Countdown to Halloween: Jon Kitley on Corpse Eaters (1974)
ABOUT OUR GUEST
It's a true honor to welcome Jon Kitley to Classic Horrors! Kitley's Krypt was one of the first blogs I followed and was a huge inspiration for me to start my own blog. It remains the gold standard. Jon was one of the first people with whom I interacted online, and his kind words were great encouragement to me.
He probably thinks I'm his stalker, because I "like" so many of his posts. When I finally met him in person at Monster Bash two years ago, he thanked me. I told him they were sincere; I wasn't "liking" them just for the sake of doing so. In the future, I hope to follow Jon on another path. He also writes a Rondo-nominated column in "HorrorHound," "They Came from the Krypt."
When he submitted this review, Jon shared with me that, in addition to his involvement with "HorrorHound" and "Evilspeak" magazine, he's currently working on a new book. I can't wait to hear more about it and to eventually read it. Please enjoy his words about Corpse Eaters. I think you'll quickly learn why I'm such a fan. Then check out Kitley's Krypt... but I bet you already have.
One of my favorite things about the horror film genre is that it is so massive that it would take more than a lifetime (or some serious viewing hours) to tackle all of the films out there. And that's just the ones that you can find! Granted, with today's easy access, finding old and thought-to-be-lost titles is a tad bit easier than it was 20 years ago. But it still shows that no matter how long you've been a fan, there are always amazing titles that you haven't seen yet, or even know about, that are just waiting to be discovered. Plus, there are those hidden gems out there that once you do stumble upon, it boggles your mind that you've never heard of it before. So much so that you feel the need to let more people know about it. That was the case with me and the 1974 Canadian film, Corpse Eaters. Which is why I'm writing about it now!
According to author Caelum Vatnsdal in his book on Candian horror cinema, "They Came From Within," he writes that this film "just might be the rarest Canadian horror film ever made." Makes sense since I don't remember ever hearing about it. Lucky for me, I somehow had a copy in my DVD collection, though must admit I have no recollection on how it got in there. I later found it is also available on YouTube as well. So sitting down to this, having no idea of the plot or anything other than knowing it was low budget, I was curious to see if it was going to be anywhere memorable. Within the first few minutes, I knew it was.
Let's be clear, right from the start. This is not some lost classic that will soon be getting a huge triple-disc Blu-ray release (though I would love that). It's a very low budget picture, with shoddy acting, at best. Only runs about an hour long and has a plot that will have you shaking your head. But...it does hit all the right notes for being a cheap exploitation film, which is exactly what it set out to be. You have a great title to draw in the drive-in crowds. Throw in some gratuitous nudity, some blood and gore, and zombies and you're good to go. Okay, so the plot is a little whacked and the dialogue is unintentionally hilarious, but you've still got a hit on your hands. That is, if anybody can go see it.
The film starts out with a warning, a voice telling the audience of the graphic violence they are about to witness. We see a man in a business suit sitting in a theater. We're told that right before we get to the gooey red stuff, they will cut to this man holding a handkerchief over his mouth looking as if he's about to start losing his lunch, accompanied a loud buzzing sound, so you'll have time to look away. Not the first time this technique was used, but it is still fun to see here. The story starts off at a funeral home, with some of the dullest dialogue you'll see committed to celluloid. None of the actors here went on to any greater roles and you'll quickly see why. We then jump to a group of youngsters who decide to go hang out in a cemetery, eventually trying to contact Satan in one the crypts, as young folks were prone to do back then. They soon find out that the dead start to climb up from their graves and are hungry. From there, with nightmares sequences and time shifts, we're not really sure what the hell is going on, but once the credits rolls, I guarantee you'll sit up and go "What the hell?" And for that, I give the filmmakers a lot of credit because it's something you wouldn't expect in this type of film. They easily could have played it by the numbers, but chose to do something unique and different. So kudos to them.
The real scary part of the movie is about the man responsible for the making of it. As the legend goes, Lawrence Zazelenchuk owned the 69 Drive-In Theater on Rt. 69 outside of Sudbury, Ontario Canada, and wanted to make his own horror movie to play at his theater. He was only in his 20s and had already dabbed in filmmaking, making some horror short films on 16mm, such as titles like Attack of the Brain Demons and Revenge of the Mummy, but now had his sights set on a real feature. With a budget of only $36,000, he hired director Donald R. Passmore to shoot the film that Zazelenchuk wrote, with some dialogue help from Alan Nicholson. Zazelenchuk also handled all the makeup, which I admit is pretty effective for this kind of film. The cast consisted of his friends and local bums that he hired to play the zombies. They also used real animal guts and parts for the gore scenes. After only four days of filming, Passmore was fired from the director's chair, with cameraman Klaus Vetter stepping up to take over. No reason known as to why he was let go, but one can only assume he was not working out well with his young producer. Once the film was done, Zazelenchuk, couldn't afford to get the film finished at the labs so had to work and save money from his drive-in to cover the costs. But on August 16th, 1974, Corpse Eaters premiered at the 69 Drive-In, and did quite well there.
Here is where the tragedy really hits. Zazelenchuk, with dreams of his feature playing all over the world, sold the distribution rights to distributor Howard Mahler. Unfortunately for Zazelenchuk, and us fans, Mahler had no intention of ever releasing the film, but only purchased it as a tax write-off, so it was never released theatrically elsewhere. That is how the story goes, but it is strange that there would be a theatrical poster out there in the collecting world, with "Howard Mahler Films", Inc. on the bottom of it, for a movie that was never going to get a wider release. If there was never intention of a release, why even spend the money on posters? Strange, don't you think?
But with his baby now permanently sitting on a shelf somewhere, Zazelenchuk sunk deeper into a drinking problem that he apparently had for some time. He eventually sold his drive-in and bought a hotel in Florida, where he continued his drinking until he died in 1981, at the young age of 36. Encore Home Video released the film on DVD in 1993, but even finding a copy of that is pretty tough. There's rumors that some of the gore from the original release had been cut out, something like 4 minutes worth, and may or may not have been discovered in a lab somewhere in Canada. Maybe someday we'll see a nice special edition Blu-ray, where one of these smaller companies will track down some of the remaining cast and crew to give us fans the real story of this film and its strange writer/producer. Until then, we'll have to make do with what is available. And even that, I think is well worth your time, even if it is only an hour of it.
ABOUT THE COUNTDOWN
We all have them... stacks of movies we've purchased, but never watched; or, movies on the DVR, filling them to capacity. This year for the annual Countdown to Halloween, I'm going to make a dent in my "stack," watching one movie a day for the month of October that I've never seen, then writing about it.
Well, I'm going to cheat a little. Assisting me this year are a number of "guest bloggers" that I've invited to participate by commandeering classichorrors.club for a day. These are all people whose blogs I read, whose podcasts I enjoy, and/or whose existence I simply appreciate. It's an experiment, but I hope you'll enjoy reading some new perspectives.