Jack Curtis's The Flesh Eaters opens in fine style with a pre-credits scene that reminds me a lot of the first shark attack in Jaws: a couple frolicking on a sailboat end up in the water (the woman minus her bikini top) where they are both devoured by something lurking unseen beneath the surface. Could Spielberg be a fan of this cult flick? I know I am, 'cos it's got virtually everything I could ask for in a low budget 60s monster movie, and then some: a mad scientist, buxom females, a beatnik spouting incomprehensible 'beat-speak', a silly monster or two, graphic violence, and best of all, in the restored version I saw, a spot of Nazisploitation.
Byron Sanders stars as seaplane pilot Grant Murdoch, who is hired by beautiful PA Jan Letterman (Barbara Wilkin) to fly herself and alcoholic actress Laura Winters (Rita Morley) to Provincetown. En route, the plane experiences engine trouble, and Murdoch is forced to land at a remote, supposedly uninhabited island where the pilot and his two passengers must wait for a storm to blow over; there, they meet marine biologist Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck), who is on the island running experiments on a microscopic parasite that lives in the surrounding waters. When a human skeleton is washed up on the beach (holding a bikini top), Bartell claims it to be the work of a shark, but Murdoch is not so sure, suspecting that the shifty looking scientist knows a lot more than he is letting on. Eventually, it transpires that the parasitic organisms in the water are microscopic flesh eaters, the result of Nazi biological weapons experiments during the war, and that Bartell intends to use these creatures for financial gain, and he isn't about to let anyone get in his way.
Although the script for The Flesh Eaters is fairly routine for a 60s creature feature, with stock characters and clichéd dialogue, the film stands head and shoulders above most of its B-movie contemporaries thanks to an unusually grim atmosphere, some surprisingly gruesome effects, and its shameless Nazi plot device, which adds a delightfully lurid quality to proceedings. Most monster movies are guaranteed to feature a few characters that won't survive to see the end credits, but rarely do they meet their fate in such nasty ways as they do here, the death scenes including a man having his face eaten away and another being devoured from the inside out leaving a hole in his torso and his ribs and spine in clear view, a bloody gunshot to the eye, and a brutal stabbing. So graphic are these scenes that, even though the film is in black and white, some people still regard this as the first true gore movie, beating H.G. Lewis's splatter classic Blood Feast (1963) by a couple of years (the film was released in 1964, but completed in 1961).
Perhaps even more shocking than the gore are the film's Nazi experiments, which predate similar exploitative scenes in films like SS Experiment Camp and Ilsa She Wolf of the SS by over a decade: shot in a documentary style, they depict female prisoners being stripped naked and forced into a test pool teeming with the man-made flesh eaters. The faux realism of these scenes makes them rather uncomfortable viewing despite the silly nature of the experiment itself. Fans of the Nazisploitation genre should definitely give this a watch purely for the sake of completion.
The film ends in typically daft monster movie fashion, with the microscopic flesh munchers mutating into a single giant creature that can only be destroyed by an injection of plasma directly into its nucleus. Brave Murdoch risks his life to do so, ending the film with a suitably large explosion.
8.5 out of 10, happily rounded up to 9 for the gratuitous scene where Jan takes off her blouse so that Murdoch can bandage his leg.
Review by BA_Harrison from the Internet Movie Database.