"We've stumbled into a living horror!"
The Flesh Eaters (1964) is like a lot of low budget black and white exploitation movies of its time. Not as bad as one expects, but nothing that'll be crowned a "classic." In the end, given one's predisposition for horror flicks and the right mood, it's pretty fun.
A scene is set. A small yacht-like boat. A young couple. Beverages and bikinis. High jinks leading to both landing in the water. But something is very wrong (and not just that the woman seems to be standing in about three feet of water next to an oceangoing craft). Then dark clouds (superimposed) in the water and she screams with blood-slicked fingers....
The real story starts with a drunken actress ("Laura Winters") and her assistant ("Jan Letterman") chartering a seaplane from rugged pretty boy Grant Murdock. This is initially a problem, because of a big storm brewing in the Caribbean, but agrees at triple his rate). That they appear to be in New York City (references to the East River, plus the boat in the opening scene was registered by NY) and are going "up to Provincetown" seems to be a plot point ignored by the cast and crew. Provincetown is in Massachusettseven farther from the Caribbean. That's okay, the movie is set somewhere off the coast of the southern Atlantic sea board. Provincetown is quickly forgotten. It was apparently filmed on Long Island, anyway.
"Oh no, we were scouting for tuna fish and we dropped down for a jar of mayonnaise"
As expected, the storm forces a water landing (the prop department took out the window of the plane so the dialogue can be heard). The small island is the location of the rest of the film. They meet the island's only inhabitant, a marine biologist (Professor Peter Bartel). A marine biologist who acts suspicious and has an ominous German accent....
The trio isn't there long before a body turns up, completely skeletonized (presumably the woman from the beginning, though this one has high heel shoes to go with her bikini). Even though the bones are still connected and intact, Bartel says it must have been sharks.
The storm blows inone that seems to consist of waves crashing on beaches at various locations and intensities and tall grass blowing. There's a lot of wind on the soundtrack throughout. The plane survives but the "tailwind" is a problem. So, of course, they stay.
Perhaps it shouldn't be all that big of a surprise that the principals involved did next to zero other work in Hollywood. Director Jack Curtis never directed another project and only wrote English dialogue for a couple foreign exploitation filmsthough he did do some of the voices for the American release of the "Speed Racer" series (including "Pops Racer"). Writer Arnold Drake only wrote one other script.
Martin Kosleck, who played Bartel, did act in a number of films (most before 1964), mostly low budget or exploitation films of one kind or another, especially ones requiring his German accenthe played Josef Goebbels five times. He didn't mind, given his strong anti-nazi feelings which were part of the reason he fled Germany (when they came to power, an arrest warrant was sworn out and he was sentenced to death in absentia). The hero (Murdock) played by Byron Sanders only appeared in a few movies (none after 1964), mostly doing TV work in soap operas. Of interest was that he served as the model for Salvador Dali's painting "Crucifixion" (1954).
Rita Morley (Winters) also did a little television work. The last thing she did was The Flesh Eaters. Her assistant played by Barbara Wilkens, only had a few television appearances and did a couple movies. She was in Stagecoachthe 1966 remake. Ray Tudor, who played Omar (we'll get to Omar), only has one other credit: 1967's Five the Hard Way, also known as The Sidehackers, a movie "fondly" remembered by Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans and no one else. The few other actors followed similar careers
Sometimes the limitation of location and the small size of the cast allow a director/writer to better examine the psychodynamics and personalities of the characters and situation. In this case, it probably saved a lot of money.
"That shiny stuff is bad medicine."
Being alone on an island makes one yearn. Or something. Bartel tries to seduce Winters but is spurned. In the process of manhandling her, gets bitten (The Flesh Eaters!). She runs away and passes out (she had gotten into her private stock left on the plane). Bartel, meanwhile discovers glowing fish skeletons on the beach. His reaction signals that he knows more than he's saying.
Morning comes and the plane is gone. It appears Winters was responsible (it could be a frame-upblame the drunk). Now glowing puddles and hundreds of skeletonized fish litter the beach. Glowing water that burns like acid. The "effect" varies, sometimes superimposing the light, sometimes showing a flash. When it is shown "eating" into Murdock's leg, it looks like someone physically scratched the film to get the desired effect. As an offhand remark later informs the viewer, it is "silver" colored.
The island gets another visitor (and the plot gets intentional comic relief) in the guise of Omar, a stock beatnik character who appears on a raft with a gramophone playing generic rock music and spewing lines about "love" being the weapon and similar expected dialogue. They almost get another visitor (the guy running the supply boat) but he never makes it to shore....
"These things want flesh, any flesh. And once they sense it, they'll eat through anything that comes between them and their meat."
The secret gradually becomes revealed, but not until after Omar meets a sad end following a contaminated drink:
...little indigestion. I guess I'm going to have to give up beans. 'Course that's not going to leave me much else to eat, I already gave up meat and bread and sugar and aarrgghhhh! There's something inside me! It's eating its way out!
And to think Arnold Drake never wrote a sequel. Winters is also stabbed following another spurned advance.
Meanwhile an experiment makes it appear the "flesh eaters" can be killed by electricity. A "giant solar battery" is found on the island, capable of 10,000 volts of electricity (enough to "barbecue Brooklyn"). Bartel finally explains: the "flesh eaters" (a virus, he claims) were the result of secret Nazi experiments designed to create an organism that consumes only living flesh. He was sent to investigate but chose to burn the documents and all traces of the research in order to sell the creation to the highest bidder (promising to offer it to the US first).
(The "flashback" sequence showing the experiments has a disturbing scene where live stripped women are made to step into a swimming pool full of the organisms, with ropes tied to their ponytails in order to retrieve the skeletons. It is implied that they are Jewish.)
"You've created a monster, something beyond belief."
It turns out that electricity only stuns them (something Bartel knew and would allow him to collect the specimens). But a surprise to everyone (perhaps not the audience) is that it also supercharges the organisms into a large crablike, tentacled monsters with a single milky white eye above a cruel mouth (a giant nucleus of sorts...yeah, right).
They discover that human blood can kill the creature, but not until after those 10,000 volts were shot through the ocean. That's right. Time to blow the rest of the budget with a "larger" version of the creature.
"We've got to rig up some kind of giant hypodermic."
So they line up to extract blood which is then put into what appears to be a large flit gun. Bartel tries to double-cross them, but falls prey to his "flesh eaters." Our hero manages to get on top of the creature, administering the lethal dose which leads to a surprise burst of color (red and magenta) before an explosion.
Sunrise over a calm ocean. Murdock and Letterman embrace. After he takes off the shirt.
They have no discernible way of leaving the island. Unimportant, apparently.
"When do we get out of here?"
Despite (or because of) the small budget and production and cast limitations, the film actually manages to evoke a pretty downbeat atmosphere, which is an asset. The sense of being trapped on the island is surprisingly well created. But none of it is able to fully raise it above the level of the sub (early) Roger Corman monster flick. Not really good enough to qualify for a B movie, but not unenjoyable for a horror fan.
And it did manage to get a 1968 re-release.
Yet, Arnold Drake never wrote a sequel....
(Sources: personal copy of the film; some of the trivia and career details from the Internet Movie Database)