Flesh Eater (1988) – The Night Of The Living Dead origin no one needed

If there is one thing zombie movie fans love, it’s watching the living being eaten alive to sate the hellish appetites of the undead hordes and their own, carnal sensibilities. If there is a second thing they like, it’s often having an interesting backstory behind the film and bit of vintage to its creation. This is possibly it’s due to the production tribulations and copyright problems of the touchstone work of the genre, The Night Of The Living Dead (NOTLD), or maybe it’s because, until recently, aficionados were considered the creepy cousins to more wholesome things like Vampires, Werewolves, and serial killers and needed something else to talk about between themselves once the delicate and nuanced plot variations of “and then they ate everyone!” have been chewed over. Whatever it is, 1988’s Flesh Eater (AKA Zombie Nosh and Revenge Of The Living Zombies) wears it’s rather curious pedigree on it’s chest, like the proud winner of Six Degrees of George A Romeo, due to being Produced, Directed, Written by, Edited, and Staring The Bill Hinzman!

Yeah, me neither. But if I were to say “The zombie in the graveyard that attacks Johnny and Barbara in the opening sequence of Night Of The Living Dead” there would hopefully be a spark of recognition, and once the film hits the 15 minute mark you should definitely recognise him as Flesh Eater/Nosh (it all depends on the cover blurb you got with your DVD) looks exactly like a 20 year old version of that previously nameless ghoul, including wearing exactly the same suit and apparently glued on facial expression. Coincidence? Legally speaking, sufficiently “yes” enough to avoid legal inconveniences. But for all practical purposes “Hell No!!” this is an attempt at making a prequal to NOTLD, something that hardly anyone but the utterly bereft of ideas has ever asked for. It’s also structurally somewhat of a remake of that same film, just done in crayon. A very damp, very red, very liberally applied, crayon…

Little Miss Messy Eater

To cover the basic plot: group of students go into the forest, on the back of a hay tractor ride, for an overnight stay of beer, necking, Halloween hijinks, and partial nudity in the middle of the woods. The farmer who drove the tractor heads back to town to pick up more beer for them (and hopefully some tents, as the $60,000 production budget clearly couldn’t cover a tent between the lot of them) and in the process finds a sinister hidden object buried in the woods (to be generous, he was “drawn to it by eldritch powers”, although it looks more like he just heads straight to it because the script tells him to). He digs a bit, finds a coffin under a maker stone screaming “Warning, Contains Evil!”, opens it up because of reasons and then, presumably also because of reasons, hangs around looking confused whilst Flesh Eater slowly rises up and then eats his face. This all happens 15 minutes into the film, so whilst you may be worried it’s going to be a bad you can feel confident it’s not going to muck around getting on with it.

Come for the zombies, stay for the context!

From there, the zombies chase the kids to a barn and nibble them with gusto. Then the zombies go around town and nibble people in a range of amusing manners. At the 50-minute mark the kids are in a new barn, that’s housing another batch of students at another Halloween party, and more nibbling happens in rapid order. At various points the police initially don’t believe the kids cries for help, because people don’t nibble people, and then do believe the kids because you can’t dispute all those nibbled people being left around all over the place. Then a posse gets together and shots anyone that looks a little bit too nibblish, setting alight to the final barn (killing all the zombies via voiceover) and then outright ripping off the twist of NOTLD but completely getting it wrong, whilst Flesh Eater buggers off to kick start the better movie 20 years previously.

“Get In My BELLY!”

Please, don’t think that the above spoils the plot: there isn’t one. There is literally just a means to an end, namely pretty satisfying violence and incredibly unsexy sexy bits. The violence comes in two flavours, zombies not dying and people being eaten. The not zombies not dying doesn’t happen much, as the movie proves that its tricky to do cheaply and not look silly, but the being eaten is all over the place and rather well done. Other than a couple of people being punched through the stomach in full shot, and a couple of very nice mostly-munched static corpses, it’s nothing spectacular and there isn’t really enough detail to really squick you out. They just used the simple technique of “throw on the fake blood till you can’t see enough to say it’s fake” which works to great effect and there is enough variation on who gets consumed where and how and by whom to keep it rolling. You can see every jump scare and attempted plot twist coming a mile off, but you won’t mind because everything is done in a suitably chewy 80s style.

OMG, We look just like so radically 80s! For sure.

As for the sexiness, that’s pretty much terrible due to its utter dullness and lack of thought. The sex scenes are as erotically charged as a dentist waiting room as no one involved looks like they even want to be there (I certainly wouldn’t as it all happens on haybales), let alone getting down to anything other than having a nap. There is some light boob related action, with as much emotion and sensuality as a Kraftwerk covers band, so when the zombies inevitably turn up and chomp down, guided in by a metaphorical “Eat Me!” purity klaxon over the participants sins of the flesh, you’ll think it’s an overt punishment for women having the audacity to be sexually independent AND a merciful release for all those involved (yourself included). However, none of this cheesecake sub-Playboy preview nonsense is as bad or as tiresome as the full-frontal nudity of the nanny taking a shower. This sticks out as a low point by being so extraneous to the plot it feels like a contractual obligation to distributors and being performed in such a mechanical fashion that you’ll think “just have a shower like you would at your grans” was the entire directorial input. It’s possibly the least sexy sexy-scene in cinematic history, only topped by later a scene where the same woman is eaten alive whilst full-frontally nude which manages be one of the few asexual examples of such behaviour. If you are worried that the exclusively female nudity could upset you then don’t: nothing has enough impact, tension, or craft to leave a bad taste in your mouth from watching it, only bewilderment as to how ineptly it’s all handled.

In short, this is not just an unofficial answer to the origin of the zombies in NOTLD that was never asked or needed: this is, by most measures, a bad film. The best I can offer up is that it spread the zombeying around evenly, rather than the no-budget trick of blowing all the SFX and extras cash for the last 20 minutes. However, that doesn’t beat the dullness that sets in as it shambles down an inevitable and well-worn path. To try and get a more positive take I asked fellow zombie connoisseur HJ Doom, of Bela Lugosi’s Shed, his thoughts but the best he could muster was that it had a “certain zero budget charm” and that “the Halloween party sequence shows at least a minimal trace of visual imagination”, though he did add that he watched the whole thing at a time before having a smartphone to help get through the dull bits. Truth be told, the only thing it adds to the zombie world as that it adds another entry in the “NOTLD knockoffs” section, but you can save 88 minutes of your life by just remember that for future one-upzombieship and invest that time in such outstanding contemporaries as Dead Heat, C.H.U.D. II, or the genre-redefining I Was a Teenage Zombie. Or think about your own zombie film, because if this could get made then yours can certainly do better.

The Raggedyman

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