The Films (4/5, 4/5)
Anytime Blue Underground puts out a release now I feel it is a reason to be excited. The label has been so sporadic in it's output in the last year or so, I feel every release is welcoming them back. For years Blue Underground was my favorite distributor of obscure Italian and Euro Genre films, so when they announce Blu-ray upgrades of those titles I have to jump. I will admit my excitement was lessened when these Mattei numbers (Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Nights of Terror) were announced, as I was not a fan of the directors work previously, and found these 2 efforts subpar, but as the Blu-ray format has a tendency to do with my film appreciation, it has taken 2 films I previously held in disdain and made me a fan.
The films are quite possible Bruno Mattei's most popular offerings. Hell of the Living Dead follows a team of soldiers into the jungles of New Guinea to find the source of a zombie epidemic, while teaming up with a nude anthropologist in the process. Rats: Nights of Terror finds a group of post apocalyptic bikers trying to survive the night in a building overrun with man eating rats.
Mattei with his frequent collaborator and partner in crime Claudio Fragrasso would become known within the Italian film scene as that cinema's equivalent to Ed Wood churning out entertaining, but largely bad films. On rewatch Hell of the Living Dead certainly deserves it's reputation as something on par with an Italian Ed Wood film. It has quite am overly ludicrous scenario, bad dubbing, a repurposed Goblin score, and stock nature footage that is completely out of place (taken from the Pink Floyd scored, Barbet Schroeder directed The Valley). Yet, the film is completely charming in an off the wall sort of way, it's also violent in the way we splatterhounds love, and honestly it's a fantastic way to kill 90 minutes. Revisiting Hell of the Living Dead I could see the elements I disliked in the past were still there, but rather than have them bother me I found myself sucked into the completely bizarre scenario and was able to kick back and just have fun with it.
I could never figure out on this viewing what problem I ever had with Rats: Night of Terror. This film is simply is a psychotronic masterpiece. The film combines elements of nature horror, post apocalyptia, and broad strokes of comedy to create something wonderfully unique and perfectly suited to middle of the night horror viewing.
Mattei is joined by Fragrasso in the co-director's seat for this film, and the film feels like a mix of a Mattei film, and like one of Fragrasso's later efforts. The film is an ensemble piece featuring such Italian cult notables as Ottaviana Dell'Acqua (Zombi 2), Ann-Gisel Glass (Hanna D: The Girl from Vondel Park), and Gereta Geretta (credited here as Janna Ryann, most well known as Rosemary from Demons). The characters are straight out of your typical post-apocalyptic design school, the dubbing is much more on than it was in Hell of the Living Dead allowing for the physical performances to come through a bit more.
The direction from the pair of Mattei and Fragrasso offers a nice even pacing with never a real boring moment, and some excellent atmospherics. There is also some excellent violence at play here, and the films blend of genres actually comes of seamlessly making it one of the finest examples amongst it's contemporaries in both 80’s Italian horror and Italian post apocalyptia.
Audio/Video (3.5/5, 4/5)
OK, so I'll start with this, but remember all those noise related issue from a run of Blu-ray's Blue Underground did out of Italy a while back. While that issue can be forgotten in regards to their recent Mattei double feature. Both films are presented 1:85:1 in a 1080p transfer, both are sourced from the negative, look quite nice, and are quite natural looking in their presentations. There is a healthy level of film grain present in both transfer, solid black levels, and excellent fine details, both transfers have their softer moments, especially the nature footage in Hell..., but overall these are quite substantial upgrades from their SD counterparts.
The Blu-ray audio is presented in DTS-HD mono tracks in English. The tracks are audible throughout without any damage present.
Blue Underground have put together a nice slate of extras for their release of Hell of the Living Dead and Rats Nights of Terror starting with a 50 minutes documentary with the cast and crew of both films called Bonded by Blood. We also get a Mattei interview called Hell Rats of the Living Dead ported over from the Hell of the Living Dead 2007 release, and theatrical trailers and galleries.
It took me nearly a decade, but I have fallen for the cheesy, violent, and fun cinema of Bruno Mattei. His films have been lovingly restored by Blue Underground with a nice slate of extras sure to please any fans of Mattei's work. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.