The Corpse Eaters (1974)





Howdy folkses. It's been awhile. I need to get some serious business out of the way first thing so we can move on to today's review. The times have been a-changin' here at Million Monkey Theater and I feel we must be completely honest and transparent about this new paradigm with our loyal readers...so please pay attention, both of you. It seems our former CEO and not-so-Grand Poo-Bah Nate has finally given in to his most dastardly impulses, spurred on in no small part by the corrupt soul and Machiavellian manipulations of former Intern Kelby. In short: they've scarpered. Cheesed it. Taken the money and run. The greedy little bastards cleared out the offices, the executive suites and the corporate accounts and fled the fucking country with their ill-gotten gains. They even raided the company swear jar. Granted it did have about thirty times as much cash as all the corporate accounts combined, but those were my goddamn fucking swears in there, people! You should have seen Pam when I broke the news. I'll never forget how her head split open and that column of white-hot fire burst up towards the heavens. I'd never in a Million Monkey years have suspected Nate would do something so vile. I still hold out hope he was drunk or hypnotized, but with Kelby I figure it was just a matter of time.

Million Monkey Theater is officially broke. If it weren't for Intern Sparky and his sprawling international catnip empire we'd have had to close up shop completely and gotten real jobs.


"I'm not just the Catnip Club President. I'm also a client."

So here we are. Reduced to accepting charity from another shady, overweight housecat. It's enough to make you cry in your Shirley Temple. Yeah, that's right. We've got nothing left to drink here but virgin cocktails because Kelby took ALL THE FUCKING BOOZE.


Have you seen this cat? I'd like a word or two with him.

The first order of business was to see if we could catch up with them. Sparky left the Catnip Club in the capable paws of his vice president Mr. Blackburn and we followed the embezzlers over the border into Canada.


Seemed like a good idea at the time.

Normally I wouldn't be seen dead in Canada, being as I've never really forgiven them for Loverboy, but desperate times call for desperate measures. We had a good tip on the miscreants' whereabouts and we couldn't let the trail to go cold. Sparky and I checked into our hotel that first night, ate a hasty meal and had a quick war conference. After firming up our plans for the next day's pursuit we hopped into bed and switched on the TV. It turned out to be a retrospective on homegrown Canadian horror films--which was serendipitous for a reviewer specializing in shitty movies because (David Cronenberg notwithstanding) the vast majority of Canadian horror absolutely sucks.

The issue, I think is that Canadians are just too affable, lacking the cynical gaze and nihilistic outlook necessary to produce effective horror. It's probably because they have state-sponsored healthcare. Never underestimate the positive impact of a government actually giving a shit about its citizens.

The film I saw that night, The Corpse Eaters, (1974) was a painfully amateurish, micro-budget rip-off of the much better and much more financially successful drive-in feature Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things (1972), sharing a similar aesthetic, make-up effects and plotting. Even some of the music in The Corpse Eaters is so close to the earlier film as to seem to have been directly lifted from it. The Corpse Eaters was conceived, produced and co-written by drive-in theater owner Lawrence Zazelenchuk who envisioned it as a short "second feature" to be played at his own establishment. It runs just under an hour, as was customary for many films of this type.

The film begins with a respectably dull, middle-aged gentleman walking down an empty row of movie seats and sitting down. It cuts to a cheap, mildly psychedelic swirl effect and a very polite, very Canadian voice tells us "The motion picture you are aboot to see contains certain very stomach-upsetting scenes. The producers feel they have a moral obligation to warn each and every ticket-buyer of this fact." What follows is a laughable explanation of what will prove to be a sort of Herschel Gordon Lewis-style gimmick designed to warn those with weak constitutions that a scene with significant gore is about to be displayed. It consists of a goofy alarm buzzer sounding, and a greenish-yellow light flashing over footage of the middle-aged gent stuffing a handkerchief in his mouth.


"I think I'm gonna puke, eh!"

The movie proper begins with a pan across an expansive graveyard where we are informed by a huge caption that this is "A Maniac Production." Seems promising! Then we get our delightful little title screen.


All corpses proudly grown and consumed in Canada, eh!

An establishing shot tells us we are at the "Happy Halo Funeral Home" where the Creepy Funeral Director (we never learn his name) gets a call from a local hospital asking if he can take care of a new "client" right away. Of course, he says. "We can accommodate him...business is never good enough, you know." The viewer will notice right away that there are a lot of strange and confusing close-ups in this scene and indeed, throughout the picture.


The only time I see knuckles that close is in a hockey fight, eh!

The doctor who called in warns the director that the corpse was probably mauled by a bear and that "his face is a mess." It cuts to Bill, the embalmer, just finishing up with another client. The director asks Bill if he'd mind staying late to work on the new arrival. Apparently Bill is something of an artiste when it comes to reconstructing fucked-up corpse faces. Before departing Creepy Funeral Director says, "bon appetit, and, Bill--not too much booze."


Like many of his fellow Canadians, Bill has a long and storied history of drinking on the job, eh.

We now follow Creepy Funeral Director in a brief walk around the cemetery where he recites a strange voice-over soliloquy about how if people realized what they'd look like when they're underground rotting they wouldn't waste all that money to be embalmed, concluding, however, "but...hehe...thank God they do!" This guy is like some paranoid fantasy of a mortician formulated by someone who has never met a mortician in real life. He hops into the hearse and continues his little rant about dead people being suckers and generally not looking so hot and how they all kind of bite the big padunga but who cares because he makes his money from them. He observes that the young man coming in that night probably deserved to get mauled by that bear but that Bill will fix him up good and no one will ever know how bad he looked. This is intercut with Bill working on the corpse in question, and frankly that "mauled face" looks more like the guy just cut himself shaving a couple of times.


"Sometimes my hands used to shake in the mornings from too much Molson, eh."

Back in the hearse Creepy Funeral Director is thinking Bill should be finished and he should get back to the office to lock up. Eagle-eyed viewers will notice the sky changing from day to night between shots, Ed Wood Jr. style. Ominous music plays, and barely discernable, pitch-dark shots of the hearse parking and Creepy Funeral Director walking down dimly-lit hallways last seconds upon interminable seconds. We realize that by the time he gets back to relieve Bill we're eleven minutes into this 56-minute snooze-fest already and next to nothing has actually happened.


Even Bill couldn't do anything with those devastating shaving wounds, eh.

The movie then jump cuts to a montage featuring two couples in a motorboat speeding across a broad Canadian lake to cheesy 70's acid-rock. This goes on for three full minutes, because a 56 minute film should always have a full music video to pad out the runtime. Finally they pull up to the shore and get out of the boat, watched by a creepy, voyeuristic owl.


"I like to watch, eh."

We notice immediately that one of the couples is a bit more "affectionate" than the other.


"I think she's trying to suck my mustache right off, eh."

So we repeatedly cut from the one couple going at it to the other couple watching. The second couple's male tries unsuccessfully to get something going with his lady but she pushes him away. The film then veers into near-porn territory as the first couple goes from already-quite-heavy petting to nudity to fucking right in front of the second couple, all the while still being watched by the owl.


"This is way better than a Senators game, eh!"

It's all shot totally soft-core with no dangly bits or penetration shown, but it's pretty raunchy stuff regardless, especially when the horny second couple guy reaches over to stroke the first couple lady's back and belly as she rides her boyfriend. Thankfully she rebuffs him with a shove and finishes up in the traditional one-on-one, lady on top manner.


"Aw, come on! Can't you see I'm desperate here, eh!"

The music is so bad and the simulated sex so languid and unappealing that there's scarcely an ounce of titillation to be had. When it's finally over it actually comes as something of a relief.


"I know I got some relief, eh!"

Perfunctory sexploitation complete and nearly twenty minutes into the movie we finally get a proper introduction to our four protagonists. There's Julie, the young lady who likes exhibitionist groping and cowgirl sex, Richie, her mustachioed boy toy who just likes sex, Alan the frustrated incel who never gets any sex, and Lisa the grumpy wet blanket who never gives any sex. To be fair she did just have to witness her brother fuck her best friend right in front of her as her boyfriend tried to turn it into a three-way. Did I not mention that Richie is Lisa's brother? Well neither does the movie for another twenty-five fucking minutes. It's one of those quick, throwaway bits of exposition that might have meant something if you'd heard it earlier, but it just turns into a retroactive "ewwwwww, seriously?" when you hear it later and your horrified brain connects it with this scene.


That's Canada, eh! Glorious and free!

The gang now tries to decide how they're going to spend the rest of the evening. Julie wants to go to a rock concert but Alan thinks that since it's Friday the thirteenth they should spend the night in a graveyard instead. You know. For kicks. Richie agrees, saying "I've got some grass, we could really blow our minds!" The ladies aren't too keen, with Lisa in particular against the idea completely, so Alan has her draw straws to decide whether it'll be the graveyard or the concert. Obviously it doesn't end up being the concert or the movie would have been called "A Bunch of Shitty Canadian Bands Appear In A Shitty Canadian Movie And Are Paid In Shitty Canadian Beer, Circa 1974."

They arrive at the graveyard. Lisa doesn't want to get out of the car, but Alan pulls her out by her arm (just a little too aggressively, by the way), and they all head in amongst the graves towards a central crypt. The ladies don't want to enter but it's beginning to rain so they have no choice if they want to stay dry. Richie mentions in an astonished tone that it's dark and there aren't any lights in that there crypt. Well, shit. It must be one of those cheap crypts that don't have no 'lectricity! What a fucking moron. Thankfully somebody left a lantern right on top of the sarcophagus.


Ain't that convenient, eh?

They light the lantern and find a few skulls and bones piled in a corner. Jumpy Julie screams as Richie and Alan root through them. Richie thinks a skull would look just great in his room but even Alan thinks that's maybe a bit too much. There's been a slightly-less-wholesome, slightly-more-Canadian Scooby Doo vibe up to this point, but things are about to go south pretty fast. Richie starts acting like a grumpy toddler with ADD, saying he's bored and whining that as long as they're stuck in the crypt they should all "do something." I feared for a moment he might mean a four-way orgy but thankfully he suggests they should perform an insouciant little satanic ritual. He says his uncle used to "tell stories about the spirits and things" and "draw circles and stuff." Sounds delightfully sophisticated. He finds something to scratch a circle onto the top of the sarcophagus and tells everyone to put their hands together inside it. He tries to remember some words his uncle used to say...


"Satanus, Satanus, Barrabas, Barrabas, come, come, come... Just like Julie did in front of that owl, eh!"

He finishes his little chant but nothing appears to happen. He decides this is because there's a crucifix on the wall. He figures if he inverts it and tries again they'll all meet Lucifer, share some Labatts and have a jolly good laugh together. The whole scene is like being stuck in a room with a group of middle school kids arguing over which dice to use in their Dungeons and Dragons campaign.


"Those dice look complicated. Can't we just play crokinole instead, eh?"

As with so many other low-budget indie horror shit-fests these characters are under acted, underdeveloped and just plain unlikable. There's no one to feel sympathy for, no one fleshed out enough to make you care one way or the other what happens to them. The cast are obviously rank amateurs with zero experience and the director seems to have left them entirely on their own to turn their poorly-written roles into fleshed out human beings. Unsurprisingly they fail.

Richie inverts the crucifix and they try the incantation again. This time we get a bunch of goofy close-ups, ominous lightning, undulating charnel soil and scary music, so clearly his little "spin the Jesus" routine did the trick. Everyone, especially Lisa, seems to be possessed by something unhealthy as this is happening, but this aspect isn't really followed up on and at the end of the incantation they all just snap out of it, a bit spooked and dazed but otherwise unaltered in any significant way.


"I'm definitely not constipated anymore though, eh."

I'd almost have felt bad for Lisa at this point if I'd known going into this that she was Richie's sister. It would have set up an emotional dynamic of an unequal, vaguely abusive sibling relationship and given me something to latch onto and care about. However, taking into consideration the limited character development, dreadful acting, amateur film craft and incessantly childish whining on display...fuck 'em all.

Oh, did I mention corpses start rising from their graves? Yeah, that happens. There's only about six or seven of them, but we do finally have our titular Corpse Eaters.


"I'm here to eat corpses, not flowers, eh! You know I got allergies!"

So the summoning sequence ends. As with everything else in this movie it was murkily shot, badly edited and went on too long. It's actually somewhat impressive that a film this short contains so much artless padding.

When things quiet down inside the crypt the kids think they may hear some noises outside and the guys decide to go investigate.

Up until now the similarities with Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things have been superficial and formulaic, clearly connected but mainly just a series of well-worn tropes the earlier film simply did better: A group of wacky 70's ne'er-do-wells looking for unorthodox kicks? Check. A night in the cemetery? Check. A Satanic ritual over a grave? Check. A seemingly failed first attempt? A successful second attempt? Corpses popping out of graves and looking for human flesh? Check, check, check. Now that the zombies are ready to attack, however we move into direct and obvious rip-off territory. The zombie make-up is damn near identical (although not quite as good), the music, a series of electronic pops and wails, is so close that you'd have to listen to them back to back to tell them apart and even some of the shots are direct copies of scenes from the earlier film. The opening shot of the zombie attack involves them bursting through the crypt door and piling in to overwhelm the protagonists:


I feel like I've seen this before someplace, eh.

Compare to this iconic shot from the finale of Children...:


Yeah, right. I saw it here, eh.

The scene even uses the same lab-process slow motion. Smooth and clear slow motion effects on film are achieved through over-cranking the camera to shoot at a higher frame rate. When slow motion is added in post production there are fewer frames available because it was originally shot for real-time motion. The frames must be duplicated in processing and edited together, resulting in a halting, jerky effect distinct from slow motion captured directly in-camera. Lab process slow motion can be quite effective in its own right and I for one felt it worked beautifully during the climax of Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. Apparently Lawrence Zazelenchuk thought so, too.

In the initial attack Richie is badly wounded and Julie is completely swarmed. Lisa manages to get Richie out of the crypt and Alan follows on his own, leaving Julie behind to be mauled and eaten. The three survivors stumble through the cemetery, reach the car and escape. That's when we finally get to see this guy again:


"I still think I'm gonna puke, eh!"

Now we get the money shots of the hungry dead folk chowing down on Julie's internal organs. One of them even uses a shovel to cut off her hand, which he then picks up and delicately nibbles.


"I've always liked finger food, eh."

There are long, loving shots of intestines being pulled out of Julie's abdomen and extreme close-ups of pale, decaying mouths chewing on her liver. It's nothing we haven't seen a million times before but it's pretty graphic for 1974 and they appear to have used real animal organs, likely those of a pig.

As Alan drives hell-bent for leather to get Richie to a hospital Lisa asks the rather sensible question "What about Julie?" Alan shouts "Forget her!" and keeps on driving. All that unreleased sexual frustration has turned Alan into a real douchebag. He really needs to wank more.

They pull up to the hospital and instead of an establishing shot of the building we get one of the telephone switchboard as a receptionist makes a PA announcement for one of the doctors. I become suddenly wistful, musing idly that we've come such a long way technology-wise in just a few short decades. This woman has to put a 1/4 inch plug into one of dozens of identical sockets on a 3 foot by 2 foot panel just to answer a call. Think about that next time you're holding your smart phone and a telemarketer interrupts your game of Toon Blast as you listen to an mp3 on your $5 ear buds.

We now get the "rolling the gurney with the injured guy through the hospital corridor while providing crucial exposition" scene. I'm struck by how subdued and lethargic the hospital workers seem. They're speaking so softly and moving so gingerly it's as if they're teens trying to sneak home after an illicit all night beer and back bacon bender. This sequence was filmed in Sudbury Memorial Hospital in Ontario. I suspect they were only allowed to film late at night and were trying not to disturb the real patients and staff.


"Don't wake my folks or we're all in big trouble, eh!"

The hospital workers take Richie away to prep him for surgery and we finally discover that he and Lisa are siblings. There's a long scene with a couple of doctors discussing the case, washing their hands and getting into their scrubs. Then there's a meandering, soporific montage of the procedure with seemingly endless shots of a wall-clock and "time is passing" stock music. When it's all over the lead surgeon has to break it to Alan and Lisa that Richie didn't make it. Lisa starts to freak out and suddenly faints so they put her in a recovery room and give her a sedative.

All she's done is pass out from the stress of her loss but she gets an overnight stay in the hospital with her own room and her own nurse. Now that's what I'm talking about with Canadian healthcare! They are on point with this shit up there. You could drag yourself into an American hospital on one leg, bleeding from a stump at your hip, holding your other leg in your hands and trying to use it as a walking stick and they'll still ask for your insurance card before they'll even look at you. Even if you have insurance you won't get a room. They'll just give you a band-aid, some Tylenol and a crutch, kick you out on the streets then bill your insurance company $80,000.

Lisa now has a cheesy fever-dream where she sees zombie faces and her brother rising from a coffin. We see clearly for the first time that her brother is the shaving accident victim from the funeral home, something that should have been obvious narratively but which was muddled and confused by murky cinematography, shoddy lighting and lousy editing. Richie walks over to her and they embrace and kiss. Not in a brother-and-sisterly way, but passionately and probably with tongue. I can just imagine Lawrence Zazelenchuk and director Klaus Vetter chatting on set and coming up with this on the fly. "Sure, we've got our share of gratuitous sex and violence, Klaus...but what this picture really needs is a little bit of incest!"


"Brilliant, eh! Larry, you're a genius!"

When Richie and Lisa pull away from each other their mouths are smeared with blood! Lisa awakens screaming and Alan rushes in to comfort her. But wait! We're still in the dream! Lisa's face is bloody and gaunt. She bites Alan's neck, which starts spurting blood like a leaky garden hose and at the edge of the frame you can just barely see somebody's hand operating the pump that makes it squirt. Alan bleeds out on the hospital floor as Lisa laughs. A nurse comes in and screams. Lisa jumps over the bed and stabs her to death.


"Take off, you hoser! You like that, eh?"

Now Lisa actually wakes up and Alan actually comes in to comfort her with some sweet Canadian love-talk and to try to convince her how they're totally not to blame for anybody dying or for corpses eating people or anything. "Don't upset yourself over nothing. What happened just happened, nobody was responsible," says the guy who just happily participated in a satanic ritual and left a woman to be slaughtered by the hungry walking corpses he helped to reanimate.


"This kind of thing happens in Ontario all the time, eh."

We now dissolve back to Richie in his coffin at "The Happy Halo" where our Creepy Funeral Director is sending Bill the embalmer home. He complains that he must finish "all the forms and red tape you have to go through to bury some dead piece of meat." Yep, he says that. This guy must be an absolute joy to work for. Creepy Funeral Director then goes into his office, pulls out a very large carafe full of booze and proceeds to down several tall, stiff drinks in rapid succession, eventually passing out at his desk. Hmmm. I seem to recall him warning Bill not to drink too much.


That's what Sigmund Freud called "projection," eh.

The phone rings and wakes Creepy Funeral Director, but strangely no one is on the line. He hears a noise downstairs and decides to investigate. He stumbles drunkenly down some dark stairs and hallways all the while mumbling incoherently. He enters the chapel to discover that most of the coffins are empty!


"Where's everybody?" He actually says that, too, eh. As if the dead folk are all hiding out and waiting to yell "Surprise!"

Richie is still in his coffin, but he opens his eyes as Creepy Funeral Director passes by him. Creepy Funeral Director sees another zombie munching away at a corpse in a coffin across the room and our middle-aged friend with the weak stomach and the handkerchief makes his final appearance.


"I really am gonna puke this time, pinky swear promise, eh!"

Further investigation reveals that the zombies from earlier in the film have somehow found their way to the funeral home and have joined Richie in a funeral parlor buffet. Never mind that the place where the Scooby gang performed the ritual was explicitly stated to be an abandoned graveyard just east of bumblefuck and therefore completely unrelated to the nicely manicured cemetery in which Creepy Funeral Director took his little hearse-ride/pleasure jaunt. The zombies must have planted a LoJack on Richie so they could find him when he came back to life.


"Corpses just taste better when you have someone to share them with, eh."

Richie Zombie attacks Creepy Funeral Director and plucks out his eyes. He then pops them into his necrotic maw like a couple of plump, scrumptious grapes.


"Aw, that's just great, eh! How am I supposed to find my booze if I got no eyes?"

We now cut to a heavy door being unlocked in what we will shortly discover to be a mental hospital. A couple of orderlies drag Creepy Funeral Director down a hall, put him in a straight jacket and lock him in a cell as he screams and laughs that he's not insane.


Much like Canada itself it was all just a madman's fantasy, eh.


The End, eh.

Now there's a twist ending nobody saw coming...because they were all too busy drinking and necking in their muscle cars to pay attention to what was happening on the drive-in screen.

This was one soggy, batter-fried turd of a movie with absolutely nothing whatsoever to recommend it to anyone, a genuine piece of Canuck offal best consigned to the amber flames of an Ontario garbage fire...but at least it took my mind off Nate and Kelby running off with all my swear money for about an hour.

Final observations:

--The budget for The Corpse Eaters was approximately $36,000 Canadian dollars. Lawrence Zazelenchuk raised most of it from his day job working in a nickel mine.

--The first listed director, Donald Passmore, was fired after four days and replaced by Klaus Vetter. It is unclear how much footage from Passmore's involvement remained in the film.

--There was a delay between production and post-production as Zazelenchuk had run out of money and had to save from his drive-in proceeds to complete the film.

--The film played a lengthy second-billing run at Zazelenchuk's "69 Drive-In" near Sudbury, Ontario and was eventually bought as a tax write-off by a New York distributor. It was immediately shelved and left undistributed.

--None of the actors in The Corpse Eaters ever appeared in any other film or television productions.



As always, cheers and thanks for reading!

Written in October, 2018 by Bradley Lyndon



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