Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Insanometer: Hell of the Living Dead

At this point, I'm beginning to feel like I owe you folks a little bit of an accelerated posting schedule for a while. After all, I did skip a post...or two...it wasn't any more than two, right? In any event, I'll try to speed things up a little for a while, give you some extra bang for your free. Today, it's another test run of the Insanometer as we run it over a good old-fashioned Italian zombie flick from 1980, "Hell of the Living Dead"! (Also known as "Zombie Creeping Flesh", "Zombie Inferno", "Cannibal Virus", "Night of the Zombies", and "Zombi 2: Ultimate Nightmare", on the grounds that you might actually see it six times if you thought it was six different movies.)

Of course, this might be a film from the year 1980, but it looks easily a decade older. The production values on this weren't high to begin with, and most of them went towards gore; decent cameras, films, crowds, actors, and everything else weren't high on the list. In fact, they weren't on the list at all. This is a movie that looks like it was made somewhere around the dawn of color, and that's the remastered version.

The story, though, is a pure aping of whatever was topical and interesting at the time. So we have a zombie crisis ("Dawn of the Dead"), a group of Chuck Norris-esque tough-guy commandos (although they look more like Barry Bostwick in "Megaforce") and a sinister government conspiracy...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

The movie opens with a toxic spill on what looks to be a disused oil rig, but which is actually...um, either intended to be a disused oil rig repurposed as a top-secret lab, or a top-secret lab that the film-makers tried to represent on their budget by filming it on a disused oil rig. The spill creates a bunch of zombies, but destroys a bunch of tension later, because the whole movie is about a journalist teaming up with a group of commandos to find out what's behind the epidemic of zombie flesh-eaters in Papua New Guinea. Since we know from the beginning that it's ooze seeping off of the oil rig/lab, the film is really just an exercise in them getting to what we already know.

Oh, and in watching some of the most spectacular over-acting ever committed to celluloid. The commandos aren't just hard-bitten and gritty, they're borderline psychotic snarling maniacs who are "the best of the best of the best"...and yet do things like charging into a mob of flesh-eating zombies spitting ammunition at random and hoping for the best. Even so, they drop at a plot-required pace, in order of their degree of sympathetic character...um...ness.

They have to contend with zombies, terrorists, and unfriendly natives (the journalist wins over the natives by showing her familiarity with tribal customs. By stripping naked and putting on body paint. My reaction at the time was simply, "Well played, movie. Well played.") Meanwhile, back in New York City, the representative of Papua New Guinea pleads for aid for his beleaguered country to what has to be the most under-attended session of the United Nations ever. They clearly had the budget to rent a big auditorium, but not to get any extras. He's declaiming to maybe five people, tops.

Finally, after much gore and death and violence and blood and deathy bloody violent gory death, they reach the oil rig and find out the chemical was actually doing close to exactly what it was intended to do--apparently, rich people were looking for something to curb over-population, and their solution was a chemical that made poor people eat each other. It's a little bit over-enthusiastic, as seen in an epilogue where New Yorkers are consumed by sinister zombie hordes, but it's a genuine attempt to a solution to a real problem, and I feel like they deserve credit for it.

The plot summary probably makes this sound a little less insane than it is--much of the sheer craziness factor comes from the presentation--but it's still enough for a solid six on the Insanometer. There's a little more "bad" than "crazy" here, but there's plenty of "crazy" for your viewing dollar.

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