Trash Or Terror Tuesday: FleshEater (1988)

It’s time for #TrashOrTerrorTuesday

…when I examine a film that’s been languishing in my personal library to determine if it is #Trash or #Terror

– or more importantly, if it deserves to stay in my collection.

And so, out from the dusty shelves of #VHS tapes & DVDs comes…

DVD cover for FleshEater (1988)FleshEater (1988) by #SWilliamHinzman AKA #BillHinzman

College students on an overnight hayride (is that a thing?) come across a group of man-eating zombies and must fight for their lives while trying to escape.

“He lived, he died, he’s back, and he’s hungry!”

#Horror #Zombie
#NightOfTheLivingDead offshoot (or should I say ripoff?)

For those who don’t know, Bill Hinzman was the first zombie seen in the very first modern zombie movie  – George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). He’s the one who attacks Barbara and Johnny in the graveyard at the very beginning of the film. Hinzman worked with Romero on many of his earliest films, including industrial films and the recently rediscovered The Amusement Park (1975). Hinzman usually worked as a cinematographer, photographer, grip, and other behind the scenes jobs. But he also acted in a number of different films, usually in tiny roles such as “Drunk Guy in Bar” or “Mustachioed Archer in Tree”.

Apparently, Hintzman went to a science fiction convention sometime in the 1980s to visit a couple of friends who were appearing there. As he walked through the crowded room he discovered that people were recognizing him from his famous Night of the Living Dead appearance. They were excited to meet him, and perhaps even wanted his autograph. This made Hinzman think “Hmmm, maybe I should do something about this…”

So, Hinzman decided to more or less reprise his role as a zombie in a new movie called FleshEater (1988). He looks pretty much the same as he did in Night of the Living Dead, but a bit older. Oddly enough, he always seemed older than he really must have been in Night of the Living Dead  – perhaps in an attempt to be a more credible dead guy. In FleshEater he is finally the right age for the part.

FleshEater (1988) is clearly an offshoot (or should I say ripoff) of Night of the Living Dead. There are scenes and moments that are virtually remakes of the original film. Normally this would be a major turnoff, but because it’s Bill Hinzman doing it, he kind of gets a pass.

The acting is pretty amateurish in FleshEater, and most of the performers never did anything before or since. Vincent D. Survinski seems to reprise his role as Vince, a Posse Gunman from the original Night of the Living Dead. A few others had appeared in previous Romero, Hinzman, or John A. Russo films.

The script is pretty bad, and lacks a clear story or any kind of character development. In fact, there aren’t really any main characters, as the films drifts from one unlikely scenario to the next. A couple of the characters recur throughout the film, but we don’t really focus on them.

What FleshEater does have going for it is some pretty fun and imaginative low budget gore effects – and some surprisingly over-the-top sleaze, including a full frontal shower scene that leads to a fully naked zombie. This could be a throwback to the naked zombie in Night of the Living Dead, although that was more tasteful and implied. One can’t help but wonder if it was an attempt to recreate the magic of Linnea Quigley’s turn as Trash in The Return of the Living Dead (1985), which had made a major splash just a couple of years before Hinzman started making FleshEater

So what’s the verdict?

FleshEater (1988) is Trash – but it’s the fun kind of Trash. It’s no The Return of the Living Dead, which is a masterpiece of campy comedy and a clever satire of zombie movies. Hinzman’s style seems a tad closer to Al Adamson than George Romero or Dan O’Bannon – but those who know me, know that I love Al Adamson. 

Put another way. I can’t call FleshEater Terror, because I can’t imagine anyone ever being the least bit scared by it. It generates more laughter than suspense – and probably only for those with a taste for the trashier side of cinema. Viewers looking for a serious descendent of Night of the Living Dead will undoubtedly be disappointed. Those looking a slick and hilarious good time like The Return of the Living Dead will probably also be disappointed. Those, however, who can appreciate flawed oddities like Al Adamson’s The Fiend with the Electronic Brain (1967) or Ted V. Mikels’ The Astro-Zombies (1968), might find some undiscovered treasure in Bill Hinzman’s film. I, for one, was completely won over by the end (the first 20 minutes were a bit touch and go, however).

Incidentally, the Shriek Show DVD that I have includes some nice extras, which somehow seems to elevate to entire experience. Needless to say, I will be keeping FleshEater (1988) in my permanent collection.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

I rented Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) on Beta when it was a brand new release. I had been wanting to see it when it was playing in the theatres, but alas I could not convince my Dad to take me. Perhaps he was still angry about having been convinced to take me to Friday the 13th Part III (1982), I’m not sure. In any case, I did not get to see it on the big screen. But I did my best to make up for it during those 24 hours or so that I had the Beta tape in my possession. I watched the movie three times before having to return it to Video Zone before 6:00 PM the next day. 

I suppose it goes without saying that I really liked the movie. A lot.

In the coming months I would rent it again with friends, having insisted that they NEEDED to see this movie. I think for the most part they were less impressed than I was.

“Where’s Michael Myers?” they would say.

“He died in part two,” I would say. “This is a whole new story about Halloween…”

And as the movie unfolded in front of us, and my friends started to look more confused, I would do my best to explain things to them…  but they basically thought I was crazy.

I also remember trying to convince my Dad that Halloween III was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. He listened to me as I described the plot in painstaking detail. He never once said that anything didn’t make sense, or try to offer any criticisms of what I was saying, but I got the impression that he didn’t quite believe me. He certainly never did watch the movie, as far as I know.

So, it seemed like I was basically alone in my appreciation of this movie, and I guess I kind of accepted that.  I would still tell people, who hadn’t see it, that Halloween III was a smart and clever movie – but I stopped trying to show it to them. I guess I didn’t want to be disappointed if they didn’t agree with me. And maybe I figured it was better to let them imagine that it was a good movie (whatever that might mean to them), than to make them watch it and look at me strangely (as most people tended to do).

In those days, I couldn’t really buy movies. They were available to rent, of course, but none of the stores were selling movies at that point. Well, one of my neighbourhood stores, which also sold VCRs and other equipment, did have a small display of videotapes for sale. But the price stickers said $79.99 or $99.99 or maybe $54.49 – if it was a bargain.

I think my allowance in those days was somewhere between 50 cents and $2.00, so the idea of spending $50 – $100 on ANYTHING was beyond my comprehension.

Incidentally, that video store – which I think had a name like Video Concepts, or maybe Video Connection – didn’t last very long. It was very close to my house; less than a five minute walk. And it was about three doors down from Video Zone, one of our favourite stores. Video Concepts was a much bigger store, and I liked it. But apparently it was repeatedly burglarized late at night. Thieves would pull up in a van, remove the entire front door of the store (so much for locks), and then load out all of the expensive equipment. Nothing that Video Concepts did, in terms of adding security, prevented those crooks from getting in. After about three or four of these incidents the store had to fold.

I remember that place having the only copies of The Concrete Jungle (1982) and Cannibal Girls (1973) that I had ever seen at the point. It was a sad day when it closed. 

Since nobody was selling movies, or only selling them for a ludicrously high price, I couldn’t buy the movies I loved and watch them over and over again. I had to rent them every time (which added up), or wait for them to come on TV (which wasn’t that often). The only other thing I could do was buy the movie tie-in paperback books and read them. Halloween III is one of the ones I bought and read. And I enjoyed it, too.

I watched Halloween III as many times as I could back in the 1980s, but eventually my pace slowed down and I don’t think I watched it at all during the ’90s, or the early 2000s. I’m not sure why, exactly. It wasn’t a decision. I guess I just got busy with other things, and other movies. And Halloween III became a fond memory of my childhood and teenage years.

At some point I bought a DVD copy of Halloween III and, after what must have been a fifteen or twenty year layoff, I finally watched it again. It was every bit as enjoyable as it had been all those years ago. But I was also experiencing it on a completely different level. There was the nostalgia factor, of course. But I think my jaded adult eyes were able to see the tongue in cheek aspects, the satire, the homage, the relationship that Halloween III had to movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). The strong, charismatic villainous character of Conal Cochran, played brilliantly by Dan O’Herlihy, now reminded me of the great horror characters of the  past, played by actors like Vincent Price or Boris Karloff. Conal Cochran was his own unique character, of course, but he (and his complex evil plan) seemed to have more in common with classic horror villains like Dr Phibes or Edward Lionheart than Michael Myers and Jason Voorheyes (who were the more typical horror villains of the ’80s). Maybe that’s why I had liked Halloween III so much: it was new, but it already felt like a classic. 

My DVD has now been replaced by the Collector’s Edition Blu-ray, which I have already watched twice. And I can say with confidence that Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite of mine. It has been rediscovered and re-evaluated in recent years, and nowadays many people seem to like it, and respect it, as much as I do. Some of those hardcore fans might wonder why I call it Not Quite Classic, when I clearly love it and also use the word “classic” to describe it. I would urge them to click on the hashtag and take a look at my explanation of the term. But I would also say this: for years the movie got little to no respect at all. It was about as far from being a “classic” as any film could be (in the minds of those who just didn’t get it). Now it’s finally gaining ground, but it’s still not quite as revered and/or appreciated as many other “classic” horror films. Maybe one day it will be. Maybe not. But it is, in my opinion, a perfect example of the kind of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that I love, and it will be, for me, a welcome addition to any future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn – particularly on, or around, Halloween.

Friday night at the home drive-in: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989)

I didn’t see Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989) when it first came out. In fact, I saw Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) before I ever saw this one. I think I had probably been turned off by Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 (1987), which had seemed to be nothing more than an excuse to retread footage from the original Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984). Having recently re-watched Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 on Joe Bob’s Red Christmas, I have discovered a whole new appreciation for it… but that’s another story. Continue reading