Director: Jack Curtis
Dark Sky Films/MPI

Helmed by one-time director Jack Curtis (better known for his voice work in such 60s animated favorites as “Speed Racer”), THE FLESH EATERS is an independently-made science fiction/horror masterpiece that’s everything a low budget film should be. It’s original, creative, well acted (that is, well overacted), and directed as if it was storyboarded from an old EC comic book. Known for its early use of gore effects in the days before they were common, the term “cult classic” is an understatement for THE FLESH EATERS, as it was one of the most bootlegged videos of its type, and naturally, one of the most desired films of its type to be released on DVD. Finally, THE FLESH EATERS has officially made it to the digital era courtesy of MPI's Dark Sky Films, and needless to say, looks better than ever!

On the city docks, Jan Letterman (Barbara Walken) makes a generous cash offer to pilot Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanders) if he’ll fly her and her employer, alcoholic stage and screen actress Laura Winters (Rita Morley), to Provincetown. In spite of a threatening storm on the way, Murdoch agrees, but they are soon forced to land the plane on what looks like an uninhabited island. The trio quickly comes face to face with the island’s only inhabitant, a marine biologist named Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck), who claims he’s there to study shellfish. But skinless skeletons and tarnished fish remains cause them to believe there’s more here than meets the eye, and that Bartell is hiding something. All around them, flickering organisms christened “flesh eaters” are living in the ocean and are able to devour human skin faster than a piranha. Soon another character, a free-spirited beatnik named Omar (Ray Tudor) nearly gets eaten alive before he makes it to the shore, and with their plane now drifted out to sea and no means of rescue in sight, our five castaways are in life and death situation, not only in fending off hungry monsters, but also in trying to withstand each other.

Like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD some years later, THE FLESH EATERS is a tense little black and white horror flick that exceeds the constraints of its budget with more than enough thrills and remarkably innovative bloody effects. The plotline, dialog and acting are deliciously over the top, so anyone searching for logic or Shakespearean performance search elsewhere: this is sheer entertainment of the utmost “chiller theater” variety. The “flesh eaters” are mainly seen as round organisms drifting in the water or attaching themselves to human skin. This effect was created by physically pinholing the film’s negative, and the results are pretty unforgettable. These little critters later develop into two separate (and huge) beach ball monstrosities with crab-like arms and a gooey singular eyeball. All this was shot on location in the New York area, most of it in part of Jones Beach, not at all too far from where I reside on Long Island. Filmed over a period of several years in the early 60s, it was not released theatrically until 1964.

The cast of THE FLESH EATERS makes the whole affair even more fun to watch, and most of the actors where local NY talent, mainly from TV soap operas. Morley is a conceded and selfish Hollywood lush, Sanders is the no-nonsense brave macho man, Letterman is the brainy and sensible blonde bombshell and Tudor is the obnoxious and unsophisticated outcast. All these characters blend incredibly well when Kosleck’s Professor Bartell is thrown into the mix. He’s a sneaky, conniving Hungarian ex-Nazi affiliate who is always up to no good, despite the facades he’s constantly putting on – charming one minute and ice cold the next. Kosleck was a veteran character actor since the 1920s, later starring in Universal horrors like HOUSE OF HORRORS and THE MUMMY’S CURSE, but THE FLESH EATERS gives him what is probably his finest hour, with lots of ham to bite into within the running time.

There have been several different cuts of THE FLESH EATERS circulating over the years, but Dark Sky has wisely decided to go with the original director’s cut, which is basically what was shown on syndicated television (though local stations often trimmed the visual violence). The 1964 theatrical version removed some dialogue and at least one key scene (all restored here), but added a newly lensed Nazi experiment flashback sequence (with Kosleck hired again to narrate), a brief shot of a bloody hand sticking out of the ocean, as well as having several seconds during the oozing climax tinted red as a gimmick. Out of these three components, only the tinted insert was generated and endorsed by the original filmmakers. They are not present in this DVD version, but the Nazi flashback sequence has been included here as an extra. An even better extra is some silent outtakes from this sequence, and even though the footage runs under a minute long, it showcases actresses in the buff getting in and out of a pool filled with what’s supposed to be flesh eaters. Longtime fans of the film with find these never-before-seen outtakes both fascinating and titillating.

Dark Sky Films presents THE FLESH EATERS in a 16x9 enhanced widescreen transfer in the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and it will blow you away, especially if you’ve seen the various video incarnations floating around in the past. Since the transfer was culled from the original vault materials, the image quality on this release is simply fabulous. The black and white picture has excellent detail, no grain in sight, and hardly a blemish to speak of – only slight markings when optical effects are employed. The mono audio has nice and clear dialogue and music, and although there is some scratchiness present on the soundtrack, it will not deter from the viewing enjoyment. Optional English subtitles are also included.

Aside from the aforementioned Nazi flashback sequence and the outtakes from it, the only extras are two trailers that seem to be TV spots (both are narrated by Curtis, who also provided some of the voices in the film). Fred Olen Ray and Tom Weaver recently conducted an excellent commentary with producer/co-writer Arnold Drake (who also wrote and sang a tune heard in the film) for Retromedia’s unreleased edition of THE FLESH EATERS, which was halted when Dark Sky claimed official rights on it. The commentary revealed lots of info (such as credited editor Radley Metzger not really doing much actual work on the film) and it’s too bad it wasn’t picked up for this release (as well as several other nice supplements they’d gathered), though the conversation wouldn’t match up with the different version seen here. But kudos go to Dark Side for presenting such an attractive DVD of this much adored title, and now our mouths can water for their releases of HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER and so much more! (George R. Reis)