Thursday, 26 January 2017

Corpse Eaters (1974)


Director: Donald R. Passmore and Klaus Vetter
Screenplay: Lawrence Zazelenchuk and Alan Nicholson
Cast: Michael Hopkins, Ed LeBreton, Terry London, Michael Krizanc, Helina Carson
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #74

Synopsis: A body comes to an undertaker's for their funeral preparations. The film goes back in time soon after to when this body was once a man, one of four friends who made the fatal decision to go to a graveyard and utter a black magic incantation in a mausoleum, causing the dead to rise.

I wasn't expecting Corpse Eaters to have anything of quality to it. It's not a good film but I wasn't expecting the fascinating oddity I saw like it either. This belongs to a category of cinema that has become more uncovered as the internet has made almost everything available and people are willingly find the most obscure of works, even instructional videos on VHS to z-grade horror films, if they develop an obsession with them. There's various different categories depending on the era they were made and/or other traits based on cultural origin to aesthetic - from the growing list of films for vaporwave fanatics to consume, to shot-on-video oddities from the eighties and even further afoot with Lollywood and Nigerian low budget genre cinema amongst many others. It confounds traditional notions of art, more so as it willingly includes masterpieces of cinema with audiovisual ephemera, and is more about the fan, and even educational institutions, exploring cultural past that they may have even been too young to have witnessed or are trying to preserve. Corpse Eaters belongs to the vast mass of exploitation cinema being made between the sixties to the early eighties but significantly, this isn't an American production but entirely Canadian, a zombie film which has a distinction as a result. It's the last thing you'd think of alongside the words "cultural past" but still firmly belongs to it with its quirks.


It first becomes obvious this'll be a more unconventional viewing experience when the movie, under sixty minutes long, first informs the viewer that anyone of a nervous disposition will be warned of any moments of gore when a certain guttural drone, and a cut to a shot of an older balding man retching in a handkerchief, plays on-screen in a William Castle-like gimmick. Credit where it's due, just a few years before David Cronenberg would appall the Canadian film industry with Shivers (1975), this is a surprisingly nasty movie when the few moments of eye ball plucking and gut munching are seen, making the gimmick warning more pertinent. Corpse Eater's strangeness comes as much from its grubby nature too. Even if being viewed from a VHS-rip only, there's still a veil of slime and mud due to its low budget origins, that compensates for its lack of a real story. A sex scene, when the four main characters are finally are introduced, feels like a porn scene if the insert shots were replaced with snippets of an on looking owl in extreme close-up, emphasised as if it's watching the couple mid-coitus alongside the friends (one a sister of the one of the couple) sat just nearby on a cloth.


There's an obvious issue impossible to ignore - ephemera unless it's an unsung gem or fascinating as a technically well made and/or historical artefact, can be haphazardly made in some cases - and with Corpse Eaters it's that when these four characters are introduced, a film with little time to spend suddenly drags miserably between that sex scene and the characters deciding where to go, deciding between a graveyard or a rock concert by pulling straws. Unfortunately horror cinema, alongside other problems, has always been crippled by the tendency for the creators of them trying to cast main characters for a young or even teenage audience with the usual results, even if these four are nearing their thirties with some proud moustaches on display, being utterly vacuums with drudgery instead of dialogue. It's a prolonged wait, even as someone whose appreciated Herschell Gordon Lewis' more filler related moments, and will even test the patience of die-hard exploitation film fans.

Bookmarking this problem however, it's a curious and peculiar viewing experience. The beginning quarter completely wrong foots the viewer with the type of presentation expected from an anthology film, following the undertaker introduced at the start out on a random drive in his car, an extended monologue taking place over the images of a car passing through the countryside about the absurdity of death and how he profits off it in a large and significant chunk of the running time. On the other side, the zombie attack caused by resurrecting the dead, requiring one incantation and making sure the nearby crucifix on the wall is turned upside down, is surprisingly brief, instead the fate of the main four character residing in an aftermath in a hospital that turns into a medical drama perpetuated by an openly woozy dream sequence, one of the most legitimately rewarding moments of the whole film in its strangeness. The exact finale itself returns back the undertaker for the most gruesome, if illogical, set of sequences within the funeral home with memorable drunk acting from the person playing the undertaker.


Technical Detail:
Very low budget, it's more the homemade tone that's an aesthetic. It's a film that's pretty rudimentary in terms of production, and learning of its messy production history, what you take from Corpse Eaters is the same grubby tone you find in various exploitation films from this period. The project of a drive-in movie theatre owner and co-writer Lawrence Zazalenchuk, one which went through two directors and has rumours of additional footage exiting, it's admirable in terms of a scrappy production in spite of its mistakes.

Abstract Spectrum: Psychotronic/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Corpse Eaters is not on the Abstract List but does belong to a bubbling mass of exploitation cinema from the American continent that could easily quality on the List and in itself is worthy of being scrutinised in this context, so much so a rewatch could easily lead Corpse Eaters to be added or at least some food for thought over its bizarre tone. It definitely exhibits various qualities appropriate for the weirder spectrum of exploitation and horror cinema from this period - oddly paced and with sharp tonal shifts, the droning electronic music, gimmicky presentations, editing that feels like it's still wet off the editing machine - a vast jumble of images that burn the mind.

Personal Opinion:
It's a shambolic mess but a compelling one for those with an acquired taste that excepts it's poor pace and major flaws. This is not praise for its flaws, accepting it on its own standards, more of finding its lunges to-and-fro in unexpected fascinating, so much so that its ending in a mental institution is apt to depict how nay viewer must feel seeing it for the first time.


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