Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ciao Bruno, the last zombies of Mattei

The death of Bruno Mattei was also the death of Italian exploitation. Many of our old favorites, the maestro’s of sleaze and mayhem are still alive, but retired or working with something else. But not good old Bruno! He died on the top, still churning out exploitative masterpieces, with cheap crews and cheap actors. Not cheap because there are bad, but because they had to be cheap to be able to work for Mattei and the company producing the movies, La Perla Nera. The budgets was low, around 50000 dollars per movie and the cast was made up by local talents like the cool Alvin Anson and Yvette Yzon (Pinoy actors obviously like alliteration) and ex-pats like legendary Jim Gaines, Mike Monty and others we’ve seen in tons of older Filipino action classics. I’m sure that Mattei knew what he was doing. There’s a reason for still using his old alias Vincent Dawn. He was making cheap exploitation, some people would even call it “crap”.

The thing is that it’s far from crap. It might be cheap and exploitative, but that do not mean its crap. Quite the opposite I would say. Making cheap movies are an artform by itself and Mattei surely was the master of this. Give 50000 bucks to Michael Bay and he wouldn’t even know how to film himself out of his VIP luxury trailer. Mattei used that budget carefully, and when he didn’t have the money he used an explosion or two from another bigger-budgeted movie. Sometime even more, as long it worked in his movie. In the last two movies he made he once again explored the zombie-myth, like he did in the excellent and bat-shit nuts Hell of the Living Dead in 1980.

Island of the Living Dead is more ambitious that it’s first given credit for. The story, while hardly original, still stands on its own legs with a few nods here and there to other movies. A team of treasure hunters are forced to go shore on a mysterious island. What they find there is a lot of zombies, old fuckers by the way – conquistadors, slaves and other relics from the past. At first they only find skeletons, but soon zombies and something I would like to call ghosts, show up and start to eat their way thru our team (Jim Gaines, Yvette Yzon, Alvin Anson, Gaetano Russo etc). Honestly, of the two later zombie-movies Mattei directed this is the weakest. It has a lot of good stuff, and the old-fashioned zombies are fun – but it really lacks a good pace and the gore and action is very low compared to what would come next. It also has a lot of very unintentional comedy, for example, did you know that fishing boats had their own self-destruction mechanism? Probably the funniest scene I’ve seen. But they needed it to make the story move along nicely, so why not?

In the sequel, oddly named Zombies: The Beginning, Yvette Yzon are back as the only survivor (which is a bit odd, because she actually becomes a zombie in the end of the first movie!). And here it becomes really interesting, because the “original story” by producer Giovanni Paolucci and script by Antonio Tentori, is only James Cameron’s Aliens but with the aliens changed to zombies! Yes, it’s almost scene for scene – but with some small changes. For example, here they skipped the always irritating finding little girl-storyline which I always felt stopped the action in Aliens – and instead of a big mother of an Alien they used a talking brain in the end! I like that. Somehow it seems the budget was slightly higher here, or they spent the money more wise. The gore and blood is a lot more with tons of exploding heads and very big and gory squibs. The zombies are plenty and aggressive and we’re also treated to a stock footage-werewolf/monkey/bigfoot/yeti-thingie that’s never explained. The end also gives us the creepiest thing I’ve seen in a long while: mutated zombie-children, almost buck naked with pingpong-eyes and very eerie choreographed slow-motion movements! This is disturbing, in a good way. I mean, wtf?

This was the perfect last movie for Mattei. He once show that he can tell a story like no one else, probably because he was best telling others stories than his own. And what better than just to steal ‘em and do it your own way? But I sense that if he didn't day, there would have been one final last chapter in his zombie-saga. So sad he never got a chance to finish it...

Island of the Living Dead is dedicated to Mike Monty and Zombies: The Beginning ends with touching video footage of a frail Bruno Mattei and the sign “Ciao Bruno…”.

Like I said so many times before, Bruno Mattei will be missed. A true talent, a true maverick.

1 comment:

CiNEZiLLA said...

Damn. I feel like I have to get these flicks now...

bad NinjaDIxon, bad!