Posts Tagged ‘Bruno Mattei’

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Don’t let that poster art fool you : it may be a direct swipe from Lucio Fulci’s City Of The Living Dead (or, if you prefer, The Gates Of Hell) ,but 2007’s  Zombies : The Beginning —Bruno Mattei’s second of a planned direct-to-video, Filipino-lensed undead trilogy— concerns itself solely with ripping off  James Cameron’s Aliens once the (video) cameras are rolling. Which, yeah, is kinda weird considering it’s a zombie  flick, I suppose, but what the hell, Bruno (or “Vincent Dawn,” as the credits once again tell us here) had done it before — specifically with his 1990 production Shocking Dark — and if there’s one thing he was an old pro at by the time of this, his final film before a brain tumor took his life, it was doing the same thing over and over again. I’m not even one to rock the boat much when I’m feeling perfectly healthy, so far be it from me to knock a guy who was at death’s door for his steadfast refusal to break from old habits.

More or less functioning as a sequel to the previous year’s Island Of The Living Dead, we begin here by completely contradicting the ending to that film and discovering that Sharon (Yvette Yzon — who, we learn in due course, is actually a “doctor” of some sort) is, lo and behold, alive and semi-well, after all, except for these nightmare visions she’s having of being attacked by hordes of shambling corpses. As luck would have it, though, she’s both back on her feet and back at work soon enough, thanks to the fiercely amoral Tyler Corporation, who rescue her from her new life at a Buddhist (I think, at any rate) monastery when they tap her to lead an expedition to find out what happened at an island colony they lost contact with that was beset by some “unknown” tragedy.

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Of course, Sharon already knows what that tragedy was, the suits at Tyler already know what that tragedy was, and, crucially, we already know what that tragedy was — but if everybody just gave up at this point, they wouldn’t all decide to go find out what happened, and we wouldn’t have a movie to watch. So, it’s time to get a paramilitary crew together and go get killed by zombies!

It’s all here, Ellen Ripley fans : zombie fetuses ripping out of their less-than-willing mothers/hosts, zombie babies on bloody murder sprees, secret corporate labs harvesting zombies as bio-weapons, evil company overlords who would much rather see everybody die than have their secrets revealed — all done with far less style, panache, and, most importantly, money than Cameron had at his disposal. If Aliens is, in the words of its director, “40 miles of bad road,” then this is 40 miles of really bad road. Quick question — can you guess how Sharon finally lays waste to the entire zombie “hatchery” at the end? Sure you can.

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None of which should be confused for me saying that Zombies : The Beginning isn’t all kinds of shitty, low-grade fun. It absolutely is. In fact, whether due to its higher body count, more free-flowing bloodshed, or more bald-faced thievery (actually, it’s probably down to a combination of all three), I had more fun watching this than I did Island Of The Living Dead. It almost feels like Bruno was determined to go out with as much bang as his limited bucks would allow, and you have to respect him for that.

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As is the case with its prequel (yeah, I know, the title here makes this one sound like it’s the prequel, but it’s not), Zombies : The Beginning  has recently been released on DVD from Severin Films via their InterVision Picture Corp. on-paper “subsidiary,” and features a nicely-remastered anamorphic widescreen picture and stereo sound, along with the original trailer, a roughly five-minute promo reel, and an on-camera chat with screenwriter Antonio Tentori rounding out a small but welcome package of extras. I grabbed a copy off Amazon Marketplace brand new for ten bucks, and at that price, I really have absolutely nothing to complain about here. Sure, Mattei was just fulfilling his role as consummate Italian cinematic “borrower” one more time with this one, but he gives it his all, and I freely admit that’s plenty good enough for my (yeah, low — you got a problem with that?) standards.

 

 

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Toward the end of his life, Italian Z-grade maestro Bruno Mattei hit upon a novel idea — he would return to the genre that spawned his biggest success (Hell Of The Living Dead) with less money, a videocamera, and no really new ideas to speak of, and hope that lightning would strike not just twice, but four times — because “Vincent Dawn” (as he’s credited internationally on many productions, including this one)  was planning a straight-to-video zombie trilogy this time around, to be shot entirely in the Philippines, utilizing primarily local “talent,” and incorporating a mix of both practical and cut-rate (to be kind about things) CGI effects.  Sounds like a winner, right?

Unfortunately, he only lived to see two of these films get made, and while both are a far cry from Mattei at his best — which, let’s face it, is still nothing close to the dictionary definition of “good” — they’re still reasonably entertaining if you attach a “for what they are” prefix to that statement, so let’s dive right in and take a look at both of them in order, shall we?

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First up we’ve got 2006’s Island Of The Living Dead (or, as it’s know in its native tongue, L’Isola Dei Morti Viventi), a rather standard-issue “weird adventure” tale about a group of freelance treasure hunters who, having lost a big score due to simple (and, frankly, mind-numbing) incompetence at the story’s outset find themselves adrift at sea until they stumble upon a hitherto-uncharted island that pops up out of nowhere through the fog one morning. Deciding to have a look and maybe loot whatever locals there may be out of whatever valuables they might have, they end up discovering the place is cursed with a living dead plague that dates back to the days of the Spanish conquistadors. An admittedly confused mish-mash of both ghost and zombie genre tropes that somehow manages to keep you semi-riveted (even if it’s mostly to see what sort of horrendous dubbing atrocity you’re served up next) ensues,  and while there’s very little (polite-speak for “nothing”) to distinguish this flick from numerous other bargain-basement Fulci rip-offs, the simple fact  fact  is that Mattei, as he was wont to do, is so naked in his open plagiarism that it’s downright fun to watch him go about his shameless business.

Consider : not only is this movie’s title the exact same one that our guy Lucio’s Zombie was released under in several non-pasta-consuming markets, but the opening scene of that generally-regarded-as-a- masterpiece is re-hashed a full three times here before Bruno finally realizes that we probably get the message. I know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and all that, but to be that out-and-out bludgeoned by the same damn thing over and over again marks anyone  who sits through the full 90-minute runtime of Island Of The Living Dead as a true celluloid sadist.

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Still not enough for ya? Okay, rest easy, because you can be sure that Zombie‘s  famous eyeball-gouging is repeated here, as well, with the law of diminishing returns fully and clearly in effect. The lighting and shot composition employed throughout is brazenly and unashamedly Fulci-on-a-(tiny) budget, as well, and one gets the feeling that it’s really only lack of money preventing Bruno from aping his predecessor’s famous shark-vs.-zombie underwater fight scene while he’s at it.

Needless to say, don’t sweat the characterization or performances or anything of the sort here — among out intrepid crew of freebooters, one named Sharon (played by Yvette Yzon) is given marginally more attention than the others, but you know the drill — they’re all just here to die in increasingly spectacular fashion as events progress. As long as you don’t ask for any more from them than that, you can live with the fact that none of them appear able to do their jobs particularly well.

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It’s probably a reach to say that anyone was exactly clamoring for this brutally cheap gore-fest to make its way onto DVD, but tough shit — Severin Films has seen fit to release it anyway under their InterVision Picture Corp. sub-label, and this time they’ve even managed to toss a few extras into the mix to accompany their admittedly-well-restored (with anamorphic widescreen picture and stereo sound) main feature. It ain’t much, but the original trailer, a five-minute promo reel for international territories, and a 20-or-so-minute “behind-the-scenes” featurette consisting primarily of interviews with producer Giovanni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori are fun and welcome additions to the proceedings.

All in all, if you take the same attitude going into watching this thing as its makers took while producing it — “what they hell? Let’s see what happens, it’s not as if we’re doing anything else, anyway” — you’ll probably have at least a modestly good time with this one.

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Here’s the thing about so-called “hybrid” films : just because they’re usually interesting (in one form or another) doesn’t always mean they’re good. Sometimes they’re just weird mash-ups.

Submitted as evidence for the prosecution : In The Land Of The Cannibals, the second cannibal flick directed by the late Italian sleaze-master Bruno Mattei in 2003 that, like it gorier and more untamed counterpart, Mondo Cannibal (reviewed on these very digital “pages” yesterday) a) was shot on video; b) was made in the Philippines; and c) stars Claudio Morales  —this time playing a “guide” for a group of special forces-type commandos who are searching for a US senator’s  “hottie” daughter ( played by Cindy Jelic Matic, here credited simply as Cindy Matic) whose plane went down in the “Amazon jungle” rather than a morally-compromised TV pseudo-journalist.

So, yeah, I guess you get this point already — this one’s PredatorRamboCommandoMissing In Action – style jungle-based paramilitary action flick meets Cannibal HolocaustCannibal Ferox.

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Also like its decidedly more savage counterpart, this one is plagued with horrifically bad dubbing, bone-headed dialogue translations, and shabby production values and special effects. So, ya know, it’s got that going for it, which is nice.

It doesn’t have anything more than that going for it, though, you’ve been warned. Consider it a public service from me to you, my dear reader.

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Obviously, if you’re looking for anything that has even the merest whiff of authenticity or competence about it, you’ve come to the wrong place, but if all you want is 90 minutes of shamelessly cheesy fun, you could certainly do worse. Is it as much fun as watching Mattei try to ape Deodato on a fraction of the budget and with less than a fraction of his filmmaking skills? Well, no, it’s not, but as mentioned at the outset here, even bad genre “hybrids” are at least, if nothing else, interesting, and this one’s both interesting and hopelessly corny, so who are any of us to complain about that?

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Last but not least when it comes to our little ongoing “count the similarities” game, In The Land Of The Cannibals — which also went out to various international home video markets under the titles of Nella Terra Dei CannibaliLand Of Death, and Cannibal Holocaust 3 : Cannibal Vs. Commando (the most dubious name for it of all given that Mondo Cannibal was hardly a “legit” sequel/prequel to Cannibal Holocaust despite being shamelessly labeled  as Cannibal Holocaust 2 in some territories) — has also just been unleashed on the world on DVD from Severin Films’ InterVision Pircture Corp. label and features a nicely-cleaned-up full-frame transfer, adequate two-channel stereo sound, and no extras apart from the trailer.

Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way — after all, why should InterVision be expected to do anything different with either of these releases when Mattei didn’t bother to do anything too terribly original when he made them? This one’s certainly best viewed together with Mondo Cannibal in one sitting since it’s basically only of interest as a cinematic curiosity done in conjunction with a “bigger” (relatively speaking, you understand) project, but that’s okay — if your ambitions as a viewer are as limited as our guy Bruno’s were as a director (and I freely admit mine sometimes are), there are a lot worse ways to spend about 90 minutes of your time.

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It’s often been remarked that the cannibal movie is the only wholly original subgenre of Italian exploitation cinema — lord knows they didn’t invent the western, the Star Wars knock-off, the Alien knock-off, the Road Warrior knock-off, etc. , even if they trafficked pretty heavily in all of them — and while that’s probably true, it doesn’t mean that many, or even most, Italian cannibal films were all that original in and of themselves once the template of “what these things are like” had been set.

In fact, by the time 2003 rolled around and rip-off artist extraordinaire Bruno Mattei — the guy who gave us such uber-sleazy semi-classics as Hell Of The Living Dead and Rats : Night Of Terror, here working under the pseudonym of “Vincent Dawn” — made his way to the Philippines to direct two ultra-low-budget shot-on-video numbers that would be among the last entrants in the cannibal oeuvre, there hadn’t been anything “new” about these sorts of flicks for a couple of decades. Still, the more (in)famous of this pair of cheapies, Mondo Cannibal, is such a blatant riff on Ruggero Deodato’s 1980 seminal work Cannibal Holocaust that it was released (on video, naturally — to my knowledge no theater has ever screened either this film, or its “companion” piece, In The Land Of The Cannibals) in some markets as either Cannibal Holocaust : The Beginning or the only-slightly-more-verbose Cannibal Holocaust 2: The Beginning (depending on which country you found it in, you may also have seen it under the title of Mondo Cannibale or Cannibal World).

Just how derivative is it, you ask? Consider : the plot centers around an ethically compromised (to put it very kindly) crew of documentarians/journalists who purportedly travel to “the Amazon jungle” to show the world that no matter how far we like to think we’ve come, there still exist “savages” who eat the flesh of other humans. Along the way, in order to “prove” their “man is still an animal” thesis, they engage in behavior so reprehensible (mostly in terms of staging scenes for maximum dramatic impact) that it puts even the cannibals themselves to shame and the end result is a film that proves that “civilized” man is more cruel, shameless, and outright sleazy than his more “uncivilized” brethren could ever dream of being.

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If all that isn’t enough to give you a distinct sense of deja vu, then consider that among  the atrocities they either witness and/or concoct we have  a diseased woman being torn apart while her unborn fetus is violently ripped from her (Mattei actually opens the film with this), setting fire to the huts of the cannibal village in order to provoke a panic, and the above-pictured scene where they find a dead girl tied to a bamboo pole (okay, so she’s not actually impaled on it, but still — it’s pretty clear where they got the idea from). Does it all seem familiar enough for ya yet?

Basically, the whole modus operandi Mattie appears to be employing here is to check as many boxes off the list of things Deodato did first, minus the flat-out ubiquitous animal cruelty, which certainly wouldn’t fly in the 21st century (though there’s still one scene here where — oh, never mind, if you’re gonna watch this thing, you’re gonna watch it regardless, right?). And, I suppose, to do it all for a lot less money and in a lot less time.

Does that mean Mondo Cannibal isn’t fun to watch? Actually, that’s not what I’m saying at all — it’s so nakedly derivative that is really is quite an enjoyable romp (at least if you’re a sick fucker like me), and its shortcomings in terms of production values are well worth a laugh. whether they come in the form of bad dubbing, inexplicably weird dialogue translations (such as when former “star” reporter Grace Forsyte (Helena Wagner) offers former “star” photojournalist Bob Manson (Claudio Morales) — who certainly lives up to his character’s  last name in terms of harboring a twisted persona — not a million bucks, but “a million quails at a buck a head”), or half-assed translations such as the one pictured below that introduces a flashback sequence and should read “some months before” :

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In all honesty, though, I’d be lying if I said this flick was good for much beyond that. Wagner — who quickly exited the movie business after this — is certainly easy on the eyes and has a bit of natural “leading lady” charisma about her, but most of what comes out of her month — err, mouth — is so weirdly discombobulated that its hard to tell whether or not she can carry a film. Likewise, Morales and the other members of his “squad” are saddled with such a bunch of nonsense for lines that one can’t accurately judge whether or not they’re capable of anything like “quality” work, either — although in the aforementioned abortion-and-dismemberment scene, he does look like he might be getting ready to shoot a load off in his pants, so that’s at least —- I dunno, memorable, I guess, even if for all the wrong reasons.

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Still, if all you’re in the mood for is wretched sleaze with no morally redeeming qualities whatsoever — and who isn’t sometimes? — you’ll be pleased to know that Severin Films have just released Mondo Cannibal (as well as its “sister” production, which we’ll take a look at tomorrow) on DVD under their on-again/off-again InterVision Picture Corp. label. Extras are pretty well non-existent (just the trailer), but the full-frame picture and two-channel stereo sound are perfectly acceptable, all things considered , especially since something this shameless doesn’t really deserve any sort of “deluxe” treatment. If you’re capable of locking your conscience away in a strong box for about 90 minutes and just going with the (blood red) flow, odds are you’ll have a pretty good time with this one — and then hopefully feel appropriately guilty for at least a few minutes afterwards.