When Appellate Judge Tom Becker found out Hell was full, he rebooked at the Purgatory Day's Inn.
The dead are walking.
Hell Is Full owes such a stylistic debt to a recent Sidney Lumet film that they could have called it Before the Devil Knows You're Undead. The alterna-structure in Steve Hudgins' home-video budgeted zombie flick is ambitious, but is it enough to make it worth seeking out?
A glowing meteor lands in a small town in Kentucky and leads to an epidemic of zombieism—and naturally enough, a bunch of grisly, flesh-devoured demises. What makes this variation on Romero a bit different is that the story is told backwards. We begin with what will eventually be the ending, and each successive scene shows the chain of infection, until at the end, we're back where we were when the film started.
It's a neat conceit, hardly original, but a nice change of pace from the usual direct-to-home-video horror stuff, which generally skimps on plot and delivers predictable grue. Here, it's all about the plot, with each character getting a several-minute long vignette with backstory that intersects the arcs of the other characters and ends up with one or more people becoming infected. Sometimes, the infections come from being sneezed at or vomited on, and sometimes, it's the good, old-fashioned bite. Since we've gotten to know the characters a bit, there's a little more suspense than there would be if these were just nameless extras. There's also foreshadowing, so that a character who appears as a zombie in, say, the third vignette will turn up pre-zombified in the eighth vignette—and we know where this is going. Ultimately, of course, everything comes full circle, and we see how everyone in this quaint burg has become connected thanks to the power of the undead.
Unfortunately, it's also something of a one-trick pony that Hudgins allows to play out too long. There are around 10 individual stories, each introduced with the "main" character's name, but it's just a couple too many, and most of the vignettes run on longer than they need to. At around the one-hour mark, during a protracted story of a philandering husband, the whole thing started to get a little old. The stories interconnect well, and it's fun seeing the pieces fit together, but shaving 15 or 20 minutes off the 97-minute run time would have helped this one.
Even with the slightly overindulgent length, Hell Is Full is well worth checking out. It's great to see someone attempt something different in a low-budget horror film and largely succeed. Hudgins gets a lot of mileage out of his limited resources, and he's created a film that works as a both a gorefest and a drama. The effects are decent, and there's a nice build-up of suspense.
The disc is really good: nice, clear image, a very satisfying audio track, and a better-than average slate of supplements, including a commentary track with Hudgins and his co-writer (and co-everything else, as is the norm with films like this), P.J. Woodside; some deleted and extended scenes; a blooper reel; and trailers.
Creepy, ambitious, and satisfying, Hell Is Full is an above-average entry in the low-budget zombie canon. Definitely worth a look.
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