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HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980): Retro Review…Cheap, Trashy Goodness

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Hell of the Living Dead – 1980

The trend today, at least in mainstream horror films, seems to be to broaden the scope of the genre by trying to appeal to a larger audience; films like Sinister, Insidious, The Conjuring, and others are going more cerebral in their approach, attracting some name actors into well-crafted films to draw in the “normal” people as well as we Fellow Fans.  Of course, we still have the indie filmmakers that are turning out stuff that we still consider quality, but I speak with a surprising number of peeps that don’t really understand the concept of a “bad” horror flick; they don’t get that sometimes, things like plot and good acting really don’t matter, so long as the movie is fun.

And that brings me to Hell of the Living Dead, a.k.a Virus, Night of the Zombies, Zombie Creeping Flesh, Apocalipsis Canibal, and/or several other titles, depending upon where you saw it.  It rode the wave of Italian zombie/cannibal flicks that flooded the early ’80s after the successes of Cannibal Holocaust and Argento’s cut of Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (released simply as Zombi in Europe).  If you’re familiar with this phase of horror history, you know the Italian modus operandi:  make it cheap, and make it gory as all hell.  This particular entry into the mix, one of my all-time favorite “so-bad-it’s-good” films, doesn’t disappoint.

We begin at the Hope Center #1, a secret chemical research plant in New Guinea, where some kind of accident results in a leak in the containment tanks.  A clean up crew is dispatched, protective suits and all, but an infected rat gets in one of the suits, and with a suitably blood-soaked scene, the rat attacks the tech and all hell promptly breaks loose.

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THIS reporter goes all out for her stories…

The film then sharply cuts to a commando team in some European country, sent to end a terrorist incident involving another Hope Center (apparently, it’s environmental terror, as the “bad guys” seem obsessed with shutting these facilities down).  Here we’re shown the prowess of this military group to get the job done with extreme prejudice; the terrorists are quickly “neutralized”, no questions asked.  This unit is then quickly flown to New Guinea, as (surprise!) communications have been lost with Hope Center #1.  Once there and beginning their move inland, the commandos cross paths with a high-profile journalist and her camera team, there for the separate issue of strange, bloody attacks on the native population.  The news crew tags along with the soldiers for safety, and it’s a damn good thing; the first all-but-deserted village they come across is infested with undead cannibals.  As their interior progress becomes less mission and more survival-oriented, it’s apparent that they have a full-scale epidemic on their hands…

Now, that little synopsis sounds both familiar and, in the context of zombie flicks, reasonable, yes?  Well, trust me, folks, this film is neither typical nor reasonable.  The plot is as bare-bones as it can get (and often, totally deviated from with no given reason), and random events pepper the film like seeds in a watermelon.  Apparently, the movie was far too short upon completion of principal photography to suit the director, Bruno Mattei, so he incorporated footage from other films, not really giving a good shit if it made sense or not.  Some of the footage, like that from La Vallée , a French film about a woman’s quest for self-discovery, at least takes place in a jungle setting and somewhat meshes with the overall scenery. 

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Hmmm…this looks familiar, somehow…

Other footage (mostly random, National Geographic-type animal footage) often comes at ya outta nowhere and isn’t relevant to the story (or even the surrounding scenes) at all.   WTF?!? moments aren’t limited to just the odd stock footage inserts, either; the script itself delves into irrelevant insanity at times.  There are two scenes in particular that will always stick out to me; I won’t spoil anything, but if you haven’t seen the movie and decide to give it a go, watch for a top hat and a cat; respectively, each is an element of one of the scenes I’m talking about.  The acting ranges from ridiculously hammy to way-too-serious for this type of film; mix those two extremes, and you get some really, really strange dialogue and situations.  It’s also painfully obvious that some of the costumes and music were direct imitations (in the case of the music, actual unauthorized use) of the American “Dead” films, but considering how many of these flicks “borrowed” from Romero’s ideas in those times, it’s kinda forgivable.  The movie is a treat for gorehounds; as was always the case in this era, the Italians went completely overboard with the blood and guts, and I found the film particularly satisfying in this department (the ending scene is still in my top ten favorite gore scenes).   It had eviscerations, brain splatter, eyeball popping…hell, even a zombie kid; for the film to be over thirty years old, the concepts put forward and the practical effects are still pretty damned good.

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Peekaboo!

You can likely tell that I’m not gonna perjure/insult myself by trying to sell this as a “good” zombie movie (or “good” any kinda movie, for that matter); however, I have personally always found it to be one hell of a lot of fun (pun intended), and it’s one of those I always like to plug in when I have a few horror-minded friends over.

If you’re a hardcore zombie fan and/or someone (like myself) that appreciates a campy, insane time in front of the screen punctuated by liberal blood ‘n’ guts, you should give this one a watch.  I’m telling ya out front, the flick is nonsensical, bloody, and full of goofy crap…

…but it’s high on my list of entertaining crap.  🙂

–Mouse

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Andrew Thompson

Editor-In-Chief at LeglessCorpse
The Mouse...VP/co-owner of LC Films, Editor-In-Chief of LeglessCorpse.com...just your average guy with what is most likely an unhealthy affinity for horror movies, sci-fi, superheroes, bacon, old cartoons and horror movies. Oh, I almost forgot, I really dig horror movies; new ones, old ones, it matters not; I love 'em. Husband, father, veteran and scribbler. I like bacon as well. The Mouse abides 😉

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