mattei gathered a fan base but never got much respect as a filmmaker, but honestly, he never really earned it.
It takes a special skill as an artist to consistently churn out decades worth of mediocre material without growing more accomplished at your craft. I can watch a Mattei film from 1987 and another from 2005 and be hard pressed to tell you which is which. Outside of changing technology, the man's work remains characteristically pedestrian. Movies like Island of the Living Dead (2007) cannot be reviewed in the traditional manner; they are essentially critic-proof. I can tell you all the things wrong with this flick in a thousand words or less, and it will only encourage you to check it out. Let me begin with a traditional synopsis:
Captain Kirk and his deep-sea salvage team (pronounced treasure hunters) are still smarting from the recent loss of a potential windfall, when a mysterious fog bank forces them to seek temporary shelter on a deserted island. While one guy stays behind to perform ship maintenance, the rest of Kirk's crew embark on a supply run. The group splits up to explore the terrain and while one team finds a graveyard, the other discovers an abandoned Spanish fortress filled with irresistible gold. Unfortunately, the treasure is cursed and soon the dead are walking the land in search of their own edible “supplies”.
Island of the Living Dead sounds like a promising idea; definitely familiar...so what's the problem? Part of what adds to the charm of Mattei's films is his shameless habit of “borrowing” from other pictures. There is a pattern of excessive homage at play here that spans his entire career and while some call this harmless, others shout rip-off and this results in the occasional lawsuit. His film Cruel Jaws (aka Jaws 5) came under fire when lawyers for Universal Pictures kindly asked Mattei not to include unlicensed footage from their popular franchise in his low-budget movie. While he didn't cross the line quite that far this time around, genre fans familiar with John Carpenter's The Fog and Lucio Fulci's Zombie or even George Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead, will all find something familiar.
Once again using the alias “Vincent Dawn”, Mattei shot this film in the Philippines and milks the geography for production value. He stretches every nickel of his non-existent budget to bring this anorexic story to the screen and takes the kitchen-sink approach to content. There is a cavalcade of monsters including zombies, skeletal Templar monks, Spanish Conquistadors, talking ghosts and vampire-zombie hybrids. Mattei cottons to the Romero school of shambling zombies, but in at least one instance a ghoul is somehow capable of regenerating an appendage. However, all of this variety is undercut by both a weak script and untrained actors whose performances are wildly erratic and frequently over the top. Despite the majority of the cast speaking English, the audio track has been completely re-dubbed to almost comedic effect.
Even though there are issues with the script, the budget and the talent on both sides of the camera, this film really is fairly entertaining. The main problem is the lethargic pacing. A lot is going on in this movie, but it takes its sweet time getting there. Not all movies can move as quickly as we'd like and luckily Mattei includes countless opportunities for the audience to have fun and drinks with this film. Viewers can look forward to unmotivated lighting, cheap sets, bad miniatures, stock footage and shots from other Mattei films like Hell of the Living Dead. There are familiar music cues from films like Aliens and enough time-killing montages on display to rival Rocky IV.
Although this release is being touted as “uncut and uncensored for the first time ever in America”, there's really not a lot going on in the gore department. Many of the make-up effects are lacking and uninspired while others are just lazy. Sometimes make-up is greasepaint applied only to an actor's face, but not the neck or arms. Masochists will be happy to know that Island of the Living Dead was only the first part of a proposed trilogy. Sadly, Mattei died before completing this masterpiece, but for a surprising spin on the material be sure to check out Zombies: The Beginning; the action-packed sequel that was shot at the same time!
Video and Audio:
Island of the Living Dead is presented in the original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and features a respectable transfer, as the film is less than 10-years old. Picture quality is fairly solid and only tripped up by the source material. Colors and flesh tones (of the living) are consistent and natural and there is no evidence of macro-blocking or other compression issues.
A Dolby stereo mix gets the job done as best it can on a film where the majority of the audio has been added in post production. Music and effects levels are all over the place and dialogue is occasionally murky when not tinny. Given what is going on in the picture, the soundtrack carries its own charm.
Bungle in the Jungle (19 minutes) features producer/ screenwriter Gianni Paolucci, who recalls how he helped bring Mattei into a new wave of cannibal and zombie movies in the Philippines. When asked about the director's history of taking inspiration from other filmmakers, Paolucci counters that this was a career filled with rip-offs; but everybody does it. Co-screenwriter Antonio Tentori talks about the charm of low budget movies and how you don't always receive credit for your work. Both men reflect on their time with Mattei through rose-colored glasses. The interviews are in Italian with English subtitles.
An all-too-revealing trailer and an international sales promo reel leave no secret intact; do not watch these before seeing the film.