Hell of the Living Dead

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Hell of the Living Dead
Italian film poster for Hell of the Living Dead
Directed by
Produced by Isabel Mulá
Written by
  • José María Cunillés
  • Rossella Drudi
  • Claudio Fragasso
  • Bruno Mattei
Starring Margit Evelyn Newton
Distributed by Motion Picture Marketing
Release dates
  • 1980 (1980)
Running time
  • 101 minutes (US)
  • 99 minutes (Italy)
  • Italy
  • Spain
Language Italian

Virus: Hell of the Living Dead (Italian: Virus - l'inferno dei morti viventi), also known as Zombie Creeping Flesh and Night of the Zombies, is a 1980 horror film directed by Bruno Mattei (credited as Vincent Dawn).[1][2] The film is set in a laboratory in Papua-New Guinea that sends out a dangerous chemical that turns the technicians and locals into zombies. An Italian news reporter (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her crew land on the island to investigate.


At a top secret chemical research facility called Hope Center #1, a rat causes a chemical leak and dies; but as two workers investigate, that rat suddenly comes back to life and kills one of the men. Subsequently, the entire staff of the plant turn into flesh-eating zombies.

A four-man team of commandos led by Lt. Mike London (José Gras) are deployed to eliminate a group of Eco-terrorists who have taken hostages inside a large building at the US Embassy in Barcelona, Spain. The unknown terrorists demand the closing down of all the Hope Centers, which both the government and the military deny the existence of, and the press, under orders of the local authorities, do not make any public announcement to the terrorists' demands or any mentioning of Hope Centers. After pumping tear gas into the building, Lt. London and his three commandos burst into the room where the terrorists are and kill them all. Once the mission is completed, the team flies to Papua New Guinea due to communication being lost with Hope Center #1, presumed due to terrorist action. They meet journalist Lia Rousseau (Margit Evelyn Newton) and her cameraman, who are investigating a series of mysterious, violent attacks on the locals.

Hordes of flesh-eating zombies attack the native village. The four military men and two journalists travel through the New Guinea jungle in the commando's jeep, trying to survive while evading the zombies. The group takes refuge in an abandoned plantation, only to come under attack from the zombie residents. They kill and eat one of the commandos, forcing the surviving group to flee.

Rousseau and London's men battle their way to a beach where they take a raft and finally arrive at Hope Center #1, where they find all of the workers either dead or roaming the facility as zombies. Rousseau and London learn about the experimental chemical that was accidentally released which kills people and turns them into zombies. Rousseau learns from the papers left behind in the offices that the chemical, coded as "Operation Sweet Death", had been intended to curb the Third World population by driving them into preying on each other. In the end, however, neither London's team nor the two journalists make it out alive; the zombies attack from all directions, and they are all killed or made members of the walking dead.

Some time later, the zombie contagion has spread beyond the borders of the country and throughout the world. While politicians and scientist keep disputing the matter, a young couple in the developed world are attacked and devoured by a horde of zombies in a city park.


  • Margit Evelyn Newton as Lia Rousseau
  • Franco Garofalo as Zantoro
  • Selan Karay as Vincent
  • José Gras as Lt. Mike London
  • Gabriel Renom (Gaby Renom) as Max
  • Josep Lluís Fonoll as Osborne
  • Piero Fumelli as Coroner On TV
  • Bruno Boni
  • Patrizia Costa as Josie
  • Cesare Di Vito as Newscaster
  • Sergio Pislar
  • Bernard Seray as Technician Fowler
  • Pep Ballenster as Josie's Husband
  • Victor Israel as Zombie Priest
  • Joaquin Blanco as Professor Barrett
  • Esther Mesina as Woman In Bar
  • Genarrino Papagalli as TV executive
  • Antonio Molino Rojo as SWAT leader
  • Tito Lucchetti as terrorist leader


Virus began as a treatment written in 1980 by José María Cunillés and was later fleshed out into a full script by Claudio Fragasso and his wife Rossella Drudi. As the market was hungry for zombie films in the wake of Lucio Fulci's blockbuster Zombi 2, two studios specializing in low budget horror, Dara Films in Spain and Beatrice Films in Rome, pitched together to option the script.

The original script, set in Africa, would have been much too expensive for Dara/Beatrice to produce, with scenes involving ships full of dead bodies and a corpse mincing plant, so Bruno Mattei, well known for being able to work with scant finances, was brought on board to direct with the help of Claudio Fragasso. Filming took place in and outside Barcelona over a four-week period where all the forest and jungle exteriors were shot before the production moved back to Rome to finishing filming at Studio Mafera. Shortly after this, Mattei realized that the footage shot in Spain was insufficient and partially unusable. Dara had decided not to rewrite the script before the production began and therefore much of the footage shot was random in its nature; indeed much of the film's plot is incomprehensible.

In an attempt to give the film a more exotic feel and provide the protagonists with another set piece in which to battle zombies, Mattei suggested that footage from the 1972 film La Vallée be incorporated into the film and sets built to mirror the village from La Vallée so new scenes could be shot. This was agreed to by the producers, who were anxious to get the production back on track. As Mattei was busying himself with the studio filming, Fragasso was given free rein to shoot some new special effects shots (mainly consisting of zombies getting shot in front of a dark backdrop and the famous hand in face ending) to gore up the film, again at the producer's request.

The "fog" style attempt to save the production continued with a new ending tagged on, and the addition of some of Goblin's music from the Dawn of the Dead and Contamination soundtracks. This almost caused a legal wrangle for the production as Goblin had not authorised their music to be used in the film. With all the new additions the film now ran over 100 minutes and consequently some of the original footage was removed prior to its first release in Italy in November 1980. Dara also edited the film further prior to submitting it for UK release.


The film was first released in Spain and Italy to cinemas in 1980 and 1981. It was released in the UK as Zombie Creeping Flesh in 1982 and released internationally in other English language countries as Hell of the Living Dead. It received a U.S. theatrical release in early 1984 from former independent distribution company Motion Picture Marketing (MPM) as Night of the Zombies in a dubbed English version.

Alternate titles include 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.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

Hell of the Living Dead received a negative reception from critics, and is considered a "so bad it's good" film by certain critics.[4] Allmovie wrote, "Dawn of the Dead spawned many an Italian-made ripoff but none of them were ever as awful or crazy as Bruno Mattei's jaw-dropping Hell of the Living Dead. [...] [The film] is so incredibly, cluelessly bad that it makes perfect fare for cult-flick fans to use on their next 'bad movie night.'"[5] DVD Verdict said of the film, "Did you like Romero's Night of the Living Dead? How about the sequels Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead? If so, then you're going to absolutely hate Hell of the Living Dead."[6] Writing in The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia, academic Peter Dendle called it "largely a quilt of random footage from mismatched jungle and savanna settings, spliced into but wholly unconnected with the main story line".[3]


  1. ^ "Hell of the Living Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 
  2. ^ J.C. Maçek III (2012-06-15). "The Zombification Family Tree: Legacy of the Living Dead". PopMatters. 
  3. ^ a b Dendle, Peter (2001). The Zombie Movie Encyclopedia. McFarland & Company. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-7864-9288-6. 
  4. ^ J.C. Maçek III (2013-03-01). "Italy's Lost Bellissima Actress, Margie Newton, Re-Appears in The Next Reel". PopMatters. 
  5. ^ Eleanor Mannikka. "Hell of the Living Dead (1980)". Allmovie. Retrieved 29 June 2012. 
  6. ^ Patrick Naugle. "Hell of the Living Dead". DVD Verdict. Retrieved 2010-09-28. 

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