Why have we spent an entire week on the films of someone who is almost universally critically savaged, who has been called the Italian Ed Wood, who would rather outright steal footage from other movies than shoot them himself?
Because Bruno Mattei understood what he was doing, saying “Movies are supposed to be entertaining. So, they have to be made with that kind of spirit.”
Mattei’s movies may never be art. Or even competent filmmaking. But you cannot deny that they will do everything and anything to entertain you, even if that means upsetting, arousing and shocking you, often within the very same scene.
Bruno Mattei was born in Rome on July 30, 1931 to a father who owned an editing studio. Between the family business and classes at the national film school Centro Sperimentale Centrale, Mattei learned how to write and edit films. In fact, he would claim that he edited nearly a hundred movies, a claim that is difficult to fact check. He did, however, edit at least 56 films, including Revenge of the Black Knight; Desperate Mission; Agent 3S3: Passport to Hell; Goldface, the Fantastic Superman, The French Sex Murders, Black Cobra Woman and Jess Franco’s 99 Women. For that film, he also went behind the camera, shooting the adult inserts that show up in the French cut of this women in prison epic.
Of course, those inserts featured actors and actresses who looked nothing like the people they were supposed to be and there was no continuity at all, with scenes that were in the dark of night suddenly appearing in broad daylight, but these trivial things never seemed to phase Mr. Mattei.
Around this time, Bruno also edited several episodes of Gerry Anderson’s U.F.O. TV series into five feature films that were released by Avofilm.
His first documented experience as a director was Armida, il Dramma di Una Sposaa. He used the name Jordan B. Matthews to make this cover version of the Greek movie* O Lipotaktis (which was released as The Deserter in the U.S.). He went so far to remake the film that he even used the same star, Franca Parisi.
After the Italian sex farce Cuginetta…Amore Mio!, Mattei looked for any genre to tackle, often two movies at a time, using the same location, actors and crew to create two unique films for the same cost. That explains how Private House of the SS (AKA SS Girls) and Women’s Camp 119 were made, as well as Caligula and Messalina and Nero and Poppea – An Orgy of Power (AKA Caligula Reincarnated As Nero) happened, not to mention two of Mattei’s best-known movies, Women’s Prison Massacre (AKA Emanuelle in Prison) and Violence in a Women’s Prison AKA Caged Women) were all made.
Speaking of Emmanuelle, Matte would also make several films with Laura Gemser, such as Notti Porno nel Mondo (AKA Sexy Night Report and Emanuelle and the Porno Nights) and Emanuelle and the Erotic Nights (a movie in which Mattei would co-direct with Joe D’Amato, perhaps the only director to use more pseudonyms and have less of a filter). This also led to another adult mondo, Libidomania (AKA Sesso Perverso) and its sequel Sesso Perverso, Mondo Violento (Perverted Sex, Violent World), as well as the mainstream film** that Ilona Staller made before she became Italy’s most famous adult star, Cicciolina Amore Mio.
After one outright adult outing — 1980’s La Provinciale a Lezione di Sesso, Mattei began making movies with screenwriter Claudio Fragasso. As mentioned earlier, they often made two films at once — like The True Story of the Nun of Monza and The Other Hell — with each directing scenes. They would work together until 1990’s Three For One.
Mattei’s movies started showing up all over the world, such as Hell of the Living Dead (AKA Virus, Night of the Zombies and Zombie Creeping Flesh) and the aforementioned Violence in a Women’s Prison, which I still cannot believe played American multiplexes. What was it like for people who wandered into the wrong screen and were confronted by that absolute assault on decency? The Other Hell even played in the U.S. as Guardian of Hell!
Whatever the genre, Mattei was ready. Peplum twenty years past its expiration date in the wake of Conan the Barbarian? Here’s Seven Magnificent Gladiators. Post-apocalyptic weirdness? How about Rats: Night of Terror. An Italian Western when no one else was making them? Mattei churned out Scalps and White Apache. Zombies? Well, beyond Hell of the Living Dead, Mattei had Zombi 3 and Zombi 4: After Death for audiences hungry for more of the starving dead.
Unlike many Italian exploitation directors who retired or went into adult films, Mattei kept on making movies. When the VHS and cable era started, he was ready to answer with a multitude of Rambo takeoffs like the two Strike Commando films, Double Target, Cop Game and Born to Fight.
While many knock Mattei for not only stealing ideas but also outright taking footage from other films, my joy in watching his movies lies in just how many movies he can take from sometimes making you wonder what movie you’re really watching. Robowar is Predator yet with rich floral notes of both Robocop and Terminator. And speaking of rkTerminator, Mattei had the absolute bravery to title Shocking Dark — a movie that rips off Aliens throughout — as Terminator 2.
Cruel Jaws may be Mattei’s most amazing case of theft. It starts by stealing the plot of Piranha, then using the Mafia subplot from the novel Jaws was based on before outright using the actual footage of the windsurfing race from The Last Shark and a Regatta stolen from Jaws 2. Is it any wonder that this movie is also known as Jaws 5?
Through the 90s, Mattei found a new partner in producer Giovanni Paolucci and realized that the video and cable industries needed more Basic Instinct remakes. It’s as if Bruno said, “I’ll show those movies that they dare to call American giallo!” This led to a run of movies that includes Legitimate Vendetta, Body and Soul, Belle da Morire: Killing Striptease, Snuff Trap and Dangerous Attraction.
Bruno even found the time to make two giallo efforts of his own — in the 90s no less! There was Madness, a movie that goes so far as to steal two murders from A Blade in the Dark, and Omicidio al Telefon, a story of a killer who is obsessed with phone sex and dressing like a clown that is completely Out of the Dark.
By the point, Mattei was in his mid 70s, but when the rest of the world slowed down and forgot Italian horror, he was a force, heading to the Philippines to make another series of erotic thrillers like A Shudder on the Skin and Secrets of a Woman before reminding the world of his ability to shock, awe and generally lay waste to good taste with a new series of cannibal and zombie films, often starring Yvette Yzon as a 2000s era Laura Gemser.
The Jail: The Women’s Hell, Zombies: The Beginning, The Tomb, In the Land of the Cannibals — it was as if the old Filmirage days were back! But sadly, Mattei was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Despite the advice of his doctor, he had surgery to have it removed. Complications set in and sadly, Mattei would die on May 21, 2007.
A master of stock footage and making unofficial sequels on the cheap, there’s not really anyone else quite like Bruno Mattei in the annals of filmmaking. There’s a real sense of fun in his films for me, as you’re watching someone of the rails that is not concerned about focus groups or test scores. He’s only worried about finding something taboo-breaking so his audiences will keep coming to see his movies or renting them from the video store or watching them late at night on cable.
As Mattei was quoted as saying, “Il talento prende in prestito, il genio ruba.” Actually, I’m making that up. No one knows who really said “Talent borrows, genius steals.” But wouldn’t it just like Bruno to outright steal a great line and present it as his own?
*This would not be the last time that Mattei would remake a Greek film for Italian audiences, as he and Joe D’Amato would team up to make Emanuelle’s Revenge, which is their take on The Wild Pussycat. Ironically, Mondo Macabro would release both The Deserter and The Wild Pussycat on the same blu ray.
An overview of the Bruno Mattei movies we covered this week
As Bruno Mattei
- Cuginetta, Amore Mio!
- Women’s Camp 119
- Nero and Poppea – An Orgy of Power
- Seven Magnificent Gladiators
- Born to Fight
- Spartacus and the Ten Gladiators (editor)
- Zombie 4: After Death (producer)
As Jordan B. Matthews
As Jimmy Matheus
As Stefan Oblowsky
As Vincent Dawn
- Hell of the Living Dead
- Caligula and Messalina
- Violence in a Women’s Prison
- Rats: Night of Terror
- Strike Commando
- White Apache
- Double Target
- Zombie 3
- Strike Commando 2
- Shocking Dark
- Legittima Vendetta
- Body and Soul
- Belle de Moirre
- Capriccio Veneziano
- Mondo Cannibal
- The Jail: The Women’s Hell
- Island of the Living Dead
- Zombies: The Beginning
As Bob Hunter
As George Roussel
As Michael Cardoso
As David Graham
As Pierre Le Blanc
As Frank Klox
As Herik Montgomery
As William Snyder
As Martin Miller
As David Hunt
- Night Killer
- 99 Women (editing and shooting hardcore inserts)
- Gatta alla Pari
- Un Grande Amore
- Sesso Perverso, Mondo Violento
- La Provinciale a Lezione di Sesso
- Sortis de Route
- Appuntamento a Trieste
- The Dark Side of a Woman
- Secrets of Women
- Orient Escape
- A Shudder on the Skin
If you’d like to see some of his movies for yourself, we’ve included links in each article. You can also easily find them here:
- Several Mattei films, like Cruel Jaws, Shocking Dark, Rats: Night of Terror, Hell of the Living Dead, Robowar and Night Killer are all streaming on Tubi.
- You can also get several of his movies from Severin, including Strike Commando, Strike Commando 2, Cruel Jaws, Night Killer, Robowar, Emanuelle’s Revenge, Shocking Dark, Zombie 3, Violence in a Women’s Prison and The Jail: The Women’s Hell.
- Blue Underground also has a great double blu ray of Hell of the Living Dead and Rats: Nights of Terror.