So you might know this film as Zombies Creeping Flesh, Virus, Night of the Zombies or Dusk of the Dead. There are a bunch of other titles for differing languages as well. At one stage this was going to be one of the films in the unofficial Zombi franchise that followed Dawn of the Dead in Italy. Hell of the Living Dead is an Italian zombie adventure from celebrated trash maestro Bruno Mattei.
1980 was a busy time during the zombie craze. Zombie Flesh Eaters had been released and proved that there was money to be made knocking off Dawn of the Dead so every wannabe filmmaker had their opportunity to push out a slightly different twist on Romero’s initial premise. There were some excellent efforts like the City of the Living Dead and some… not so much, like Zombie Lake. Hell of the Living Dead was squarely in the middle, an enthusiast could get what they want out of it and a casual viewer might enjoy it depending on their mood.
Hell of the Living Dead is quite ambitious on paper. The film opens in a scientific research … power station called Hope Factory in New Guinea when a malfunction occurs and a green gas turns the employees into hungry zombies. Elsewhere, a hostage situation occurs and the crack team of soldiers are brought in to remedy. Following this the soldiers are sent on an operation to New Guinea to find out what is going on.
Meanwhile, a group of explorers containing a couple of reporters led by Margie Newton are already in New Guinea investigating the strange happenings amongst the indigenous people. There they meet up with the soldiers and together they have to battle their way through maybe a dozen zombies to the Hope Research factory to get to the bottom of the outbreak.
The opening hostage action is a subpar precursor to Who Dares Wins, yet it’s still fun enough to get the audience going as the soldiers blunder through like the Keystone Cops. This would continue throughout the film with the film’s budget not allowing for action to look in any way authentic. Guns are blasted at the zombies, however, very few shots actually land as this would require squibs and make-up to effectively convince.
Scenes lack establishing shots to help the audience relocate to different environments. It can be quite difficult working out what you are looking at in several of the opening scenes of the film. This becomes less of an issue later in the film once the island location is established and we follow the soldiers and reports exclusively. If anything, it reveres with the camera operator then spending too much time shooting the factory and surroundings.
There is a large quantity of stock footage used in an attempt to help sell the location as New Guinea and it does help the production initially, however, the quality of the footage and the more it’s used the more it becomes apparent when the intermixed with the scenes Mattei has shot. At one point I thought that perhaps there might be something deeper here and this could be an allegory for the institutionalised system of racial segregation in third world countries, but then Newton got her tits out and a Zombie priest’s eyes exploded. We would be lucky if we find evidence of a script let alone a hidden meaning.
In zombie movies over the years there are two main types of zombie. The slow moving wave of Zombies that cause problems in numbers. The other are the fast moving acrobats that come at you from every angle and one can be hard to handle singularly. Here we have a handful of zombies that slowly shuffle towards our heroes. On more than one occasion we have a character who happily stands amongst the zombies and antagonises them. This sabotages the threat of the zombies as they slowly react to his movements, it’s a little embarrassing.
The film does have its fair share of moments. These are why it is so fondly remembered, and worth sitting through to find. A child is introduced early on and delivers the best performance in the film, he’s having a ball playing a little zombie. There is a pretty fun jump scare later on involving a cat. And of course there is Newton dressing up as a native that has got to be a sensitive deception of tribal outfits and their cultural influences and not just an excuse for gratuitous nudity.
Then there is the score, credited to Goblin. This is an exciting and fast paced listen that adds a layer of quality on the film. The end credit music is woeful however, given the nature of the final moments of the film. After watching I found that the soundtrack was actually a series of tracks assembled from other movies and albums and not written exclusively for the film. Despite being cobbled together it still works.
I feel like I have been overly negative towards Hell of the Living Dead and that was not my intention. It would do well to be watched by a group of friends rather than solo, however, it still entertains when watched alone. A good drinking game might be, every time someone does something stupid, you take a drink
The cast is competent if unremarkable. Mattei has assembled a better film here than some of his others (looking at you Cruel Jaws.) The story, for what there is, has direction and the limited gore effects deliver when needed. I didn’t expect much from Hell of the Living Dead, a film I disliked when I first watched on VHS in the early 90’s under the title Zombie Creeping Flesh. I picked up the new 4K UHD from 88 Films. It is a pretty good package to experience this film today.