Saturday, January 12, 2008


Poor li'l NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Thanks to both its phenomenal success and its public-domain status, filmmakers looking to make a quick buck in the horror market came to this venerated classic with the same dispassionate eagerness of a football squad visiting that certain cheerleader--you knew you'd get what you wanted, with a minimum of effort.

If that wasn't bad enough, the worst offenders were those involved with the 1968 original. While nothing can top the sheer balls-n-gall spectacle that was John Russo's 30th Anniversary "special edition," Bill Hinzman (who found himself still recognized as NIGHT's original ghoul) decided to carve out a little piece of sure-fire success for himself with 1988's FLESH EATER: REVENGE OF THE LIVING DEAD, which had a video shelf life roughly as long as a box of Twinkies.

Shot in the same region where Romero made horror history, FLESH EATER acts as sort of an alternate version of NIGHT. The premise is simple: A farmer uprooting a stump in his field finds Hinzman's resting place, which is guarded by a vague warning of the evil underneath (Hinzman opts for a supernatural explanation, though he allows it to go completely unexplored). Apparently the warnings weren't effective enough, since the farmer finds himself face-to-face with the re-animated Hinzman--made up to resemble his role in NIGHT, unmindful that's been twenty years--and unleashes the dead upon western Pennsylvania once again.

The film, which has the same workmanlike visual style as most straight-to-tape horror flicks of the late '80s, is basically a three-part story. Part one deals with a group of partygoing teens--devoid of any personality save their obnoxiousness--head out to the woods for the standard beer and sex-fueled shenanigans. This first act plays out much like the then-lucrative slasher films, where teenagers pair off to secluded spots to make out, show a little breast, and wind up Hinzman's victims, before turning into a condensed, tension-free version of NIGHT as the teens lock themselves in a ramshackle farmhouse to defend themselves; there's quite a bit of gore on display, as Hinzman more often than not unreels a little intestine or munches on a freshly-plucked heart when doing away with his prey (and was probably the movie's ultimate downfall, coming at the height of the video-violence controversy).

Once all the teenagers have been killed and transformed into zombies (even the one Hinzman impaled with a pitchfork instead of biting), the movie segues into part two, a series of loosely-related vignettes in which people are introduced only to be killed minutes later by the zombified cast. This of course sets up part three, where the police come in and gun down the marauding dead; if you've seen NIGHT then you'll know exactly how this is going to end, even if Hinzman didn't telegraph it from a mile away (oh, by the way, Bill: having your two survivors pledge their undying love to each other and declare just how wonderful their lives are going to be when we know damn well they're going to get shot by a redneck sheriff doesn't heighten the tragedy, it's just makes the ending even more stupid). And though the zombies are killed off in this one, Hinzman allows himself to live, to either act as an unauthorized prologue to NIGHT or just as another example of the script's lack of ingenuity.

Hinzman keeps the action moving, even if it's not terribly interesting, with a steady stream of female flesh in between disembowelings. The cast, judging from their level of acting ability, is made up of family members and friends willing to work cheap and the gore FX aren't bad, given that they're there to spice up an otherwise dull plot.

In the end, though, FLESH EATER feels more like a movie made to cash in on the success of not only Romero's classic but the horror craze in general, and as such can't even generate much in the way of entertainment. Instead of simply taking pride in that he was once part of something great, Hinzman has added yet another batch of sticky fingerprints to the tarnished legacy of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD.

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