HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) Reviews and overview

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‘They eat the living’
Hell of the Living Dead is an Italian-Spanish science-fiction horror feature film directed in 1980 by Bruno Mattei [as Vincent Dawn] (Snuff Trap; Cruel JawsThe Other Hell) from a screenplay co-written by Claudio Fragasso (also the assistant director and claims to have filmed as much of half the production).

Originally titled Virus – l’inferno dei morti viventi, it has also been released as Zombie Creeping Flesh and Night of the Zombies

On 28 August 2017, the film was released in the UK on Blu-ray by 88 Films.

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On August 26, 2014, the film was released on Blu-ray in the US by Blue Underground on a double-bill with Bruno Mattei’s Rats: Night of Terror. Special features include:
Bonded By Blood – Interviews with Co-Writer/Co-Director Claudio Fragasso and Stars Margit Evelyn Newton, Franco Garofalo, Ottaviano Dell’Acqua & Massimo Vanni
Hell Rats Of The Living Dead – Interview with Director Bruno Mattei
Theatrical Trailers
Poster and Still Galleries

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As with most of the Italian zombie films of the era, the film was less an imitation of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead than of Lucio Fulci’s attempt to cash in on that movie. Zombie Flesh Eaters proved to be a huge box office hit – outstripping Romero’s film in several territories, including the UK where it opened before the retitled Zombies: Dawn of the Dead – and inspired several rip-offs, of which Virus was one of the first.

The film is a mish-mash of ideas lifted from various popular sources – there is a SWAT team (as in Dawn of the Dead) who are sent for no good reason to Papua New Guinea – i.e. cannibal country – where they are joined by a plucky and frisky journalist (Margit Evelyn Newton) as they try to get past the hordes of flesh-eating zombies that have suddenly and inexplicably appeared.

The SWAT team’s destination is top secret research facility Hope Center #1, where a chemical accident has caused the dead to return to life and lust after the flesh of the living. This, it turns out, is the result of Operation Sweet Death, a cunning but somewhat flawed plan to end world hunger by turning Third World populations into cannibals.


Virus began as a treatment by José María Cunillés and later turned into a full screenplay by Claudio Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi. Dara Films in Spain and Beatrice Films in Rome collaborated to option the script, which was ridiculously ambitious in scope if not plot. Mattei was brought on board due to his experience with low budget trash cinema and attempted to bring the project under control.

Exteriors were shot near Barcelona, Spain but proved to be mostly unusable; rather than re-shoot or rewrite, Dara chose to simply dump the footage and carry on with the rest of the movie. Inevitably, this resulted in a somewhat incoherent plot.

Mattei suggested stock footage from Barbet Schroeder’s 1972 film La Vallée be used, with sets built to match this footage. How successful this matching proves to be is open to debate. Other stock footage – notably of the United Nations – was also included, with close-up shots of a ‘third world leader’ obviously inserted.

The movie has a Goblin score, which might seem impressive if it wasn’t for the fact that all the music was lifted from Dawn of the Dead and Contamination.

The film was released – in a version that had cuts to both gore and narrative – into British cinemas in 1981. Titled Zombie Creeping Flesh, it clearly aimed to cash in on the popularity of Zombie Flesh Eaters but was not a success. Most people saw the film on home video, where it was released in a shortened version and proved moderately popular.

In the US, the film slipped out theatrically virtually unnoticed in 1983 when it was released by MPM as Night of the Zombies. Later DVD editions retitled the film as Hell of the Living Dead, a literal translation of the Italian title.

The combination of messy narrative, shoddy pacing, poor dialogue, sloppy special effects and Mattei’s usual disinterested direction ensures that Virus is a fairly dreadful film. Yet conversely, it’s oddly entertaining, the sheer awfulness of the film giving it the car-crash fascination of the Good Bad Movie.

It’s certainly more fun than most of the other Zombie Flesh Eaters imitators or pseudo sequels, and if you can forget about trying to make sense of the narrative, is amusingly trashy, with enough gore – including a show-stopping scene at the end – and the seemingly requisite female nudity to keep exploitation fans happy.
David Flint, MOVIES and MANIA

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Other reviews:

“This is a terrible movie, but it’s also an enjoyable clip show. The average viewer will be bogged down by the frustrating lack of character development, tedious pace and overwhelming exploitative attitude, but when viewed in short segments so as to not wear out its welcome, the film’s sloppy presentation provides hysterically ludicrous dialogue and inane set pieces that are laugh-out-loud funny.” Arnold T Blumberg, Andrew Hershberger, Zombiemania

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“The movie is largely a quilt of random footage from various mismatched jungle and savannah settings, spliced into but wholly unconnected with the main story line. Though the movie takes an explicitly anti-colonial stance, it consists entirely of European heroes gleefully gunning down natives.” Peter Dendle, The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia

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“The pacing is slow, the dialogue is awful, and the members of the cast are allowed to seriously overact. The characters act in totally unconvincing ways to the threat around […] What this title does have going for it are a few moments of excessive gore.” Zombie Movies: The Ultimate Guide

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