Bruno Mattei is without a doubt one of the legendary cult names of Italian trash cinema. If there was a band wagon to jump on, he undoubtedly did, often with cheap rip-offs of the original name products but always with an unbelievable filmic incompetence that belies description. As is mentioned both on IMDB and Wikipedia, he was sometimes referred to as the "Ed Wood of Italian filmmaking," a description that indicates the surrealistic level of ineptitude found in Mattei's films but fails to accurately signify just how sleazy and tastelessly exploitive his movies are.
Mattei, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 76 on May 21st, 2007, was not only a true maverick of bad taste and hack exploitation film, but a productive filmmaker as well, having directed over 50 films in his life, including numerous popular, infamous and downright crappy titles such as Casa privata per le SS (1977 / short offensive scene), Hell of the Living Dead (1980 / trailer), The Other Hell (1981 / trailer), Caligula et Messaline (1981), Rats - Notte di terrore (1984 / trailer), Robowar - Robot da guerra (1988 / trailer), Zombi 3 (1988, un-credited with Lucio Fulci / trailer), Terminator 2 (1990 / trailer), Cruel Jaws (1995 / trailer), and Cannibal Ferox 3: Land of Death (2003 / trailer). (Notice just how many popular films and genres he exploited? Like Casanova, he truly did them all.)
Just prior to his death, Bruno, once again behind his favorite moniker of Vincent Dawn, returned to the popular genre of Italian zombie films to make Zombies: The Beginning (2007 / trailer) and, the year before, this movie, Island of the Living Dead. And what a movie it is!
Scripted by Antoni Tentori, a less than productive scriptwriter who also spilled the ink for A Cat in the Brain (1990 / trailer), Demonia (1990 / trailer) and Three Faces of Terror (2004 / trailer), Island of the Living Dead offers everything that is to be hoped for or expected in a Mattei film other than tits: a retarded and plodding script full of inconsistencies and laughable plotting that wallows in horrendous acting and bad dubbing but is interspaced with occasional bursts of blood and guts. In other words, a film that really will make you drop your jaw in amazement and have you either pissing your pants in laughter or shitting in them from anger. The badly synced dubbing of the film is particularly hilarious, even for a Mattei film. While the German voice-over artists seemingly tried to do a serious job, the English-speaking voice-over artists were either on drugs or were going for high camp. They may not have fully succeeded, but they did at least do a memorable job.
The plot is simple enough. Following a brief introductory scene taking place in the time of the conquistadors in which everyone dies and the village burns, the movie moves to present day. A group of failed and broke treasure hunters go aground in the fog just off the coast of an unknown and uncharted island. In need of water, all but one go on land while the boat is being repaired. In no time flat, the main (toy) boat explodes, the safety raft is gone and zombies start attacking — rather fitfully, to tell the truth. Seeking safety, our group retreat to some skeletal structures where they find a treasure but, as they tend to wander off by themselves or in groups despite the known dangers, their numbers quickly decrease. Will any of them survive?
Hardly a plot to fill a 1.5 hour movie, which explains why Island of the Living Dead drags sometimes, but enough of a skeleton to be able to pad the movie with scenes and events that often defy believability in the ineptitude of their execution or total lack of logic — and, in-between, some nice shock moments to keep you awake.
Like so many of Mattei's movies, Island of the Living Dead was filmed in the Philippines, so the film doesn't lack in extras and nice scenery. Likewise, shot in high-end digital video, the images are sharp and colorful — though sometimes to the extent that they look too much like cheap movie sets. The acting is uniformly over-the-top, but particular mention must be given to the beautiful non-actress Ydalia Suarez, who plays Victoria and regrettably never loses her top in the film: Ms. Suarez, who obviously learned acting by watching the dregs of silent films and overemphasizes every action accordingly, manages to make everyone else in the movie come across as talented. The other lead female of the film, Yvette Yzon as Sharon, also doesn't look too bad, but since her acting is simply on par to the film itself, special mention is not necessary — unlike with the living dead of the flick, which seem to exist in various forms: some are simple undead meat-eaters, others appear to be ghosts, and some are particularly vampiric. One particularly friendly, talkative and likable undead old lady holds rather a long conversation with Sharon before suddenly going up in flames, while the undead conquistador who talks to Captain Kirk (Gaetano Russo of The Gates of Hell (1989 / trailer) just simply disappears into the air. The flamenco-dancing senorita that entices Snoopy (Maui-born Jim Gaines of The One Armed Executioner [1983 / trailer] and, alongside Jeff Stryker, After Death: Zombi 4 [1988 / trailer]) is hardly that friendly: in the end, she proves to be the vampire of the film.
To say that Island of the Living Dead is a bad film is not only an understatement but also misses the point. The movie is so incomprehensibly, horrendously amateurish that it is almost a religious experience. Perhaps the film really isn’t old enough to be as enjoyable as it could (and one day will) be, but damn, it definitely is a movie-watching experience that no one can or will be easily forget — even if one wants to.