Ok, now maths was never my strong point, but I do know this: out of 34 documented Zombie Clubs, only about 3 have been dedicated living dead nights, none of which are Italian. The time was nigh (that’s “now” in a strong Belfast accent) for some bona fide shuffler flesh munching, and where better to turn than to those crazy Italians with a passion for excessive gore, dodgy dubbing, great synthesiser soundtracks and an unwholesome disregard for plot logic.
Italian Zombie Night almost seemed TOO obvious a line-up for ZC, so care had to be taken in getting the balance just right. First up is Godfather of Gore Lucio Fulci’s nonsensical City of the Living Dead from 1980, complete with reinstated claret even on the Vipco DVD release, which has the title of the film in HUGE letters on the cover, instead of the gorgeous original artwork. Never mind. At least it’s uncut.
Now, I’m not sure how this has happened, but this is my second ZC in a row where I’ve managed to pull a Bruno Mattei film out of the bag. Why, I hear you ask? Granted, he’s an inept as they come but his turkeys contain just the right kind of awfulness for ZC. The second flick tonight will be his 1980 piece of shit Zombie Creeping Flesh, but on an Anchor Bay region one version entitled Hell of the Living Dead – the US title. God help us all.
When everyone has turned on their synthesisers we can begin...
This evening's selection was hand picked by Zomblee in association with the Bruno Mattei School of Drama.
City of the Living Dead (1980)
Plot A priest hangs himself in a cemetery in the small town of Dunwich, thus opening the Gates of Hell.
Zomblee Lucio Fulci made this one after the worldwide success of his undead masterpiece, Zombie Flesh Eaters and chose not to continue using a similar voodoo theme, instead opting for a bizarre angle involving a priest who hangs himself, the ‘Book of Enoch’, and the good old Gateway to Hell. In other words, it’s quite similar in terms of approach to his next film, The Beyond, which makes even less sense than this one does.
In City of the Living Dead, the fog-shrouded town of Dunwich is falling apart; people are being killed in horrible, Fulcian ways (i.e. brain-squishing, gut-vomiting, etc) by the undead Father Thomas. The dead are also returning to life but can vanish as quickly as they appear (for some unexplained reason). After a highly attractive medium (played by the delectable Catriona MacColl) has visions of this town during a séance, she and a nosey reporter drive to Dunwich to find out if her visions are real. They are. Of course they are.
Although creepy and atmospheric, City of the Living Dead is a mishmash of ideas and set pieces that don’t seem to go anywhere in the end. The story, in true Fulci style, doesn’t make a lot of sense and most of the acting is a shambles.
But we don't watch a Fulci for the acting. Now on to the gore. This is how Fulci made his mark, so he wasn’t about to take a wimpy, suggestive approach with the follow-up to a film like Zombie Flesh Eaters. Oh no. Fulci’s set pieces are superb value for money – the gut-vomiting, the head drilling, the worm/maggot hand-in-face action, even the maggot storm – they all deliver with cash back and turn this otherwise slightly dull experience into an altogether more fun place to be.
With a suitably haunting synth score by Zombie Flesh Eaters' own Fabio Frizzi (the end passage is a variation on his classic ZFE theme), good locations and a lot of smoke machines, Fulci turns in a slightly above average early 80’s zombie flick. One thing to remember though - the zombies aren’t great and there certainly aren’t enough of them.
It’s too easy to slag off Fulci, but at least he didn’t resort to stock footage and stealing music from other films, unlike the director of the next film tonight.
"Are you familiar with the Book of Enoch?"
Rawshark Yes, it’s easy to slag off Fulci, but it’s equally as easy to just sit back, enjoy the visuals and (especially with the case of this film) throw caution to the wind as far as plot and narrative go. City of the Living Dead is Fulci’s second zombie film, and the first part of his Gothic trilogy (see also The Beyond and House by the Cemetery) and although the ending in COTLD makes little sense (horror’s theme of unresolved conflict is extremely evident here), there are plenty of set-pieces and fog-filled visuals to more than compensate.
Probably the most famous of these is the drill through the head of expendable Italian actor John Morghen seen here in all its uncut glory. “Oh, they’re going to milk this one” said Jim as the lethal drill bit inched closer and closer to Morghen’s temple until it finally pierced skin, chewed flesh and popped out of the cheek on the other side. Great gooey Fulci of the highest order – that’ll teach Morghen to mess around with self-inflating sex dolls. Another gore highlight just has to be the demise of the couple in the car (the guy is future Dellamorte director Michelle Soavi), bleeding eyes, foaming mouth, pig-gut-puking and all. Jim especially liked that one.
There are also great scenes of pure cinematic tension, including the coffin-burying scene that features Perry Pirkanen (whose was only ever in two other movies, namely Cannibals Holocaust and Ferox) as one of two gravediggers who accidentally bury poor psychic Mary alive. Luckily Peter the reporter is on hand to dig her out, and while his method of pick axing the roof of the coffin inches from the face of the screaming girl is probably not the safest way to do these type of things, it sure looks good (and horrifying) on screen.
It’s not the greatest Fulci zombie film out there (that honour surely must belong to ZFE), but if you, like Zomblee, love seeing maggots rubbed in people’s faces, and don’t mind some appalling acting (expressionless beardy psychiatrist man and girl from Eaten Alive in particular), plot (il)logic and a botched mistake of an ending then you’ll find something to enjoy here. Pretty good zombies too.
“A few beers and you guys see ghouls and demons all over the place.”
Jim Jesus, you guys are never happy. I thought the ending was surprisingly good, a fuck of a lot better than I was expecting it to be anyway. They knew the priest, who by hanging himself under the ‘right circumstances’ had opened the gates to hell, had to die again. So they kill him, and the gate closes, although not before they walk very slowly through a set that looks very expensive. “Imagine if you were walking around that set – you’d think you were in a really good film!” – Zomblee. Alright, maybe the ending is a bit ropey.
And the start’s not much better. “I remember this being shit,” I said. “So do I,” agreed Rawshark, but then again I don’t think either of us had seen this uncut. Zomblee had, which is why he had such a big grin on his face. He knew about all the brain squeezing, the head drilling, the gut puking (“The puking up was good, yeah…” – Rawshark) and, obviously, the maggots. When the zombie teleports in (they do a lot of that) with a fist full of maggots I stupidly asked out loud: what was he going to do with them? “What do you think he’s going to do with them? He’s gonna rub maggots in her face!” Oh yeah, of course he is, thanks Zomblee.
But there’s a lot more fun to be had than just that. The guy getting his wrist bitten provided a laugh or two (“a brief wrist bite…” - thanks Rawshark) and Mrs Holden’s dead body reappearing in the kitchen is very amusing in a twisted way, but the biggest gross out scene must be the maggot storm, where all the principals dutifully stand there while buckets and buckets of live maggots are chucked at them, thanks I assume to some big huge fan off screen. It goes on for ages, makes no sense to the plot and none of the actors look like they’re having much fun either. And anyway, “why didn’t they just move to another room?” I don’t know Rawshark, I really don’t.
So, great guts and gore, sod all else to recommend. Not much of a date movie either, but then Zombie Club movies never are. Besides, what do you expect from a film with a bad guy priest that looks like Terry Wogan after a barbeque accident with a load of Sugar Puffs stuck to his face?
“Sheriff Roberts, what the Dickens is this?”
Director Lucio Fulci
Cast Christopher George
Carlo De Mejo
Giovanni Lombardo Radice
Runtime 90 mins
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Zombie Creeping Flesh (1980)
Plot Four idiot mercenaries and a reporter/cameraman crew fight zombies amongst stock footage in Papua, New Guinea.
Jim Okay, let's hit the ground running with this one. Zombie Creeping Flesh (aka Hell of the Living Dead, aka Virus, aka umpteen other titles) chronicles the adventures and eventual demise of the most incompetent idiot SWAT mercenaries the world has ever seen. The film opens (give or take a scene or two) with our 'heroes' (two guys that look like Lee Majors, a Jasper Carrott look-a-like and a long haired idiot) 'storming' a hostage situation back in their native Italy (they don't even bother to pretend that it's New York this time). Then the action shifts to them on a top secret mission in Papua New Guinea, where they have to, err, um, actually I don't know what their plan was. Probably feature in a crap Italian zombie movie, or something.
But before long they bump into a reporter, a cameraman and a couple of other people with a zombie kid who are obviously going to die any minute at the hands of slow, shuffling zombies that they initially confuse with sufferers from a leper colony. “A leprechaun!?” No Rawshark, a leper colony. They also bump into a bunch of cannibals who are added to the plot for no apparent reason, and a lot of stock jungle footage (which is a different grain of film and shot years before, just to make the whole effect seem even more unconvincing).
Anyway, much fun is had by watching the lead actress strip off to ‘be one with the natives’ as she claims to have spent a year with the cannibals learning their ways, although it looks like she’s only learnt to finger paint her own boobs. The cannibals themselves are also a real giggle, although they could have made a bit more effort as the stock footage cannibals make the studio cannibals look like they’ve wandered in off the set of Tiswas. The zombies too aren’t much better, having that fairly ropey blue face make-up thing and a gormless expression going on, although as Rawshark says, “the zombies are much better actors that the main cast!”
And don’t get me started on the number of times one of those idiots shoots a zombie in the chest, even though they work out very early on that the headshot is the only real stopper. Told you they were the most incompetent idiot SWAT mercenaries the world has ever seen…
“I’d rather listen to the radio than hear your crap!”
Rawshark “Shoot them in the head! In the head!” shouted Jim for about the fourteenth time in the movie. Really, you would have thought these ‘elite’ mercenaries would have at least learnt that particular Zombie rule with three-quarters of the film gone, but no, on they go shooting everything they see in every body part but the head. Stupid SWAT team – no wonder they all die at the end.
This was my first time of seeing Bruno Mattei’s classless zombie classic, Zombie Creeping Flesh. As a zombie fan, I don’t know whether to be proud or ashamed of that fact. I’ll take a smidgeon of both, for while ZCF really is one of the worst movies ever made, it does have a lot going for it in a perverse kinda way. There’s much hilarity to be found with the SWAT team and their special manoeuvres in corridors, their dialogue – “Looks like buildings. And a Vehicle!”, and their inclination for putting on green dresses and top hats (well, ok only one of them does that, but thankfully he dies straight after).
Margit Evelyn Newton is the actress who provides the eye candy half way through by stripping topless (nice unsubtle close-up Mattei!) and going native. Her wander around the stock footage is both hilarious and quite disturbing with some fairly gruesome graphic shots of putrefying corpses and people eating maggots from dead people’s empty eye sockets. Nice. Perhaps the highlight though is the scene from the UN emergency meeting where a Third World representative accuses the rest of the world (well, the Western world at least) for the disaster, ranting and raving about his people being turned to savage beasts, only to be told by an upper-class white politician “Well, we’ll continue tomorrow, your Excellency. Good Night.” Ecological and social commentary? Zomblee just sat in the corner muttering ‘ridiculous’ to himself, which I thought was a fairer comment.
ZCF really is scraping the bottom of the barrel entertainment. It truly is a terrible, terrible movie, but it is just about saved by some great music (nicked from Contamination and Dawn of the Dead), fairly decent pacing and both intentional (“What’s eating you?”) and (more often than not) unintentional humour. Perfect Zombie Club fodder.
“Just be carefully you don’t get your balls wasted.”
Zomblee On the accompanying interview on this Anchor Bay disc, Bruno Mattei states that he would like to remake all of his films. You’d think that somewhere along the rocky, entrail-lined path he might learn something or two about how to make films acceptable on the first submission. Or rather, the importance of characters you actually give a shit about. I hated these guys. And so will you.
Zantoro (John Garfield) is one of the stupidest characters ever portrayed in the history of cinema (Rawshark agrees with me: “He really is a terrible, terrible soldier”) and tonight I even felt ashamed to have long hair in case it would indicate some kind of mutual matter of taste with this inept, over-excitable dickhead. The rest of the so-called experts aren’t much better either. The fact that two of the SWAT team look almost identical (like Lee Majors) is just the kind of unfortunate casting that only Mattei could be responsible for.
The stock footage (taken from La Vallée) comes in abundance, but the fun comes when we see how Mattei attempts to match what he shoots with the ‘borrowed’ stock footage from the other film. In one tribal scene, during a tribal shindig, the tribal chief is wearing a huge tribal mask (you know the kind of thing I’m talking about here – it’s all gone tribal at this point), then it cuts back to Mattei’s movie to show a slightly similar looking character taking off a tiny papier-mâché mask and giving it to the white bird with paint on her tits. Let’s just say that Mattei’s continuity between stock footage and his own doesn’t exactly flow.
The zombies are average and some of them seem to have developed a strange, jerky walk (which on the sleeve notes is likened to Joe Cocker’s pseudo-spastic onstage moves). They’re as inconsistent as you’d expect from Mattei though (anyone remember Zombie Flesh Eaters 3?). The white-robed priest at the beginning is good value for money and is worth seeing for being the most happy-to-see-you zombie in horror history. That particular scene is also worth seeing just for that tune Goblin wrote for Contamination. In fact, pretty much all the music in Zombie Creeping Flesh is top-notch, even though it was stolen from other films.
I had appreciation for their determination for negotiation of the power station location to the music from Contamination in this abomination about the effects of Operation Sweet Death. But that wasn’t enough. I needed more. Parts of the film are stolen from another film and so is the music. This is second hand horror. This is Bruno Mattei. Bruno Mattei, you really do suck.
“I don’t like the sound of those drum beats.”
Director Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Cast Margit Evelyn Newton
Josep Lluís Fonoll
Cesare Di Vito
Runtime 99 mins
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As were trying to limit the amount of crap we write for Zombie Club, various observations made on the night have not made it into the above. Take, for example, the sound of screaming monkeys in City of the Living Dead. What are they doing in New England? Why don’t we see them? And why are they upset? We may never know the answers but I suppose anything can happen when you leave the keys to Hell with a priest who looks like a young Terry Wogan (after a barbecue accident).
Thankfully, the abomination that is Zombie Creeping Flesh was sensibly listed second on the bill tonight (we’ve had experience now you see). Alcohol is most definitely necessary to get through this one and probably helped to make it a more enjoyable experience than Fulci’s Lovecraftian, grue-punctuated gibberish.
In the end though, I have to raise my glass to Goblin's funky horror movie musical magic, because during Zombie Creeping Flesh I looked around the room and to my delight witnessed four heads nodding to the beat of those crazy Italian prog-rockers.
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