Bruno Mattei Remembered by Paul Cooke


My friend Paul is a huge fan of Bruno Mattei, and he wants to share a tribute to the great director. He sums up the fun and appeal of his films perfectly…enjoy!

When it comes to exploding huts there was no one better at pressing the ‘B’ movie directorial detonator than Bruno Mattei. An effusive proponent at the art of low budget extreme Action, who entertained with lashings of comic book violence and tongue in cheek, one line delivered dialogue. His ability to strip Hollywood produced blockbuster movies down to their basic main frame, to then rework and reboot at a fraction of the cost, is a trademark of his film making entrepreneurial genius. There isn’t any more prolific from the Action movie making Eighties than Bruno Mattei and certainly none as consummately entertaining in the genre. Oscar winning material it most definitely is not, but if there were an award for high octane silliness and low budget escapism then Mattei would have had a carbon copied cabinet full.

Bruno was literally born into the movie making business, as his father owned a small film editing studio in Rome Italy, and by age twenty the young Mattei was involved as an assistant to his father. It was not long before he was following in the family footsteps and was himself editing a multitude of movies. By 1970 he had worked with many quite well known fellow Italians in the industry, but it was after working with famed Spanish film maker Jess Franco that the opportunity to actually direct his very own first movie came along. The film was the 1970 made ‘Armida , il dramma di una sposa’. A far cry from the exploitation and explosive outings to follow, but most significantly an early opportunity for the now thirty nine year old fledgling Director. More credulously it was the inception of a varied excursion for him into the use of pseudonyms, the most famous of all being ‘Vincent Dawn’, as indelibly etched to the later made1980 gory chunk blower ‘Hell Of The Living Dead’. Ironically it is perhaps the abundant use of alternative names that Bruno Mattei could best be compared to Jess Franco, himself no stranger to pseudonyms gracing his plenitude of Euro flicks.
Infamously it was his working relationship ( established during his mid to late Seventies excursions into porno, mondo and exploitation with Nazi concentration camp outings, along with what was to become known as nun-exploitation movies ) with script writer Claudio Fragasso that brought him to ‘B’ movie making prominence. It was a partnership that continued to flourish into and throughout the prolific Italian film studios production period of the nineteen eighties. Due to the growing world wide popularity of video tape at this time low budget and obscure movies found a far broader and readily inquisitive audience. The emergence of video rental stores meant that uncensored European horror and Action films had finally found a profit making medium to be released through. The development of such films went into overdrive, and amongst the pole positions for rental popularity came Bruno Mattei. The Eighties had arrived!
Like an express train upon a conveyor belt, big budgeted American movies such as ‘Aliens’, ‘The Terminator’, and especially the ‘Rambo’ franchise, became the inspiration for blatant plagiarism. Rip off reinterpretations were churned out from Italy with greater volume than a re-mastering of the Mona Lisa for some unsuspecting private collector. The fan proclaimed soon to be King of the knock off’s was of course to become Bruno Mattei. Not only was he to turn his hand to making cheaper variations of the hits that Hollywood had to offer, but he was astute enough to venture into the cult hysteria that was bestowed upon Director George Romero’s ‘Dawn Of The Dead’. Like fellow Italian film maker Lucio Fulci before him, with the Ultimate Zombie horror homage ‘Zombie Flesh eaters’, Mattei delivered his own cheesy slice of society consumer meltdown schlock with ‘Hell Of The Living Dead’ ( gloriously known in the UK as ‘Zombie Creeping Flesh’ ). The true calling of Bruno Mattei was now well and truly being defined.
His collaboration with Claudio Fragasso locked them together for a double serving of Women In Prison features ‘Violence In A Women’s Prison’ (1982) and ‘Women’s Prison Massacre’ (1983), both starring the delectable Indonesian born beauty Laura Gemser as Emmanuelle. It is Mattei’s two forays into the Western genre that stand out as shinning examples of his overlooked aptitude for solid film making, as particularly evidenced with ‘Scalps’ (1987). His ability to creatively sculpt a well rendered script ( this one written by actor Richard Harrison, himself a veteran star of many spaghetti westerns from the nineteen sixties and seventies, and later to become an Action star of many a badly drawn Ninja flick with dodgy dubbing , yet endlessly entertaining silliness ) is commendable. For those that simply mock the Mattei credibility, just through word of mouth ignorance, a viewing of his damning indictment of the Nazi Germany war atrocities film ‘Women’s Camp 119’ (1977) is essential. The documentary styled structure of the film delivers an impact that is potent in its in-eradicable magnitude . A bold and purposeful endeavour by Mr. Mattei at educating the world of the importance at not allowing such inhumanity to ever again occur!
Throw in a sword and sandal epic, of laughable proportions of course, in the form of ‘The Seven Magnificent Gladiators’ (1983) along with ‘Rats Night Of Terror’ (1984), and the helpings of movie cheese come thick and fast. Who else with such deliriously implied ineptitude could offer entertainment that jumps back into a past where Sybil Danning can brandish her breasts at the bulging biceps of one time Hulk star Lou Ferrigno, and then leap forward into a Post Apocalyptic future where rodents rule the ravaged world? Such anachronistic shenanigans loop the loop and turn its viewers brain to a squidgy mulch with the Sci Fi storm trooper that is ‘Shocking Dark’ (1990), but nothing can top Mattei’s rendering of the jungle Action outing ‘Predator’ than that of his own ‘Robowar’ (1988). Fresh from his ‘Rambo’ impersonation from ‘Strike Commando’ (1987) star Reb Brown reunited with Mattei, to shout out even louder orders to shoot a mechanised man machine. One unashamedly modeled upon a walking personification of an aluminium foil dispenser with limbs. Mattei’s ability to place a tall and toned male lead in the heroic role of his movies has been highly successful. If Reb Brown wasn’t available up would step the quip spitting girl charmer Brent Huff, who’s performance in ‘Born To Kill’ (1989) is priceless. Not only do these guys add to the big Fun of the more modern made pure Action movies of Mattei, they seamlessly appear to be just what the Director actually intended for his on screen lead characters.
With the all Action European film factory pretty much grinding to a saddening stand still by the beginning of the Nineties decade so did the Bruno Mattei movie making machine. Still, when the opportunities were offered he stepped up and delivered the goods. His interpretive take on Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’, with ‘Cruel Jaws’ (1995), is as entertaining and bloody as budgetary restraints allow for and the Mattei flair is still as effervescently present as ever. Be it on land, be it at sea, or most all out effectively in the jungle, Bruno’s flair for delivering the Action goods is immissible.
The dawn of the new Millennium has brought about a whole new breed of low budget, high end movie making talent, and with it came stirring signs of a cautiously optimistic re-emergence from those Italian production houses. Like a resurgent old school stalwart wearing his Marlon Brando styled sunglasses Bruno Mattei re-emerged, looking over rewritten scripts of mainstream made American movies, audaciously considering other opportunities to ‘borrow’ and blow things up. This was after all a new dawn … Vincent Dawn … aka … Bruno Mattei.
There was still a youthful zest flowing through the movie making veins of Bruno: King Of Xerox, and even though he by now was a gentleman entering the advanced years of seventy plus the Mattei movie making magic was back … and at a pace! Where better for one of the standard bearers of the ‘Tough To Kill’ brand of Italian ‘B’ movie Action / exploitation film makers to revisit, in this twenty first century time of desensitisation, than the most shockingly exploitative genre of cinema, the mondo world of Cannibalism! Mattei’s take on compatriot Ruggero Deodato’s infamous ‘Video Nasty’, the gruelling ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ (1980), plays out betwixt two modern day incarnations ‘Land Of Death’ (2003) and ‘Cannibal Holocaust: The Beginning’ (2003). Both have the added ingredient of intended humour and unbelievable characters attributed to the immediately recognisable style of Bruno Mattei. Big guns, small dialogue, now with bigger breasts and even smaller budgets! Best of all the two movies are both set in the jungle and that is where Director Mattei made his home away from home.
Regrettably Bruno Mattei passed away on 21st May 2007. The Italian grand daddy of chunk blowing Action wont be content with peaceful pastures beyond the pearly gates, he’ll be sat tall in his directors chair readying all around him for the next coming Dawn!The next clap of thunder heard here on Earth may just be the sound of exploding heavenly huts, as Bruno directs up a storm as only he can.
Gone but never to be forgotten, the legacy of Bruno Mattei lives on with a plethora of splatter Action still to be unveiled, and hopefully soon to be released upon the shiny format that is DVD. His perpetual aptitude for the frenetically fun ‘B’ movie Action / Horror genre is wondrously anticipated with ‘The Tomb’ (2004) ‘The Jail: A Woman’s Hell’ (2006) and a double dose of Zombie zest with ‘Island Of The Living Dead’ (2007) and ‘Zombies: The Beginning’ (2007).
How perfectly apt that the closure to a great entertainers career, that grabbed us by the very throat, should go out with a movie entitled ‘Zombies: The Beginning’. Only Bruno Mattei could pull off a reworking of one of his own movies ‘Shocking Dark’ (1990), itself a glorious reinterpretation of cinematic copulation between ‘Aliens’ and ‘The Terminator’, to leave his fans with the Zombieriffic anticipation that is ‘Zombies: The Beginning’.
Thank you Bruno. You will always be in our hearts, our thoughts and in our video and DVD players. Bruno Mattei aka Vincent Dawn our exploding ‘Huts’ are raised in your honour. Ciao.
For Bruno. Thank You.

This tribute is also available at Cinema Nocturna here.






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