Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Film Appreciation - They're Dead & They're Dangerous

Cody Hamman reveals a hope for the future while discussing one of his favorites, Bill Hinzman's 1988 zombie film FleshEater, for this entry in Film Appreciation.

During the filming of Night of the Living Dead (1968), director George Romero recruited investor and crew member Bill Hinzman to play the film's most featured ghoul because he was tall, skinny, owned an old suit, and was around to get in front of the camera whenever needed. Hinzman's ghoul ended up being the first one seen in the movie, zombie #1 the Cemetery Ghoul, the strange man who the character Johnny spots approaching from a distance, inspiring him to tease his unnerved sister with the famous line, "They're coming to get you, Barbra." Johnny is joking, but things turn serious when the Hinzman ghoul does attack and kicks off the night of horror.

By the mid-'80s, Night of the Living Dead had already achieved classic status, but Hinzman didn't realize just how popular his character was until he went to a horror convention - not as a guest, he was just stopping by to visit his friend/Night co-writer John Russo. While Hinzman walked through the crowd, he was surprised to find that he was recognized by excited fans. When he left the convention that day, Hinzman's newfound fanbase had inspired him to make something of his own.

Hinzman decided to make a zombie movie with nods to Night '68 and in which he plays the lead ghoul, but the story and character are tweaked enough to differentiate them from the earlier film. Hinzman already owned 16mm film equipment from his career making educational and industrial films, so he raised a $60,000 budget and got his movie together, taking the title from a Night '68 working title, Night of the Flesh Eaters.

Like Night of the Living Dead, FleshEater begins with a vehicle driving down a winding path, but this time it's a tractor pulling a hay wagon, a farmer taking a group of college kids on a ride out into the woods, where they intend to camp for the night. Halloween night.

Along the way, the hayride passes another farmer using his tractor to pull a large stump out of the ground. When the stump has been unearthed, the farmer discovers something very strange nearby - a very shallowly buried coffin, locked shut with a chain that has rusted and broken, with an engraved stone and a wax seal on top of it. On the stone is a pentagram, on the seal a warning: "This evil which will take flesh and blood from thee and turn all ye unto evil." Blaming all of this on college kids messing around on his property, the farmer opens the coffin... to find Hinzman's FleshEater within. In seconds, FleshEater has risen and ripped the farmer's throat open with his teeth. A Hinzman ghoul has again kicked off a night of horror.

The camping kids have barely gotten their night of drinking and smoking started, they haven't even figured out whether or not they'll play frisbee later, when the party is busted up by FleshEater and his already growing legion of zombies.

Romero's zombies often come off as pathetic and can be sympathized with. "We're them and they're us." That's not the case with Hinzman's zombies. As the seal on FleshEater's coffin warned, these zombies are pure evil; snarling, malicious creatures that tear into victims with hate in their eyes. They make quick work of the college kids. The leader type, the couple who can't keep their hands off each other, the annoying prankster, they all fall prey to the living dead. The kids board themselves up in an old tool shed, this doesn't even keep the zombies out for ten minutes.

Only one couple survives to run off into the dark night, trying to find help and warn people about the zombie threat, but they're thwarted by FleshEater and his cohorts at every turn.

As the zombie plague spreads through the countryside, the film plays out in a series of zombie attack setpieces. An unlucky cop checks in on a bad situation, the zombies invade a horse ranch, college kids having a costume party in a barn get their good times crashed by real monsters. Supervising Producer Andrew Sands appears in the costume party sequence as the hilariously drunk host.

In another sequence, FleshEater ruins the night of a family preparing to go trick-or-treating. Hinzman's own wife and daughter play the mother and daughter in this scene. When little Heidi in her angel costume opens the door expecting to find other trick-or-treaters waiting on the front step, she instead finds FleshEater and becomes the zombie's treat herself. Blood splatters onto the Krunch bar she drops on the ground. A black and white version of this scene was included as a bonus feature on the home video releases of the 30th anniversary edition of Night of the Living Dead ten years later.

It all culminates in a sequence that pays homage to the posse scenes in Night of the Living Dead, during which a familiar face even shows up, the one and only Vincent Survinski.

I first heard about FleshEater in November or December 1989, when I read mention of it in one of the first two issues of Fangoria that I ever owned. Going by the covers, my guess would be that it was in the December issue, in the "Shocking report! MPAA vs. splatter - Video battle rages!" article, as the mention was about the fact that the movie had been released on video unrated, under the title Revenge of the Living Zombies.

Revenge of the Living Zombies is what I knew this movie as for years. I had been wanting to see it since the end of '89 and when I found a copy of the VHS in a local video store in 1994 or so, I rented it immediately. I clearly remember sitting down for my first viewing of this film, watching it while eating a plate of spaghetti. The film was released as Zombie Nosh in some other countries. Shriek Show released the film on DVD in 2003 under its original title of FleshEater, with the on screen title actually being FleshEater: Revenge of the Living Dead.

I've always enjoyed FleshEater over the years, but during a viewing of the film one day last year - on October 29th, 2010 to be exact - it clicked with me in a bigger way than ever before. Instantly I became obsessed with the movie. It's comfort viewing for me, a movie that I feel like watching often, and can be the only bit of entertainment that I watch for days at a time. And entertainment it is. I find FleshEater to be one of the most purely entertaining films that I've ever seen.

I love every aspect of this film. The tone and style, the Halloween setting with the beautiful autumn in Pennsylvania locations, the score by Erica Portnoy, the songs by HEDGG and Paul McCollough, the unnerving edge added by the evil of the zombies, the great gore effects by Gerald Gergely.

I'm so into this film that I desperately want to work on something set in its world. As I watched FleshEater over and over after that October 2010 viewing, a thought came to mind that hasn't been shaken over the last year: There needs to be a sequel and I need to be involved in some way. I started thinking of how I could pitch this idea to Bill Hinzman. I was worried that he wouldn't be receptive to the idea of doing a sequel at all, let alone allowing me to be involved. But earlier this year, I listened to a podcast interview with Hinzman in which he said himself that he'd love to do FleshEater 2.

So I don't need to convince Hinzman that a sequel should be made, but I do need to get in contact with him to convince him to allow me to be involved. I haven't been able to do that yet, so I'm just putting it out into the world now. FleshEater 2 must happen by any means necessary and I'm ready to go to work on it in any capacity that Mister Hinzman sees fit. I'll go out on a limb and declare myself the #1 fan of FleshEater, so if I got the chance to work on the sequel I think my love and enthusiasm for the project would be a great asset and for me it would be a dream come true. Let's make it happen!

FleshEater will return!


  1. NOTE: THIS is the last part as I am only allowed 4,000 + characters by Google so this will be in parts and I have to go backwards, so this is the LAST part - I'll be back later to re type it and have the whole thing in roughly 6 or 7 parts) A lot of great memories come from "Flesheater" and everything film wise and most stage productions I've had the priviledge to be involved in. And I've met a lot of very cool people in this crazy business and been in a lot of towns and places I'd never have thought to go to. So, I guess I'll stick with it. You can see me in my "BIG Break" at Facebook/ The Korean Free Movie right now or wait(as I am doing) for world renowned fantasy artist Dorian Cleavenger's "Paracosm"(Chapter 4 - "Billy") to come out from D.E.C.Douglas Education Center and Tom Savini's Makeup and FX School as "Billy's Father" OR "The Barn" due out with any luck in October for Halloween this year! I play Preacher. See you in the movies. And have a REEL great time! Ghouly Cool,~ Rik

  2. I swear every time we did the scene it got a lil longer. Actors are hams at heart. Hah! After that Bill liked my work enough to bring me back as (Spoiler alert!!) Farmer Ned Zombie! This apparently wasn't in the original plan/script? I don't know because to THIS day I have still NEVER seen a "Flesheater" script. Outside of Jerry G and Joe Shellby's "Ground Control"(1984-95) which went straight to video, I believe. I was a soldier in it and I had a couple lines, so I made the credits, but I was talking major motion picture and BIG screen credits. Until "GC" I had only done extra and featured extra work on "Night of the Living Dead"(Yard Zombie), "Dawn of the Dead"(Suit Zombie) and pretty much every film that came through Pittsburgh along with a lot of leads and parts in plays. By the way, "Flesheater" got me featured in "Draculina" Magazine and led to one of the co-leads in Hugh Gallagher's "Gorgasm"(The Original Chase Nicholas). So, yes we are all a part of Kevin Beacon's Sixth Degrees of Separation Syndrome. Next, I had to finagle my way(and wasn't happy about that fact)into "Night of the living Dead - 90"(Porch or Cameo Zombie) with Patti Tallman as Barbara shooting me in the face! That made the final cut. It was Jerry's idea for me to be Cameo(Porch) Zombie as I showed up in my "Flesheater" clothes, sort of for a laugh and he did my Farmer Ned makeup and dubbed me Cameo Zombie.

  3. Damn! I thought these would come up differently. Now the whole response of mine is upside down. Shall I, nah, just start at the bottom and read up!! Sorry! If I was allowed the words I typed this would have been in one fell swoop but since I have to break it in. It should be in 6 parts after I am done but please read from the bottom. THIS is PART 4

    (Cont.) And Jerry Gergely called and asked me to come down and meet Bill and read for this Farmer Ned part that Mike Gornick had turned down(Aklthough Mike did end up in voiceover as Mad Mike, the Halloween barn party disc jockey). And this started for me in October 1988 so I was still 39 and not 40. Mike had been invited to come and direct the first episode of a new TV show that would follow "Tales From the Darkside" called "Monsters" So, how could he pass that up?
    But I drove down to Brightion Toiwnship on location during the shed scene shoot and all Bill did was look me up and down and said "Yeah, he'll do.." And that was it! 96 miles one way and I was in.

  4. PART 5 this is and now they are out of order...SORRY! THIS goes is right after "I was in" as above or Part 4,

    Now I never received a script and every time I asked anyone for one(Mind you I had no access to Bill)they said "Aaaahhh! Don't worry about it. He'll probably change everything anyway!"
    So I showed up for the horse barn shoot scene, which was all I was originally scheduled for and got down to the set and the first thing Bill asks me "You do know your lines, right?" My entire acting life passed in front of me. All the plays I'd been in, college acting classes, the films I'd worked on, TV shows including Pittsburgh's "Chiller Theater"(Dracula on several Halloweens) with Chilly Billy Cardille and Ron/Rik's "The Ghost With The Most(Igor & Iiii-Gor) - soon to be uploaded to U Tube or somewhere like it. All this flashed before me and I said to Bill
    "I haven't even seen a script!" feeling like it was maybe the wrong thing to say.
    Well, Bill cleared his throat and thought,
    "That's it!~ I'm fired!" but then I added,
    "They said you'd probably change it anyway."
    He looked at the crew and with me thinking I'd blown it he said,
    "Yeah, they're probably right. (Pause) Let's adlib it!"
    One of my favorite fortes of acting. And we did.

  5. PART #1 The Beginning:

    I still remember the day we burned down the barn(See one of my FB/richard billock avatars-not in the film, just in front of it.)and killed the zombies inside-in reverse order. I was (spoiler alert!)the last one shot. ADVICE: Don't let them use leather patches to squid instead of metal on you! That shot to my head hurt like someone hit me with a ball bat! That lil Hawaiian girl and I were to star in Hinzman's next film, which never came to be. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I heard Bill tell Jerry "Bloody me up real good so if we do a Part 2 Rik can play me!" That never came to pass(YET)either. And as Bill passed away a couple Februarys ago(2013)who's to say what could happen? I do recall him mentioning to me at Cinema Wasteland up by Cleveland in 2009 or 10 that he had a deal and was going to Japan top do a sequel with some Japanese investors he had some kind of deal with. I brought up our Feb 1989 discussion of me being "Flesheater" in case he just wanted to write and direct, so somehow he'd take me along, but,...that didn't happen either. I never heard that he went nor did the sequel.

  6. PART 2(at last) Now if you look me up in the credits as Farmer Ned, that's cool and I am lsited twice, the beginning and end credits, but truth of the matter is I'd have been better to have been Jackie's Husband instead of Farmer Ned. Because when i enter our house with the two leads so they can use the phone(About 45 minutes into the film)and call her name twice! "Jackie! Jackie!?" well, no one calls me Ned. I learned that fact after first seeing the film-too late of course to mention it.
    All I know is 26 years later next month (Feb 2015) "Flesheater" literally saved me from quitting and giving up the acting part of the biz. I still don't know if that was a blessing or a curse?
    I had said "IF(Hate that word)I don't have my name in the credits of a feature film by the time I turn 40 years old (11-20-88) I am going to give up on theater and film and, I don't know, go back to singing or find a "Real" job and not a "Reel" one! NOTE" Again sorry this is out of order as I thought the entries would go down and not up! Be well and thanks for dredging up so many cool memories! ~ Rik Billock

  7. Thanks for stopping by to check out the article, and a huge thanks for leaving such an awesome, epic response! You rule, sir.

    - Cody