Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

Hell of the Living Dead (1980) – Elite Trash


Hell of the Living Dead (1980) is an absolutely wild zombie flick from Italy that is sure to delight mega-fans of the genre. From the very beginning, the film throws viewers into a world overrun by zombies and it doesn’t let up until the very end. Directed by Bruno Mattei and co-written by Claudio Fragasso, who are both known for their work on a number of low-budget Italian horror movies, Hell of the Living Dead is often cited as one of their most entertaining collaborations.

Hell of the Living Dead Synopsis

In Hope Center #1, an ultra-secret chemical research facility, a rat (not of Sumatran lineage) triggers the release of a poisonous gas that kills it… for a while. Given time, the rat reanimates and attacks humans causing an all too recognizable cycle of contagious zombification.

The majority of the movie centers around a group of four commandos who are sent to the research facility in Papua New Guinea to stomp out the viral outbreak turning the locals into flesh-eating zombies. It should be noted that Mattei flagrantly sets out to recreate some of vibe from Dawn of the Dead (1978). This imagery shows up big time in the corny fatigues that the soldiers wear.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980) - It starts with a rat
Like others in the genre, this one starts with an infected rat

As the commandos arrive, they find themselves in the midst of chaos and death. The infected locals and zombie-like creatures attack them at every turn. They soon meet a group of journalists who were sent to the area to investigate the outbreak. Together they attempt to survive the downfall of society.

As they explore the facility, they discover that the outbreak was caused by a botched experiment involving a highly infectious and deadly virus, and they determine that the only way that they can save humanity is to find a cure that will stop the spread of the virus. Much like John Russo and Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 classic Return of the Living Dead, Mattei’s film tackles the topic of government cover-ups, misinformation in mass-media and general corruption and conspiracy.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980) - Fatigues ripped right of Dawn of the Dead
Dawn of the Dead called. they want their fatigues back

Do You Love Shamelessly Bad Movies?

The film’s low budget and cheesy special effects only add to its charm, creating a sense of spectacle that is impossible to resist. The zombies themselves are a hodgepodge of different styles, with some looking like traditional Romero-style undead and others appearing more like characters from a low-budget sci-fi movie.

But what really sets Hell of the Living Dead apart from other zombie movies is its audaciousness. The film is full of outrageous moments that are sure to delight horror fans. These snippets range from a group of zombie children attacking a group of adults to yet another scene where a character is graphically disemboweled by a zombie.

Throughout it all, the film maintains a frenetic pace, never allowing the audience to catch their breath or get too comfortable. And while some viewers may find the film’s violence and gore to be excessive, for fans of crazy Italian horror movies it represents a perfect example of the genre at its most unapologetic and entertaining. So if you’re looking for a wild ride of a horror movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then Hell of the Living Dead is checks those boxes.

It would not be a stretch to put Hell of the Living Dead into the same category as Andreas Bianchi’s Burial Ground: The Night of Terror (1981), but it really pushes different boundaries of absurdity. Whereas Burial Ground is a much slower and atmospheric burn. Hell of the Dead is more like a drunk party at 4:00 AM and EVERYONE refuses pass out.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980) - Rank and file zombies
The similarity of the rank and file zombies to Dawn of the Dead is almost uncanny

Dawn of the Dead Rewind

The “Hell of the Living Dead” soundtrack was composed by two Italian composers, Luigi Ceccarelli and Franco Maria Giannini. The music is a blend of electronic and orchestral sounds, featuring synthesizers, drum machines, and traditional instruments such as guitar and piano.

The soundtrack is notable for its use of repetitive, pulsing rhythms and dissonant sounds. Together, this approach creates a sense of tension and unease throughout the film. The main theme, which features a haunting synth melody over a driving beat, has become particularly iconic and is one of the highlights of the score. The overdub of a man shouting a alert over a scratchy intercom adds to the charm. You might even want to break out your disco shoes.

In addition to the original music, the soundtrack also features several licensed songs, including “The Gonk” by Herbert Chappell, which was famously used in the 1978 zombie classic “Dawn of the Dead.” This use of pre-existing music was a common practice in Italian exploitation films of the time, as it allowed filmmakers to save money on hiring composers and musicians.

Hell of the Living Dead (1980) - Margit Evelyn Newton in her most memorable role
Margit Evelyn Newton in her most memorable role

Hell of the Living Names

Like many euro-cult releases, Hell of the Living Dead as it is know in Italy goes by many names abroad:

  • “Zombie Creeping Flesh” (UK)
  • “Virus” (Belgium, France)
  • “Night of the Zombies” (USA)
  • “Apocalypse of the Dead” (Spain)
  • “Cannibal Virus” (Japan)

The film can be found on our favorite streaming service, Tubi, here under the name Hell of the Living Dead as well as on YouTube under the same name. Be sure to check out Malevolent Dark’s Tubi Terrors!

The Wrap

Seasoned horror fans know that there is no shortage of ridiculous Italian zombie movies out there. This one may be just slightly more ridiculous than the rest, but honestly this simple fact makes it really fun. So long as expectations are set appropriately and the proper environment set (booze helps), this one might be worth the pain. The special effects…bad. English dubbing… worse. Music… ripped-off. Still, it has its moments. If this films scratches any itch for you, I would recommend digging up Zombie 3 or Zombie Holocaust.

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