My notes on Flesh Feast (1970)
Exploitation auteur Brad F. Grinter directed the astounding Blood Freak (the only Christian anti-drug mutant chicken film which comes to mind), but his debut feature was this shoddy 1969 effort built around the presence of Veronica Lake – who’d left the mainstream movie industry in the 1940s, and for whom this was the last of a sad scatter of runaway credits. Frankly, as Florida-based sleazemakers go, Grinter didn’t have the output, the vision or the flickers of talent to compete with Herschell Gordon Lewis or William H Grefé – and they made films even the committed have a hard time sitting through. This was scripted and photographed, both ineptly, by Thomas Casey; and Lake scores an executive producer credit.
Perhaps taking cues from They Saved Hitler’s Brain or The Frozen Dead, it’s a mix of resurgent Nazis and mad science – though the film’s talky, static, monotonous script, staging and acting squash any potential for excitement or lurid thrills until the conceptually demented, if poorly-handled climax. It sets a mind-numbing tone in a pre-credits sequence which features a reporter gabbling excitedly to his boss from an airport phone booth, only to be stabbed in the back by a hit-man posing as a janitor who fixes his knife to the handle of his mop and skewers the victim while pretending to clean the floor. Then, dull men in suits (and the odd dull woman) mobilise the press and some sort of spy operation against ambiguous bigwig Carl Schumann (Doug Foster), who is connected with a shadowy South American ‘revolutionary’ gang. Schumann is the patron and sometime lover of blonde scientist Elaine Frederick (Lake), who is somehow using maggots with a taste for fresh-killed human flesh in a revolutionary rejuvenation process. This is tested on smarmy goon Bauer (Chris Martell) who wants to go back to being the murdering rapist he was in his younger days, and promptly gets stabbed by a young idealist for killing off the apparent heroine. An hour or so of the running time consists of dreary talk in Schumann’s house or the good guys’ offices, with the odd educational close-up of writhing toothy maggots and a Frozen Dead-ish spook bit as a silly girl (Dete Parsons) wanders into a store-room and manages for long seconds to ignore the armless, fright-masked corpse dangling just next to her. The influence of H.G. Lewis is slightly evident in the occasional scene of stiff legs being sawn off and hung up like sides of beef – and there’s a mildly funny bit of corpse-kidnapping. However, even in its grue, the film skimps and dodges logic: when Schumann finds Bauer dead, he realises the corpse will put him in bad with his supposed allies, but it doesn’t occur to him to do the obvious thing and feed the body to the maggots but leaves it wrapped in a sheet on the grounds where it’s easily found and gets him in trouble.
The finish goes like this: heap big leader of ‘the movement’ hobbles into the laboratory for rejuvenation and is securely strapped to the operating table, whereupon he turns out to be an aged Adolf Hitler (also Martell?). Frederick has been working up to this moment of vengeance ever since her mother was used as a guinea pig in Nazi experiments. Hitler spouts self-justification (he blames Goebbels and Eichmann) as Frederick pours the flesh-eating maggots onto his chest and face, dropping a few special critters in his wounds with tweezers and cackles (‘heil Hitler’) as the fuhrer is eaten alive. The film doesn’t have the effects resources to make this gross-out death anything more than silly (already plastered with poor Hitler make-up, the actor just gets rice stuck to him), while Lake’s deranged, gloating act (‘What’s the matter? Don’t you like my little maggots?’) seems pitched to make her seem more like a sadistic nutcase than a righteous avenger (though she does give the closest thing the film has to a performance). Under the circumstances, the film could probably have got away with being far more extreme and explicit. Hitler is fair game for onscreen punishment the way, say, an innocent girl wouldn’t be (I’m vaguely reminded of ‘Tissue Ablation and Variant Regeneration: A Case Report’ the Michael Blumlein story about vivisecting Ronald Reagan, not to mention the sodomy/piranha Hitler scene in Russ Meyer’s Up!); however, in a picture as feeble as this, Hitler gets off easy.
Chris Cooke Hey the DoP Thomas Casey shot (or camera opped) a Larry Cohen scripter SCREAM BABY SCREAM that I’ve always wanted to see… any ideas what it’s like?
Kim Newman That’s one I’ve not seen. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything about it, either.
Chris Cooke it sounded like a ‘groovy aged’ cohen piece to me… but I too know little more about it, except that Cohen was the writer. I like Cohen a lot, think he’s one of the best writers out there when he’s left to his own devices, though nowadays he seems to be unable to get the finance to make independent features, just handing over spec scripts and watching them get tortured to death… I kind of think that’s how he started his career – and this film is probably among those scripts that he just sent out into the void, I dunno though… anyway, Troma distributed Scream Baby Scream and one day I will get the courage to buy it…