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THE FLESH EATERS

A vintage gorefest that hasn’t dated well, but does at least contain some impressively noirish photography--and lots of endearingly goofy special effects.  But the once-shocking concept of flesh eating bacteria no longer seems all that outrageous.  

The Package 
     THE FLESH EATERS (1964) is regularly identified as the “first” gore movie (actually, it was beaten to the punch by the Japanese JIGOKU and H.G. Lewis’ BLOOD FEAST), and has been exhibited in a number of heavily censored versions.  The 2006 Dark Sky Films’ DVD, however, promises that its 87 minute print is the definitive cut.
     The film was shot on location in Montauk, NY by the husband and wife team of Jack and Terry Curtis, along with producer/screenwriter Arnold Drake (who also scripted the 1965 Sal Mineo anti-classic WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR?).  A large portion of the budget was provided by Terry Curtis after she won upwards of $70 grand on a TV game show, which failed to stop the production from being devastated by a hurricane that held up completion for a full year.
     The credited editor was future sex film impresario Radley Metzger (of THE LICKERISH QUARTET and CAMILLE 2000), but in his DVD linear notes Arnold Drake claims director Jack Curtis did all the editing (and most of the photography) himself, only to be denied credit by “the complexity of the film business and its trade unions”. 

The Story 
     Grant, a money-hungry charter pilot, agrees to fly Laura, an over-the-hill actress, and Jan, her personal assistant, to Provincetown.  But the plane suffers mechanical problems and Grant is forced to land on an uncharted island.  The island is run by Professor Bartell, a German scientist who’s been conducting questionable genetic experiments begun by the Nazis, Bartell’s former superiors.  The result of these experiments is a flesh-eating parasite that Bartell has released into the water, which explains why human skeletons are washing up on the beach.
     Grant and his lady companions have no choice but to set up camp on the beach as they wait for a rescue crew to show up.  They’re soon approached by a sailboat manned by a carefree hippy, who’s nearly devoured by the flesh eaters.  Not that he lasts long, as Bartell, looking to further his experiments, gives the hippy a drink laced with the flesh eating bacteria.  The result?  The guy’s stomach is eaten out.  Next Bartell seeks to off Laura, stabbing her to death (or so he thinks) and burying her on the beach.  He also tries to rid himself of Grant and Jan, but makes the typical movie bad guy mistake of wasting valuable time telling them about his dastardly plans--to get rich by selling the parasite to the highest bidder--which allows the good guys time to figure out a way to get the upper hand. 
     But the parasites, it seems, are coagulating into a hideous (nay, hilarious) one-eyed monstrosity that seeks to devour everything and everybody in sight.  You can kill the thing, though, by dripping blood into its one eye.  Thus a plan is hatched to harpoon the orb and inject it with blood.  Will the plan succeed?  Do we care? 

The Direction 
     It’s difficult to believe that at one time this film was considered shocking.  Certainly it contains a level of bloodletting unusual for an early-sixties product, but by today’s standards THE FLESH EATERS plays like a comedy, particularly in the jaw-droppingly inept special effects.  These include the title critters, represented by glowing water and incredibly primitive matte effects that wouldn’t pass muster in an Ed Wood movie.  But they’re nothing compared to the roll-on-the-floor stupidity of the giant monster that shows up in the end, which looks different from shot to shot...although still idiotic from any angle.
     Despite all that the pic was made with a level of skill that places it several steps above most so-bad-they’re-good sixties drive-in flicks.  The shadowy cinematography by Carson Davidson is quite impressive, and the sharp direction by Jack Curtis imparts a real sense of encroaching menace, which these days seems all the more blood-curdling considering that flesh eating viruses DO actually exist, even if mountainous one-eyed octopus critters don’t.


Vital Statistics 

THE FLESH EATERS
Rainbow Film holding, LLC 

Director: Jack Curtis
Producers: Jack Curtis, Terry Curtis, Arnold Drake
Screenplay: Arnold Drake
Cinematography: Carson Davidson
Editing: Radley Metzger
Cast: Martin Kosleck, Byron Sanders, Barbara Wilkin, Rita Morley, Ray Tudor, Christopher Drake, Darby Nelson, Rita Floyd, Warren Houston, Barbara Wilson, Ira Lewis
 


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