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Island of the Living Dead

Year: 2006  Runtime: 94′  Director: Bruno Mattei
Writer: Antonio Tentori   Cinematography: Luigi Ciccarese   Music: Bruno Mattei, Daniele Campelli
Cast: Yvette Yzon, Gaetano Russo, Ydalia Suarez, Jim Gaines, Alvin Anson

After accidentally depositing the treasure they were trying to take from the bottom of the sea deeper on it, a hapless yet heavily armed gang of treasure hunters lead by a certain Captain Kirk (Gaetano Russo) gets into even more trouble. While piloting their ship through a thick fog, our heroes (cough) collide with rocks where there shouldn’t be any, and will have to do a few repairs before they can get anywhere else again.

Fortunately there’s an uncharted island nearby where the crew will try to scavenge provisions and do a bit of treasure hunting while one lone idiot stays behind to do the repairs. Little do they expect that the island has been populated by the undead for a long time now. Soon enough, our heroes by default find themselves under attack. Oh, and the treasure hunters’ boat explodes when repair guy pushes its self destruct button once he is attacked and surrounded by zombies.

At first, our now well and truly stranded heroes have only minor problems surviving the attentions of the zombies who may have been running around since the 17th century but still look pretty good for their age. Later on, scriptwriter Antonio Tentori decides that normal zombies are boring, and so the undead start getting pretty darn talkative, trying to drive the characters to kill each other by playing dumb mind games. Or something. From your standard zombies we then go to skeleton monks, hallucinations, a curse, and what might be vampires, too. How will designated final girl Sharon (Yvette Yzon) survive?

After a pause of half a decade, Italian movie god Bruno Mattei resumed his work of blowing minds and keeping under budget with the beginning of the 21st century, shooting as many movies until his death in 2007 as the direct to DVD market would allow. Even though late period Mattei isn’t quite as mind-blowingly crazy as he was when he was still working with Claudio Fragasso, Island of the Living Dead (shot in the Philippines like in the good old times of AIP) has much to recommend it, at least to an audience consciously seeking out Bruno Mattei films; in short, people like me.

Instead of ripping off plot, structure and dialogue of his movie wholesale from a single, artistically slightly more successful source – that technique will have to wait for the sequel – this ripe effort sees Mattei stealing bits and pieces from other movies in a way that could be construed as homages by an alien unsure of how homages work. Apart from a translation of the early graveyard scene from Night of the Living Dead into scenery-chewerish and dumb, there are scenes and set-ups lifted from Zombi and really everything else with a zombie in it, as well as the Demoni movies. John Carpenter’s The Fog is the source for the backstory to the whole undead invasion, with the little difference that Carpenter’s curse makes a certain degree of sense where Mattei’s doesn’t. Instead of making sense, Island‘s curse produces a tinted sea-to-land battle that I suspect to be stolen from a much older feature.

  
  
  

In his many years of experience as a director of crap, Mattei has mastered some impressive techniques. I especially admire the anti-dynamic editing that seems to be designed to create a structure for the film that consciously destroys tension. Zombie attacks are intercut with hot Latin reading action, and scenes of “characterisation” are broken up by shots of zombies crawling around somewhere else for no good reason whatsoever, as if the whole affair had been directed by a highly distractible child.

The film’s action scenes are nearly as great as the editing, seeing as they are clearly staged to suggest that most of the characters have the ability to teleport (which fits in nicely with the film’s utterly random day and night cycle that suggests that the whole film takes place over either one day or five, possibly just four – it’s difficult to say when day and night are this random). Alas, the characters are always teleporting towards the zombies instead of away from them, but usually only get killed once they’ve decided to sacrifice themselves for their friends in situations that don’t afford this kind of suicide at all. But hey, somehow the ridiculous action movie one-liners need to get on screen, right? (It CAN be done). It’s pretty awesome, really.

Equally awesome and/or awe-inspiring is the collective inability of the cast to emote even in the slightest like normal humans beings do. Dialogue is mangled as if the speakers were trying to fight off a man in a gorilla suit, and scenery is not chewed, but head-butted until it stops moving. I especially approve of the effort of Ydalia Suarez who plays Victoria. Never has she met a line she does not want to shout in an overenthusiastic fashion. Look Ma, she’s in a real movie now!

As if all this wasn’t enough to kill the few brain cells that survived my encounters with other Mattei films,Island is filled to the brim with compellingly idiotic details. Early on, there’s a random martial arts versus zombie scene that doesn’t end well for the martial artist because he decides to sacrifice himself for no good reason while kicking one single zombie in the crotch. This is followed by scenes featuring zombie conquistadors wearing plastic conquistador helmets as probably found by the production team in a souvenir shop, zombies that take naps and growl into the camera, characters willing to drink wine from an open cup that must have been standing around openly for a few centuries, that boat self-destruct button, an eye patch-wearing head rotating inside of a treasure chest, really religious undead skeleton monks, the all-important Lovecraft shout-outs, a zombie flamenco dancer, and music that often sounds as if somebody were just playing musical cues from other films (even Star Wars for a few seconds) on a cheap synthesizer, which is exactly what’s happening.

Island of the Living Dead truly is everything one could hope for in a movie directed by Bruno Mattei: it’s dumb, it’s inept, it’s utterly shameless, it makes no sense at all – it’s like a bad photocopy of a crassly commercial movie that is just too stupid to actually know how commercial movies work and nearly becomes experimental filmmaking through sheer wrong-headedness. In any case, Mattei’s film is entertaining in a crazy way Italian movies have seldom been in the last decades. It might be great for all the wrong reasons, but as Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham say: if loving a Mattei movie is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

The Horror!? is a weekly cult cinema column by Denis Klotz, an aficionado of the obscure and operator of the film blog of the same name.

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