This time up in Neko’s “Lil Kitten Classics” is the delightfully goofy and over the top 1964 gore fest, “The Flesh Eaters”…. This crazy old Black & White horror movie stands as probably the scariest movie this lil’ Catgirl ever remembers seeing as a child…. and even today, it can give me shudders just thinking about it.
The synopsis for it reads: “Bankrupt airplane pilot Grant Murdock (Byron Sanders) doesn’t want to fly in a storm, but the triple fee waved in front of his nose by beautiful Jan Letterman (Barbara Wilkin) changes his mind. She’s the secretary of famous actress Laura Winters (Rita Morley) an alcoholic who’s too stoned to stand on her own two feet. The plane goes up but is soon stranded on an isolated island, where the three castaways meet Professor Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck), a sinister marine biologist waiting for a deadly tide of aquatic microbes that “EAT FLESH! ANY FLESH!” and will even burn their way through metal to get at it. Skeletons of various victims both human and fish wash ashore, while Bartell lets loose Murdock’s tethered plane and prepares several beakers of electrically-activated microbes for testing … on his new companions.”
This was one of those really “nasty” sorts of movies this lil’ Catgirl was absolutely forbidden to see by my parents at my tender age. Still, I snuck downstairs one night to catch it on the TV in my dad’s study….. much to my Grandma’s horror when the resulting nightmares it spawned woke her up three nights in a row. (Miyuki!! You such a bad, bad girl…. You promise Granny you not watch those bad movies anymore!!)
Well… we all know that didn’t happen. Still, somehow, your Favorite Catgirl Princess recovered from her nightmares all those years ago… but now that this one has returned on DVD, how does it stack up to the current crop of Video Nasties that I watch these days? I guess you’ll just have to take a nostalgic stroll down Memory Lane with me and find out…..
This one is a classic example of that tried and true, good ol’ “Evil Nazi Scientist continues his mad experiments” genre. You remember those…. always with some nasty guys hiding out in the most out of the way places planning their nefarious schemes for world domination and whatnot. Our Mad Scientist, (played here in excellent campy fashion by Martin Kosleck) has these creepy bacteriological warfare experiments left over from the war, and he’s ever so close to perfecting them….. or at least he thinks so.
Even before the movie really gets down to business we get very quick idea of exactly where we’re headed. Starting off, we see a young couple out for a fun day of yachting and hijinx. As one might expect in a film like this, after some sunbathing, naturally the girl ends up frolicking topless in the water. (It’s an exploitation flick…. gotta up the cheesecake quotient afterall… Hehehehe!!) But then, tragedy strikes!….. Her boyfriend, Freddie disappears right before her eyes just before she herself is dragged underwater to become a victim of… “The Flesh Eaters”!
Next we find a chartered plane with a suitably square jawed hero, Grant Murdoch (played by Byron Sanders, known best as Talbot Huddleston in the daytime soap opera “The Days of our Lives”), a drunken has-been actress, Laura Winters (played by Rita Morely) and her cute assistant, Jane Letterman (played by Barbara Wilken) that just has to perform this forced landing on the little island where the mad doctor is holed up and you just know we’re in for some classic horror action. The acting here is soooo campy and overdone, but then, that’s just how these stories are supposed to be!
With a cast of characters like these, you are probably already thinking by now… “OMG!! We’ve got the Skipper, the Professor, Ginger and Mary Ann…. and Mr. and Missus Howell have been eaten already….. but where’s Gilligan?” Ah ha!!… Worry not! Our intrepid lil’ band gets joined later on by this crazy beatnik named Omar (played by Ray Tudor) who arrives with equally obnoxious gramophone by way of a makeshift raft…. perhaps the most annoying character in any genre film until Chris Rock in “The Fifth Element”… and you’ll almost be glad when he gets his innards all eaten up from the inside out by a deadly microbe laced cocktail courtesy of evil Professor Bartell. His death scene was the thing that scared the bejeebits outta this lil kitten waaaay back then. Just the nasty sight of him screaming in terrible pain as the terrible shiny lil’ critters dissolved his guts….. but that’s not the worst. In a macabre turn, the evil doctor skewers him to his raft and sets his dead body afloat along with a tape recording of his final horrible moments to make the others think he’s being killed right before their eyes during a stupid attempt to flee the island…. To this day, I can’t drink a simple glass of water without thinking of poor, dumb Omar….
And that, I think is the sheer genius of the story… Obviously this one was made by it’s director, Jack Curtis, on an extremely tiny budget… (a story I read somewhere, said it was financed by the money his wife won on some TV game show, and I can certainly believe it!!) It’s got practically no sets… only a small group of characters, and that deserted beach…. but somehow it all works. A lot of the credit for that lies in the simple premise of the creatures themselves… They’re shown mostly as this shimmering, eerie photographic effect that helps to obscure and hide the equally primitive gore effects making them all that much more scary. In fact, it’s only at the end of the film, when the creatures have been “fused” by mad science into a giant “super-colony monstrosity” that they actually lose that downright scary element and become just another fake rubber suited thing.
Lil’ Neko was ever soooo much more frightened by the nearly invisible microbes that were supposed to be in the water everywhere… waiting for even a drop of it to touch you and let the terrible lil’ things start their voracious multiplication. I was a very imaginative little girl… and immediately grasped the horrific possibilities hinted at here. Writer Arnold Drake certainly understood the maxim that “less is more”… and even though this is an extremely simple plot, it actually works pretty much as a whole thanks to this. All except that ending bit….
Here things go slightly awry, and logic sorta goes flying away once the microbes all get fused into the “super colony” and we find out it suddenly becomes vulnerable to one thing…. human blood…. Like you aren’t going to encounter that when you eat people for a living….. OK…OK.. Granted you had to inject the blood right into the big ol’ monster’s eye, but really…. couldn’t the mad doctor have had a supply of leftover Nazi nerve gas or something lying around for a more sensible ending? Oh well… a minor quibble that even my younger self puzzled over way back then.
Still, for it’s surprisingly effective if primitive gore alone this one scores well, even today. The DVD from Dark Sky Films presents this one uncut… at least uncut as I saw it on TV. They even included the Trailer and some crazy “Nazi medical experiment footage” outtakes that originally ran in the film during it’s theatrical release. Lil’ Miyuki never got to see these, and it’s probably a good thing…. considering that they feature a bunch of naked women getting shoved into a swimming pool of flesh eaters and their skeletons being pulled back out. The final test of the germs is on a male corpse pushed into the pool, but the flesh eaters wont eat any of the dead corpse. Brrrr!!! Grandma never would have gotten a good night’s sleep ever again if I had seen any of that! So in conclusion….. Neko gives “The Flesh Eaters” a well deserved 4 “Meows” out of 5 for still being a genuine classic even to me as a grownup and scaring me even today with it’s creepy premise.
And there’s even a Trailer available for this ol’ classic… enjoy!!