Summer means it’s a perfect time to revisit some black and white “exotic flavored” zombie flick of yore.
Made in 1964 as “Carribean Adventure”, titled this way to hide from investors the fact it was a zombie movie… it never saw the light of day until 1971, when the zombie genre was “properly” born via the unexpected, shocking and – as time would tell – seminal release in theathers of a low budget flick called The Night Of The Living Dead in 1968.
Of course, zombies existed in cinema before, but mostly “voodoo zombies”, as in people put under hypnosis or drugged by a scientist or master of some kind, used as both forced labour and goons to dispose of people, usually made invulnerable by magic to compensate their slow, stiff movements, but even by 1964 the “voodoo zombie genre” had already plateaud… heck, you can argue it basically died in the mid 40’s when zombie comedies like Zombies On Broadway happened, as Universal later would make Abbott and Costello meet its own monster roster.
But the better way to understand a movie like this is to point out it’s from Del Tenney (here directing, writing and producing), whom also directed The Curse Of The Living Corpse… but i feel he’s mostly remembered for its other cult movie, Horror At Party Beach, which has been featured of Mistery Science Theather 3000 (SODIUUUUM!) during its original run, and was also made in 1964. It has the same “beach party” light hearted vibe and feel, which is unfortunate since it was released in 1971, in a double bill with “I Drink Your Blood”, a movie about Manson inspired hippie killers, with the promotional poster clearly trying to capitalize on the new zombie movie craze, by tricking people into the theather with promises of violence and gore, and instead giving them rabies infected killer hippies and a shelved voodoo zombie movie.
While i haven’t watched I Drink Your Blood yet, i can say it’s “classic” false advertisement as far as “I Eat Your Skin” goes, of course – as everyone points out – because not only there’s no epidermis gnawing anywhere into the movie, but there’s barely any blood, the not-so-pristine black and white doesn’t help in this regard, but i think they spray (fake) chicken blood during one of the tiresome “tribal-liturgic-ritual dances”. The only gore you get is a bloodless and very hockey decapitation, so cheap and badly done you can way too easily tell how they did it, even for the time it’s embarassing.
The zombie make up is on the same crap level as in Buried Grounds/Notti Del Terrore, maybe worse because of the black n white making the plaster on the actor faces look like crap, and on top of that the zombies have big, goofy ass bulging eyes painted on, just a touch above the “Killer In Space” ping-pong balls inserts, but still far more goofier than scarier. Actually, the way the zombies work here is quite similar to Burial Grounds, as in they’re actually undead and can use tools and weapons, despite the “voodoo” thing that never actually matters for the zombies themselves.
The premise sees a romance book writer, Tom Harris, interrupted in his womanizing gigolo-ing by his manager, whom -alongside his wife – flyes him to Voodoo Island , hoping he gets inspired by the mysterious tribal rites the locals still enact. But as he finds out, there are zombies roaming around trying to kill or abduct people, and Tom begins to wonder how the voodoo rituals are connected to experiments on snake venom the resident scientist Dr. Augustus Biladeau is conducting…
If the plot sound already sketchy, don’t worry, it makes even less sense when you stop and try to make its elements gel together, because everything is contrived as heck, and the script is so bad the villain’s motive has to be revealed in the the last 10 minutes via really desperate exposition by a dying character, because they realized the script didn’t really give you any ground to even suspect that. Maybe if the movie did spend less time on the inane ritual dance scenes…
For most of the movie i thought the villain just wanted to marry the scientist’s daughter, especially since some of the lines were almost explicitly saying that, so i just wondered why he didn’t just ask the fuckin scientist for his daughter’s hand…. heck, with the last-minute explanations the villain’s master plan makes even less sense, somehow. XD
Still, given how racist and sexist this movie is (in all the way you can expect a 60’s movie to be), i find it hilarious how the villain could have easily solved this entire situation by just asking the scientist for his daughter’s hand, he was in position to basicall request that and it would have made more sense to keep the scientist in check, despite the stuff he chaggers at the end.
To further cement this one into its status as a “so bad it’s good movie”, you have obvious usage of stock footage for the tropical animals, some minor but noticeable bad cuts, character clichès galore (the womanizing suave man, the island scientist, the hot scientist’s daughter, the obnoxious rich & spoiled wife of the publisher, etc.), failed attemps at humour, and mostly bad acting from the cast, which does have William Joyce (The Parallax View, This Could Be The Night) playing the lead Tom, but his friend-producer is actually played by the far more prominent Walter Coy (The Searchers, Pancho Villa, The Lusty Men).
Coy is not that present but it’s definitely the better actor, while Joyce’s performance is just mediocre, and Heather Hewitt (playing the producer’s wife, Coral) turns out the worst one, then again, the script doesn’t do anybody any favor, but it’s clear some character (primarly Coral’) had to be redubbed, and still, they sound “off” in many instances, not a surprising since the audio is crap too.
Another essential requirement for a “cult crap movie” is an odd memorable scene that you will remember because it’s befuddling, random or stands out in some way, and in this case, it’s a scene where a zombie walks (just walks) to an airplane while carrying a box of explosives – with just “EXPLOSIVE” written on it, of course – but i guess he already ate some dynamite before, because this leads the airplane to flat out, immediatly EXPLODE on contact. Darn those combustile suicide bomber voodoo zombies.
Overall, i do feel that I Eat Your Skin is worth of its cult status, it’s bad and dumb in all the ways most cinema buffs enjoy and find funny, pretty much, it’s cheesy enough, it’s silly and it’s not cynical or mean, quite the opposite, light hearted, really not “extreme” in any sense, almost (almost) wholesome for a cheap piece of 60’s drive-in shlock, as the focus clearly wasn’t on shocking anyone with gore or nudity or actually good direction or screenwriting.
It’s not that great as a “so bad it’s good” movie, but i’s entertaining enough, moves along fairly fast, has its own charm borne of cheapness and plain ol’ incompetence, his accidental importance as a small chapter in the history of zombie movies, and it’s fairly short, not even clocking at 80 minutes, so it’s a quick sit.
One i recommend to genre cinema fans only, though.