“You’re all doomed to a horrible death – doomed to be eaten up. First they’ll kill you – then afterwards – you’ll be eaten – eaten – devoured – by people like you – your brothers…”
[aka Virus aka Virus – Inferno Dei Morti Viventi aka Zombie Creeping Flesh aka Night Of The Zombies]
Director: Vincent Dawn (Bruno Mattei) and Claudio Fragasso (uncredited)
Starring: Margit Evelyn Newton, Frank Garfield (Franco Garofalo), Selan Karay, Robert O’Neil (José Gras), Gaby Renom, Luis Fonoll, Joaquin Blanco, Bernard Seray, Patrizia Costa, Pep Ballenster, Victor Israel
Screenplay: Claudio Fragasso, José María Cunillés, Bruno Mattei (uncredited) and Rossella Drudi (uncredited), based upon a story by Claudio Fragasso and José María Cunillés
Synopsis: At the Hope Centre, an advanced research facility located in New Guinea, a technician conducting a routine sweep discovers a radiation leak. While investigating, he finds a dead rat; the animal has somehow penetrated the defences of the sterile facility. Suddenly, the seemingly dead animal comes back to life and attacks the technician. In his panic, the man turns a handle, releasing a cloud of green gas into the atmosphere. As the alarm sounds throughout the facility, the project’s head, Professor Barrett (Joaquin Blanco), gives orders for Module Antares to be isolated, and the doors guarded. Barrett and his assistant, Paolo (Bernard Seray), don gas masks as they run towards the site of the accident, where they find the discarded protective gear of one technician. As they examine it, the technician, his face strangely discoloured, attacks from behind, biting Paolo savagely on the neck and shoulder and eating his flesh. Nearby, Barrett finds himself confronted by the rest of Module Antarius’s workers, who shamble towards him making clutching motions with their hands. Barrett eludes them, only to discover two more of the transformed workers bending hungrily over a dismembered corpse… Retreating to his office, the doomed Barrett records a final message, in which he declares the project a total failure, and apologises for the evil that has been unleashed… Meanwhile, in Europe, a hostage situation is unfolding in a US consulate, with a small band of terrorists threatening to start killing their prisoners unless a public promise is given to shut down the Hope Centres. An elite SWAT team is given the task of taking down the terrorists and rescuing the hostages: London (José Gras), their leader, and his second-in-command, Vincent (Selan Karay) attack from the roof, while Santoro (Franco Garofalo) and Osborne (Luis Fonoll) infiltrate the building via a back door. Their action is swift, and soon all the terrorists but one are dead: the last, before he dies, gasps that everyone is doomed, that everyone will be killed and eaten… The hostage crisis resolved, the SWAT team is next sent to New Guinea. They arrive as scheduled, but then cannot make contact with their base. They are frustrated, but have no option but to press ahead. Elsewhere, the tele-journalist Lia Rousseau (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her cameraman, Max (Gaby Renom), are travelling with a married couple whose young son was injured in an attack by a native. They stop at a deserted mission, where Lia and Max go looking for water. Josie (Patrizia Costa), growing tired of the angry abuse of her husband (Pep Ballenster), climbs out of the jeep and goes after them, leaving her son with his father. In the makeshift chapel, Josie finds the priest (Victor Israel). She calls to him, but he does not respond until she puts a hand upon his shoulder. He turns, and Josie screams in horror at his hideously damaged face… Behind the mission, Lia and Max are filling their canteens from a reservoir when what looks like a rotting corpse emerges from the water – and moves deliberately towards them; while in the jeep, the injured boy dies – only to open his eyes again and turn upon his father a look of mingled hatred and hunger…
Comments: Back when I reviewed Zombie I commented, with respect to my shocking lack of first-hand knowledge of Italian zombie movies, “No Bruno Mattei for you, young lady, until you’ve finished your Lucio Fulci!”
I should never have finished my Lucio Fulci.
Hell Of The Living Dead indeed represents my first exposure to the remarkable oeuvre of Bruno Mattei – and I think the word “exposure” is the correct one in this context, carrying as it does the suggestion of a nasty disease, or some other undesirable entity – and I can only say that it fully lived up, or down, to its reputation.
The story behind Hell Of The Living Dead is everything you would expect from what ended up on the screen. The film is an Italian-Spanish co-production, which started life from a story and screenplay by José María Cunillés, who wrote a bizarre and elaborate tale set in Africa (explaining one of its numerous alternative titles, Zombies Of The Savanna) and featuring such outré delights as a corpse-mincing machine. The representatives of Beatrice Film and Films Dara liked the idea but realised they couldn’t afford to film Cunillés’ story as written, so they hired Claudio Fragasso to re-work the script.
Hell Of The Living Dead was just the second collaboration between Bruno Mattei and his frequent partner-in-crime, who had come together for the first time only months earlier for the nunsploitationer, The True Story Of The Nun Of Monza. “Collaboration” may be too strong a word in this instance, however, because in a moment that almost defines this particular branch of Euro-horror, the producers decided to save time and money by having Bruno Mattei start location filming outside Barcelona while Fragasso stayed in Rome to work on the screenplay with his frequent partner-in-crime, his wife Rossella Drudi.
It is perhaps not altogether surprising that the footage that Mattei brought back was not exactly notable for its narrative flow. But not to worry – because, after all, if there was one man in Europe who knew all there was to know about taking a jumble of unconnected images and turning them into—well, another jumble of unconnected images, that man was certainly Bruno Mattei.
But as it turned out, there was only so much even Bruno could do; and even after the location footage had been bolstered by some studio work in Rome – and, oh yeah, by the arrival of the screenplay – the results fell significantly short of the target running-time. (The story still didn’t make sense, either, but that was a lesser concern.) Mattei then suggested padding out the film with footage taken from other sources, most famously Barbet Schroeder’s La Vallée. The producers agreed to this, and even green-lit the construction of a “native village” for the shooting of some additional scenes, so that the two pieces of footage would cut together more convincingly. (It cannot be said that this effort was entirely successful).
How many typos can you see?
Meanwhile, Claudio Fragasso was sent back into the studio to oversee the shooting of some additional special effects scenes, in order to ratchet up the gore quotient. Fragasso received only an assistant director’s credit for this additional duty, but afterwards always made a point of saying in interview that he had directed parts of Hell Of The Living Dead—which, I don’t know, doesn’t seem to me to be the kind of thing you’d want to go around bragging about.
The curious thing about Hell Of The Living Dead is that its gore scenes are probably its least offensive aspect. The real issue here centres upon the inserted stock footage—the way in which it is used in-story, and the way in which it tied to the film’s philosophy. (Oh, yes, it has “a philosophy”: you can thank Fragasso for that.) The pilfering from La Vallée is always highlighted in any consideration of Hell Of The Living Dead, probably because that is quite a well-known production in its own right, but in fact the bulk of the re-used material comes from other sources: some of it from the French-Belgian documentary Des Morts (Of The Dead), which is an almost-silent contemplation of death and funerary rites around the world, but most of it from the Italian-Japanese co-production Nuova Guinea, L’Isola Dei Cannibali, better known as Guinea Ama (and recently released on DVD as The Real Cannibal Holocaust).
There’s a case to be made, I suppose, for the study of death in a documentary, although there will also be something deeply troubling about the public exposure of people’s most private and painful moments, whatever the justification. Des Morts, which offers images without commentary, editorialising only in the juxtapositioning of certain passages, is generally considered one of more morally sound entries in this particular sub-genre of film-making.
Guinea Ama, however, is a mondo film masquerading as a documentary. Supposedly it is a contemplation of New Guinea at the time of the granting of its independence (and the film’s IMDb listing rather amusingly presents it as starring Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip as “herself” and “himself”), but from the get-go the aim is exploitation, with the camera dwelling almost exclusively on those aspects of life – and death – guaranteed to be shocking to Western eyes.
If only the movie would end…
However, whatever might be said for the motives of these films, there is no excuse whatsoever for Mattei and Co., who lift from their sources, along with the expected wildlife footage and native rituals, extended sequences of death rites featuring not just skeletal remains but corpses in various stages of decomposition.
There is something uniquely offensive about this melding of grim reality and poorly-executed gore scenes featuring the dead rising up to stagger around, eat flesh and get shot in the head. It’s even worse, in its way, than Ruggero Deodato’s use of real animal slaughter in Cannibal Holocaust to add verisimilitude to his scenes of faked human killing. At least – I’m tempted to say, at the very least – Deodato’s actions were part of a carefully considered and executed rumination on not just that eternal concern (or pseudo-concern) of the Italian cannibal movie, “Who are the real savages?”, but on how far we can trust those who bring us the news and to what extent our perceptions are manipulated by those wielding the power of the camera. In Hell Of The Living Dead, the only thing worse than the exploitative use of the genuine death footage is the idiotic nature of the political argument that it is meant to support.
Most of the zombie and cannibal films that emanated from Italy during the 1980s included some connection to the Third World in their plot-lines; very often they were pitched in terms of a violent revenge taken upon the First World for its exploitation of the Third. We get something slightly different in Hell Of The Living Dead. It is eventually revealed that the twee-ly named “Hope Centres” are in fact working on a method for wiping out the Third World population by turning all the people into flesh-eating zombies and letting them devour one another.
Yes, yes, I know. Ignore the practical aspects of it for the moment, and just stick with the politics.
And those politics are – not to labour the point – idiotic. Claudio Fragasso clearly thought he was making A Big Important Statement here, but he’s completely gotten hold of the wrong end of the stick. No doubt the First World’s attitude to the Third could do with some significant adjustment, but the very last thing the First World wants is no Third World at all. To suggest otherwise is to overlook – or deliberately ignore – the extent to which First World industry relies upon Third World labour and markets. Consequently, while an allegory about the First World’s exploitation of the Third – the way the First World “preys upon” the Third, if you will – could certainly be made to fly, Hell Of The Living Dead’s attempted genocide is as naïve as it is ludicrous.
Welcome to New Guinea.
But this is not the real and overriding problem, which is, rather, that Hell Of The Living Dead pulls the eternal hypocritical stunt of wringing its hands over the poor, put-upon Third World-ers and posing as their defenders while at the same time exploiting them for all it’s worth as “primitive savages”. And this is what is so peculiarly disgusting about the film’s use of the documentary funeral footage: in the middle of what is supposed to be a sympathetic political fable, we are offered footage of the most intensely private nature, for no better reason than to make us go, “EWWWW!!!!”
Then there’s the film’s choice of New Guinea as a setting because it is “isolated and remote”. Isolated and remote compared to Italy and Spain, granted, but – did they not know that it shares land-mass with Indonesia?
Actually—on reflection, I have no trouble believing they didn’t.
I suppose I should also mention that, inevitably it seems, Hell Of The Living Dead features some real animal killing. Ordinarily, as you know, I’d go off like a grenade about that, but in the overall scheme of things it seems almost petty to complain about it.
Conversely, it turns out that the notorious footage in which a woman supposedly picks maggots off a corpse and eats them was doctored before Bruno Mattei ever got his hands on it: it’s from Guinea Ama. So I guess that’s one apology we owe him.
Of course, there are many and varied ways in which a film can be offensive, and when it comes to Hell Of The Living Dead what some people find most outrageous is its director’s magpie-borrowings from other films. Mattei’s main victim, although by no means his only one, is Dawn Of The Dead, from which he takes any number of plot-points, as well as portions of the Goblin score. (Other bits are stolen from Contamination and Blue Omega.)
You almost have to admire it…
Still—you have to say this for ol’ Bruno: his kleptomania was certainly equalled by his chutzpah. Far from trying to hide what he’d done, he immortalised it in his film’s opening titles, not only crediting Goblin for the soundtrack (and with a copyright notice, no less!), but adopting for this film the pseudonym “Vincent Dawn”. You know, just in case he’d been a bit subtle about it.
But if you do manage to overlook Hell Of The Living Dead’s acts of piracy – its stock-footage padding – its ham-fisted politics – its hypocrisy – its terrible acting – its total lack of logic – you know, 95% of its substance – “substance”, heh! – you might just find yourself having a good time with it. The gore scenes, instead of being offensive, are almost childish in their exuberance, while the makeup intended to convey “zombiefication” is—sorry, I’m having trouble finding a more suitable word than “childish” to use here, too. Above all, allow me to recommend to your attention the film’s script.
The Anchor Bay DVD print of Hell Of The Living Dead (and, I think, the Blue Underground one as well) is dubbed into English with no subtitle option, which to my way of thinking is a great shame: I would love to know how close to the original screenplay the English dialogue is. I find it hard to believe that anyone, even a Euro-horror writer, could have intentionally thrown together so many bewildering non sequiturs and verbal squibs. As much as any film I’ve ever encountered, Hell Of The Living Dead gives the impression that the dubbers got drunk and/or high before going into the studio, and were then allowed to ad lib.
Hell Of The Living Dead started life as Virus, and was released in Italy as Virus – Inferno Dei Morti Viventi. All other territories seem to have dropped the “virus” reference, however, perhaps to avoid confusion with Kinji Fukasaku’s Virus, also released in 1980, but most likely because they realised that the film had nothing to do with a virus. (Perhaps that was in José María Cunillés’ original treatment.) Anyway, I’m sure as far as Bruno Mattei was concerned, the important bit was the tag “—Of The Living Dead”.
And what exactly were those three doing when they got zombiefied??
In the US, the film became Night Of The Zombies; in Britain, the far more imaginative if rather confusing Zombie Creeping Flesh. One of the consequences of this re-titling is that except for the recent DVD covers, you can’t usually find any advertising art carrying the title “Hell Of The Living Dead”.
(Rumour has it that in the long run, Hell Of The Living Dead spent some time as both Zombie 4 and Zombie 5, but that can’t possibly be true—can it?)
We open with some blue-tinted footage of the Hope Centre in New Guinea, where, if the incessant PA system is to be believed, the employees’ main duties consist of reporting places immediately. We then cut to a control room, where a group of straight-faced extras try desperately to convince us that the numerous coloured buttons and switches on the panels stretched out in from of them have an actual function. The man in charge, Professor Barrett, has his assistant, Paolo, “run a check on Module 5”, and in an ominous sign of things to come, we are shown exactly the same footage of a row of green buttons lighting up in sequence no less than five times. Paolo assures the Professor that everything checks out, which is of course the cue for everything to go horribly wrong.
We cut to two technicians doing a routine sweep for radiation, and even veteran watchers of Italian horror films might blink at what these two are wearing by way of “protective clothing”. The head covers, which are made of thin rubber, dangle loosely over the technicians’ chests and shoulders, gaping open at the bottom edge, while the thin cotton overalls beneath these shields look like they wouldn’t offer adequate protection against baby spit-up.
Technician #1 has just opined to Technician #2 that they are wasting their time when his meter suddenly shows a reading. “The meter’s going crazy! My God! The needle’s running off the scale!” exclaims Technician #2 (which might actually be because Technician #1 keeps twiddling the knob on it), and his colleague starts looking for a radiation leak.
————–“Sir! These lights keep blinking out of sequence, sir! What should we do about it, sir?”
————–“Get them to blink IN sequence!”
Technician #2, meanwhile, has found something else. “Good lord!” he protests. “A dead rat! In the most sterile part of the module!” Oh, you guys have degrees of sterility, then? Interesting.
Suddenly, the dangling rat springs into action, making its way, somehow, from arms’-length away from Technician #2’s body to, yup, up beneath his so-called head-shield. (Rather wonderfully, the rat attack is realised by having the actor wave his hand around beneath the shield.) As Technician #1 stands and stares in horror without lifting a finger to help – and we’ll see a great deal more of that before this film is over – Technician #2 screams in agony, and blood starts to run down his body in a tidy little stream.
Then a gout of blood splatters across the inside of the vision-plate, and Technician #2 keels over. On his way to the ground, he manages to lose an ill-fitting, single-layer glove, and also, we gather, to turn a handle that really shouldn’t have been turned, which causes a sickly green cloud to pour out into the corridor. The ease with which this is accomplished leads us to assume that the containment unit was designed by the same person responsible for the protective clothing. Confronted by the green cloud, Technician #1 stands there and stares at it. As you would.
In the control room, Professor Barrett orders Paolo to press some buttons, but astonishingly, this fails to avert the catastrophe. “We’d better stop that leak, or we’ll all be dead,” comments another technician disinterestedly. Let down by Paolo’s button-pushing, Barrett gets on the phone, and it is at this point that we learn that the project that is rapidly turning into a full-scale disaster is called “Operation Sweet Death”.
Um. Aren’t code-names supposed to conceal an operation’s objective? (Let me guess: its real name is “Operation Nasty Death”.)
Barrett orders Module Antares shut down and isolated. However, a quick cut outside shows us the green cloud already escaping to the world at large. Barrett, Paolo and some others then go running off into Module Antares – eh? – where Paolo has to remind Barrett to put a gas-mask on. They stumble over the discarded head-shield of Technician #1, and while they are examining it, its former owner looms up behind them and starts chowing down on Paolo’s shoulder. Hilariously, the blocking suggests that Technician #1 was sitting on the floor right where the others were standing without anyone noticing him.
It’s usually considered a good idea to wear protective clothing that actually seals…
As Paolo screams in agony, everyone else stands there staring in horror and not lifting a finger to help. Then brave Sir Barrett runs away, only to encounter a crowd of transformed workers, who come staggering up with arms outstretched – slowly. If you’re one of those who dislikes the recent trend of fast-moving zombies, then Hell Of The Living Dead is either the perfect film for you, or the film that makes you change your mind on the subject. Either way, it features some of the slowest, most unresponsive zombies you’ll ever meet, to the point that nearly everyone who dies at their hands only has themselves to blame.
The two other significant features of these particular zombies is the inadequacy of the makeup job by which their transformation is indicated (a little later in the film, one of the characters refers to some zombies not inaccurately as, “Those guys with shit on their faces”), and their expressions. I shouldn’t have thought that there would have been time yet for these particular zombies to grow bored with their shambling, flesh-eating existence, but the looks on their faces suggest otherwise.
Barrett runs away again, only to be brought up short this time by the sight of two more technicians snacking on a third, whose abdominal cavity they have opened with commendable neatness. At this point, Barrett realises that the jig is up. (You have to get up pretty early in the morning to get anything past Professor Barrett!) He takes off his gas-mask in a fatalistic gesture before retreating to his office to record a final message. He sounds awfully surprised at having to declare his project “a complete failure” – and indeed, who could possibly have foreseen something going wrong with “Operation Sweet Death”? – and signs off with an apology for the whole unleashing-a-terrible-evil-and-destroying-the-world thing.
With no warning at all, except inasmuch as some of us have seen Dawn Of The Dead, we then cut to a hostage crisis at “the US consulate” (unspecified, but there is one in Barcelona, so that’s my guess). Law enforcement of all descriptions has the place surrounded, and of course there are reporters on the scene, one demanding to know whether they are dealing with, “Palestinians, Iranians, or a new kind of terrorist?” The cop declines to offer an opinion, beyond the flat statement that, “He’s a damn good shot!” – something immediately belied by our first good look at the “terrorists”, when it is immediately obvious that we’re dealing with a bunch of rank amateurs – not least because of their demand to speak to “the highest-ranking magistrate in the city”. The token female terrorist, meanwhile, gives us the impression that it’s Halloween, and this year she’s going as Patty Hearst.
…and that’s why.
As it turns out, “amateur” is putting it mildly. Rather than guarding the entrances to the consulate, the terrorists all huddle in a single room with their hostages, emerging one by one in order to be picked off like teenagers in a slasher movie by the SWAT team that has experienced no difficulty whatsoever in penetrating their, ahem, stronghold. And when it becomes obvious that matters are reaching crisis-point, the head terrorist, rather than attempting to use the hostages as either a bargaining-chip or as a shield, orders them all to lie down on the floor—with the result that they are safely out of the way when the SWAT team bursts in and starts firing high-powered weapons.
The head terrorist doesn’t die right away, but with remarkable lucidity considering that he’s just had his lungs shredded by bullets, he first gasps out a warning about how now, everyone is doomed to be eaten – devoured – by people just like them – their brothers…
Bruno – or rather, Claudio – missed an opportunity here, if he wanted to get political. Granted, these days “terrorist” is an even dirtier word than it was in 1980, so most people probably don’t stop to think too much about what’s going on here, but in fact you could make an argument that, their tactics excepted, the so-called terrorists have right on their side. They are not doing this for personal gain, or even for political gain in the usual sense: what they want is the closing down of the Hope Centres. The government’s response is to suppress their demands and send in a SWAT team to kill them. One of them, in fact, has his throat cut after obeying an order to drop his gun and raise his hands. Who are the good guys again?
And sure, this stuff is there…but it’s muffled, as if the film-makers either didn’t notice or didn’t care. That the film, as well as the government, is content to label the hostage-takers simply as “terrorists” suggests the latter.
This operation is our introduction to the individuals who will turn out to be—certainly not the film’s heroes, but at least four of its main characters: London, the one in charge; Vincent, the sensitive one; Osborne, the wacky one; and Santoro, the one on the edge. From their very first moments on screen, with their evident delight in killing, and their posturing and ludicrous “tough” dialogue, it’s as if these four are in competition to see which of them can be the most thoroughly obnoxious.
There were moments when Fred and Harry had second thoughts about their career choices…
During their first appearance, London promises the others, if they resolve the hostage situation successfully, a “vacation” in New Guinea, where the “broads” are “naked and wild”. Another abrupt cut now takes us to the other side of the world, and Hell Of The Living Dead’s problems begin in earnest, with the appearance of the first stock footage. For some reason, the SWAT team has “landed” in the middle of a native graveyard, which gives the camera the opportunity to leer at some skeletal remains while the newcomers exchange views on their surroundings. Here’s just a taste:
Santoro: “I wonder how long these jerks have been dead?”
Vincent: “Centuries, maybe. It’s the dry climate in the valley that preserves them – like smoked herring or jerky.”
Vincent is the “sensitive” one, remember. And, oh yeah: when we first join them, Santoro is urinating on a grave.
London, meanwhile, has been having a hissy fit over his inability to contact headquarters (NB: yelling into a walkie-talkie will not make people answer you; nor will pouting), while Osborne is busy doing what he does in nearly all situations, cackling pointlessly and inanely while fiddling with his cap, which is turned backwards.
I’m thrilled to be spending the next eighty minutes with these guys, aren’t you?
Another abrupt cut introduces to the rest of our cast, as a land rover squeals to a halt outside a deserted mission. (A deserted mission, hey? I’m sure this will end well…) Two of the newcomers will be with us for some time, the others—not so much. The former are Lia Rousseau, “world-famous” tele-journalist, and her loyal cameraman, Max. With them are a married couple and their young son, who is seriously ill. The father takes a moment to examine the boy’s injury, which looks suspiciously like a bite.
The A-Hole Team.
Boy, the hits just keep coming, don’t they?
“It’s still hurting him,” the mother comments inanely as we are shown the hideous wound, which is, as the father remarks angrily, “still suppurating”. Since, as he next informs us, this collection of geniuses started on their road-trip through New Guinea without anything resembling a first-aid kit (really? even Lia and Max!?), this is hardly surprising.
Pep Ballenster has only a few brief scenes in Hell Of The Living Dead, but he sure makes the most of them. Here the husband and father suddenly erupts, spewing a torrent of vitriol at his wife in which he blames her for their situation while managing to absolve himself of all responsibility, and baring his teeth at the camera and snarling in a way that makes us suspect he might know more about his son’s injury than he’s admitting.
His outburst is worth quoting in full:
“The infection is spreading by the minute – and we didn’t bring any medicine!” [laughs bitterly] “These bright ideas you get! Bringing a seven-year-old child through this filth! Only you could have thought of it! Dumb broad! The living image of a modern mother! You couldn’t be so mean as to leave your kid in a nice safe school for a couple of weeks! Not her! Oh, no! Not to bring our boy along with us would be cruel! Doesn’t matter if he’s eaten up by mosquitoes!”
Wait…mosquitoes did that!?
Oh, sorry: he hasn’t quite finished:
“…or wounded by a native lunatic,” he concludes belatedly, prompting Lia to beg wearily that he won’t start that again. This provokes another outbreak:
“I’m sorry! Naturally the great Lia Rousseau can’t be bothered listening to the complaints of a man who’s upset about his boy! No! She’s on a special mission! The idol of the TV audience that never gets enough violence and bloodshed!”
The living image of a modern father.
Of course—for all we know, he might be right on all counts; his accusations might, one and all, be perfectly justified. The attack on Lia, in particular, feels like the set-up for something that never eventuates. Unfortunately, the screenplay declines to give us any context whatsoever for these verbal assaults. We have no idea who these people are, where they came from, why they’re in New Guinea, or what they’re doing with Lia and Max. That being the case, all we’re left with is a massive temper-tantrum thrown by a gigantic asshole, in a film already so full of gigantic assholes, the viewer feels in constant danger of falling in.
Anyway, these tirades sequentially drive Lia, Max and Josie (the wife) out of the jeep, on the various pretences of “looking for water” and “getting some air”, which leaves Chuckles alone with the kid.
We find Lia and Max dicking around in a way that gives us no good opinion of either their professionalism or their intelligence, while Josie wanders into the mission, where she finds someone who she takes to be the priest hunkered down at the far end of the room. He doesn’t respond when she speaks to him, so naturally she gets closer and closer, repeating, “Father? Father?” and finally putting a hand on his shoulder…
Don’t these people ever watch horror movies?
Be that as it may, the revelation of Victor Israel’s face is indeed one of Hell Of The Living Dead’s more memorable moments, and his image is to be found reproduced in most of its advertising.
Meanwhile, as Angry Dad dozes, Doomed Kid dies…only to revive moments later and direct a look of baleful hatred straight at the camera; which, given that Mattei and/or Fragasso was probably standing behind it, is perfectly understandable. He then turns the same expression on his father, which is even more understandable.
(This kid is one of the film’s better actors, not that that’s saying much.)
The face of a man whose job is also his hobby.
Meanwhile meanwhile, Lia and Max are filling their canteens from a rank-looking reservoir (if they didn’t bring a first-aid kit, I’m willing to bet they forgot the water-purification tablets) when a rotting corpse lurches up out of the water. We mark a milestone in the film here, the first of many, many, many occasions upon which this tough globe-trotting journalist reacts to something, anything, by opening her eyes and her mouth as wide as she can and screaming.
Meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile, Josie is staggering back towards the jeep, the worse for wear after her encounter with the priest. This moment is shot from inside the land rover, so we only see her collapse across the hood, reaching out in an imploring gesture.
Meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile meanwhile, three individuals are now shambling towards Lia and Max, who pause to debate whether they are: (i) monsters; (ii) drunks; (iii) drugged; or (iv) lepers, before concluding that they should probably just make a run for it. They do, right through them, easily shoving them out of the way and knocking one of them over. A terrifying unstoppable force of nature these guys are not.
The SWAT team (even sarcastically, I can’t bring myself to say “Our Heroes”) arrives just as the journalists sprint around the corner of a building. Hearing their story, a sceptical London sends Santoro and Osborne to investigate. There is no sign of Josie, by the way, but at this point Max thinks to look in the land rover…
Hell Of The Living Dead proudly serves up to its viewers not one, but two vomiting scenes. The first one, here, is so timid and half-hearted as to be almost inoffensive; the noise is worse than the visual, and you can tell that Gaby Renom really didn’t want to have anything to do with it…which perhaps explains why the second one is given to the far less inhibited Luis Fonoll.
Get used to this, folks.
(Although the vomiting is only the tip of the iceberg, as far as Fonoll and his lack of inhibitions are concerned.)
Anyway, as Max reels away, London strides forward and yanks open the door, to reveal Zombie Kid chowing down on Angry Dad. London and Vincent drag the two apart, and Zombie Kid makes a concerted effort to wound London, although unfortunately he fails.
The zombies have reached the mission buildings, and Santoro sprays one of them with bullets – in the body. It shambles forward, and so Osborne sprays it with bullets – in the body – while Santoro sprays a second zombie with bullets – in the body. Elsewhere, London, having fought off the kid – not without considerable difficulty – draws his handgun and shoots him – in the body. It doesn’t work, so he shoots him again – in the body.
Experts, people! Professionals.
Eventually, it occurs to Santoro to try – say it with me, folks! – shooting ’em in the head. It works! This occurs approximately 31 minutes into a 100-minute film. I mention this fact for the simple reason that from here on in, our characters encounter the zombies with increasing frequency, and every single time they do, they start out by shooting them in the body. EVERY SINGLE FUCKING TIME. You could make a drinking game out of it, if you were willing to risk alcohol poisoning.
Lia gets bored with watching London fill the kid full of lead, so she wanders off to look for the missing Josie instead, seemingly unperturbed by the repeated bursts of background gunfire that represent Santoro and Osborne wrestling with the profoundly difficult question of how to stop a zombie. (NB: this is after they figure it out.) Having – at length – disposed of the three zombies, Santoro and Osborne run back to the vehicles, where London is still ineffectually pumping bullets into the kid’s torso. “Leave it to me!” demands Santoro, literally shouldering London out of his way, and puts the kid down at last with a burst of gunfire to the cranium.
Now, that’s what I call a Happy Meal!
(Ahem. This sequence ought to be horrifying, but I confess I find it sickly hilarious.)
“All you have to do is shoot it in the head!” says Santoro emphatically.
32 minutes. Just FYI.
Then it’s time for everyone to leave, so Josie obligingly reappears—dangling upside-down from the rafters and covered in blood, prompting Lia to open her eyes and mouth wide and scream. Whether or not she’s supposed to be dead (and either way, Patrizia Costa can be clearly seen moving her mouth to encourage more “blood” to flow), the question is rather who hung her up, and how – and indeed, why? Zombies aren’t generally known for storing corpses away for future hard times, like squirrels with a stash of nuts.
And then the zombie priest looms up! Lia opens her eyes and mouth wide and screams. We get one of zombie film-dom’s more embarrassing stalking scenes here. Like Santoro and Osborne and the bullets, Lia has apparently learned nothing from the earlier encounter in which she easily pushed the zombies out of the way. Instead, she allows herself to be backed up against a blackboard, as the zombie priest draws closer – and closer – and closer – and closer – and closer – and –
In other words, it’s a zombie stalking that resembles approaching the asymptote: somehow he never quite gets there. It’s rather a wonder that Victor Israel didn’t lose patience during this silly scene and snap at his co-stars, “Will you hurry up? I can’t keep doing this forever!”
As the priest – slowly – goes to put his hands about her throat, Lia pushes him away and runs – see how easy that was? – allowing London to spray the zombie with bullets – in the body. Max arrives with Vincent and Osborne, and as he comforts Lia, the others spray the priest with bullets – in the body. It doesn’t work, so Osborne shoots him some more – in the body.
…which I guess makes Santoro “the smart one”. Yike!
Forehead, meet keyboard.
Thankfully – and, oh my God, I cannot believe this wretched film has succeeded in making me thankful for Santoro – Santoro runs in, yelling, “THE HEAD”, and demonstrates with a single shot.
“It’s all over now,” Max tells Lia.
Yeah. All over the blackboard.
We get a brief jump here back to civilisation, to the TV network that presumably employs Lia, where for some reason all the camera operators are wearing lab coats – eh? A talking head comments gravely on rumours of cannibalism in “this remote area”. i.e. New Guinea. Behind the scenes, the head of the network consults with someone over Lia’s first report, which does not mention the Hope Centre. The network head reveals that he is aware of the suppression of the terrorists’ demands, and concludes that the Hope Centres are, “Working towards something that verges on genocide.”
The technician, however, has his eyes on the media prize: “If Lia can just reach the Centre first, we’ll be able to scoop the whole world on a major catastrophe!” he chortles, prompting the network head to wonder who’ll be left to watch it…
This is the point in Hell Of The Living Dead where the stock footage kicks in with a vengeance, remaining omnipresent for about the next half-an-hour as the actors spend their time gazing out of shot and reacting to things that aren’t there. Some of it is funny – like a shot that suggests the team is driving down the middle of a river, not on a road, and the usual wildlife mishaps: a toucan? elephants?? a jerboa!? – but most of it is deeply distressing. I admit to fast-forwarding through on this sweep, not something I normally do; but I’ve watched it once, and that is enough.
On the other hand, when Bruno Mattei resumes what might loosely be described as control of his material, we get one of Italian exploitation film’s Great Moments In Gratuitous Nudity.
The most sterile part of the TV studio.
To reach the river (which apparently isn’t just at the side of the road, as the visuals suggest) the travellers have to pass through a native village. They pull up some distance from it, mistrusting (sigh) “the sound of those drums”. The SWAT guys want to just blast their way through, but Lia has a better idea an alternative strategy. It turns out that she once, “Spent a whole year living with the tribe in the interior”, according to Max (the tribe, huh?), and so knows how to communicate with the natives.
Would you be astonished to learn it involves taking her clothes off?
Yes, indeed. And without further ado, Lia pops her pop.
Would you be astonished to learn that she’s not wearing a bra?
The next time we see her, she is trotting down the road in full jungle-queen mode, wearing the cutest little woven-leaf bikini-bottom and body paint that totally unexpectedly draws attention to her breasts. She orders the men to stay where they are for an hour, and then to follow her in. She enters the village, observing a variety of native ceremonies, and funeral after funeral after funeral – all of them conducted differently.
The hour is up, and the men roll forward into the village, where they are welcomed on the assumption they’ve come to help, ho, ho. Lia tells them grimly that the whole place is contaminated, and that they have been many deaths.
The maggot-eating scene is spliced in here, bookended by shots of Max struggling against his revulsion and forcing himself to film it—which in a way represents another missed political opportunity. It keeps feeling as if Hell Of The Living Dead, probably under the influence of Cannibal Holocaust, also released in 1980, is about to turn into a story of First World reporters exploiting a Third World tragedy for fun and profit, as it legitimately could; only every time it seems to be heading down that path, for example with Angry Dad’s attack on Lia, it stops short – perhaps at the realisation that Lia and Max are the closest thing this sorry take on man’s inhumanity to man has to “heroes”.
Let me guess: she’s a member of the same sorority as Dr Lori Ridgeway?
The visitors are treated as honoured guests by the villagers, given food and the local hooch and allowed to observe the dancing and so on. The second vomiting scene occurs here, as Osborne can’t cope with the preparation of a meal that involves food being chewed up and spat back into the bowl. Vincent remains outside, and looks thoughtfully at a dead body bound by its hands and feet, at one end of the village. (Another tasteful touch: we’ve already seen a real dead body in that position.) A tipsy Lia wanders along, scolding Vincent for his “formality”. He responds with a speech about “being on a mission” that fails to disguise the fact that he is (*tee, hee*) getting “a thing” for her. Lia then sobers, pondering out loud the horrors and mysteries of their situation – why the dead should be coming back to life – oblivious to the fact that, just over there, the dead are coming back to life.
The village moonshine has made Lia eloquent, and she launches into quite an impressive speech about the SWAT team “just happening” to be on the scene where all these horrors are unfolding: “The apocalypse is bearing down on us – the tombs are opening their doors – dead men devour the living – and you’re afraid to reveal your military secret. And yet perhaps the whole disaster is the result of one of those military secrets—for national security. Perhaps it’s related to those Centres called…‘Hope’. Right?”
Ah, national security, our old friend! – we’ve come to talk with you again.
A terribly misplaced eagle squawks, and a suddenly frightened Lia looks around to find the native formally known as dead and bound standing nearby. She opens her eyes and mouth wide and screams, and Vincent makes a move to shoot the zombie, but then pounds him with the butt of his gun instead. A whole – squad? flock? crypt? – of zombies then comes shambling towards them.
“That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen! Let’s watch it again in slow motion!”
Fun fact: zombiefication turns white people’s skin dark, but black people’s skin pale.
Vincent continues to swing his rifle-butt at the approaching zombies, so I can only assume the rifle is unloaded (!). He and Lia manage to take refuge in the land rover. The others are oblivious until a zombie slips inside the main hut and bites a chunk out of one of the celebrating natives. The visitors then dash for their vehicles, distinguishing themselves by knocking over some of the natives in their haste to get outside. A bloody riot follows, in which (long story short) a lot of black people die but the white people get away.
As they drive along, Lia grimly contemplates the fact that none of the local funerary rites involve burying or burning the dead, while in the second vehicle London asks Vincent – and I kid you not – “What’s eating you?”
(Greatest post-slaughter conversational gambit since the kid in The Horror Of Party Beach observed, in the wake of his girlfriend’s gruesome demise, “Sure is dead around here.”)
Vincent, after a moment’s hesitation, tells London that Lia suspects their reason for being in New Guinea. London comments, as he has done before, that they will have to get rid of her and Max, which may or may not involve just leaving them behind.
Matters reach a crisis when the jeep breaks down, and London commandeers the land rover, insisting that all non-essential gear be dumped to make room for his men and their equipment. Of course, in his estimation that includes the footage that the reporters have been collecting. Max confronts London, and is beaten for his pains. Lia then helps herself to Santoro’s handgun, and holds London at its point, warning him that he wouldn’t be the first man she’s shot, and the others that, if they want London’s head blown off, they should “pull a fast one”.
Oh, please do pull a fast one! (And in fact, Santoro tries, but Osborne stops him. Dammit, Osborne!)
The guys with shit on their faces.
Now, Lia is standing just a bit behind London’s left shoulder through all this, so he couldn’t possibly disarm her the way he’s about to. To Bruno Mattei’s credit, he obviously realised this, so he abruptly switches angle. In between the two shots, London grabs Lia and takes the gun away from her. As they all sort themselves out, Santoro levels the handgun at Lia – and there is an empty click.
“Not loaded!” he guffaws as if this was the funniest joke ever, instead of the second time one of these elite commandos has been caught with his weapon unloaded. And London doesn’t bat an eyelid.
That night, when they stop to make camp, Vincent – apparently impressed by Lia holding a gun to his C.O.’s head, and who can blame him? – starts putting the moves on her, trying to convince her that if they’d met under different circumstances, they “would have been in the sack by now”. Oh, Vincent, you romantic, you!
London intervenes with a sock on Vincent’s jaw, and for once I’m compelled to side with him: “You damn fool, you’re supposed to be on guard duty!”
Experts, people! Professionals.
“I’m going to have to start getting tough with you,” London threatens Lia, which for some reason prompts a cutaway to a herd of elephants being worried by some hunting-dogs as gazelles bounce by. No, really. Then we get a close-up of two butterflies, accompanied by an ominous musical sting. Eh? This comes while London and Santoro are looking for water and scouting ahead, down a track strewn with splashes of blood and bits of flesh, prompting another bon mot from the wordsmith London: “Keep your eyes peeled!”
He was keeping his eyes peeled, when he got a little carried away…
More zombies appear, shuffling forward. Max takes the camera and runs towards them, ignoring everyone’s pleas for him to return to the land rover. So Lia goes after him. And then Vincent goes after Lia. “Dammit!” says the exasperated London, and then he goes after the three of them, and Santoro goes after London. It then turns out that London’s rifle is unloaded—so he draws his handgun and starts shooting the zombies with it – in the body.
Well, you can’t say that he doesn’t lead by example.
It is at this point in Hell Of The Living Dead – if indeed, you haven’t reached it earlier, and individual mileage may vary – that it becomes impossible to consider the zombie apocalypse as anything but a consummation devoutly to be wished…
It is also the point at which Santoro – Santoro – SANTORO!! – distinguishes himself as the film’s voice of reason. First he comments, as he watches London and Vincent send bullet after bullet into the bodies of the zombies, “I don’t know who looks stupider, the guys with shit all over their faces, or the boys shooting at them.” He then throws himself between his colleagues and the zombies, bellowing at the former, “Cut it out! Stop wasting your damn bullets, you jerks! You need to hit their heads! I told you! See? – like this!” [He demonstrates]
Santoro then hurls himself into the midst of the zombies, dancing around and calling them “Stinking, putrid bastards!” and “A bunch of turds!” and “Brainless monkeys!”, telling them to “Screw off!”, and asking whether they’d rather have “A drumstick or a wing?”
And he still comes across as the film’s voice of reason.
As the party moves off again, we get a nod at Night Of The Living Dead discreet enough to be called “homage” rather than “theft”, as a voice on the radio comments, “…gas cloud penetrated the stratosphere, there is very little hope left…” before being tuned out.
“I swear to God, if you don’t find me a way out of this film—”
The radio voices provide a bridge to what is supposed to be the Security Council of the UN, where Bruno and Claudio finally manage to let their message emerge. (It was probably a fluke.) In a scene both hilarious and oddly poignant, we see a nearly deserted amphitheatre, and you just know it’s because they couldn’t afford the extras, but it does suggest the West’s selfish disinterest even in the face of disaster. We also learn that representing the UN requires throwing papers around and storming out a lot. I particularly like the guy who throws down his papers and storms out, only to have another guy throw his papers at him as he goes. Violent gesticulation is good, too.
Among the very few delegates remaining, we find a very un-New-Guinean-looking one from New Guinea and a typically phlegmatic and unemotional, albeit very Spanish-looking, Britisher, who have the following immortal exchange:
New Guinea: “You! – have destroyed my people! You! – have murdered my people! You have treated them like a crowd of human larvae! Like creatures without souls! Insects! Savage beasts! Prehistoric animals! You! – have brought on the apocalypse! You have launched the beginning of the end! And now nothing and no-one can prevent the ultimate disaster!” [Britain tries to reassure him that things are under control] “Why don’t you stop telling lies? You all know why they’ve been running from their homes – what brought them to this state of terror! – running from their children, their parents, their brothers, transformed into vile creatures that feast on human flesh! Into monsters! – killing – without pity at all! Brother eats brother – mothers devour their offspring – in a chain of foul slaughter, until nothing will remain but the bare earth, soaked in putrefying flesh!”
Britain [getting up to leave]: “Well, we’ll continue tomorrow, Your Excellency. Goodnight!”
Our intrepid idiots, meanwhile, have found a luxurious house in the middle of nowhere. They investigate it, splitting up (sigh) to do so.
And if the UN scene didn’t do it, here Hell Of The Living Dead wins immortality for itself, by having Osborne pick up a cane, put on a top hat and a green tutu, and tap-dance around scatting The Old Folks At Home…and then get eaten by zombies.
You heard me.
However – believe it or not – this isn’t my favourite moment in Hell Of The Living Dead, which instead comes during London’s search of the house. He hears an odd noise, and follows it to find an elderly lady slumped in a chair, dead…except that her abdomen is squirming. It then bursts open to reveal—
And a zombie kitteh that snarls like a wildcat, at that!
(Not easy to get a clear screenshot of it, however: that cat was not happy about its enforced participation in Hell Of The Living Dead, and it takes off like a streak of lightning as soon as it is given the chance.)
London is so shocked and disgusted, he lets the critter get away (run, zombie kitteh, run!). And then the elderly lady opens her eyes…
I don’t think I have anything to add here.
After the kid, this woman is my nomination for the film’s best actor. Unfortunately, just like her predecessor, in spite of her best efforts she fails to tear strips off London, and gets shot in the head instead. Meanwhile, Osborne’s screams alert the others to his fate. The men run to the cellar, with Max insisting, “Stay here, Lia.” Because, of course, she’ll be so much safer on her own.
It turns out that Lia is another of the film’s characters who doesn’t watch horror movies: with zombies on the loose, she thinks it’s a good idea to wander up close to the house’s shutters…and then has the gall to look surprised when zombie arms shoot through them, grab her by the hair, and start dragging her towards the broken woodwork…
…only then Vincent turns up and saves her (“Ha, ha – fooled ya!” chortles Bruno), abandoning the others in the process, who are fighting off yet more zombies in the cellar…mostly by shooting them in the body. Confronted with Osborne’s fate, Santoro loses it – you know, more so – and starts taunting the zombies again – “Dumb vegetables! Rotten, squirming, putrid creeps! You frigging ball-breakers!” – although it does belatedly occur to him to try a burning torch. It looks for a time as if Santoro is trying to commit suicide here, but he finally escapes.
For some reason, when faced with zombies standing in the road, London thinks it’s a good idea to slow down rather than speed up – idiot. In fact, he slows down so much that one zombie is able to open the door next to Lia and hop into the back seat with her. (Also, the land rover’s windows are all wide open – idiots.) We also get a classic the-engine-won’t-start! moment, but in the end they get away.
Cut to the next morning, when a tearful Santoro allows himself a touching moment of mourning for Osborne, in which he turns his cap backwards…a gesture that might have had a bit more impact had we not seen him lose his cap during the zombie taunting. Twice, in fact.
Awww… Flesh-eating zombie kitty!
Anyway, they finally “find the river”, which bears a suspicious resemblance to a little thing called the Atlantic Ocean, and then it turns out that they’ve been packing not only an inflatable boat but an outboard engine! (No wonder there wasn’t room for Max’s film!) They almost fall foul of the zombies one more time – and you should just see these expertly trained professionals struggling to control the boat – but at long last they’re on the final leg of the journey…
…which kind of begs the question of why all of them started out as far away from the Hope Centre as geographically possible, if that was everyone’s goal all along? Particularly when it seems that the complex is situated almost on the coast. I mean, the riverbank.
Having landed their boat, the team strolls off towards this desirable piece of beach-front property:
Santoro: “What’s the plan now?”
London: “I don’t know what we’ve got to do yet.” [YOU DON’T KNOW!?] “First we have to make sure that the coast is clear.”
Vincent: “Well, one thing is certain: we’d better stick together as a group.”
1:25:47 – let’s see how long it lasts.
Once inside the Hope Centre, London says they need to find the freight elevator, so Santoro and Max go off to search for it. As soon as they find it, Santoro sends Max back to get the others.
Since our arrival in New Guinea, Dawn Of The Dead has been sitting quietly in a corner, waiting for its cue. Once inside the Hope Centre, however, it comes dancing back for its encore.
Santoro pushes the button for the elevator, but then “hears a funny noise” – over there – behind the camera – so that when the others arrive – from the opposite direction in which Max departed – they all likewise stare off past the camera while standing with their backs to the elevator, the doors of which slide open…
So that takes care of Max. Lia opens her eyes and mouth wide and screams. Santoro loses it again, yelling, “Die! Die!” and blasting the zombies – in the body – and threatening, “Frigging monsters, I’ll kill you all! Blow you to pieces! I’ll send you back to hell where you came from!” Apparently this hurts the zombies’ feelings, because they turn from Max to Santoro, who for reasons best known to himself just stands there, not shooting, whimpering, “No! No! Get back!” as they reach out for him…
So that takes care of Santoro. Lia opens her eyes and mouth wide and screams, and keeps her mouth open even after the elevator departs – I wonder which of the zombies thought to push the button? – and blood starts dripping down onto her face. Ew!
The remaining three make it to the roof, where a surprisingly spritely zombie ambushes London. Lia opens her eyes and mouth wide and screams. Vincent smashes the zombie’s head with his rifle (I assume his repeated refusal to shoot is a mark of his “sensitivity”). London declares himself not quite dead yet, and insists on the other two helping him up and along to complete the mission.
Spot the difference:
Normal Santoro………………………………………………………..Zombie Santoro
That’s right – the guy on the left has a hat.
London separates himself from the others before he enters Barrett’s office, though, where he listens to that last recording, and then destroys all the evidence of “Operation Sweet Death” – which turns out to consist of the tape and three creased bits of paper in a folder.
“What’s that?” Vincent exclaims suddenly, apparently unable to recognise the tell-tale sounds of planes overhead and bombs dropping. Lia pragmatically keeps inspecting the fittings of the Hope Centre, finally declaring, “Now it all makes sense!”
But it really doesn’t matter. The zombies are everywhere, and one squad, led by Zombie Santoro and Zombie London, closes in on Lia and Vincent. Vincent gets dragged down and chewed on. Lia opens her eyes and her mouth wide and screams—
—and Zombie Santoro reaches into her mouth and pulls her tongue out, in a moment surprisingly less gross than the equivalent one in Blood Feast.
Aaaaaaaaaand then Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso realised that they were 96 minutes into a 100-minute-long Italian zombie movie, and the audience was yet to see any gratuitous eye violence.
So Zombie Santoro reaches back into Lia’s mouth – which she STILL hasn’t shut – and – pokes both her eyes out from behind.
Just stop for a moment, folks, and ponder the physiology of that…
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later…
As eye violence in Italian zombie movies goes, this is – almost bearable. It’s very like the eye-popping in Night Of The Bloody Apes, simultaneously thoroughly disgusting and amazingly silly. If nothing else, it proves that I can deal with eye-popping much better than I do with eye-gouging, with the eye-tugging of Zombi Holocaust somewhere in between.
(And there we have it, folks, the Italian zombie movie’s chief contribution to society: a sliding-scale of eye violence…)
Bruno and Claudio might have done better to leave it there, because really, how could you top that? – but instead they went for the unnecessary kicker ending. How very original. First we cut back to the TV talking heads, where an interviewee who starts off insisting there’s not much he can tell us goes on to relate a cheery anecdote about a corpse with all its limbs removed, which opened its eyes and started to move…
Cut to a bar where young First World-ers laugh and scoff at these ridiculous stories about the dead coming back to life. “Science fiction!” says one (which, come to think of it, I guess this is).
A man and a woman slip outside for a boringly protracted tease sequence that ends with the woman pushing her boyfriend away in a huff, and refusing even to let him light her cigarette. Instead, she’ll ask that man on the park bench – the one hunched over – not moving – with his face turned away. “Sir? Sir…?”
So anyway – she gets eaten, while her boyfriend stands there staring in horror and not lifting a finger to help.
In 1983, Hell Of The Living Dead found itself on an early version of the British Board of Film Censors’ infamous “Video Nasties” list, under its local title, Zombie Creeping Flesh. This may not seem surprising—except that Zombie Creeping Flesh was censored by its distributors before it got anywhere near British cinemas, let alone home video. It lost nearly all of its stock footage (including the scenes of animal violence, which is the one thing upon which the BBFC and I agree to agree), the eye-poking, and, fascinatingly, most of the hostage crisis – which tells us an awful lot about the world situation at the time. Perhaps “terrorist” isn’t a dirtier word now than it was then. In all, something like 15 minutes of footage were removed before the cinema release of Zombie Creeping Flesh in 1982.
The content of the mondo footage aside, Hell Of The Living Dead is really nothing more than a bit of stupid fun – insulting to the intelligence, if you like, but hardly likely to “deprave and corrupt”. The fact that a significantly cut version of it still managed to end up on the BBFC’s list tells us pretty much all we need to know about the sense of proportion associated with the Nasties campaign.
In the end, however, something that at least vaguely resembled common sense was allowed to prevail. Hell Of The Living Dead had a mixed career as a Nasty. It was successfully prosecuted once, exonerated once, the charges were withdrawn once, and the jury failed to reach a verdict once. Considering this lack of consensus, it is not surprising that the film was finally dropped from the list, failing to make the final cut of 39 “official” Nasties.
Its time hanging with the cool kids did Hell Of The Living Dead no harm, however, but on the contrary a great deal of good, since it suddenly found itself sought by censorship-protestors, researchers, film collectors, and a variety of other obsessives, who went to extraordinary lengths, and extraordinary expense, to hunt it down…just because they were told they couldn’t have it. If the British censors wanted to punish the horror fans of the day, they certainly succeeded when they managed to convince people that a severely cut print of Hell Of The Living Dead was a highly desirable object and a valuable possession.
Note to self: Re-watch Blood Feast and Night Of The Bloody Apes…maybe as a double-bill!
(Take that, BBFC!)
(I know, I know…I’m only hurting myself…)
You and me both, kid.