How do you live an alternative lifestyle when everybody’s dead?
After working for several years within the system, a would-be filmmaker turned his back on the Hollywood bureaucracy and set out to make a film on his own, with his own limited resources. The resulting horror/action/sex comedy hybrid is now available on DVD. Is it the next big indie hit, or does the The Stink of Flesh just stink?
The living dead walk the Earth, devouring any living humans they come across. One of the few remaining survivors is Matool (Kurly Tlapoyawa), the butt-kickingest zombie fighter who ever kicked zombie butt. But now he’s come across a different kind of challenge—he’s shacked up with Nathan (Ross Kelly) and Dexy (Diva), a married couple with an “open relationship.” In the midst of the apocalypse, all these two care about is finding fresh meat to share their bedroom. Add to this mix Dexy’s slightly odd sister, a ragtag bunch of military goons, and a creepy little kid. Before you can say “Fulci,” chaos breaks out, blood spews everywhere, and death lurks under the hot New Mexico sun.
Watching The Stink of Flesh, the one thought that kept going through my mind was, “Too bad this movie isn’t better.” There’s so much that’s almost great, but falls short due to a bad decision, a poorly delivered line, or some meandering storytelling. There’s so much enthusiasm and care that went into making this movie that I wanted to love it, but it never quite hits its goal. There’s a lot of delightfully sleazy carnage and sex, but there’s also a lot of slow parts, a lot of clunky dialogue made clunkier by some questionable acting, and a lot of B-movie unintentional humor. The potential exists here for another Bad Taste or The Evil Dead, but that potential isn’t quite reached.
It looks like we’ve got another take on the George Romero formula here. So to begin, let’s break out the old zombie movie checklist. Walking corpses, slowly stalking their prey? Check. Blood and gore? Check. Zombies eating said gore? Check. A small group of eclectic survivors holed up in a single location, with tension building among them? Check. Zombies getting shot in the head, with resulting blood sprays? Check. Someone bitten by a zombie, with everyone knowing he/she will eventually become one? Check. Satirical social commentary? Barely, but it’s there. So what new material or concepts does Stink bring to the table? Answer: Kinky sex. Too bad the movie isn’t better.
If you grow up with the name “Kurly Tlapoyawa,” chances are you’ll end up at least a little bit nutty. That’s the case with our lead. As Matool, Tlapoyawa is all manic energy, whether he’s busting out cool martial arts moves on zombies or getting it on with another guy’s wife while that guy watches. Tlapoyawa is an unconventional action hero, with his glasses and the fact that he’s not as tall as some of the other guys, but he’s got all the badass moves. And, more importantly, he’s got the right amount of attitude and charm. This guy might be the next Bruce Campbell just waiting to happen. Too bad the movie isn’t better.
The other performers don’t fare quite as well. Although they praise one another continually in the bonus features, many of the actors’ lines are delivered flatly, and the characters seem to blend into one another, especially the three military guys. Matool disappears for about a third of the movie as the other characters go through their various subplots, and the movie suffers without Tlapoyawa’s crazed presence. But some, such as Diva, do manage to breathe a little life into their roles, and the zombie performers certainly understand what it takes to be a shambling nightmare. It’s too bad for them that the movie isn’t better.
Movies don’t get much more “indie” than this one. In his commentary, director Scott Phillips (screenwriter of the cult hit Drive) speaks at great length about his experiences in Hollywood, and why he made this movie outside the system. For its bargain-basement roots, the audio and visual quality is above par, no doubt because it was recorded on digital video. Too bad the movie itself isn’t better.
For a no-budget movie made in the middle of nowhere, the amount of bonus features on the disc rival the finest special editions on shelves. First up is a commentary by director Phillips in which he not only shares stories from the set, but also about his personal history and his frustrations working in Hollywood. A second commentary, featuring Phillips and numerous actors and crew members, is more light-hearted and humorous, but it too offers a look at what went on behind the scenes. The exhaustive 45-minute featurette follows the actors and crew throughout the process of making the movie, including a look at all of the stunts and make-up effects in action. Overall, it shows the unique combination of hard work and horseplay required to pull off an indie zombie movie. Too bad the movie isn’t better.
There are even more features on the disc, including footage from the movie’s world premiere, some surprisingly funny outtakes, the complete screenplay on DVD-ROM, a collection of trailers, a reversible cover with some cool Mike Allred-style comic book artwork, and a three-minute long piece of random weirdness called “Rainville: The Early Years.” The real treats here, though, are two early films by Scott Phillips, which are not only highly amusing, but show just how creative one can be with limited resources. Strangely, these two shorts can only be watched with the commentary on. Phillips doesn’t mind poking fun at his own amateur attempts, but also talks about what it was like to make these mini-epics. Overall, the entirety of the extras on this DVD should be required viewing for anyone thinking of creating their own backyard-based horror romp. After reviewing all of the extras, I feel like I know all the people involved, and that in some abstract way I was a part of the making of the film. I haven’t felt this effect since going through the hours of extras on the extended editions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Too bad this movie isn’t better.
So where does all this leave us? With a movie that almost reaches cheesy B-movie gold, but not quite. I wanted to love this movie; to be able to sing its praises from the mountaintops as the next big cult “thing.” We wish Scott Phillips the best of luck on his next project, in the hopes that he can reach true Roger Corman-level status at some point in the future. Until then, we recommend The Stink of Flesh DVD only for aspiring filmmakers and/or hardcore gore lovers. The mainstream need not apply.