In the early 1980s, a smorgasbord of spaghetti gut munchers inspired by the enormous European success of DAWN OF THE DEAD were unleashed upon the world. Italian exploitation director Bruno Mattei's NIGHT OF THE ZOMBIES is slapdash attempt and a direct rip-off in more ways than one. His RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR, shot a few later, basically substitutes zombies with advanced sewer vermin. Blue Underground now pairs the two together for a Blu-ray which proves how good bad films can actually look in HD!
After a chemical leak at an industrial plant in New Guinea, a dead rat is found in a sterile area, but then comes back to life to devour the poor guy that found it. Not long after that, a number of the plant's employees emerge as a horde of charcoal-faced ghouls. Elsewhere, a gang of longhaired terrorists hold hostages at an American consulate building. Much like in DAWN's terrorists taking over a ghetto tenement, a SWAT (or special squad) team wait outside until it's time to literally go in for the kill. Four of these SWAT fellows (Franco Garofalo, Selan Karay, Jose Gras and Josep Lluís Fonoll) are then sent to the jungles to investigate the leak, and treat the assignment as some sort of macho vacation.
Strange things are happening in the area, as a family of three will soon learn. The mom is attacked by a zombie priest (played by Spanish horror fave Victor Israel, the baggage man in HORROR EXPRESS) and her bloody body is hung in a desolated chapel. Meanwhile back in their jeep, the young son (now undead) rips his pop's stomach open and feasts on his intestines. At this point we are introduced to cute female journalist Lia Rousseau (Margit Evelyn Newton, THE LAST HUNTER) and her cameraman (Gaby Renom, NIGHT TRAIN MURDERS), who kind of resembles New Age musician Yanni. This guy pukes after seeing the kid eating his dad, so if you want to know what it's like to see Yanni throwing up, watch this film. Anyway, after one of the SWAT team blasts the flesh-starved boy away, the four of them join the journalist and the cameraman and they embark deeper into the jungle.
After hearing native drums, Lia takes it upon herself to strip off her clothes (in front of five guys!), paint herself up and run through the village as a peace offering. We are then subjected to some ugly documentary footage of natives and jungle animals that's clumsily edited in to the mix (and throughout the rest of the picture!). After our heroes make friends with the primitive tribe, some of their people come back as zombies dipped in cake batter and a cannibal massacre commences. After barely escaping, the SWAT guys, the journalist and the photographer encounter more packs of zombies, and the token nutty guy (Garofalo, THE ARENA) is the only one that can figure out that you have to shoot these things in the head to kill 'em. The wimpiest SWAT character is the first to go, getting ambushed while doing a Gene Kelly impersonation wearing a tutu!
An Italian/Spanish co-production, this effort was shot in Spain and also goes by titles like "Virus," and "Night of the Zombies," when it was released in the U.S. Marred by excessive stock footage, bad acting (enhanced by New York accents on the dubbed male actors), recycled Goblin music from DAWN OF THE DEAD, and zombie makeups of varying quality, HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD is a low-end, trashy re-hash of Romero's first two zombie flicks (the ending shot clearly recalls a scene in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD). But if you can get past that, it's enjoyable nonsense and will most likely please the legions of gore-yearning zombie movie fans out there (if you can accept raw chicken or liver doubling as human flesh). Highlights include a plagued black cat emerging from the stomach of a granny, and a character having her tongue torn out and her eyeballs shoved out from the inside of her head!
RATS: NIGHTS OF TERROR: In the year 225 A.B. (After the Bomb -- clever), the nuclear war-devastated planet is inhabited with a small number of scavengers, along with an underground society (that we never see until the conclusion). We witness the arrival of a gang of bikers (led by Richard Raymond aka stuntman Ottaviano Dell'Acqua) who look like they came off the set of an 1980s era MTV video. They take refuge in an abandoned part of the city where they find fresh water and vegetation, but also an abundance of black, red-eyed rats. The rat situation seems manageable at first, but it becomes apparent that these creatures are after human flesh, offing the bikers a few at a time in the most horrible ways.
Not only does RATS ineptly attempt to exhaust the success of post-apocalyptic hits like MAD MAX and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, it also employs a number of biker film clichés. Dell'Acqua's acknowledged leader is always being challenged by a selfish coward, and the names of the gang members give labels a new meaning (a techno junkie is called "Video," a woman of color is called "Chocolate"). And the dialog is expectedly laughable--hear grungy bikers shout out showy phrases like, "For the sake of humanity..." and "Calmness is the virtue of the strong!" The rats are shown being flung at the actors, and in one of most unconvincing monster rallies in cinema history, a conveyor belt puts fake rodents in forward motion. In one of the better scenes, a gorgeous girl is eaten inside out by a rat while trapped in a sleeping bag, and it's then shown squirming out of her mouth (Mattei did something similar with a cat in HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD). Basically it's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with rats (or that's how the director termed it), but even more, it's a tolerable piece of junk with some gore, some sex and more unintentional laughs than you can imagine (and that surprise ending--well, you'll see!).
Both HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD and RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR were first released on DVD by Anchor Bay in 2002, and a year later, the company paired the two as a “Drive-In” double feature set. In 2007, Blue Underground acquired the rights to both, again issuing them on DVD (as singles, and a few years later, separately as part of their own “Midnight Movies” series). After that long U.S. digital history, Blue Underground now revisits both for this stunning looking Blu-ray collection. Both titles have been transferred in High Definition from the original uncut and uncensored camera negatives and are presented in 1080p with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Both HELL and RATS are equal in terms of picture and sound quality; blemish free, nice contrasts, strong black levels, beautifully detailed and excellent colors throughout. The DTS-HD mono audio (English dubbed version only) on both titles is also impressive (the sounds of those squeaky rodents in RATS have a squeamish punch). Subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The excellent new HD documentary “Bonded by Blood” (50:14) contains interviews with HELL/RATS co-writer/co-director Claudio Fragasso, HELL stars Margit Evelyn Newton and Franco Garofalo, and RATS stars Ottaviano Dell'Acqua and Massimo Vanni. Fragasso talks about how comfortable he was working in the genre and that he was an uncredited co-director on HELL (he mentions that the original script had parallels to SOYLENT GREEN) and that they had to make compromises to the original story due to the budget (the extras on the set got paid peanuts by the Spanish producer). Newton discusses the grueling shooting schedule (and that she had no problems with it) and addresses her famous nude scene and “tongue” scene. Garofalo (whose video interview looks to be done by Skype) enthusiastically says he wanted to make his character stand out from the others, and he did a lot of the characterization in the moment (and the general consensus is that Fragasso worked more closely with the actors than Mattei did). Daniel Taddei owner of De Paolis Studios, Rome does a brief tour on the studio grounds, talking about its history (and the prestigious films made there before and after RATS). When Fragasso (who also was a co-director on RATS) is seen strolling around the open studio grounds, he’s greeted by RATS actors Dell'Acqua (whose hair is actually longer now than it was in the film) and Vanni (who plays the biker named Taurus, and like Dell’Acqua, was also a busy stuntman). All three recall the apocalyptic sets as they stand on them today, as well as working with the rats (which were actually laboratory guinea pigs dipped in coal).
Also included here is the now vintage standard definition featurette entitled "Hell Rats of the Living Dead," a 9-minute video interview with Mattei, originally found on Anchor Bay’s 2002 DVDs (Mattei passed away in 2007). Mattei discusses both HELL and RATS and speaks in Italian (with English subtitles). He mentions how he considers his films as his children (yet he claims that he would remake all of them!), acknowledges the obvious George Romero influence, and explains how he got the pseudonym "Vincent Dawn." Among other topics, Mattei mentions how a shoddy stunt was influenced by THE TOWERING INFERNO! Other extras for RATS include two international trailers an Italian trailer and a poster and still gallery. For HELL: an International trailer, an Italian trailer and a poster and still gallery. (George R. Reis)
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