I was not aware of 1988’s Flesh Eater until I read a review of the DVD release on Blood Sucking Geek. It just so happened that they were running a contest to win the DVD, so I left a comment explaining why I should win. I think I said that I was on a quest to see all 80s horror movies. And I won! You really should check out Blood Sucking Geek; right now they’re doing articles on a different Umberto Lenzi film every Wednesday which is awesome because his career covers everything from giallo to cannibals to zombies (a.k.a. “infected-a people”, as Lenzi calls them) and right on into the realm of unofficial Italian sequels.
But we’re not talking about Lenzi today; we’re talking about Bill Hinzman, the “cemetery infected-a person” from the original Night of the Living Dead and the writer/director/star of Flesh Eater. I was excited to check out the special features, which includes a commercial for a pizza place in which Hinzman played a zombie, and a featurette on the making of Flesh Eater. In the featurette, Hinzman tells us how he went to a horror convention in the mid 80s and was surprised to be recognized by NOTLD fans. So he came to the conclusion that so many filmmakers came to in the 80s: the video market is making lots of money on cheap horror, I think I’ll make one too. The difference is that Bill Hinzman wasn’t just some fertilizer salesman from Toejam, Texas who thought it’d be very to make a movie, Hinzman was a D.P. for Romero who had spent the years since his work with Romero making industrial films. So he knew how to make a movie, and he also knew that film was superior to video. And with that, Flesh Eater was born.
Flesh Eater begins with a group of college kids who hire a farmer to take them on a boozing, sexing hayride into the woods on Halloween night. A neighboring farmer, who obviously hasn’t seen Rawhead Rex, picks that very time to pull up a stone in one of his fields despite the fact that the stone has a warning carved into it, a wax seal, and a pentagram; well, ta da! Out pops Bill Hinzman, literally from under a rock, in corpse makeup, and he commences to eating everyone. The college kids hole up in a nearby farmhouse and it looks like the rest of the movie will be a siege. But no, their now-zombified dead friends and the two farmers and Hinzman eat them (except for two of them who are left to the NOTLD ending, hint hint) and all the zombies head out into the night to ruin everyone’s Halloween. The great thing about this is that we now get people turning into zombies while wearing their costumes, and so you get one of the greatest moments ever captured on film, a zombie in a chicken suit. Yes!
Is this a great lost classic? That depends on how much you like cheap 80s video store exploitation. Personally, I love it. It reminds me of The Dead Next Door in that the gore is good, it’s a comedic ripoff of/homage to (depending on your level of cynicism) the old Romero films, and dammit, they did the best they could with the actors and the budget. The makeup, for example in Flesh Eater is terrific, because Hinzman hired veteran effects and makeup guy Jerry Gergely, who worked on everything from My Bloody Valentine to Babylon 5. But the thing I really love about 80s horror movies like this one is not the horror as much as the 80s. I love seeing big-haired, denim-clad young people doing the White People Dance ™ in the woods and at the barn party. I love the 80s music and the way that the actors in these films looked like regular people you knew. We’ve seen some 80s nostalgia around things that shouldn’t have come back, like the 21st century resurgence of both neon and synthesizer music, but it’s the most fun to take a look back at the things that seemed normal at the time, but that probably won’t come back and shouldn’t, like the aforementioned dancing. Also, do kids even party in the woods anymore? If not, they are missing out. Anyway, because I have a video editor in the house, I have a clip of the best worst dancing in the movie for you right here! So grab your own DVD of Flesh Eater and pop some popcorn, because there’s more where this glorious scene came from. Enjoy.