If you're a true fan of fright, you probably know S. William "Bill" Hinzman. Maybe not by name, but surely by his fear facade. He was the first zombie encountered by Barbara and her cynical brother Johnny during their visit to a remote cemetery on what would eventually become a Night of the Living Dead. Since that 1968 classic, Hinzman has parlayed his association with George A. Romero into a lucrative career in corporate and educational filmmaking, as well as a considerable cult cache as an icon of terror. After 15 years outside of the mainstream, he stepped back in to make his own movies, helming 1986's action/slasher The Majorettes. Sensing some exploitation/genre success, his next feature would trade heavily on his skin snacking past. FleshEater, subtitled Revenge of the Living Dead, used the familiar monster maniac from Romero's gem to fashion a 90 minute pseudo splatter epic. While not always coherent or professionally acting, this bevy of blood and guts will surely appease the arterial spray lover inside all fans of pre-CG shivers.
A bunch of late '80s prolls, all decked out in bad hair, worse accents, and dorky denim ensembles, take a halting hayride into the middle of nowhere. There, they smoke pot, drink bear, and compliment each others' lamentably loose sexual morals. When a local farmer unearths an ancient ruin, and a coffin holding a flesh eating zombie, it's not long before the undead are packing the wilderness. As the teens are stalked and bitten one by one, they too become members of the cannibal corpse craze. Even the police are unable to stop the advancing horror hordes, leaving our last two survivors to fend for themselves against the main FleshEater and his many minions.
Like a nasty nostalgia trip back in gut munching time, FleshEater (not to be confused with 1964's idiotic The Flesh Eaters - or any other similarly named offering) is so reminiscent of the period in which it was made that it should come with a Kajagoogoo picture disc import 45. It's a prime example of direct to video entertainment, singular in purpose and executed with a similar "no ambitions breached" attitude. Hinzman, who has some skill behind the lens, simply delivers his clothesline narrative, piles on the interchangeable victims (including an entire new collection at the hour mark), and then turns up the gore. There's the usual funky neckbites, a bit of chest cavity evacuation, some especially nasty head wounds, and more than one example of exposed intestinal "fortitude". There is little drama, even less suspense, and a decent feeling of dread that comes from the lo-fi way in which it was made. But for the most part, FleshEater is like a grue greatest hits. We come to the movie expecting the usual offal and we get gallons and gallons of it.
Of course, for those looking for more than meaty goodness - well, good luck. FleshEater fails in almost all other accounts. You can see it from the first 'sex' scene, where a mutt ugly girl gives a mullet wearing douche the big eye, and he proceeds to rebuff her. A little more prodding from the wanton witch, and suddenly she's showing off her floppy natural naughtiness. A few French kisses later and the sequence ends in boobs, beasties, and bloodshed. Indeed, most of FleshEater is mere set-up and payoff (a group of Halloween revelers end up in the zombies' masticating maws, a family preparing to trick or treat meets a similar sluice fate) and while Hickman pushes a few boundaries (a kid gets offed in the aforementioned home invasion, a nude daughter snacks on her unsuspecting dad) it's not enough to match the post-millennial advances in scares. Today's homemade horror films often surpass FleshEater in protracted pus and purulence...and production value.
Still, it's fun to revisit this kind of filmmaking, if just to see people plying their desire to frighten in ways that only a small budget and a dedicated F/X team can deliver. You can see the appliances and the latex most of the time. Camera tricks are frequently employed to keep the lens from picking up misguided make-up mistakes. Even better, performances are cut short and dialogue directed off camera so that the piss poor acting of some in the cast can't be seen. Hinzman's style can best be described as obvious - give us a glimpse of the menace, find a few seconds of silent worry, then deliver the death blow. The wooden Fall atmosphere of his location works well, as does the many creaky homes and deteriorating barns he employs. With a better cast he might have pulled off an ersatz sequel to match his previous zombie excellence. With FleshEater, you get a decent '80s knock-off, and that's about it. Dated, but definitely worth checking out.
As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If Shriek Show does send a final product version of FleshEater to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly. Currently, the screener offers a 1.78:1 anamorphic image that is distinct in its handmade '80s looks. It offers decent detail and a nice level of evil Autumnal ambience.
As per this critic's policy, Screener copies of DVDs are not awarded points for video or audio. If Shriek Show does send a final product version of FleshEater to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly. Currently, the screener offers a Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 mix that is decenrt, but far from definitive.
This Screener copy of FleshEater contains an interview with Hinzman, as well as a collection of trailers and a photo gallery. The one main oddity is a commercial for a local pizza outlet where our hero and some additional "zombified" actors devour a pie being delivered to a cemetery. Truly weird. That's it - no commentary or additional making-of material. If Shriek Show does send a final product version of FleshEater to the site, this paragraph will be updated accordingly.
For any young adult diving through various bottom shelf specials at the area Mom and Pop video outlet circa 1986, something like FleshEater strikes a particularly potent chord. It's half-baked and half-assed most of the time, but it definitely illustrates the DIY spirit of the VHS times. Earning an easy Recommended, here's an additional caveat - go in expecting something similar to Romero's original Night and you'll be gravely disappointed. Channel the ghost of Albert Band and the lingering lifeline of Fred Olen Ray and you'll adore every blood drenched minute. There are many out there like Bill Hinzman, minor members of the horror elite who have used their established cult to cut a more viable that valid entertainment existence. FleshEater is a good example of such stunted staying power. It's not horrible or horrifying. It's merely honorable.