Zombie Creeping Flesh / Virus
Italy / Spain, 1980
Review by Paul Garcia
Posted on 13 June 2006
Source Anchor Bay DVD
Bruno Mattei constructs Hell of the Living Dead from the remains of zombie and cannibal films past, resulting in a cinematic offal: a film intensely comprehensive in its efforts to cynically plumb and plunder, comical in its bombast and jolting, inappropriate reaction shots, and valiant in its ability to interweave gonzo politics with cultural ignorance. The result is a miserable hodgepodge of genre conventions, so inept in all facets as to transcend its objective badness and become an inadvertent parody. Global polity butts heads with ethnographic exploitation by way of Mondo Cane outrageousness, and sociological implications are hacked to pieces by bad-taste hijinks and unfurling streams of butcher shop viscera. Shards of Romero, Lenzi, Fulci, and Deodato are stripped from their original moorings and pulverized, xeroxed, and so clumsily cobbled together with endless reams of New Guinea stock wildlife footage that the seams are perfectly clear.
Mattei isn’t content to deal in the sly critique of consumerism and national race relations of George Romero’s first two Dead entries; instead, he takes the politics of Romero and balloons it into a laughably ambitious, leaden macro analysis and indictment of the global village’s abuse and manipulation of Third World nations. The audaciousness of Mattei’s sociopolitical statement defuses itself when the New Guinea natives appear in reels of mondo documentary footage, featuring choice cuts of tribal death rituals and maggot eating. It’s a sneering, half-hearted stab at producing a collection of sensational images, in the vein of Africa Addio and the original Mondo Cane, but the shock of those films is drained, replaced instead by comical disgust. The repugnant, real life animal atrocities that pepper such cannibal cinema benchmarks as Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust and Umberto Lenzi’s Deep River Savages are displaced by grainy, randomly inserted loops of small monkeys leaping from tree to tree or elephants on parade—mundane animal stock footage acts as a substitute for minced live turtle and monkey eviscerations, an accidental and nonetheless remarkable parody of animal debasement.
The zombies are molded into goofy spoofs from previous hallmarks of the genre; the impressive, worm-eaten rot of Fulci is supplanted by a crusty-faced facsimile, amusing as it looks like it is made with the stock of a crafts store. A handful of bloodless, powder-blue-faced leftovers from Romero’s oeuvre are arbitrarily dropped in amongst the decayed and splattered undead majority. Again cribbing from Romero, Mattei’s protagonists are distorted caricatures culled from Dawn of the Dead, with Wooley, Dawn’s rampaging SWAT psychopath, serving as the prototype for the sadistic, half-witted anti-terror squad sent into the bowels of New Guinea. Bawdy and unwilling to adapt to the rules of zombie engagement, they display a stupidity that places them firmly below their stutter-stepping adversaries, continuously aiming for the body after being told to shoot for the head.
Crassness, barbarism and chic nihilism all conflate to produce a predictably grisly end, and Mattei gets to flaunt his fashionable hopelessness in humanity—which is more evident in his contempt for the audience than is present in the film itself.