JANUARY 19, 2010
I often bemoan the act of retitling Italian films for US distribution, because then I don’t know if I have seen it yet. That they are all so similar doesn’t help, it’s like they have a magnet-poetry kit with the words “City”, “Dead”, “Living”, “Hell”, “Zombies”, and “Night” (or “Nightmare”) and simply come up with different combinations. So as I was stewing at work for missing City Of The Living Dead, I discovered that it was actually Nightmare City, which I had seen just a few months ago. And I got out of work in time for Night Of The Zombies (Italian: L'inferno Dei Morti Viventi, but also known as Virus and, sigh, Hell of the Living Dead), which I most definitely had not seen.
Now, it’s a terrible movie in the conventional sense. The plot careens wildly around without ever becoming remotely coherent, there’s an abundance of stock footage that seemingly goes out of its way to not fit into the narrative (after we see some stampeding elephants, one of the characters advises the other to try to not make any sound since it’s so quiet and their position will be given away), and the characters are a terribly boring lot, largely stolen directly from Dawn of the Dead, except there are four officer types instead of two.
But through the magic of a full crowd at the New Beverly, it is, of course, a masterpiece. Each baffling plot turn inspires a bout of joyous laughter, each use of random stock footage is greeted with applause, and... well, the characters still suck, but when they die, it’s a glorious reward for all of us who have endured their nonsense for the past 90 minutes.
And nonsense it is. At one point, the most annoying of the group randomly puts on a tutu and begins prancing around like a jackass, despite the obvious danger around him (I like to think he is the cousin of the blood pressure obsessed goon in Dawn of the Dead). About 2/3 of the way through the movie, we are treated to a lengthy session of what I assume is supposed to be a crumbling UN, where all but one of the remaining consulates get up and leave once 5 pm rolls around (zombies or no, arbitrary shift end times must be observed). But the real raison d'etre has to be when the lone female of the group strips down and covers herself in “tribal” paint in order to distract the native zombies that are holding them up. It’s the sort of ridiculous, “why the fuck not?” moment that only exists in Italian horror movies, and would probably be parodied incessantly had the film not been so obscure.
But as obscure as it is, it’s almost a wonder it was released at all. The Wikipedia “production history” section for the film seems book-worthy, considering all of the production issues that arose (and those are just the ones that were reported - it was long before the internet and director Bruno Mattei has been dead for over a decade). Footage that had to be junked due to not matching the other footage, rewrites that weren’t reflected in the parts of the movie that was left intact, the stock footage... no wonder I didn’t really understand the plot (and I was sober!). I mean, it’s not exactly Southland Tales baffling, but suffice to say, I learned more about the story from reading the wiki synopsis than I did in the film itself, and others I talked to after the film seemed just as mystified by some of its plot points (such as what exactly the commando guys’ mission was).
Oh, and there’s an early scene where our commandos take out a group of terrorists, many of whom are unarmed when they are killed by our “heroes”. Along with the “outbreak” scene, in which we see the same shot of a control board with sequential green lights FIVE TIMES, set the tone nicely for the film that followed. I think having just watched Cemetery Man, in which the opening scenes are about zombies and the final third of the film is not, helped me appreciate this movie all the more. They tell you it’s a zombie movie in the first scene, and by god they keep it that way until the end, in which our heroine’s eyeballs are forced out of her head by the zombie hand reaching into her mouth.
In closing, I just want to once again reiterate my love for the movie-going experience and why anyone who tells me that digital downloading and watching things on your iPod is the way of the future is likely to earn my eternal scorn. Under any other circumstances, this movie would be unwatchable, but with the crowd, and on a somewhat scratchy but otherwise well preserved film print, it was the most fun I’ve had all month. People like to praise the convenience of things like Netflix instant, and I admit it’s a nice thing to have (it’s saved HMAD’s streak on several occasions), but it’s just that - a nice thing to have, not a replacement. And I can PROVE that it’s detrimental to the film - my first experience with the service was with the film Graduation Day, and I didn’t like it much. A year later, I saw it in a theater and had a ball. Yes, there are some inconveniences (parking, line-waiting, etc) and there might be a dickhead in the audience who can’t wait 90 minutes to check his Twitter feed, but Christ - if you truly love movies, then none of that stuff should factor into your decision to watch a blurry, possibly full-frame version of that film at home instead of seeing it properly alongside an appreciative crowd.
What say you?