Albuquerque-based filmmaker, Scott Phillips spurned a fledgling career in mainstream Hollywood movies for the grungy, low-fi world of independent film making. After unleashing the cult classic "Drive", he wrote, directed and filmed this entertaining homage to Italian Spaghetti Westerns and zombie gore flicks for the paltry sum of $3.000! Indie horror film-making and the zombie sub-genre go together like peaches & cream but rarely are the results worthy of special attention, as they usually end up relying on badly done, over-the-top gore effects to mask their obvious deficiencies in film making skills. "The Stink Of Flesh" may have been shot quickly on Digital Video (and without the many filter effects employed to make, for instance, "28 Days Later" look slightly more filmic) but its "home-made" video aesthetic is deceptive; unlike many films of its ilk, Phillips' effort is an extremely satisfying and original take on rather over-familiar material that the director injects with mischievous wit and many outlandish twists along the way, while also employing a punchy and energetic editing style and a professional directorial technique -- full of interesting camera angles and bizarre images -- that belies the film's amateur, low-fi look without compromising its independent appeal ... and it still has lots of (well-done) over-the-top gore effects as well!
Scott Phillips' love of trashy, Italian horror cinema and brooding, Italian Westerns is lovingly referenced throughout (especially the work of Lucio Fulci and Sergio Leone) in a series of Tarantino-esque in-jokes for film obsessives to spot. But the director also has an obvious appreciation for more home-grown fare such as sicko masterpiece, "Basket Case" and, of course, Romero's original Dead Trilogy. All these influences and references have been cleverly employed by Phillips' script in order to launch the viewer straight into the very familiar, apocalyptic, post-zombie holocaust landscape: no time needs to be spent explaining how the world came to be overrun with flesh-munching, blue zombies -- it is assumed the viewer will be familiar enough with the genre to supply their own explanation from the many examples they'll already know. Similarly, the film's lead character, Matool (named after the zombie Island from Fulci's "Zombie 2") is a typical, "silent stranger" staple of Italian Westerns -- we don't need to know where he comes from or who he is; he's an archetype whose function within the plot is easily understood straightaway.
This means Phillips can get straight down to business, without any unnecessary scene-setting or laborious background material to distract us from the action; and it also means he can have the story veer off in some strange and unexpected directions! The film starts with a great, kick-ass zombie fight scene: Matool (Kurly Tlapoyawa) is surviving as best he can in a zombie-ravaged New Mexico landscape that appears to be full of living-dead skater boys (coloured murky grayish blue as a tribute to the original "Dawn Of The Dead"), by fighting his way through the hordes with the aid of some basic kickboxing skills and a mallet which he uses to hammer six-inch nails into zombie skulls whenever he has the opportunity! Matool rescues a girl (Tanith Fielder) from a group of creatures who besiege her broken-down car and the two take refuge in a derelict shed which is also occupied by creepy Mr. Rainville and two traumatised-looking boys. As the zombie hordes gather outside, the viewer gets the first intimation that this particular zombie flick is a little out of the ordinary compared to most examples of the genre: Matool tries to take sexual advantage of the girl he has just rescued (while zombies hammer at the door|) and Mr Rainville seems to have a rather unnatural interest in his two silent children, who simply stare vacantly while he strokes their cheeks in a very un-fatherly way!
The characters in "The Stink Of Flesh" are not your average heroes. If Romero's Zombie films were about humans' inability to come together in the face of adversity, then Phillips' characters barely even acknowledge the zombie threat to begin with; the creatures are considered just a minor nuisance to be tolerated while the surviving pockets of humanity go about pursuing their baser instincts in a lawless world. Just how base and lawless this world has become soon becomes apparent to the viewer: when Matool escapes from the besieged shed and is promptly knocked unconscious and kidnapped (along with one of the spooky, staring kids -- another tribute to Italian horror) by a handsome young hunk called Nathan (Ross Kelly) he becomes embroiled in a bizarre, alternative lifestyle of rampant lust and perverse desires.
Nathan and his wife Dexy (Diva) are swingers, whose lifestyle has been made particularly difficult now that everyone is dead! Nathan brings Matool back to the couple's house in order to have him make love to Dexy while he watches -- an arrangement which is just fine with the sexed-up, zombie-killing renegade! He is still somewhat surprised though, to have Dexy's retarded sister, Sassy (Kristin Hansen -- niece of Gunnar "Leatherface" Hansen) join in by spanking him while he's engaged in the act! Things get even weirder when a trio of solders turn up after being ambushed by a group of super-agile hyper-zombies! The gang join in with the sexual sports and one of them even snogs Sassy's withered twin sister, a mutant creature who is attached to her side! The zombie plague can also be exploited for sexual kicks, and Nathan keeps a naked zombie girl (Stephanie Leighs) shackled up in a shed as a sex slave!
With its potent combination of sick, gross-out humour, outrageous, blood-spattered gore and pumping, well choreographed action (with just a touch of unobtrusive CGI curtsey of Emmy Awards winning Steve Fong as well) this unashamedly R-rated b-flick goes straight for the jugular and never lets up in its relentless depiction of the disgusting and the depraved. (The discovery of zombie shit and a twisted zombie rape scene anyone?) Phillips delivers all the goods that any good b-movie must deliver -- but it is all done with great skill and originality and that is the real key to the film's success. Phillips has benefit of a strong cast and some excellent crew members to bring flesh to the bones of this low budget shocker. Director of photography, Richard Griffin, in particular deserves special mention for doing wonders within the sometimes, rather flat digital video medium; and the film has a great soundtrack full of zoned-out, acid-soaked country and twangy rock-a-billy numbers, complimented by Robert Sidaway's Goblin-esque incidental music.
The UK DVD release from Screen Entertainment is absolutely crammed to bursting-point with extras. There are two commentary tracks -- the first is by director Scott Phillips, who gives us a potted history of his career up to the start of the making of the movie, and an account of the trials and tribulations of low budget film making in general, all while constantly being harassed by his pet kitten which can be heard meowing in the background for a good deal of the commentary! The second brings Phillips together with most of his cast and some key members of the technical crew for a light-hearted get-together which includes some entertaining anecdotes. The next most substantial extra is a 45 minute "making of" documentary entitled "Dead Sexy", which follows the production from beginning to end and includes lots of behind-the-scenes material. Next up is a ten minute featurette covering the film's premier in Phillips' home town of Albuquerque called "Stinkin' Up The Joint". There are two theatrical trailers, one of which features a colour version of a flashback nude scene from Stephanie Leighs, which is black & white in the finished film. There is a short film by Phillips featuring the Mr. Rainville character, played by Bob Vardeman and a seven minute blooper reel and two early scratchy super 8mm films, "Replica" and Overkill" made by Phillips when he was eighteen. An image gallery and an exclusive text interview with Scott Phillips, conducted by Jay Slater, editor of "Eaten Alive: Italian Cannibal And Zombie Movies" are next-up, and the whole thing is rounded off with a PDF file of the full screenplay of the film!
"The Stink of Flesh" is low budget film making at its very best and will entertain and enthrall any fan of the zombie genre. Well worth checking out.