Tag Archive: Joe Kane

PosterAfter Cinema Catharsis mentioned The Flesh Eaters (1964) as an October 2013 quick pick, I knew I had to check it out.  It’s a nice early period gore flick that stands the test of time as a decent thriller.  Originally released in 1964, even though it was made in 1960-61, it was one of the follow-ups to box office smash The Blob (1958).  The behind-the-scenes lore of The Flesh Eaters also seems pretty well documented, and recapitulating some of that story seems like a nice way to celebrate its 50th anniversary: The Flesh Eaters’s premiere was 50 years ago yesterday.

First though, the film:

Arnold Drake wrote the screenplay for The Flesh Eaters

Arnold Drake wrote the screenplay for The Flesh Eaters

It would seem the most detailed, first-hand account of the making of this film comes from its screenwriter, Arnold Drake, who gave a lengthy interview in Tom Weaver’s book, Eye on Science Fiction: 20 Interviews with Classic SF and Horror Filmmakers, published in 2003.  Drake was most renowned as a comic book writer–as a dyed-in-the-wool DC guy I am most fond of his creating “Deadman.”  Arnold passed away in 2007 at the age of 83.

A couple fun stories from the interview are worth paraphrasing: first, the film was funded in part with $70,000 acquired from producer-director Jack Curtis’s wife won on a rigged game show, High Low, in 1957.  It would appear that this would have been Curtis’s first wife, whom Drake named as “Terry,” not his later wife, Paulette Rubinstein, whom Curtis married in 1964.  The fact that the show was rigged in advance was a tightly kept secret by the Curtises for a number of years, even from Drake.

On a side note: Rubinstein apparently did some of the voice dubbing for early Godzilla films, including Godzilla vs. The Thing, which IMDB fails to mention.  Also, Jack and Paulette’s daughter, Liane Curtis starred in 16 Candles, Critters, and more recently in a one-off in season one of Sons of Anarchy.  

Barbara Wilkin, was little more than a pretty face in The Flesh Eaters, according to Drake.

Barbara Wilkin was little more than a pretty face,  according to Drake.  She apparently called it a career in 1968, and left film and television after only a decade.

Anyway, the second interesting tidbit from this interview was the story about how Frank Sinatra almost got into the movie–or not.  After they had cast Barbara Wilkin the fimmakers found an unnamed woman whom Drake says was much more attractive than Wilkin who had no acting experience, but she said her boyfriend would put up whatever funds were necessary to finish the film.

Following the money, Drake and Curtis meet the boyfriend–someone named “Chester”–in Chicago, where he was putting them up in a swanky hotel right on Lake Michigan.  After pitching the film–and emphasizing and re-emphasizing that this was a low budget film–Chester was convinced and announced “Frankie owes me, from way back,” and said it was settled–he’d call Sinatra and convince him to be in this picture, and the two filmmakers would be hearing from Chester’s people. This caused, as one would imagine, a huge panic: Sinatra was obviously a huge star, and this was not the movie for him or his entourage.  A full union crew would be needed for an A-lister like him, coming at the cost of an extra half-million dollars or more.  A few days afterwards they heard from Chester’s accountant who said: “We’ve decided not to go with this venture.”  No kidding.  They never heard from the beautiful wannabe actress again.  In any case, Wilkin did a fine job, though Drake wasn’t terribly impressed with her.

This film also forced the hand of the great George Romero and the titling of his best known film, Night of the Living Dead (1968).  Originally, Romero wanted his film to be called Night of the Flesh Eaters, but a lawyer contacted him to change his film’s name, presumably on behalf of Vulcan Productions, Curtis and Drake’s production company that made The Flesh Eaters.  At any rate, to avoid a lawsuit, Romero changed the name of his classic to Night of the Living Dead, according to Joe Kane’s book on the making of Romero’s film.

The legacy of The Flesh Eaters tends to be overshadowed, mainly by Hershell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast, which came out the year prior to Flesh Eaters–both experimented with being more gory depictions of violence, but Blood Feast was obviously more violent by an order of magnitude.  Also, Blood Feast was a color picture, which made the severed tongues and disembowlings all the more realistic.  Flesh Eaters seems to me to be among the last of the American “monster on the loose” pictures that were a staple of drive-ins of the previous decade, and it seems a fitting end as film straddles that mainly tame and harmless genre and the increasingly graphic horror of the 1960s and 1970s.

Long Live “I Drink Your Blood”

PDVD_275This is one of my all-time favorite exploitation movies.  It really has it all–a good sampling of exploitation tropes, quirky casting decisions, and lots of graphic footage.  If the exploitation bug has bitten you only recently, this is a good film to start with.  It was also one of the first films to be rated X for violence, not sex.

The crux of the film is that the van of nihilistic satanist hippies–how likely is that?–breaks down in a small town, our merry bunch make pests out of themselves.  A young kid in the only moment of greatness in his life decides to lace their food with rabies-infected dog blood as revenge for the beatdown–and acid–the hippies gave Grandpa.  The hippies eat the bad food, which has an odd interaction with the copious amounts of acid they’ve already taken onboard, and they emerge as mindless, zombie-like monsters who, despite their mindlessness, have the uncanny ability–bordering on on a superpower–of finding the nearest blade and going after the others of their group or townsfolk.  The only thing to do is to put them down like the mad dogs they are.

This film comes and goes on YouTube.  It was there a couple years back, then removed.  It was posted again in late April 2013, but was removed less than a month afterwards. It has recently (26 April 2013) been again reposted in its entirety.  But it has been reliably available at Daily Motion. The version below appears to be nearer the 86-minute director’s cut, as opposed to the 77-minute version that’s also out there:

The second half of the movie, the hippies as mindless zombies half, is “a blatant a blatant bid to ride Night of the Living Dead’s cult coattails,” in the words of Joe Kane. Being derivative does not make this flick any less enjoyable, thankfully.  But not everyone seems to have thought so. When this film appeared as a double feature with Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, Craven’s son was teased in school.

Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford say of this film, I Drink Your Blood is the pinnacle of the blood horror movie.  It’s fast, unrelentingly violent, and sexually explicit, dishing out a new shock every few minutes.”  All true, but what I like about this film is that it is a kind of exploitation “sampler.”  Consider all these tropes: the then- (and in some places, still-) current stereotypes of country bumpkins (“hixploitation“), as our small town residents are not at all prepared for the trouble our satanist hippies bring with them.  Then, there are our hippies themselves,  as the film relentless describes them as being a dangerous subculture.  It’s also obviously exploits the recent Charles Manson murders, as pointed out by both Landis and Clifford and Kim Newman.  Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, playing the hippies’ leader “Horace Bones” plays up the unpredictable nihilism that reminds us very much of a more comprehensible version of Charles Manson.

Jadin Wong getting a blood facial

Jadin Wong getting a blood facial

We also see exploitation of Asians in the presence and behavior of the character of Sue-Lin, a silent, malevolent Asian woman.  Her presence and demise by self-immolation is unnecessary to move the story forward; her death exploits images that were then not too distant memories of the war in Southeast Asia of silent Buddhist monks making the same decision.  The most peculiar casting decision is Jadin Wong as the aforementioned Sue-Lin.  Wong, who would have turned 100 years old this year (she passed away in 2010 at age 96) was already a mainstream star, having gotten her start in show business at a young age, and entertained troops in Europe during World War II.  Wong was a pioneer of Asian-American women in entertainment, but only made ten movies as an actress.  Her real mark was as an agent for younger Asian-American actors and actresses for nearly a half century.  In 2004 the US House of Representatives and President George W. Bush recognized Wong for her 70+ years in show business and her cultural contributions.  All this does not add up to Wong taking a role in a low budget exploitation flick.

By this point, I’m way over-thinking this movie, so it’s probably best I end here.  This is an excellent exploitation flick that has a bit of everything in it, and is worth 83 minutes of your precious time.

This post was modified: removed dead YouTube link and added a line about IDYB coming and going on YouTube. (28 May 2013).