Color, 1988, 89 mins. 15 secs.
Directed by Bill Hinzman
Starring Bill Hinzman, John Mowod, Leslie Ann Wick, Kevin Kindlin, Bonnie Hinzman, Heidi Hinzman
Vinegar Syndrome (UHD & Blu-ray) (US R0 4K/HD), Media Blasters (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)
Trying to build a cinematic family tree from all the offshoots of the 1968 horror classic Night of the Living Dead is a more daunting task than you might expect, with major players like George A. Romero and John Russo alone responsible for many connected films frequently utilizing variations of the same Pittsburgh cast and crew members. Bill Hinzman, most famous as the first zombie we see in that trailblazing classic when he shuffles through that graveyard and attacks Judith O'Dea's Barbara, frequently pops up throughout this saga as well including cameos in other Romero films through Knightriders. He also directed the Russo-penned The Majorettes and reprised his role for Russo's outrageously ill-advised "30th anniversary edition" of the original film, but his most ambitious project was easily starring in, directing, writing, producing, and editing 1988's 16mm zombie opus, FleshEater (or to go by its full title, FleshEater: Revenge of the Living Dead).
A bunch of youths including Bob (Mowod) and Sally (Wick) head out for a Halloween tractor hayride in the Pennsylvania countryside with plans to get dropped off in the woods for some private party time. The farmer they've paid for transportation ends up coming across and removing a large stump that unleashes the titular flesh eater (Hinzman), a long-dormant undead predator who promptly unleashes a zombie plague on the land. The kids, investigating cops, and other locals all become potential prey (and additional zombies) over the course of the evening, with a nearby holiday party offering a particularly ripe target. Can the survivors hold out long enough to get back to town alive, and how far can the epidemic spread before drastic measures are taken?
Though it doesn't have a single original bone in its body (apart from the arguable element of adding a Satanic element to the outbreak), there's an undeniable charm about seeing a super low-budget zombie film shot in the same Romero stomping grounds with several familiar names involved (including editor and occasional composer Paul McCullough who also cut Midnight and scored the underrated 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead). For actual cinematic value you won't find much here, but it's curious to see a zombie film shot with the sensibility of a slasher movie including isolated clusters of teens getting picked off in a steady stream of nudity and practical gore. The nods to Night are amusing to spot, too, from Hinzman as the first zombie again to the obligatory boarded-up windows and nihilistic ending, though the acting here is obviously way, way more remedial than your average zombie film. The carnage is plentiful throughout with the usual latex and gut extravaganzas, though a few gags also show an amusing lack of familiarity with basic human anatomy. Extra points for terrifying use of a chicken outfit and a luau costume during that Halloween finale, too.
First released in 1989 on VHS by Magnum as Revenge of the Living Zombies, this one stayed fairly under the radar under Media Blasters released a DVD under its Shriek Show banner in 2003 under its original title (as well as a combo pack with Burial Ground and Zombie Holocaust) followed by a dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition in 2010. Extra on that one included a 35-minute making-of, a zombie pizza commercial, soundtrack music highlights, a photo gallery, and a trailer. That version got outpaced considerably in 2022 with Vinegar Syndrome's UHD and Blu-ray edition featuring a new 4K scan from the 16mm original camera negative, with the UHD sweetening the deal with HDR and a shockingly good transfer if you've seen this one before. The low-budget veneer is still here, of course, but the detail levels are excellent and the colors really pop off the screen in all their autumn-hued glory. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track is in crisp condition as well and features optional English SDH subtitles. Both formats also come with a new commentary track with cinematographer Simon Manses, composer Erica Portnoy, and producer Andrew Sands, talking about using the same equipment from Romero's recently rediscovered The Amusement Park, Hinzman's talents and history going back through the Latent Image days in Pittsburgh including his work as a photographer, the family nature of the project, the location scouting, and tons more.
The Blu-ray also comes with a staggering amount of new material that cover just about every aspect of the film you could want to know starting off with
"Zombie Nosh LLC" (19m35s), in which Sands fondly looks back at the project starting with its genesis from the colorized Night of the Living Dead that had Hinzman doing the convention circuit and realizing he could mount a new film jumping off from his most famous role. Then in "All Roads Lead Back to FleshEater" (18m32s), Manses covers his early days learning the ropes as a camera operator, his time with Laurel Productions, his working on The Majorettes, and his ultimate gig as director of photography on this film due to his reputation in western Pennsylvania. "The Family Continues" (7m27s) features Bonnie Hinzman remembering her husband's life and career from their marriage in 1972 up to his passing in 2021. "Carnage in Compositions" (7m30s) features Portnoy looking at the "epic but cheesy" film along with her current music teaching gigs and work with at-risk children, as well as her personal path that led to this film. In "Family of FleshEaters" (9m25s), actress Heidi Hinzman (daughter of Bill) talks about her favorite memories of the film playing a little angel and getting shot on camera complete with squib effect. Special makeup effects artist Jerry Gergely gets to talk about some of his squishy concoctions in "Crushed Pink Grapefruit Brain" (14m40s), plus his other feature and TV work (including The Majorettes) as well as his tie to Tom Savini. The acting side is represented by Mowod in "To Live and Die in PA" (8m57s), explaining how he was just out of college working in a family restaurant when he ended up auditioning for a Hinzman play and wound up becoming part of the repertory company in the Pittsburgh scene. "Meatballs and Missing Actors" (8m1s) has unit manager Paul Giorgi discussing his angle on the film (which he came to after U2: Rattle and Hum) coming back from New York to work on the production which was shot virtually in sequence just before winter. He also covers an amusing bit of fast thinking to cover a significant actor who vanished just before his last scene, with splattery results. Finally in "Minor Budget Majorette" (7m5s), hair stylist / makeup artist Terrie Godfrey talks about her meeting Hinzman just out of beauty school, working on The Majorettes (including an acting gig), her little acting bit in this film, and her fond memories of the director. Also included is a hefty gallery (9m52s) with a slew of great behind-the-scenes photos. Also note that this comes in a limited edition featuring what may be the most graphic slipcover devised to date.
Reviewed on May 1, 2022