No matter what you think of the quality of his work, there is one undeniably charming element to the career Italian trash-flick auteur Bruno Mattei: he never gave up on his cinematic dreams. Like Ed Wood Jr., this guy was committed to the art of storytelling and kept chasing his singular, demented vision of cinema throughout his life. In fact, he kept making films up until his death in 2007. One of the last was Island Of The Living Dead: it’s as braindead as the zombies that run amuck in it but it’s every bit as full of oddball personality as the rest of the Mattei oeuvre.
The plot is oddly ambitious in its setup: a prologue depicts an island settlement being destroyed by voodoo-induced zombies. Some years later, a hapless group of treasure hunters happen on the island after a mysterious storm damages their ship. They wander onto the island and find an amazing treasure hidden in the settlement. They also find a gaggle of flesh eating zombies. Cue an array of cut-rate undead hijinks spiced up with dashes of Mattei weirdness.
If you’re not familiar with Bruno Mattei’s work, here’s the basic elements you can expect: a dopey and derivative script, turtle-speed pacing, performances that range from lunatic to somnabulistic and an overall aesthetic that suggests people from Bizarro World trying to make a Hollywood film. The screenplay manages to filch scenes from Night Of The Living Dead, Zombie and even Mattei’s own Hell Of The Living Dead while also throwing in unexpected elements like a subplot with ghosts, an undead flamenco dancer and one crew member attacking a zombie with kung-fu moves.
Your level of interest in Island Of The Living Dead will depend on your love of bad filmmaking. However, if you rate your trash by personality and weirdness, this film delivers it by the bucketload. If you can appreciate bad filmmaking as a form of outside art, it’s hard to not have some level of respect for the amount of goofball fun that Mattei seems to be having as he cranks out his quickie dreams.
DVD Notes: Island Of The Living Dead just got it’s U.S. release on disc from Intervision Picture Corp. The anamorphic transfer does well by the cheap-o video cinematography and the stereo soundtrack captures every goofy, hastily-mixed element of the post-synched soundtrack. In terms of extras, you get a trailer and a promo reel (basically a longer trailer) that are as splat-happy and demented as the film itself.
However, the big extra here is an 18-minute chat with producer Gianni Paolucci and screenwriter Antonio Tentori. Both express great fondness for Mattei, who was apparently humble and paternalistic to his collaborators, but freely admit how Mattei would outright steal elements of films he liked. It offers a nice little window into what Italian genre filmmaking was like after the bottom dropped out of the film market: the participants might be a little deluded about the quality of their work but their fondness for it will warm a schlock fiend’s heart.