I Eat Your Skin (1964) I Eat Your Skin / Zombies / Zombie / Voodoo Bloodbath (1964/1971) -**˝

     I Drink Your Blood, the headlining picture in Jerry Gross’s “Two Great Blood-Horrors to Rip Out Your Guts!” double feature, hardly qualified as “great,” but it could at least be honestly described as a “blood-horror.” Also, the plot of that movie does indeed hinge upon an act of blood-ingestion, even if nobody’s precisely drinking the stuff. The truth-in-advertising status of the second feature was rather less impressive, though. I Eat Your Skin falls so far afield from greatness that Cinemation’s marketing department were afraid to include even a single second of footage from it in the trailers for the two-film package. It has but one gore scene of any significance. And as you might suspect on the basis of what I just said, at no point is any skin eaten by anybody. None of those things are very surprising, however, if you’re aware of the movie’s history. Unlike its consort, I Eat Your Skin was not really a Jerry Gross production at all, and it was filmed some seven years before its release by Cinemation; it wound up on the “Two Great Blood-Horrors” bill solely because it was available and affordable at a time when Gross was in immediate need of another movie. That makes it a product of a considerably more innocent era, one in which it would in fact have been pushing the envelope of disreputability with its smirkingly lecherous hero and its fairly graphic decapitation via machete. And its creator, though his credits are relatively few and his name is little known, is at least as significant a figure as Gross in the B-movie pantheon. Writer/director/producer Del Tenney was also the mad prophet responsible for The Horror of Party Beach.

     So just how lecherous is our hero, you ask? Well, the first time we see Tom Harris (William Joyce, from The Young Nurses), he’s relaxing by the pool at the Fontainbleu Hotel (apparently one of the James Bond movies had just shot a few scenes there, and Tenney was looking to ride some coattails), regaling a sizeable mob of bikini-clad women with a sex scene recalled from one of his numerous paperback novels. He is thus just a little bit annoyed when his agent, Duncan Fairchild (Dan Stapleton), arrives on the scene to hassle him about business, but Fairchild’s unexpected presence does at least give Harris an easy escape route when the husband of one of his listeners comes rampaging over to assert his marital prerogatives.

     So what’s this urgent business of Fairchild’s? Well, while he was playing cards the other night with a European nobleman, Duncan learned that his opponent had just inherited a little island in the Caribbean, and from the way the other man described it, Fairchild figures it would be perfect both as a vacation spot sufficiently eccentric to impress his rather wacky wife, Coral (Betty Hyatt Linton), and as a setting for one of Tom’s trashy novels. The place is called “Voodoo Island,” and its inhabitants are supposed to be ardent practitioners of black magic. The island’s jungles, furthermore, are crawling with every imaginable variety of poisonous snake, and are rumored to conceal an entire army of the walking dead. The little isle is also home to a reclusive scientist who has apparently dropped out of society to seek a cure for cancer derived from the natives’ voodoo potions. And as if none of those attractions were attractive enough (and they really aren’t, come to think of it), the tragic loss of virtually the whole of Voodoo Island’s fishing fleet in a recent hurricane has left its population ratio skewed five to one in favor of women. With such easy skirt-chasing pickings dangled in front of his face, Harris overcomes his understandable reluctance to spend the summer dodging zombies, snakes, and houngans, and agrees to accompany the Fairchilds to Voodoo Island.

     The whole excursion proves to be an amazingly stupid idea, really. For one thing, Voodoo Island happens to lie at the utmost extreme of what Duncan’s private plane can reach before its fuel tanks run dry, and Harris is forced to make an unpowered landing on the beach. (Don’t ask me why Fairchild’s pilot, Enrico, hands over control to the writer when the gas runs out. Maybe I Eat Your Skin takes place in some strange parallel universe where white guys have a genetic advantage over Hispanics when it comes to piloting light aircraft…) Ordering his companions to stay with the plane, Tom sets off into the jungle in search of help. What he finds is a beautiful white girl (Heather Hewitt, of Mission Mars) skinny dipping in a pond, and a machete-wielding zombie spying on her from the opposite bank. Harris alerts the girl to her peril, then swims across the pond to take on the undead peeping tom. It turns into a running battle that leads Harris into contact with one of the natives’ few surviving fishermen— whom the zombie decapitates the moment he finishes telling Harris about the local voodoo cult and its plans to conduct a human sacrifice to the incarnate deity Papa Negro that very night. Tom looks like he’s on the fast track to a beheading of his own until the zombie is scared off by the arrival of Charles Bentley (On the Threshold of Space’s Walter McCoy), overseer of the island, with a jeepload of armed men. Bentley effects a second rescue a short while later when Harris leads him to the plane, for the immobile vehicle had attracted the hostile attentions of a group of living islanders. These the overseer even convinces to help the outsiders move their aircraft to a more secure position. Then Bentley leads everybody back into the interior to the villa where he lives.

     Bentley’s villa is also the home and workplace of that scientist, and just imagine Tom’s surprise when Dr. Auguste Billedeaux (Robert Stanton) turns out to be the father of the girl he saved from the zombie earlier. Her name is Jeanine, and her behavior toward Harris offers every indication that the author is going to get all the action he can handle without ever having to avail himself of that reported surplus of unattached native women. Then again, instigating a romance with Jeanine promises to introduce lots of probably unwanted complications into Tom’s life, above and beyond the constraints that having a steady girlfriend is likely to place on his free-wheeling tomcat lifestyle. For one thing, the islanders evidently believe that blonde virgins make the best human sacrifices, and for another, the suspiciously secretive attitude taken by Bentley and Dr. Billedeaux toward both the latter’s research and the neighborhood voodoo cult suggests that the danger to Jeanine reaches a lot closer to home than some ramshackle village out in the jungle.

     It seems odd that I Eat Your Skin sat on the shelf for seven years while Tenney’s contemporary and even more ludicrous The Horror of Party Beach was quickly snapped up for distribution. Hiding deep inside these 82 minutes of concentrated foolishness is a pretty decent little voodoo movie, and every once in a while, I Eat Your Skin will make a momentary effort to become the film it might have been. The voodoo rituals are very well-handled affairs, and manage to give off the occasional hint of authenticity— at the very least, it helps a great deal that the islanders’ dialogue is in Spanish instead of the usual demeaning bullshit pidgin-English. (In case you’re curious, that refrain the houngan keeps singing to Papa Negro during the second rite— and a lovely voice he has, too— means approximately, “The lovers of the God serve you.”) But for the most part, I Eat Your Skin remains content to wallow in a strange mixture of zany comedy and what passed in its day for sleazy lasciviousness, with even its better efforts generally handicapped by an absurdly low budget— the zombies, for example, all have what appears to be oatmeal slathered over their faces, and what’s more, their bulging, sightless eyes seem in most cases to have been painted directly onto that oatmeal. Betty Hyatt Linton, as Coral Fairchild, is insufferable, whether singly or as part of the hell-spawned comedy team she forms with Dan Stapleton. Watching their antics as Duncan attempts to accommodate Coral’s “feminine” eccentricities is enough to make you wonder if Del Tenney had ever actually met a woman. William Joyce’s Tom Harris, meanwhile, ought to consider a career in the superhero business, billing himself as the Human Hormone. Scarcely a moment goes by in which Harris is onscreen without attempting to put the moves on somebody. Joyce plays the horndog to the hilt, and Tenney’s choice of music to accompany Harris’s amorous efforts (some incredibly skeezy lounge-jazz, courtesy of Lon E. Norman) is almost as effective at magnifying the impact as Abe Baker and Tony Restaino’s similarly dirty-minded piece for The Brain that Wouldn’t Die. There are also a few scattered moments of gloriously complete lunacy, as when one of the zombies prevents Enrico from launching Fairchild’s plane by charging into the engine nacelle while carrying a crate full of dynamite. The irony of the “Two Great Blood-Horrors” bill is that despite I Eat Your Skin’s near-invisibility in the advertising campaign, it was actually the more entertaining movie once I Drink Your Blood had been edited to pieces in order to secure an R-rating.



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