I Eat Your Skin (1964)

Rating: D+

Dir: Del Tenney
Star:  William Joyce, Heather Hewitt, Charles Coy, Dan Stapleton

Known originally as Zombie – or, perhaps, Zombie Bloodbath – the six years this spent languishing, distributor-less, certainly did not work for the film. Because between its filming in 1964, and eventually seeping out under a zombie-free Cinemation retitling in 1970, on a double-bill, the entire Z-landscape was changed forever by George A. Romero with Night of the Living Dead. Before, zombies were Val Lewton-esque creatures, typically shambling round Caribbean plantations (or Cornish tin-mines, as in 1966’s Plague of the Zombies) at the behest of their masters. But a new decade brought new expectations, and an audience riled up by Blood will have found this Skin-flick a thoroughly disappointing experience.

Tenney had found some success with The Horror of Party Beach, which received far broader distribution than it deserved, and attempted to follow up with another horror-ish seaside pic. The hero is Tom Harris (Joyce), ladies’ man and writer of potboiler fiction (apparently inspired by Harold Robins), taken by his publisher (Stapleton) to an island to get inspiration from the voodoo religion still practiced there. There’s also the island’s overseer (Coy), and a scientist investigating the use of snake venom to cure cancer, who just happens to have an attractive virgin daughter, Jeannie (Hewitt), that needs rescuing. Well, from her virginity, anyway. For it turns out the locals descend from a tribe who practice human sacrifice, and now need an offering to appease their god, Papa Negro.

There’s a zombie elephant in the room here. It is made clear that blonde virgins are the sacrifice of choice. But it’s also apparent – well, as apparent as a mainstream film could get in 1964, i.e. vague winking – that Jeannie’s hymen did not survive the first night of Tom’s island sojourn. Problem solved! [Well, maybe they should dye her brunette too, just to be safe.] But purity is never mentioned again, the film preferring to have lengthy sequences of poorly-made up islanders (above), who look like they have ping-pong balls stuck to their eyes, shambling round the island in slow pursuit of Tom and Jeannie. In case you’re wondering, leaving the island has become impossible, thanks to a kamikaze zombie, who charges at top undead speed into their plane, carrying a large box marked “EXPLOSIVE” (below).

There is some amusement to be had here, albeit of the “bring your own fun” kind. For example, you could drink every time someone in the film does. Because, damn, people chugged it down in the sixties. Bonus: this would bring rapid unconsciousness, allowing you to avoid the rest of the film. You can also wince at the feeble attempts at comedy, as Tom is caught hanging about with someone else’s wife in Miami, or the eccentric character stylings of his publisher’s wife and her dogs [the IMDb lists the supplier of those animals as Diane Reese-Poodles. I’m thinking the IMDb misread the credit “Diana Reese – Poodles”. Or perhaps she married Mr. Poodles?] Oh, and early scenes were shot at the Fontainebleau Hotel, a Miami landmark used the same year by Goldfinger. So there’s that.

Under different circumstances, this might just about have passed muster. However, those circumstances would include: a) Being paired with a different, more similar film for its double-bill than I Drink Your Blood, b) Having a name that is a reasonable representation of the contents, and c) Getting released in 1964, instead of 1970. Instead, it’s pretty much a triple whammy of problems, from which a much better film would struggle to recover, and is a case where the marketing is far more notable than the movie.