High concept and low budget intersect in Flesh of my Flesh, they say, and boy they weren't kidding. Five minutes in, after adjusting to the 'classic' 4:3 resolution I was under no illusion that to survive the next hour and a half, heck, to survive the opening credits, I would need to come to terms with, and this is being polite, raw film making and stilted performances very quickly. Make no mistake, writer and director Edward Martin III's Flesh of my Flesh requires the viewer to be in an calm, receptive and very forgiving place, and it's not a film for the faint of heart either in composition or content. This all being said, if one can stick with it through to the end, can transcend above the obvious faults and failings, and discern the wheat from the chaff, there's actually a lot on offer and one might even limp away from the tussle all the better for it.
The first small glimmer of hope, in quite the laboured and pedestrian set of opening scenes is that of a young girl's parents, their guts spewed out across ravaged bodies, and it's the jolt we needed to remind us this is at heart old school horror and we should be able to put up a certain amount of schlock. It's eighteen months after z-day one, and the story starts with a rescue helicopter searching for survivors They get attacked (ground to air missile), they land, it explodes and they get rescued, of a sort, by a group of lab rats that caught the whole thing on CCTV camera. What we learn from these opening scenes is whilst the acting isn't going to get much better, it's going to be tolerable, the film is always going to look like it's from the late 70s / early 80s and possibly Italy, the narrative is going to be odd and meandering, and there wasn't much of a budget for zombie deaths with extras throwing themselves down sufficient cover for lack of splatter. One other thing is that it's the zombies and the direction Martin has taken them, both conceptually and aesthetically that will ultimately save proceedings.
Crazy psychedelic swirly whirly time with broken and merged images, random slowdowns and hue and saturation dials under the control of man dealing with a severe epileptic seizure can only mean one thing. Zombie time. The first scene where we realise we'll have to throw away our preconceptions as to what zombies do when they're on their own, I'll admit left me confused and concerned, but also intrigued and interested. Up till now Martin's zombies behaved like good little western post Romero zombies should albeit with Boyle speed and gusto. The drive was human flesh at all any cost with little concern over self-preservation, and dispatchment was the usual shot to the noggin. Here though, away from the hunt rather than standing and shuffling about they were active in social ritual and expression. You see in Flesh of my Flesh zombies are still, as they describe themselves, human. They can talk, plan, utilise memories and skills and socialise but on a higher level freed from the tyranny that human flesh isn't for consumption.
They can also regenerate. Everything. Lose an arm, watch it grow back in real time. Lose everything below the chin and everything will start to replenish, that is as long as you stay fed, as Dr. Herbert West (yes) played by Ron Richardson uncovers with Fred the Head (credited on IMDb as Mad Martian). You see, it's also not all about survivors vs. the zombies. These zombies are special, not only in ability but also in number, as there's also factions with clear hierarchies, or at least clear leaders; those being the biggest, meanest and most likely to rip your head off should you question the status-quo;. All of which is lucky for the survivors as the first big siege on the survivors now uncovered hidden lab brings the two biggest tribes together and they end up being so occupied with each other the guys and girls can make an escape.
There's some stuff about this dormant zombie switch being in all of us back through to Neanderthals who on occasion came back from the dead only to see their family as a hungry snack, and there's stuff about consuming another's brains and transference of memories and skills (all quite Cronenburg), and there's even social-political discussion about the merits of city levelling and the morality of friendly fire. It all makes for quite the dark and gritty set-up, and one which Martin et al. fully exploits. Flesh of my Flesh is not a a film for the faint of heart and chock full of blood and guts; though maybe not as much as I believe they would have liked to include, if armed with a larger budget. The skull and brain eating scene, some one hour in, is possibly one of the striking, gruesome and aesthetically disturbing I've seen and almost beautiful in its composition and production.
It's at this point I'd normally either wax lyrically over the production qualities or strength of narrative or make sardonic quips at the films expense tearing it a new one as friends would say. Here I'm simply going to say Flesh of my Flesh does suffer from its budgetary constraints; in all areas, and of that I think we're all in agreement. But did it stop them from putting together a genuinely unique and disturbing zombie story? Not one bit. And there have been many a zombie film over the years that a day later I have trouble recalling much about; with Flesh of my Flesh I'm still going to be mulling things over for quite some time to come. The deliberate ambiguity, the big ideas not fully fleshed out, the haunting and disturbing score put together by Cyoakha Grace O'Manion, the jarring juxtaposition from a deliberately eighties looking lab to suddenly a modern clean conference room; maybe I'm even being played and the general rubbishness was a perhaps ruse and all played up and part of the plan? I don't know, and I don't know how to sum it all up or score it. Some films are works of art, some films are picture perfect, some films are visual show pieces, and some films have kitsch and resonance, 6/10.