Sometimes, you just have to go Italian. Whether it be Ice Cream, football, or movies, Italy has an exotic credibility which other Countries lack – a cultural history going back thousands of years showcasing some of the greatest minds, innovations, and pieces of art our species has ever known. Which brings me aptly to Zombie Creeping Flesh, as seminal a slice of outspoken, challenging genre fiction as you’ll ever see.
Or perhaps, more accurately, a flaccid turd. See, sometimes you go Italian and you remember that at least Hollywood’s horror efforts of the 80s had a budget, maybe a professional actor or two, and didn’t rely on whatever passed for Google translate in pre-Internet days. Zombie Creeping Flesh cashes in on many other stronger Italian gore movies – Zombie Flesh Eaters being one of the most obvious flag-bearers – while borrowing liberally from Romero’s masterworks. It’s a mess by anyone’s standards, and the use of several Goblin tracks taken from other movie soundtracks simply serves to remind you that you could be watching those movies instead.
Still, there are positives. credible and otherwise. Zombie Creeping Flesh (also known as Hell Of The Living Dead; also known as Virus), is helmed by Bruno Mattei who had a varied career in Cinema by the time he took on this project. Known to horror fans for his Nazi exploitation films, he would eventually become known for dubious unofficial remakes and sequels and spins of Hollywood hits – Shocking Dark Terminator 2, Robowars, Strike Commando, and of course the ever delightful Women In Prison sub-genre. You’d think some coherence of plot and some degree of care, or at least the ability to shoot another take if one of the zombie extras was snickering clearly in the background would have been borne out of his years of experience, but no. The film leaps about in time and from scene to scene without explanation, weaving through its bare-bones plot with the grace of a turd dropping from ass to bowl. Somewhere in there is an admittedly interesting environmental subtext, but it’s hardly Romero level satire. What we have is a bunch of scientists causing a zombie outbreak, and the military and journalists caught between trying to contain it, report on it, and escape from it – and even that brief sentence is more complex than the plot. As if to highlight this fact, a notable slice of the running time is taken up by largely unrelated scenes of animals running, hunting and assorted tribal and wildlife footage – surprisingly it isn’t even Mondo stuff, just generic ‘oh look, an elephant’.
So we start with a faintly amusing scene of Scientists realising they have unleashed some toxic gas which turns you into a flesh eating zombie – it amounts basically to someone (a rat) pressing the wrong button. Within moments there is shouting and running and sudden neck chewing. The Scientists are overrun. We skip confusingly to a random mansion where a group of the least threatening hippy-terrorists this side of the Gluten Free Coffee Shop down my road are holding some people hostage. I have no idea who the hostages are, and neither it seems do our gun-totin’ heroes who blast there way in to the room in cavalier fashion, brandishing their firearms in the most bizarre and ineffective way I have ever seen. I think the terrorists wanted the Government/Scientists in the opening scene to stop polluting the world or cutting down trees or something, but it’s not very clear. We then skip to Papa New Guinea where our elite team of 4 marines (who look like went for a few pints down their local in 1976 and never left) because they have to investigate why the Scientists haven’t been communicating, but rather than land at the camp the have to trek for days through the jungle first? By this point I’d lost track of what was going on. They meet a Journalist lady and her porn star cameraman who are maybe doing a report on the Scientists. Zombies attack and rather than leave immediately, they head to the Plant.
There are several bizarre and hilarious moments throughout – in fact most of it is bizarre. The lead actress – her thing seems to be to repeatedly widen and shrink her eyes, when talking, when reacting, when screaming – it’s like she’s in a constant state of surprise, open wide, shrink, open wide, shrink, expand, dilate, repeat. The zombies are at times masters of stealth and dumber than a group of Big Brother presenters. As alluded to already, the zombie performers are hilarious – most are low on make-up but high on not knowing what a camera is as they visibly smirk quite jovially on their swaying arm march of doom. Every so often one catches a squib to the chest – the effects being mostly shoddy – but there is one great moment later in the film when the group is trying to escape in a car only for one zombie to casually open the door of the moving car and get in. From barely being able to walk for most of the movie to struggling to maneuver their way through a front door, this particular zombie has clearly evolved and re-mastered the art of chasing an Uber.
Maybe the strangest scene takes place after one of the several arguments between the soldiers and the journos and moments after they almost died in gruesome fashion. They are suddenly sitting in around a slide in a back garden before one of them goes ‘weee down the slide’ and they all laugh and stare at the camera for a solid ten seconds. Then one of them looks around and says something like ‘Oh, there’s a house, we’d better check it out’. It’s like something from Garth Marenghi complete with bad dubbing. The dubbing and dialogue throughout is cause for giggles too, though I imagine it must be difficult to match meaningful dialogue to the actors’ mouths after the fact. I imagine none of you reading this will feel the desire to watch the movie, but Spoiler Alert if you must, most of the team die in the most unlikely ways. We get the requisite ‘stand with your back to the door’ even though you know there are hundreds of creatures waiting to literally eat you outside. We’ve seen how weak these creatures are – moreso even than in Romero’s hits, yet one guy simply yells as three crowd round him instead of lightly shoulder charging them and walking past, then another guy who has proven to be a reckless badass simply allows himself to be pulled in by a few after taking on a bunch easily himself, multiple times. I assume the running time was getting on and they needing to dispatch our heroes in as cheap a way as possible.
At least we get a suitably bleak ending as Screamy Wide-Eyes Magee has a fist shoved through her mouth and pops her eyes out – though how the survivors allowed fifty zombies to creep up on them is anyone’s guess. Naturally, we also are treated to a shock/twist ending as it turns out that the zombies have reached US shores – how, is anyone’s guess but it wouldn’t be a zombie movie if it didn’t end with everyone in the entire world dying. This is a hard one to recommend to anyone who doesn’t enjoy Italian horror and it’s hardly one of the bright lights. Still, if you haven’t seen it you might get a chuckle out of it this Halloween.
Let us know in the comments what you think of Zombie Creeping Flesh!