Warning! This post contains adult content!
Sometimes when you’re watching a zombie film, you’d like there to be artistry, characterization, and a social message. But sometimes, you just need a transfusion of gratuitous gore and campy thrills. If you’re looking for the latter, look no further than Hell of the Living Dead.
In a New Guinean chemical research facility, a leak causes the bodies of the recently dead to reanimate, starting with a rat who, despite being a zombie, can navigate the folds of a contamination suit. Soon enough, the entire plant is overrun with flesh-eating zombies that soon spread to the local native population before a team of commandos are brought in to divine the reason for the severed communication with the facility, known as Hope Center 1.
So much of the plot is incomprehensible that you might not be able to figure any of this out without a guide, but plot is secondary to action in any given B-movie. Rest assured, the commandos are both competent and idiotic, pointing out to each other that the zombies can only be killed with a headshot then shooting anywhere but, and any semblance of their mission is lost in an explosive array of New Guinean stock footage rent from the flesh of the pseudo-documentary La Vallée, perhaps most famous for its Pink Floyd score in the form of their album Obscured by Clouds.
But why should any of that matter?
As an ardent adherent to Joe Bob Briggs’ three Bs of schlocky films (namely Beasts, Blood, and Boobs), it was hard for me to not see Hell of the Living Dead as a success. A very crappy one, of course, though perhaps not as abhorrently shitty as similarly themed post-Dawn of the Dead zombie films like Nightmare City and certainly an improvement on Erotic Nights of the Living Dead. Where Nightmare City is a non-stop barrage of bad gore effects and listless protagonists staring ineffectually at people being slaughtered, Hell of the Living Dead tempers this standard by making sure you get an adequate payoff. Indeed, some of the zombie head shots and shockingly gory kills rival the work of Lucio Fulci.
And Hell of the Living Dead has possibly the most gratuitous shot of breasts I’ve seen in any film.
As previously mentioned, about a quarter of the Hell of the Living Dead’s run-time is spent establishing the locale through the use of New Guinean wildlife footage, and the middle of the film is a hodge-podge of thinly plotted native interaction that nevertheless fulfills the crummy premise’s promise of gross-outs, including a stomach-churning vision of maggots in an eviscerated corpse and a preponderance of people throwing up when they witness shocking acts of violence by children and decomposition first-hand. While verisimilitude is not the strength of Hell of the Living Dead, it is a relief to see people hurling when they encounter gross stuff.
While the film dances around some fringe social commentary about a Western solution to the poverty of third world nations, nothing coalesces, at least not in a way that makes sense. Fortunately, the director, who is listed as Vincent Dawn but is actually Bruno Mattei, is humble enough to admit he would re-shoot Hell of the Living Dead if given the opportunity. The result is an uneven dalliance of exploitative gore that was re-written, re-shot, and re-edited, ending up with a Goblin score with some tracks ripped directly from Dawn of the Dead, but there can be no doubt that any Goblin score can instantly elevate a film.
In short, Hell of the Living Dead is about as far as you can get from perfect thanks to the uninspired production design and aesthetic clearly stolen from Dawn of the Dead, but if you were running a checklist on things you wanted to see in a zombie film, you might be surprised at how many bases this covers while remaining watchable and ultimately entertaining. Fortunately the wonderful folks over at Blue Underground recognized the cult appeal of Hell of the Living Dead and saw fit to release it on a cheap, high-quality DVD so the masses could enjoy it.