(Not So) Random Film of the Week: The Flesh Eaters (1964)

THE FLESH EATERS

Cheesy, but very perfectly so.

TFE_adI 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?

TFE_Hello There

It’s too bad the folks on that plane didn’t see the beginning of the film as the in-flight movie, as they kind of missed out on a few important things…

Guess what happens to the plane? Free popcorn to the winning guess!

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Random Film Of The Week: The Flesh Eaters

 

An old favorite of mine from the days when it was in near constant rotation on Chiller Theater (on Channel 11, WPIX), The Flesh Eaters manages to mix campy humor and skin-crawling (albeit cheesy by today’s standards) shock effects. The script, by DC and Marvel Comics writer Arnold Drake, manages to be weird, funny and unsettling as it tells the tale of three people stranded on a small island after their small plane flies into a bad storm and is forced to land. They meet a German-accented mad scientist working on a rather nasty little project in the form of a massive bacteria colony that can dissolve flesh within a few seconds of contact. Unfortunately for the travelers, the doc has unleashed his experiment into the water around the island, making enjoying a quick swim kind of a no-go.

While the trio is trying to figure out how to get off the island and the doc is scheming away, they run into a shipwrecked beatnik who adds some comic relief to the proceedings. He’s also the victim of one of the surprisingly gory (for the time) death scenes, but I’ll let you check that out yourself. Anyway, things come to a head as the survivors need to deal with the mad scientist AND getting the hell off the island as one of their plans to destroy the microbes actually make it much stronger. Memorable cinematography and extremely well composed scenes give the film the look of a horror comic book, and at a relatively quick 87 minutes, this is one of those films that’s worth checking out if you’re curious about “B” movies of the era, the evolution of special effects or even how well a comic book author could do at scripting a film.