Hell of the Living Dead Done Righter Still

Anchor Bay originally released Bruno Mattei's Hell Of the Living Dead and Rats as two separate releases in 2002, and then reissued them as a double feature in 2003. Blue Underground than acquired them and put both titles out individually again, under their own banner, in 2007. Always with the same transfers and extras. But finally in 2014, Blue Underground has released them, again together as a double-bill, on blu-ray with all new transfers and features.

Update 2/21/15 - 3/10/23: 88 Films has reissued Hell Of the Living Dead on BD/ UHD, and it fixed the broken sound in the SWAT sequence!  Let's hope they got everything else right...

Update 10/26/23: They're here! 88 Films have heard customers' complaints and issued replacement discs for their latest release. It was already the best the film had ever looked, but fans thought it could be even better, and I daresay they've been proven right.
So those are the old discs on top and the new discs on the bottom.  Yes, 88 has replaced both the BD and UHD discs, and you can see the differences for telling the versions apart in the photo above.  The old discs are catalog number: 88FU009A and B, and the new ones are 88FU012A and B.  Heck, the BD has entirely different artwork.  But perhaps the simplest way to tell the one pair from the other is that the old discs have blue 88 Films logos, and the new ones have red ones.  88 has also said that the upcoming, non-limited release (sans slipcover) will come with the updated discs, so most of you buying this in future won't wind up with an old version anyway.  But just in case, the replacement program is running 'till March 2024.
I've always been amused by both, but Hell of the Living Dead was the film I'd been a fan of since owning the old VHS release under the title Night Of the Zombies in the 80s. It's an Italian zombie film that fully delivers on everything you wanted from those films, an at the same time is totally bonkers. And unlike most knock-offs and retreads, it's quite ambitious in its scope. This isn't four teenagers in a cabin beset by zombies; our cast travels practically half the globe, having adventures in the jungle, high rises, power plants, suburban homes and abandoned missionaries. It's got a big cast, bolstered out even further by a generous helping of stock footage, which is creatively integrated into the film, even if its effectiveness is uneven. And it was pretty damn impressive to see Dario Argento's infamous scorers Goblin had done the soundtrack to this film... until I grew to realize it was just their previous work carried over from previous films, mainly Dawn Of the Dead.  And that's not all that's been carried over from Dawn; this film replicates so many key scenes that, if it weren't for the cannibal stuff, this could almost be classified as an unofficial remake.  But that's all part of Hell's charm.
I did see Rats back in the day, too; but remembered it mostly as a pretty average horror film that was basically 90 minutes of generic build up for an admittedly pretty great ending. But that was never enough to compel me to pick up any of the DVD releases, especially since Hell and Rats shared the same Bruno Mattei interview on both discs anyway. So I picked up the very first Hell disc and then just sat it all out from the outside, until I found out Blue Underground was creating an all new documentary on the making of Hell Of the Living Dead, compelling me to upgrade to the blu-ray. But I have to say, having gotten it now as part of the package with the Hell upgrade, the film has grown in my estimation, and I've come to appreciate the silly, colorful comic book tone Mattei applied to both films.
1) 2002 US Anchor Bay DVD; 2) 2014 US Blue Underground BD;
3) 2023 UK 88 Films old BD; 4) 2023 UK 88 Films old UHD;
5) 2023 UK 88 Films new BD; 6) 2023 UK 88 Films new UHD.

So let's get into the transfers.  Each disc is matted to roughly 1.85:1...  AB's DVD is more like 1.84:1, and 88's initial BD was 1.83:1, though their UHD was 1.85:1, and the replacement BD is now 1.85:1 as well.  In the first run, 88's UHD revealed slivers more along the edges than the BD.  But now with the replacement discs, all of 88's discs include those slivers.  The shifts in framing across all six editions are very minute anyway, and nothing you'd ever notice outside of a direct screenshot comparison like this.  But still, it's nice to get that fixed.  Anyway, you will notice the boosts in clarity.  BU's blu-ray is distinctly sharper and more detailed than the old DVD, and even 88's blus are another substantial advancement, with grain only softly hinted at on the 2014 disc now clearly and cleanly captured.  And fine detail that looks just a little clunky on the BDs, like the clip in Margit Newton's hair, looks far smoother with natural gradation on the UHDs.  Even more eye-catching than any of that, though, is the color-timing, so let's get into that.
1) 2014 Blue Underground BD; 2) 2023 88 Films old BD; 3) 2023 88 Films old UHD;
4) 2023 UK 88 Films new BD; 5) 2023 UK 88 Films new UHD

Of course the UHD's still darker (a gentle reminder: all HDR screenshots appear darker because a proper 4k set will display them with more nits), but what should still stand out to you is how different BU's looks from the others.  It has a very cool blueish cast; even 88's initial transfer is back much closer to the old AB timing, albeit a little better separated.  I already prefer 88's colors.  There were scenes where I preferred BU's - occasionally, 88 felt a little over-saturated or unnatural, like in that shot of the captain on his radio.  But for the most part, 88 already won.  It was the best the film has ever looked.  And then they topped it.  The new color grading is more natural, without being duller (or overcast in blue).  The blood is redder, the skin tones are more authentic.  I stand by my initial praise of 88's first pass, but I can't deny it's even better now, so I'm grateful for these reissued discs.
But the look and replacement program isn't even the biggest controversy around this film on blu. What you don't see in those screenshots is the sound, or the film's running time. Is BU's blu-ray cut? No, not really... but technically yes. No scenes have been removed or graphic imagery censored, but their have been micro trims to a LOT of scenes. Basically frames have been removed regularly, throughout the film (only Hell; it's not on Rats), between shots. Essentially, it's the exact same problem that plagued Shriek Show's infamous Burial Ground blu-ray. And as with Burial Ground, the problem is not on the older DVDs, just the newer blus. To be fair, you don't generally notice it in most cases... In fact, I don't think I could even locate the instances without ripping both discs and syncing them up to find the moments where the they go out of sync. But when the cuts happen during music, you do hear it. You don't hear pops or drop outs, because the shots have been buttressed up against each other, but the score skips notes. And it always happens as the video shot switches, which makes it seem like Mattei was some kind of amateur who couldn't edit the audio and video on separate tracks... it's the kind of error you find in student films. Except in this case, it's not a problem with the original film, only the new blu-ray.
It's most obvious during this scene.
So I contacted BU back when a forum member on blu-ray.com first pointed this out and another member followed up by uploading comparison footage, and here's what they said:

"We became aware of the issue with HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD after the Blu-ray was released. We brought it to the attention of the Italian licensor who supplied the new HD master to us. They informed us that there was damage at several of the cement splices in the original negative, necessitating that they remove one frame on each side of the cut so that there wouldn’t be noticeable frame damage or picture jumps during those cuts. Please keep in mind that this is a 30+ year old, extremely low budget film. We're confident they did the transfer as best they could with what they had to work with. Hopefully this does not impede in your enjoyment of the film. We believe that the positives of this new HD transfer far outweigh any negatives. As there is no way to fix the damage to the negative, we are not able to issue replacement discs."

And yes, unless you're really searching for the problem, you won't notice it when the score isn't playing, which is most of the time. I think BU is right about the positives of the HD outweighing the negatives for sure. I wouldn't go back to the DVD. But happily, this issue can now be put behind us forever. 88 has fixed the problem! They don't appear to have done anything dodgy, like upres SD frames from the DVD to fill the gaps (though, in a pinch, I might've preferred if BU had tried that instead of leaving it like it was).  The running time is back.  Both discs state they're scanned from the original negatives on their back covers, so presumably they're from the same source.  So I don't really know how they did it, but they did it.  It looks great, and the music no longer skips.  Huzzah!
And that's not the only win in 88's audio column.  AB's DVD just gave us the English mono dub with no subtitle options.  BU bumped that track up to lossless DTS-HD and threw in optional English, French and Spanish subs.  88 dumps the foreign subs, keeping the English, but most importantly gives us both the English and Italian audio tracks (to be fair, 88's 2017 BD did this, too) in LPCM, giving us the option to watch the film with either track.  The Italian seems to at least sometimes match the actor's lips, i.e. that's what they're actually speaking; though I will say the music sounds decidedly more robust in the English mix.

Oh, and that's one more fix 88 made with their revised discs: they re-synced the English audio, and it does now match the actor's lips better.  Seriously, if you have the limited edition and weren't going to bother with the replacement program, I advise you to take advantage.
2014 US Blue Underground BD.
Meanwhile, Rats looks pretty good on BU's disc, too. I never got the DVD to compare it to, but the image here looks great. Once again, it's been slightly letterboxed to 1.85, and it's a very attractive watch with bold colors that's probably part of what helped me come appreciate the film more this time around.  It also has the English mono track in DTS-HD with optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.

But like I said, the biggest selling point for me to upgrade from my old DVD back in the day was actually the special features. First of all, the original Bruno Mattei interview, which has been on every release of both Rats and Hell from Anchor Bay and Blue Underground has been carried over here, too. And that's great, because it was an upbeat yet very forthcoming chat, and the only time we'll hear from Mattei on any of these discs. There's also trailers and galleries for both films, that have been with us since the earliest release. Some of the trailers are worth checking out, though, since you get to see the films marketed with different titles like Virus and Blood Kill. The DVD did have a unique insert, which included an interview between Fangoria's Michael Gingold and filmmaker Scooter McCrae; but I'm really not at all sorry to see their "Shatter Dead is a much better film than Hell of the Living Dead" trash talking fest go.
But then there's a new, 50+ minute documentary film called Bonded By Blood, which really focuses on Claudio Fragasso and his involvement. He's as forthcoming and engaging as Mattei was, but with an extra sense of humor, talking us through Hell Of the Living Dead, his marriage (his wife is also his collaborator who cowrote most of his films) and touching on the rest of his and Mattei's careers. Margot Newton and Franco Garofalo are also interviewed to share their side of things. And at first it seems like it's going to be all about Hell, but then we travel to the studio where they shot Rats and Fragasso talks to us on the old sets, along with stars Ottaviano Dell'Acqua and Massimo Vanni.

Unfortunately, none of that makes it to 88's release, but they've come up with a ton of their own, mostly excellent material.  I say "mostly," because boy is the audio commentary skippable.  It's by the usually reliable Troy Howarth, along with second expert Eugenio Ercolani, and it starts out fine.  But maybe 20 minutes in, they just change the subject and stop talking about Hell Of the Living Dead altogether.  They start drifting into other Fragasso films, but soon they're just free-wheeling into whatever springs to mind.  They go on tangents from other tangents.  Troy goes over the whole spiel of how Romero changed zombie films, which I'm sick to death of hearing repeated on every zombie commentary ever.  At the very end, Howarth admits he's not interested in Hell; it's not a film he likes very much.  Yeah, no shit!  But you should at least talk about the film you're doing the commentary of, no?  A few references to other, related films, sure.  But this was a real piss take, like that AB insert turned into 100 minutes of audio, except at least they were trashing the film instead of ignoring it.  88 should demand their money back.
But all of 88's other extras are quite worth while.  First of all, their exclusive interviews with Fragasso and Newton are back, and they're both top notch.  Then there's all new stuff for this release, starting with another Fragasso interview.  Don't worry, they ask him all different questions, so he doesn't repeat across both interviews.  Then there's an excellent interview with Mrs. Fragasso: Drosella Drudi, which is a real must-watch.  There's also an interesting but less essential interview with two experts on Hell's history on VHS in the UK.  Personally, I'm a little burned out on "Video Nasty" talk, but it's a good piece.  88 also has the trailer, a 12-page booklet with notes by Francesco Massaccesi (so not the same notes or author as 88's 2017 booklet), a fold-out poster, reversible artwork an a slipcover.
So 88's new 4k set is really satisfying.  It was already the definitive presentation before the replacement program, and it's even better now.  Fans may still want to hang onto their BU discs for the exclusive Mattei and Garofolo interviews (plus their Rats coverage, if you're a fan of that movie).  But 88's release finally gets Hell right.  ...Even more right.


  1. Hi,
    In the second paragraph you said that you owned "Hell of the Living Dead" on VHS under the "Night of the Living Dead" title. Sorry But it was probably the "Night of the Zombies" title. Just thought that you'd like to know.

    1. Whoops! You're right. Guess that "Night Of the Living Dead" title was already taken. ;)

  2. And not a single word on how magenta and purple blood looks on the UHD. Instead it is satisfying. And it is anything but right.

    1. Well, that's not strictly true. I wrote, "occasionally, 88 feels a little over-saturated or unnatural." But the blood on the UHD didn't strike me as particularly purple. Are you sure it isn't your set up?

    2. No, unfortunately it's not my set up. If you check these posts you'll see that different people have posted many screenshots showing how bad that release really is. No offense or disrespect but I find it hard that anyone could miss the magenta / purple blood.



    3. Okay, well the colors do look crazy in that second set of shots, but they're clearly blown out from taking a picture of a lit TV with a cellphone. Even the wall behind the TV is different colors in different shots. That's not how the actual UHD looks. Look at the screenshot I posted on my Twitter (it's here on this page, the widget to the left. You can click through to see it full size) - that's the same scene of the girl hanging down dripping blood as taken from the UHD. It looks a lot better/ naturally redder than the photo in the forum.

      But yeah, that first set (I think they're screenshots of the BD?) look like what I'm seeing. And those shots look... mostly fine? The one of the kid sitting in the car, if you look at his hands, yeah I see the magenta blood you're talking about. And okay, the blood in most of the other shots also lean kind of magenta, I guess. But it doesn't look bad. If that's the worst of it, it seems like a subtle issue, and I think covered by my "a little over-saturated or unnatural" description. The BU blu being so overall greenish blue is much more obvious and worse to my eyes.

  3. 88 Films are rubbish at color timing. I had to rebuy loads of their earlier releases for Severin's. Their QC is a disgrace.

  4. Well, you're right about the history of Severin 1-upping their Italian titles over the years (I've re-bought them all, too), but there has to be some distance between "rubbish" and coming in second place. In Hell's case, 88's in first place. This is the best the film has ever looked, 88's the first to provide both audio options and they came up with great original extras. Surely this deserves more credit than derision, even if another disc eventually does come down the pike with even better color-timing.

    1. Totally agree with you that this release (which I own) deserves more credit, since this is clearly the best it has ever looked detail-wise. And the colours also look very fresh and vibrant now. Only a few seconds in two separate scenes has magenta-looking blood, but I do not think that is in any way ruinous, since this is such a totally crazy and very funny low-budget zombie movie anyway. The hate-campaign against this release because of a few seconds of distorted blood colour in a 100 min. movie is both tragic and uncalled for.

    2. At £25 I expect it to look perfect. No excuse for sloppy color timing. I don't have money to burn.

    3. You work for 88 Films I guess? It's not a hate campaign, it's only stating the facts that this release is fucked up and needs to be fixed. I was thinking 88 Films were a good and reputable label. Guess I was wrong. To this day those clowns have not made a single statement on this issue. No more of my hard earned you'll get 88 Films clowns.

    4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. The childlike whining is unreal….. 88 is still the BEST this film has looked on home video to date… change your tampon, chase a bottle of Midol with vodka, get a heating pad for your vagina, shut the fuck up, eat a little microwaved shit and die quietly… please! 🙏

  6. Come on, gang, let's keep it civil. I don't like policing peoples' comments on here (except spam), but I just had to remove one that got really inappropriately nasty. And that's compared to the previous comment asking people to eat shit and die, which I'm letting stand.

    If you missed it, the gist was the same. And hey, look, I pretty much agree with the guy. 88's UHD is the best the film has ever looked. But at the same time, I'm looking forward to their replacement disc, which should be even better. So, it's a judgement call if the flaws being complained about are minor or severe, but where ever you land on the issue, we're all winning.

    Anyway, agree or disagree, let's at least refrain from going completely nuts on each other, yeah? =)