Hell of the Living Dead (Zombie Creeping Flesh / Virus / Night of the Zombies) - review

1980 (Italy / Spain)


Contains mild spoilers.

I've sat in front of the computer for ten minutes now trying to work out not only how to start the review, but actually how I actually feel about what I've just watched. I mean, I can't hide from the obvious; it's a woefully low budget 80s euro-trash zomploitation video nasty with b-movie acting, a poor English dub (there was no original soundtrack with subtitles option on my DVD), a meandering derivative story devoid of any real content or meaning, and an obsession with the ridiculous misuse of externally sourced stock footage. Yet, I somehow enjoyed my hour and forty minutes with Lia (Margit Evelyn Newton) quite the enthusiastic front line reporter and Lt. Mike London (José Gras) and his blue boiler-suit wearing commando goon squad.

There's a rather superfluous and unexplained back story about a global conspiracy to euthanize the third world and it all going wrong with some giant clouds of degenerative toxins leaking out into the atmosphere. There's also a radioactive zombie rat. All that's really important to know is Lt. London is in New Guinea with his crack force of three totally unconvincing exaggerated 80s bad boy throwbacks, he can't get hold of his superiors, his crew have stumbled into Lia, her camera man Vincent (Selan Karay) and decided to let them tag along, and the normally quiet jungle landscape is teeming with blue skinned undead flesh-eaters.

There's not much else to the story. The gang of six travel to the nearest village, Mia takes her top off to communicate with natives who she was alleged to have stayed with for a year, the village is overrun, then they travel to an abandoned plantation, it gets overrun, then they travel to Hope #1, a sprawling industrial complex and the source of the zombie death cloud, and it gets overrun. Each location starts with the same promise of respite, only for some shadowy figure sitting in a chair with their backs to them to reveal themselves as a macabre flesh eating zombie and the place to come under siege.

I've seen director Bruno Mattei described as a total hack unable to fashion anything original, but I've also seen him described as the man to turn to, to get the job done with as little fuss and money as possible, and both are undoubtedly true. Hell of the Living Dead is a veritable pastiche of everything Zombie Flesh Eaters and Romero. It's formulaic, it's derivative, scenes are stolen, music is literally stolen (Goblin's Dawn of the Dead soundtrack) but if the remit was for a by-the-numbers repeat of the two success stories above, to be filmed in four weeks with no money, credit however begrudgingly, has to be given. What story there is never really comes together and it does drag out, but it doesn't actually fall apart, the characters are cheesy and obnoxious, and played poorly, but at least they're all entertaining each in their own special way, and each action sequence is contrived and poorly choreographed but the way the so called professional soldiers throw themselves about is always amusing to watch. There's also the fact there's an abundant and near constant flow of gratuitous and shocking gore on offer, almost as if Mattei knew this alone would sell a few copies regardless of all films other short-falls.

The zombies are, funny enough, a Dawn of the Dead / Zombie Flesh Eaters fusion. They're blue, they shuffle and groan, they arrive on mass and they like eating people. I've that usual complaint, that for quite the desolate unpopulated area there's an awful lot of zombies and even with a Jeep and boat the gang can't find five minutes respite. Also the zombies do seem to know when to hold off that fatal bite, even with people literally in their grasp, yet on other occasions, for instance when the village is over-run, a native must merely flash a bit of ankle for the teeth to get sunk in. It's almost like the zombies knew when each main character was to be bit and all the action was contrived to ensure it happened as planned. Other than this, it's head shots, with the guys going through the early rigmarole of shooting the body repeatedly first before having the hallelujah head-shot moment, fire being the zombie-no-no and lots of staggering around slowly with arms outstretched. There's nothing new on show but at least Mattei has taken what works and not embellished it unnecessarily, other than allowing their innate cannibalism to get a fair bit more screen time than Romero would have.

I'm not going to pretend that this is a good film; it's one of those that somehow transcends all that it does wrong to become worth watching for the sheer exaggerated stupidity on display. Mia's tribal undress entwined with all the obvious third party tribal stock footage is worth watching if only for the audacity Mattei had in thinking he could get away with it. Wise cracking Zantoro (Franco Garofalo) is worth following if only to witness a truly great maniacal goofy performance, and there's a good game of guess the next jungle animal in stock footage forced in to allegedly make the film as long as Dawn of the Dead. Dawn of the Dead it isn't though; and for all I say go watch it, be prepared for a bit of a genre stinker that you must remember even Mattei was ashamed to have his name attached at launch (he went as Vincent Dawn). Still recommended for that 80s euro-trash no-story maggot-crusted, flesh-munching zombie itch, but don't say you've not been warned, 6/10.