I think about Jack Curtis’ exceptionally cheesy but really awesome sci-fi/horror hybrid The Flesh Eaters maybe a bit more than I should, but there’s a good reason for that. It was one of the many fright films I grew up watching on television so many times that its unnerving 91 minutes were engraved in my brain for decades. While I’d seen many other horror/sci-fi films as a kid, this particular one stood out for the unsettling for a kid gore factor and overall tone that screamed EC Comics-style nightmare fuel.
I found out later in my teens that it was written by very prolific DC, Marvel and other publishers comics writer Arnold Drake who also made storyboards for the film to assist the director. It’s also by location, classifiable as a New York-based film because it was partly shot in Montauk, New York. The plot kicks off as a small seaplane takes off from Manhattan, runs into a bad storm, and is forced down on a small island in the area with, let’s just say, some rather interesting results in store for all involved.
On that plane are faded starlet and professional drinker Laura Winters (Rita Morely), her lovely but very harried assistant Jan Letterman (Barbara Wilkin), and debt-ridden pilot for hire Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanders), all of whom survive the in-flight stormy surprise landing. They soon meet a German-accented marine biologist Professor Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck) who’s all by himself on the island save for his little microbial friends whom we will soon find out more about. The not so good Professor has taken up some evil WWII experiments in breeding nasty little bacteria who need fresh flesh to thrive, and between the human and many more fish skeletons that start turning up in the troubled waters around the island, everyone is in for quite a bad time if something REALLY stupid happened to that plane, right?
Guess what happens to the plane? Free popcorn to the winning guess!
Well, a combination of Winters’ Miss Toasted 1962 (the film’s copyright date is two years earlier that its release year) going to the plane to get blackout drunk and the Professor taking advantage of this (and not her) when she passes out on the beach by setting the plane adrift and leaving her literally holding the rope equals everyone stuck on that island with the only hope of a weekly supply drop as an escape. Well that… and I need to suddenly make a ton of popcorn because EVERYONE who guessed won. You do own a suitably large salad bowl, I hope?
As things are looking grim, well, even MORE grim, a hippie beatnik named Omar (Ray Tudor) arrives on a small makeshift raft with a portable record player playing way too loudly and is nearly munched on by the titular creatures as he scoots ashore. He’s a good source of comic relief here, but yep, the plot must play out and the Professor has some not so nice plans cooking for Omar and everyone else in his twisted head.
Cue the gore effects, which were pretty shocking for the time, although most are a bit comical now. Omar buys it twice, once for real and once in a bit of fakery put together by the Prof, who’s decided he wants to leave no witnesses and continue his dirty work. Oh, that supply run? Well, it goes pretty badly for the guy who shows up (you’ll see), but by then Bartell is almost as homicidal as the microbes he’s been cultivating. He kills and buries one of the remaining characters, leaving two left to carry out his plan of feeding the creatures a massive electric charge that will super-size the microbes. Naturally, Bartel fails Mad Science 101, as he doesn’t even realize the few microbes he’s socked away in his tent and electrified earlier have been growing (oops) and zapping a shoreline filled with them is kind of a very lousy idea.
I won’t spoil the rest save to say if by this point you’re not hooked in, you’re watching the wrong movie and I’m taking my popcorn back. I hadn’t seen this in a while, so I was thrilled that the version I recently viewed had some additional footage cut from the TV version I remember and there were even outtakes at the end of the film that showed a bit more of these scenes. I love stuff like that. The really fun thing is seeing this after so long is despite the “B” quality on display, the film is surprisingly well shot and holds up quite well, some now janky effects aside. Then again, some effects are simple, but very effective in terms of sheer shock value.
You’re reading a post from The Out to Sea Blogathon held by Debbie over at Moon In Gemini on March 6 – 8, 2020. This post was written in advance on February 3, 2020 partly to test WordPress’ pre-posting feature for possible later use, and well, WP has been giving me hassles lately and I want to figure a few things out.
Hey, I gotta be on top of things here. If the planet blows up in the next week or month or so, or some crazy mad experimenting heavily-accented German scientist cooks up some nasty flesh-eating bacteria and can’t control it, well… I still gotta post, right? Good. I’m so glad you all understand. Go pull up a chair… uh, you did bring a chair, right? You’ll be sitting on the floor or making a seat out of stale popcorn otherwise.