Aka – Apocalipsis canibal, Cannibal Virus, Hell of the Living Death, Night of the Zombies, Virus, Virus cannibale, Virus – L’inferno dei morti viventi, Zombie Creeping Flesh, Zombie Inferno, and Zombie of the Savanna (!)
This is very much a movie of two halves, but not the way you might think. The first half is the zombie makeup, and associated special effects. Those guys are amazing, as it’s chock full of very gross blood and gore which had this jaded reviewer grimacing a few times, with the mutilated faces looking very “realistic”. The second half is, sadly, everything else.
This movie is spectacularly bad. Even the least discerning zombie movie enthusiast will be shouting abuse at the screen before all is said and done, and it contains a scene of such blatant sexism that my wife (a zombie movie enthusiast) lost her cool and went “fuck this movie, and fuck all men who make movies”. So strap in, readers, and get ready for a few hundred words of angry disbelief!
First things first, Papua New Guinea. A beautiful and fascinating place, no doubt, but not really the place to situate your chemical research lab (called “Hope Centre”), and not just because there’s pretty much zero infrastructure (especially in 1980). You’d have to hike for days through the jungle to get to the coast, to sail to Australia, to then drive for several days through the bush to get to a city, if you needed repairs doing, or supplies. How do you build a massive factory in the middle of the jungle? How did they transport the thousands of tons of steel and concrete? As we see, there are basically no roads. Anyway, this is just the intro to this wonderful movie, which could be summed up with “they really thought this was good enough to release? Really?”
The research centre that definitely isn’t an abandoned factory outside Madrid is trying to figure out eternal life, I think. Honestly, this movie is so garbled that you ought to be happy to be just getting that much information. Two sleazily sexist safety inspectors are looking round “the most sterile part of the facility” when they find a rat, which immediately savages one of them, killing him and zombie-ing him up sharpish. Now, haz-mat suits are usually to cover the entire body, but this movie couldn’t find any, so they just put the hood part on, with skin and shoes exposed – plus, there’s a corrugated iron wall visible, with light bleeding out from underneath. Did they not even try to dress the set?
I’ll give them credit, though, we see zombies going hog-wild on humans by the 8 minute mark, an almost unheard-of speedy first appearance – not speedy in terms of movement, though, these are good old arms-out shufflers. They give you a flavour of what the actual living humans in this movie are going to be like in this scene as well, where a second group go looking for the first group, fully armed and ready. A zombie rises up from the floor and munches on a guy’s neck, and the guy behind them, who is both armed and can see everything that’s going on, does absolutely nothing. If you take a shot every time a human doesn’t respond to very obvious and very imminent danger, you’d probably be drunk enough to enjoy this movie quite quickly.
In what I thought was going to the other thread of plot, but is really just a quick way to introduce…the heroes?…we see a bunch of euro-terrorists holding up the US consulate in Spain, who know about the Hope Centres and their genetic experiments. Interpol has a group of four commandos who get sent in to clear them up (take a shot when the terrorists just let the cops shoot them without raising their guns or defending themselves). These four, after such sterling work, are sent to Papua New Guinea to find out why the Hope Centre isn’t communicating with the outside world.
The other main group is a TV crew, sent undercover to film what’s going on in Papua New Guinea. After two of the TV crew get eaten (take a shot) thanks to their kid turning into a zombie, it’s commandos, TV star, and cameraman, wandering through a few local villages and then the Hope Centre. The village scenes are entirely for the purposes of padding the running time, and feature footage from a few other “documentaries”, showing real funeral rites and what looks like real cannibalism, along with footage of animals which may or may not be native to the island. When one of the dead-but-not-buried comes back to life, the villagers show they’re just as good at not defending themselves or running away from zombies as Westerners (take several shots).
So much of this movie is people doing dumb things or stuff happening for no reason. Take the entire time on the island as an example. The commandos are moving across poor terrain to get to a river to get to the Hope Centre. The problem is, when we see them put their dinghy in the river, it’s very clearly an ocean, and when their little trip ends, it’s an ocean too. Why didn’t they just get dropped off right outside the base rather than on the far side of a zombie and cannibal-infested island? Then there’s the scene where main lady Lia has to strip naked, paint herself a bit, then run in front of the car – allegedly to protect them from violent villagers, the jiggling boobies just being a bonus (this is the scene that caused my wife so much anger).
All-time no.1 “oh my god, you people are too dumb to be able to remember to breathe in and out” moment is the shooting of zombies. They figure out headshots are the way to go admirably quickly, but throughout the rest of the movie the apparently well-trained commandos waste endless bullets shooting zombies in the chest, needing to be angrily reminded to aim for the head on several occasions. When the guy who looks like a methed-out Klaus Kinski shoots a bunch of zombies in the chest, then acts surprised when not only don’t die, but grab him and start eating him (although not surprised enough to bother fighting them off), I wanted to throw something heavy either at the TV or my own head, to wipe out the memory of this terrible terrible movie.
When you’ve got over the entire cast being unwilling to lift a finger to save themselves from being eaten (and how the commandos are scum, which really means the heroes of this movie are zombies), you can dwell on such things as the producers putting a real live cat inside a fake dead body then getting it to claw its way out, obviously extremely distressed; how they find a house in the jungle full of old (dead) white people, and how at least a few of the villagers are white guys painted up; or the extremely weird UN meeting, with about five countries attending despite it being about the literal end of the world.
I guess we ought to be impressed this movie got made at all. Originally, it was going to be about the entire Third World being zombies, and the West having to fight them; but that would have cost way too much money. Then the finished movie made absolutely no sense, so the producers sent another director to shoot some more footage and splice in the ethnographic stuff and eventually, we ended up with this. I’ve not mentioned the acting, because it’s so poorly dubbed I feel bad laying into it, but there are some excellent overactors in this too.
I had quite a lot of fun shouting abuse at the screen, but you need to really like “so bad it’s good” movies to get something out of this. Best watched with a group of people with relatively strong stomachs, but everyone will enjoy the woman getting her tongue ripped out, then a hand shoved into her skull and her eyeballs popped out from the inside.
Rating: sort of a negative thumbs up, if that makes sense