An isolated farm house in Pennsylvania. A desperate group of people trapped inside. Zombies overrunning the countryside, with a hunger for human flesh. Bill Hinzman playing the Cemetery Ghoul. Vince Survinski playing Vince, a character with a rifle and a surly attitude. But wait…. Teenagers on a hayride? Suddenly I realize I’m not watching some colorized version or remake NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at all! I’m watching the film that Zombie # 1 Hinzman himself was destined to write, produce, edit, direct and star in. FLESH EATER is yet another effort from Hinzman that cashes in on his NOTLD character. This is not a great movie. Nor is it the vision of George Romero. If you stumble upon it and expect social commentary and profound filmmaking, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If, however, you go in looking for a zombie romp with hilariously bad dialogue, one-dimensional characters and lots of boobs and full-color blood, with links to NOTLD, then you’re going to love this film, as I do.
A little back story, and Hinzman’s intent becomes clear. While visiting John Russo at a horror con, Bill realized that people recognized him from Romero’s film. The light went off in his head, and he surmised that there was money in resurrecting the Cemetery Ghoul as the central character in a 1980s zombie flick. When the letters he sent with a photo of himself as the Flesh Eater got return letters from Russo and Romero’s lawyers, he basically said, “Screw it” and made his film anyway. Stripping away all the stuff that made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD a masterpiece that’s still studied today, Hinzman focused on horny teenage characters, who were willing to show skin and end up getting eaten. Which of course leads to their reanimation. So what we have here is like NOTLD Lite. If you’re willing to accept that, you’ll enjoy.
As for the plot: a bunch of teens are out on a hayride when the driver takes them past a farmer taking down an old tree stump. Under the stump is a coffin with a heavy chain and deadbolt wrapped around it, and a weird, ritualistic phrase: “This evil which will take flesh and blood from thee and turn all ye unto evil.” Committing one of those bonehead moves that only people in horror movies make, the farmer ignores the warning, breaks the chain and opens the coffin. The Cemetery Ghoul automatically awakens and goes on a human buffet, attacking some of the hayriders and several others over the course of 90 minutes.
As we’re in the Romero world, everyone he bites gets up and seeks flesh, and so on. The film builds itself around some choice high spots: a barn attack, the farm house siege, a family getting ready to go trick or treating (it takes place on Halloween), another family home, and a party with the wimpiest football I’ve ever seen. Between these scenes it follows a pattern in which zombies attack, corpses reanimate, people run to places of safety, where the zombies attack again. Gone are the tension and claustrophobia of Romero’s masterpiece, replaced by two goofy kids who can’t convince anyone to help them, but finally find a safe place. That is, until posse member Vince shows up, rifle in hand. Clearly, it’s a rule that Vince Survinski couldn’t appear in a zombie movie without playing a bastard.
FLESH EATER is a shameless exploitation flick. The script provides all sorts of ridiculous situations and dreadfully silly dialogue. And it’s got a chauvinist bent; for proof, check out the scene with the young couple in the barn where the girl just wants to have sex and the guy is reluctant! (Yes, this is complete and total male fantasy.) It also leads the audience early on to believe that the kids on the hayride will be the protagonists, but most of them get dispatched in the first act! A rare event indeed. Not that the actors gave us characters worthy of sympathy. They’re so slim, they don’t even qualify for the Generic Stereotype Generator, unless “trippy kid who says outlandish stuff” functions as a stock character.
And the performances of the actors, many of whom Hinzman ported over from the John Russo-scripted THE MAJORETTES, fall well below the Quality Equator. As portrayed by John Mowod and Leslie Ann Wick, Bob and Sally become our de facto heroes, and we’re supposed to like them because they’re good kids who want to be together forever… and because they want to avoid being dinner. While Wick is a great example of 80s hot, and Mowod is handsome, these are two more dumb kids in a movie loaded with dumb kids.
But can I tell you something? All of that makes FLESH EATER a romp! Hinzman’s not out to provide a profound treatise on the evils of society; instead, he wants to give you tits and blood, and on that note, the film delivers. On a visceral level, he doles out the goods. Some of the gore effects aren’t great, but there are plenty of them, bathed in rivers of red by special makeup effects guy Gerald Gergely. As for the girls, most of them you probably wouldn’t want to take to the prom, but they have no problem getting naked for the camera. There’s also an energy to the film, as it moves on to a fresh location and new set of victims every ten minutes or so, once it gets going.
The greatest thing about FLESH EATER, though, is that it’s a document to how shameless Bill Hinzman is. He steals the character from Romero and Russo, writes/ produces /directs/ edits /acts in the film, casts his friends and family in production and acting roles, and frames the thing in Romero’s DEAD universe. His zombie is stronger, more cunning and testosterone-driven in this one, and, when taken from a certain angle, even provides the cause behind the zombies in Romero’s trilogy! But by far my favorite part of the film is when Hinzman eats his own daughter! Yes, shameless Bill cast Heidi Hinzman as a 12-year-old dressed up as an angel for Halloween. Then noshed on her.
Speaking of noshing, FLESH EATER is one of the oddest entries in the Horror Movie Relocation Program. To capitalize further on the Romero connection, Hinzman subtitled it REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD. At least that makes sense. Which the British title does not: ZOMBIE NOSH. Huh?
The special features on the film are fair, considering what a low budget affair the film itself was. The highlight is the 35 minute featurette, Back into the Woods. Hinzman discusses his early career and sheds some light on the background and filming of the film. Gergely dishes details of his work, including how he accidentally had Hinzman bite into a real pig’s heart. With an anecdote about paying actors, producer/ actor Andy Sands proves just how cheap low budget filmmakers can be. These stories are not terrible, but listening to these three for upwards of a half hour gets a little dry. The disc also presents the film’s score over stills from the film, an interesting method. Also available are trailer for FLESH EATERS and three other trashy, low budget efforts. The crown jewel of the special features is by far Hinzman’s black-and-white zombie pizza commercial, in which he portrays—you guessed it— the Cemetery Ghoul. Only Bill would have the audacity. But as a X Chris pointed out the first time I watched this disc, it really should’ve been for Tombstone Pizza.
FLESH EATER is a derivative film made solely for Bill Hinzman to exploit his connection with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and George Romero. Others would follow, but it’s by far the most fun. Watching Zombie # 1 win out in Romero territory, while tearing out guts and ripping off bras, makes this a must watch for any NOTLD fan with a perverse sense of humor.