Sunday, September 6, 2009

Movie Review: Zombie Nosh (AKA. FleshEater) (1988)

S. William Hinzman
Written by:
S. William Hinzman
Bill Randolph
S. William Hinzman
John Mowod
Kevin Kindlin

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See that angry old guy on the box art above? Take a look at his face. Take a good look. If you're a big fan of zombie movies you'll recognize that face almost immediately. If you're not, you're probably looking at the red lips and wacky hair and wondering if he was one of the extras in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Well, that ain't lipstick.

That there is Bill Hinzman, he played the Cemetery Zombie, the first ghoul to appear in the original Night of the Living Dead. He was also Director of Photography on The Crazies, and has been involved with a lot of other odd-and-sods around the lower-budget end of the horror market over the last forty years, but he will always be best remembered for his role in Night. This is the guy who, the moment he shambled across an Evan's City cemetery to grab a screaming Judith O'Dea, introduced audiences to the concept of the modern zombie. Before Hinzman, zombies were night-dwelling voodoo slaves who haunted Gothic necropoli or dark mangrove swamps under the control of a scheming witch doctor or wild-eyed scientist. After Hinzman, all that changed - his appearance on screen marked the point at which zombies became something real and raw, things that could appear in an everyday place, in broad daylight; things that no longer wanted to drag you off to an underground laboratory, but tear you, screaming, limb from bloody limb. At that point, zombies became scary again. And he was public face of this sea-change. He was the first, the most iconic.

The man has credentials, and it's almost a little sad to see him piss them away on junk like this.

Zombie Nosh might almost be called a vanity piece. The story is basically Hinzman, as a zombie, walking from scene to scene, killing and eating people. There are one or two other characters who pop up infrequently during the film, but the vast majority of human characters are killed a few minutes after their first appearance on screen. New (and mostly unconnected) groups of redshirts are then introduced and slaughtered every ten minutes or so to help bulk up the running time to feature length. The FleshEater himself is the only real thread hanging all these various set-pieces together, which means the movie basically has a mute, emotionless walking corpse as its one central character. This doesn't exactly make for gripping cinema. In fact, it's only a couple of hours since I watched it and the details are already slipping from my mind.

Here's what I can recall:

A bunch of redneck teenagers on a "fun" hay-ride (i.e. sitting on some hay-bales on the back of a truck driving at 5 M.P.H through some woods) stop off at a secluded farmhouse to get drunk and make out. The truck driver wanders off and inexplicably uncovers a hatch in the earth, beneath which... guess who! Hinzman drags him down, bites out his throat, and leaves him to die, hemorrhaging melodrama as he lies on the ground shaking about like an epileptic. Meanwhile, the teenagers are indeed getting drunk and making out, as was their wont...

This is probably the most disturbing part of the movie. The kids are all played by real teenagers, complete with real pimples and real adolescent awkwardness. So you can imagine how cringe-worthy is the scene in which a greasy seventeen-year-old youth has to smooch an ordinary-looking girl of about the same age while fondling her boobies on camera, in a barn. Far from evoking the first frissons of budding love, the act plays out awkwardly and stiffly, as if Farmer Hinzman was standing just off-screen, brandishing a pitchfork and telling him to "grope harder". In all honesty, it's probably a lot closer to the reality of clumsy teenage fumblings than anything Hollywood would ever show you, but it doesn't exactly look appealing on screen. In fact, you'll feel dirty just watching it.

Thankfully, Zombie Hinzman quickly arrives on the scene to put the red-faced teens out of their misery. A pitchfork through the chest and a cruel heart-ectomy takes care of them, then Hinzman is off to menace the rest of the teens in the farmhouse. Before long, there are a dozen or so zombies beating at the walls, while the young yokels run around screaming, banging doors, waving shotguns around, trying to board up windows and generally shitting in their denims. These scenes are actually quite watchable, if generic, and this is where Zombie Nosh comes closest to feeling like a real movie. Unfortunately, the film blows its wad too soon by killing off most of the kids within fifteen minutes, forcing Mr FleshEater to wander off into town in search of fresh meat. At this point, the structure of the film degenerates into that of a porn movie - but in place of characters randomly meeting up and having sex, you have Hinzman walking into buildings and killing everyone... again, and again, and again...

The first place he shows up is at a nondescript suburban home. The only memorable thing here is when Hinzman rips a girl's towel off and eats her neck while clutching at her left tit. There are several scenes like this in Zombie Nosh, and it's embarrassingly obvious that horny old Hinz-dog himself deliberately wrote them into the script to give himself the chance to get his middle-aged paws on some firm young flesh. For a horror icon, it's just a teensy-weensy bit undignified. It's a kinda like if, during the nude dance in The Wicker Man, Christopher Lee suddenly jumped into the shot with no trousers on and started waving his willy around. It's just a bit wrong.

I think the next place he goes is a fancy-dress party... yeah, I think this is all supposed to take place on Halloween, but this isn't established until this point in the film. He walks into the room and is greeted by drunken revellers who think he's just some guy in fancy dress (ho ho ho!). The irony is that most of the partygoers' costumes look much more convincing than the actual zombie makeup in the film, which is mostly of the white-makeup-with-black-rings-around-the-eyes school of SFX. So Hinzman and his zombie pals munch down on everyone, again, and that's that.

Anyway, it goes on and on like this, until the authorites get wind of the ghoulish goings on and dispatch the police and fire department (?) to destroy them. The final part of the film simply has the cops and gun-totin' locals marching out across the countryside, gunning down zombies, following much the same pattern as the first two thirds of the movie, but now with people killing zombies instead of the other way around. This eventually leads up to an ending that is... well... let's be kind and call it an homage to Night of the Living Dead and not the shameless rip-off that it quite clearly is... (damn, too late).

Technically, the film is not in the same league of ineptitude as Weasels Rip My Flesh or even Attack of the Beast Creatures, but that's not really saying much. However, considering his pedigree as a cinematographer on George Romero films, you'd really expect much better from Hinzman's direction. Sure, he gets everyone in the shot that should be, and you can at least tell what's going on, but the visuals still have that flat, washed-out, home video feel of an amateur production (even though it was shot on 16mm). It's not much to look at, or listen to, but it scrapes a passing grade in this department.

The acting, across the board, is really bottom of the barrel. Watching some of these guys try to ham it up is like undergoing slow dental torture. Even the zombies are excruciatingly unconvincing. I mean, how hard can it be to stiffly lurch around with a blank look on your face - instead, most of these guys stand around looking bored with their arms sticking out at right angles!! And the ones with speaking roles? Christ! If they're not mumbling into their chest, they're expressing themselves with over-the-top movements and melodramatic gestures. To be fair, most of them were neighbourhood non-actors roped into acting in the movie, and you can't really lay the blame for the terrible acting solely upon the cast; Orson Welles himself would have have had trouble delivering lines from a script in which one character actually scolds a zombie for not saying "trick or treat".

Speaking of which - was there ever a script in the first place? The plot feels like it was pieced together from separate, unrelated scenes and ideas Hinzman scrawled on the back of napkins and receipts over the years.

So overall, the biggest issue is that the movie is boring, and it's boring because the script sucks. It's so hard to give a shit about anything or anyone in the film, because no one individual gets more than a few minutes screen time before they're either killed or disappear for most of the running time. The "character"of the FleshEater is clearly not sympathetic, or even any more interesting that other zombies (apart from his penchant for tit-grabbing), and since we really know nothing about his victims, we have no sympathy for them either. So it just boils down to a bunch of stuff happening on screen that we have no vested interest in and no incentive to keep watching.

I would only recommend Zombie Nosh is you want something brainless, plotless and mildly amusing, with zombies in it, that you can play in the background during a Halloween party without it being interesting enough to distract anyone from the conversation.

Bill... you can do better. :(


In the USA, Zombie Nosh had it debut on VHS in 1988 as FleshEater. The film remains widely available, albeit strangely expensive, on DVD and second-hand VHS. The cheapest way to get your hands on the R1 disc is in the Zombie Pack Vol. 2 - the movie comes bundled with Zombie Holocaust and Burial Ground (both of which are far more entertaining) and the whole boxset costs less than the stand-alone DVD.

In the UK, the film was released as Zombie Nosh by Vipco, who seem to have made up that title themselves (I use the name for this review because it was the on-screen title on the version I watched, and it's now better known this side of the pond under that name). Vipco were originally notorious for being the "pioneers of the Video Nasty" on video, but latterly they became more notorious for their slapdash approach to DVD - which usually involved burning a worn-out old VHS master onto a disc with no extras, then plopping them onto shelves at nearly £20 a pop. As a result, their DVD version of Zombie Nosh looks even more washed out and unimpressive than it was originally. Vipco have now gone belly up and the movie has been re-released by Stax Entertainment. From what I hear, this version looks a little better and is a lot cheaper, which makes forking over the dough for this abomination just a bit more paletable (although Amazon doesn't seem to have it in stock at the moment).

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