Friday night at the home drive-in: I Eat Your Skin (1964) or was it (1971)?

Who doesn’t know the story of this movie? Shot in 1964, but not released until 1971, it was originally titled Zombie, or maybe Invasion of the Zombies, but when producer Jerry Gross needed a second feature to send out with I Drink Your Blood he retitled it to I Eat Your Skin.

I Eat Your Skin got panned in every horror review book I ever read. Terror On Tape, by James O’Neill, gave it one and half stars and noted that the acting was “as gruesome as it gets.” Creature Features, by John Stanley, also gave it one and half stars and said “Credit (or discredit) Del Tenney for writing-producing-directing this mess.” Thanks to reviews like these, I avoided watching I Eat Your Skin for many years. But there was always a nagging voice somewhere in the back of mind telling me that this movie needed to be seen. And since it came as a bonus feature on my super-deluxe blu-ray of I Drink Your Blood, I no longer had any excuse to ignore it.

The movie isn’t half as bad as it’s reputation suggests. It’s exactly the kind of movie I used to see on Not Quite Classic Theatre when I was a teenager; it’s black and white, it’s about monsters, and it’s oddly inspiring (to me). Perhaps it’s the imperfect expression of entertaining ideas that draws me in. It’s like reading a rough draft of a script and seeing the potential for greatness in it – or at least the potential for improvement.

The best parts of I Eat Your Skin, for me, are the scenes shot at the legendary Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. I first leaned about the Fontainebleau when I was writing episodes of a true crime documentary series. One of the cases I became immersed in was the murder of Ben Novack Jr. – who some referred to as “the prince of the Fontainebleau.” His parents built and ran the hotel throughout its historic heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, when Hollywood stars like Frank Sinatra were regular customers – and movies like Goldfinger (1964) were partially shot there. I’ve watched Goldfinger several times over the years, but not since learning about the Fontainebleau. So, I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the hotel in the opening shots of I Eat Your Skin, which was coincidentally shot there in the same year as Goldfinger.

I think what I like about location scenes, particularly in low budget movies, is that they seem to offer us glimpses of history preserved on film. No matter how unimportant a movie like I Eat Your Skin may be, it can still show us what a place like the Fontainebleau was like, at that time. The bigger budget the movie, the more the filmmakers can manipulate what we see. But a movie like I Eat Your Skin probably just pointed the camera at what was there. It’s possible that some of the people in the background were simply hotel guests who agreed to be filmed. That would have been a nice vacation souvenir, wouldn’t it?

I Eat Your Skin is not the best movie of it’s kind, but it’s far from being the worst. Its style and atmosphere take me back to the glory days of Not Quite Classic Theatre – and I will definitely be watching it again. It’s a perfect addition to the #NotQuiteClassicCinema library.