I thought I'd approach the reviewing process as if I'd inadvertantly entered an alternative universe where the Italian exploitation movement of the 70s and 80s had been mistaken for the new rennaissance. I think if I can write so much crap about what's going on in Hell of the Living Dead, then these art critics are mostly talking utter bollocks about what passes for real art.
Have a look and give us your views. Might not work on those who've had an irony bypass...
Apologies for the length of this too
Zombie Creeping Flesh aka Virus aka Island of the Living dead: a critique by Brian Sewell.
You know, there’s nothing I like better than settling down, with a glass of fine Barolo, to immerse myself in the delights of a Bruno Mattei film.
For me, Mattei is the auteur of auteurs, the apotheosis of Italian Film Directors. No one, not even the deliberate clumsiness of Andrea Bianchi, nor the boredom-as-art works of Tonino Ricci, can stand up to the intricate and sometimes surreal enigmas that Mattei presents to his public. I find it no mere coincidence that even though the world of the moving picture has moved on, and most Italian directors have passed on to that boarded up, zombie besieged house in the sky, Mattei is still churning out films at an alarming rate. Taking post-modernism to its conclusion, Mattei these days is paying homage to himself by releasing a sequel to what is perhaps his Magnum Opus: Zombie Creeping Flesh.
Unfairly maligned upon its release, Mattei’s jungle-based zombie film has been labelled ‘Absolute garbage’ and ‘Utterly crap from beginning to end’. These typically over the top reactions are an indication that the world has never quite been able to figure out Mattei’s raison d’etre. I, through hours of painstaking research, have a last been able to understand Mattei’s true intention with this film.
This film is an onion.
An onion has many layers. The outer layer is unpalatable, unsightly. Perhaps dirty and on occasion mouldy. Zombie Creeping Flesh, superficially, is similar. It appears at first to be an ill-thought out zombie film with a careless approach to plot, acting and what have you. Upon initial screening the viewer might feel cheated, even angry, that they have had to endure such inept attempts at suspense and gore.
However, like an onion, the outer layer must be peeled away in order to discover the delectable insides. Zombie Creeping Flesh should be compared to a very large onion, a Spanish one perhaps (ironic, as the film was made in a park in Spain), because once the viewer peels away the skin of this film, they will find a confusing environmentalist plot and terrible dialogue interspersed with random stock footage. Sometimes one must work with an onion to find the succulent parts, and such is the case with this masterwork. Perhaps the initial flesh of the onion is too green, and one must dig to find the whiter, juicier parts.
It is at this point, when the viewer has, through repetition of watching the film (mimicking the repetition in the film itself of the character’s re-learning of how to kill a zombie), that the true themes of the film become apparent. Zombie Creeping Flesh reveals itself to be a contemporary study of the confusing state of modern machismo.
The film makes its intentions clear from the outset, with the opening shot being of an industrial chimney rising up into the sky. Phallic symbols will be prevalent throughout the running time of the film. Within this so-called ‘Hope Centre’ two scientists are discussing their sexual exploits. Scriptwriter Claudio Fragasso peppers the dialogue with surreal references – in this instance, he makes it clear that scientists taking about sex will always use euphemisms linked to science. ‘Her reactions in bed are amazing’, one says, while Mattei brings the scene back round to it’s analysis of machismo by having the other actor simply mutter ‘I’m a tit man myself’.
Cleverly, in this one scene Mattei makes the whole point of his film clear. One scientist finds a dead rat (symbol of female subjugation), the rat comes back to life (a nod to feminism), and kills one scientist (a premonition of the ‘power-suited female’ of the eighties). This starts a chain reaction where the undead (a metaphor for the ‘new man’ phenomenon’) get up and start eating other people. Here Mattei pre-empts anyone else in cinema by predicting the rise of political correctness, and thus the title Hope Centre makes sense, with a hint of irony.
The next scene, which I won’t go into detail with, involves our four protagonists (a SWAT team) ending a hostage situation with the massacre of some environmentalists. The environmental issue, however, is a red herring. What in actual fact is happening here, and in the next scene, is the establishing of the macho tier system within the Team itself. I shall describe the four-man team thusly, for here is where the real intellectual meat of the film lies:
Max: Bottom of the pecking order. Suffers from male pattern baldness and height issues. Exhibits aspirations of being a light entertainer. Vomits easily. Not an exemplary specimen of machismo.
Zantaro: Wild eyed, grotesquely ugly man. Not very tall. Has a tendency of not being able to keep his emotions in check. Mildly more macho than Max. Can’t communicate with women, threatens them with a gun instead (another phallic symbol. Note Zantaro refers to it ‘not being loaded’ – a reference to impotency).
Osborne: Second in command. Tall, chiselled. Has slight communication problems with women which results in him offering them chewing tobacco and making lewd, sexist comments. Much more macho than the previous two.
Lt Mike London: The leader. Chiselled, muscular, inarticulate. Keeps women in their place. Is so macho he doesn’t actually exhibit any emotion at all.
The hierarchy is established. The entire plot from here on out is simply a metaphor for the journey each of these men make within themselves. If we look upon the trail they travel on as their own internal struggle with their macho self images, and the increasing frequency of homosexual subtext, the film itself becomes more than a simple series of contrived action pieces. What do these men want from themselves? Is the succumbing to the bites of the zombies actually a self-awakening to one’s own realisation that machismo is a futile pursuit (this would tie in with the zombie-plague-as-political-correctness theme)? Is a man’s only refuge from the rise of feminism within the arms of his fellow man? As usual, Mattei shrouds him film’s messages in ambiguity.
The homosexual references are, if tied in with the various phallic symbols, paramount. Each Swat Team member carries a machine gun, and yet throughout the film are unable to actually kill any zombie efficiently, which refers once again to sexual inadequacy. There are hints that relations between team members are more than just professional. Zantoro reacts badly to the death of Max, even going so far as to imitate him, albeit briefly. Lt London reacts badly to Osbourne offering the female journalist some tobacco so much so that he flies into a jealous rage and punches him. Max dresses in a tutu and starts dancing (a reference I believe to Berlin drag acts), London shouts ‘Up your arse’ in a less than subtle hint and all four team members react to Newton’s character stripping off like they are watching a documentary on gardening.
It’s no coincidence that the team members die in the very order that their hierarchy works. The least macho characters die (or succumb) first, in a show that only the most durable machismo can withstand the onset of political correctness. In the end, Mattei shows us that even the most hardy of males will eventually be driven under (or at least bitten on the neck) by change.
Even the epilogue supports this: a heterosexual couple bicker over a cigarette, and the girl abandons her boyfriend. The result: they are consumed by the PC plague. The deaths of female characters is another hint that political correctness is all consuming: Even female self-identifiers will be eroded by it. When the female reporter’s tongue and eyes are removed from her head, we are all too aware the Mattei is telling us that it is all her own fault.
Mattei, however, is no fool. He’s not going to put his eggs all in one basket. Rather than completely over-emphasize the machismo/political correctness issue, he occasionally takes a detour through other themes. He displays some sort of reverse Oedipus scenario with the zombie child, his mother and his father. The child consumes the father, the mother is killed at the hands of a zombie priest (this is a superb stab at the Catholic church at this point, a barbed criticism of the Vatican’s treatment of women during the Inquisition).
Playing second fiddle throughout the film, and more than likely overlooked due to its expert integration into the film itself, is the stock footage. Many have charged Mattei with the crime of being a hack, but they have overlooked that the stock footage in this film serves a purpose other than that of padding out the running time: it blurs the very edges of the border between fantasy and reality. When a SWAT team member looks through his binoculars, he isn’t just looking at a random image swiped from a mondo film Pink Floyd made a soundtrack for, he’s looking out of the fantasy world of celluloid into our world. Mattei is saying ‘change is happening to my creations, but it will soon happen to you’. Pink flamingo footage continues the repressed homosexuality theme.
There are many other aspects, vignettes, and topical morsels strewn throughout the film, too much even for me to list. I’ve still to uncover what Mattei is implying from a racial point of view, what he means by the whole ‘Sweet Death’ thing (unless it’s a cheeky swipe at La Dolce Vita), and why he feels the need for the viewers to see a rigor mortis induced erection. Such are the delights of this film, and many are the layers than can be peeled away to reveal more surprises. Zombie Creeping Flesh is a large onion indeed.