Just as modern rock and roll wouldn’t exist if Elvis hadn’t, popular modern zombie movies wouldn’t exist if George Romero’s classics like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead hadn’t. Those low-budget classics inspired these five Italian imitations, some of which have become classics themselves.
Oasis of the Zombies
This 1982 film, written and directed by Jesús Franco is like a zombie itself, in that despite its negative reception when it was first released, it has come back to life four times — in three different languages, no less. It returned to the screen as Bloodsucking Nazi Zombies, El Desierto de Los Zombie, The Grave of the Living Dead and The Treasure of the Living Dead. The story of treasure hunters finding a cache of Nazi gold guarded by zombies, the kindest review called it “terrible, but somehow trance-inducing..”, thereby qualifying it as one of those rare movies that’s so bad that it’s good—and great fun to watch with friends.
Hell of the Living Dead
This film was directed by Bruno Mattei, who has the distinction of having more aliases than any other director in the world, appearing in the credits as Vincent Dawn in this one. While some might say that the film was inspired by Dawn of the Dead, others might be tempted to use the word “knockoff”. In addition to the regular gore we’ve come to expect from zombies, this film about a science experiment gone wrong also offers some great nature footage, as well as a cameo appearance or two by footage from other films. There’s a reason he was nicknamed “The Italian Ed Wood”. Plus, there is a “director’s cut” of the movie currently on Youtube!
This film, directed by Lucio Fulci, known by some as “the Godfather of Gore,” is used by hard-core fans of the genre as criteria to judge the quality of other zombie films. Maybe one reason is that all of his zombies sport that realistic straight-from-the-grave look. The story of a girl’s search for her missing father, a journalist who leads her to a remote island and a medical researcher trying not to believe in voodoo, this classic film has an Anniversary edition in the original Italian.
City of the Living Dead
The gates of hell are opened when a priest commits suicide, and Lucio Fulci does a good job of creating the atmosphere of hell on earth in this film, which is being rerun frequently this month on El Rey network (a really great network for horror fans, check to see if you have it here–as of January those with Dish Network receiver now gets El Rey). He doesn’t leave out the middle earth between, either. In addition to writing and directing, Fulci also makes a cameo appearance as the pathologist at the crime scene. The crime, of course, is murder. A psychic, a reporter, a psychiatrist and his patient must find a way to close the gates of hell before All Saint’s Day. This story is reputed to have been inspired by the brilliant author H.P. Lovecraft.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie
Directed by Jorge Grau and set in the English countryside, this 1974 film features virtual strangers George and Edna, who witness some strange things after getting lost while traveling to his country estate. When Edna’s brother-in-law is murdered, they find themselves, along with Edna’s drug addicted sister, local law enforcement’s prime suspects and struggle to prove their innocence. Guilty zombies baptized in the blood of retribution serve up some social justice for dessert after finishing their more gruesome main courses.
Fans of the genre will surely find much to relish in these five tributes to the 1970’s classics that paved the way for the popular programs of today like The Walking Dead.
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