Movies From the Black Lagoon: The Flesh Eaters

Movies From the Black Lagoon
The Flesh Eaters - 1964, Unrated
By Tom Doty

Fans of those "body count" flicks of the 80's will enjoy this 60's effort that sees stock characters assembled on a remote island so that the titular creatures can knock them off one by one. The end result is a fusion of 50's sci-fi and the gory film style that would close out the decade with films like 'Night of the Living Dead." It's all served up on a low budget and this trend (cheap sets and copious gore) would go into overdrive by the middle of the decade with the arrival of Herschel Gordon Lewis ("2000 Maniacs" and "Blood Feast."
Our story begins in 80's fashion with a teen couple frolicking on a boat before the female takes a topless dive into the sea. Turns out they aren't as alone as they thought they were as she is soon surrounded by a dark mass which tears her to ribbons as she screams for her boyfriend (who dies off screen). Before you can decide what to make of all of that the film jumps to a new story about an alcoholic actress named Laura and her hard working secretary, Jan.
The pair charters a private plane to spirit them to Provincetown, on Cape Cod (which happens to be a smashing location that doesn't get used here as the film was shot on long Island, home of Joey Buttafuco, and the worst accents in the Big Apple). Their pilot, Murdoch, charges them his hurricane rate (three times normal) but the hurricane that they think they'll outrace forces them to set down on an uncharted island. Sounds like an episode of 'Gilligan's Island," doesn't it? It comes close to that vibe but instead of a stiff American Professor type you get a German Bio-Chemist named Bartell. Instead of a goofy first mate you get a stoned Beatnik who floats into the action on a handmade raft.
The hurricane passes through and leaves everyone pretty healthy and that is a problem for Barlow who needs secrecy to perfect his experiments on the flesh eaters that surround the island. Unfortunately the guests get hip to the fact that monsters are afoot when they stumble across a sea of fish bones and a human skeleton (actually the bathing beauty from the opening scene).
Barlow decides to split the group up so he can thin the herd. Slipping the Beatnik a "flesh eater" Mickey makes for a gory demise as they devour him from within but the others prove harder to kill. Eventually Barlow explains to them that the killers are a Nazi experiment that was meant to weaken America during the war. Apparently they were set free off the cost of Florida but took their time drifting up the coast but are now ready to descend on Massachusetts. All Barlow needs to do is stun them so he can sell the lot as a bio-weapon to the highest bidder.
This plan proves to be beyond his pay grade and the electricity he uses to knock them out also makes them mutate into one larger being that sort of looks like any cheap rubber suited monster of the 50's. It leads to a "not so special effects " laden finale that pits Murdoch against a giant flesh eater.
This one gets points for sheer brutality as Barlow turns out to be a villain so vile he probably inspired plenty of James Bond bad guys. The creatures are also pretty cool when they're small. One tense bit has Barlow carving an inch of flesh off Murdoch's leg to get at two of the creatures that are burrowing inside for a good meal. The effects vary but the atmosphere is consistently lurid. This one works best as a late night feature that you watch while beginning to fade into a deep slumber. You won't wake up refreshed but you'll have fun deciphering how much of what you remember was actually in the movie and how much of it was the 7-11 burrito you flash fried as a late night nibble.
Best Line: "They'll eat their way through anything that comes between them and their meat."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@myactv.net.