Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Film Appreciation - Dead Sexy or, Do Zombies Poop?

Cody Hamman buries 2005's The Stink of Flesh in Film Appreciation.

Writer/director Scott Phillips's The Stink of Flesh is an apocalyptic tale set in a world overrun by the flesh-eating living dead, and like most of the best zombie stories it uses its walking corpses as a danger lurking in the background of character drama that threatens to boil over into human-on-human violence. The scenario Phillips came up with for his characters is a very unique one, as evident from the movie's tagline: "How do you lead an alternative lifestyle... When everybody's dead?"

The character we follow into this situation is a man called Matool (named after the island in Lucio Fulci's Zombie), a total badass who keeps in shape during the zombie apocalypse by engaging the ghouls in hand-to-hand combat, beating the hell out of them before dispatching them by hammering large nails into their brain. Matool is going about his business, experiencing a typically bloodsoaked day of the dead, when he's knocked out and abducted by another person.

That person is Nathan, who takes Matool back home to his wife Dexy. Nathan and Dexy are the ones who lead the alternative lifestyle which would've undoubtedly been easier to sustain before the dead took over. They have an open relationship. Using terminology that I've picked up while perusing the internet, maybe you'd call Nathan a cuckold, maybe you'd call Dexy a hotwife, but whatever you call them, the fact is that Dexy has a strong sexual desire - she calls it "the ache" - to bring other people into their bedroom. In earlier days they could've just joined a swingers club or something, but now Nathan has to go out and hunt down viable partners for his horny beloved.

Nathan didn't really need to knock Matool out and tie him up to get him to come with him, he could've just asked. Matool doesn't mind this set-up at all; he gets a seemingly safe place to stay for a while and all he has to do in exchange is have sex with Dexy. No problem. Nathan never joins in, he just watches. Who does take part is Dexy's mentally unbalanced sister Sassy, who has a drooling parasitic twin growing on her side and likes to use a section of Matchbox toy car racetrack to smack the ass of the man pounding away at her sister. This is another kink that Matool can easily roll with. Really, the only person around who has a problem with what's going on is Nathan, who is harboring some very dark, disturbing secrets, like the naked female zombie he keeps chained up in a shed to work out his frustrations on and the fact that he is actually intensely, maybe homicidally, jealous of Dexy's f-buddies.

With a creepy/spooky kid also in residence and the few survivors of a military special forces team showing up at the door seeking shelter, the house soon becomes too crowded, and the bedroom too busy, for secrets to stay hidden or its inhabitants to remain safe - from the zombies and each other - for much longer.

I first discovered The Stink of Flesh through my Friday the 13th fandom - in 2005, it was announced that Black Flame, the publisher of the Freddy vs. Jason and Jason X novelizations - would be putting out a series of sequel novels to those films. The first in the Friday the 13th lineup would be Church of the Divine Psychopath, written by Scott Phillips. When I looked Phillips up, I saw that he was an independent filmmaker with a movie called The Stink of Flesh set to soon be released by my fellow Ohioan J.R. Bookwalter's Tempe Video distribution company. To be honest, I found the title of the movie to be a bit off-putting at first, but the writer seemed interesting and with it coming out in June and Church of the Divine Psychopath scheduled for August, I figured I'd check it out while I was waiting for the book. This was back when Netflix was more receptive to micro-budget movies, so I was able to rent the movie from them in July. That's when I became a fan of Scott Phillips.

I thought the movie was great; well-written, with interesting and entertaining characters and situations, and Phillips had a quirkiness to his style that I really enjoyed. He told an original story while working on the heavily trodden ground of the zombie subgenre (and was a bit ahead of the zombie resurgence when he was filming in 2003), and his approach also brought fresh elements to the zombie aspect. His rules allow for both the classic shamblers and the controversial fast zombies, with the explanation that the fast ones are an evolution referred to as "hyper zombies". He also answers the question, "Do zombies poop?" Craig Ferguson would sometimes ask that question on his late night talk show, and I've heard that a fan of the movie passed a DVD copy along to Ferguson at a signing event so he could see the answer for himself.

As I watched the special features on the DVD, I found that Phillips was also a person I could relate to. He was a film and comics lover since he was a kid, and included on the disc were a couple Super 8 shorts that he had shot as a teenager. I've said before that I attempted to do the teen director thing myself, but could never get enough cooperation and support to accomplish anything. Phillips had the same problem - the shorts he shared were made entirely by himself and his friend John Howard because they couldn't get anybody else to help them.

Eventually, Phillips moved out to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a screenwriter, but while some of his projects did get made, like the 1997 Mark Dacascos action movie Drive, he soon grew tired of the Hollywood process and the ridiculous notes he would get from studio execs. He moved back home to Albuquerque and decided to take the Robert Rodriguez El Mariachi/Rebel Without a Crew route to making his own movies. After shooting a couple shorts, he started focusing on making a feature. This time he got the help he required.

Phillips managed to assemble a very good cast. Everyone does fine work, including Ross Kelly and the mononymous Diva as Nathan and Dexy, Devin O'Leary as a soldier who finds some romance with Sassy, who's played by Kristin Hansen, niece of original Leatherface Gunnar Hansen, and Tanith Fiedler and Bob Vardeman as other survivors met along the way. The biggest standouts among the cast for me are Billy Garberina as a soldier named Mandel and Kurly Tlapoyawa, a pride fighter trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, as Matool. Tlapoyawa and Garberina choreographed their own fights here, and Tlapoyawa has gone on to become a stuntman and stunt coordinator.

With the script it had, I would've liked The Stink of Flesh regardless of its budget range. The fact that it was made on a budget of $3000 just made it all the more impressive. The movie looks really good, especially given that Phillips and cinematographer Richard Griffin (a prolific filmmaker himself) were working with one light and a standard definition Canon XL-1 camera. After my first viewing of the movie, I would've believed that it was shot in 16mm. Its digital videoness may show more in the hi-def present, but that doesn't affect the movie's quality at all for me, and it still looks better than most.

Scott Phillips and The Stink of Flesh were big inspirations to me as I focused on getting my own filmmaking endeavors moving forward. I was a regular visitor to the website Phillips had for his production company, Exhilarated Despair, and as I started gathering equipment in the summer of 2006, interactions with Phillips and Billy Garberina on the site's forum helped me pick out what I would need.

After The Stink of Flesh, I was hoping to see a steady stream of movies written and directed by Phillips coming out of Albuquerque. For a while, it looked like that would be the case. He took a work-for-hire job that went about as well as some of his crushing Hollywood experiences, but also made another very cool low budget personal project, an "I Drink Your Blood meets Magnolia" slasher called Gimme Skelter. But indie filmmaking came with its own set of troubles, and Phillips soon decided to direct his efforts toward his writing career again, also focusing on concepts that are foreign to me like life and responsibilities. He shut down the Exhilarated Despair website, but he is on Twitter and has a blog called Rattle and Blast. Tweet along viewings of H.O.T.S. and Black Belt Jones with him and pals in 2011 inspired the write-ups I did for those movies.

I still have advice that Phillips and Garberina gave to me in 2006 saved in a document. While I haven't gotten much accomplished for my filmmaking goals in the last seven years, I still do intend to make a feature of my own, as soon as possible, and whenever that happens and I have successfully completed my own movie, Phillips and Garberina will be thanked in the end credits. Because of The Stink of Flesh, they're among those who have made me believe that it's all possible.


  1. Thanks for the great writeup, Cody. Like I told you on Twitter, seeing this post made my day -- hell, my whole week! I sure appreciate the kind words. Now get out there and make your movie!

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment! It's great to hear that I made your day/week.

      I'll try to get my own movie going soon, I'd really like to be filming something by the end of the year.

      - Cody

  2. Thanks for the boost Cody. It's nice to see folk still appreciate this fine flick from back in the day! But like Scott said...go make that movie! Equipment has actually gotten better AND cheaper. It's a brave new world! ;)

    -Billy G

    1. Thanks for the comment, Billy!

      I'm very glad to see that this article has gotten such a great response from those involved on here, Twitter, and Facebook.

      - Cody