Monday, October 10, 2016

I Eat Your Skin (1964), by Del Tenney

Voodoo charts a perfect timeline of my life. If you want a voodoo movie that shows me at the ecstatic, youthful, hectic middle of my relationship with these sorts of movies, check out Trash Canon gem Crypt of Dark Secrets. If you want to see me at the far limits I've found now, where I'm largely just reflective and need something really tremendous to whet my appetite, managing a blog of memories more than having true, exciting adventures, check out Witchdoctor of the Living Dead. This is the voodoo movie--and indeed, the movie, period--that started it all. I Eat Your Skin is the first trash movie I ever saw. I watched it when I was ten, with my eight-year-old brother and my aunt and uncle. My aunt got the 50 Chilling Classics collection of public domain horror movies from another of my aunts. The four of us went in blind and it was up, up, and away from there.

I had never before imagined that acting, as a thing, could be bad, before laying my eyes on this. It was a goddamn blast. We didn't really riff it--it riffed itself. We laughed a lot and even got a few chills here and there. Well, my brother and I did at least, probably. After that, we tracked down Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 from Outer Space and all that. We'd been watching '50s monster movies for years, like Them! and The Giant Gila Monster, but we began to learn there was something new. Something alien. We met a lot of strange movies when we finally bought 50 Chilling Classics for ourselves. I Eat Your Skin came back time and time again, to be joined by Medusa, Cathy's Curse, Dr. Tarr's Torture Dungeon, The Alpha Incident, Demons of Ludlow, Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, Horrors of Spider Island, Driller Killer, Oasis of the Zombies, Revenge of Dr. X, The Witches' Mountain, and probably everything else in that damn box and all the other collections like it. A veritable smorgasbord of weird, shitty horror. I needed more--I found MST3K and it still wasn't enough. (Even as Laserblast, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, The Deadly Bees, Boggy Creek II, and Space Mutiny flooded into my awareness, and my heart.) Fortunately, I Eat Your Skin was historically double-billed with I Drink Your Blood. Figuring I'd be running into another black and white zombie movie, I was stunned by the display of rabies, gore, and hippies that unleashed itself into my eyeballs. I began to comprehend these "exploitation movies," and as teenhood dawned, I came across the annals of I-Mockery, the Cinema Snob, and Bleeding Skull. My formative years were shaped and stirred as I witnessed a bottomless sea of gore, nudity, and monstrosities beyond imagination.

I shared my movies, with some hits (Troll 2 nearly killed everyone) and some misses (King of the Zombies does not a good sleepover make). I even got the high school to have a One Night Only event for some of these movies, which is where Troll 2 knocked 'em dead, along with Don't Go in the Woods. I am proud to say that for two years, I was the Captain of the University of Minnesota Morris Bad Movie Club, or BMC for short. If there are any veterans of it out there, you know we saw both glory...and horror. It was our war, our private little war, and there were heroes as there were sacrifices. But what I mean to say is: it all started here. Some of the best days of my life started with I Eat Your Skin. So what better place to carry on the SPOOKYWEEN horror extravaganza from here?

Writer Tom Harris is in the soup with his editor, Duncan Fairchild. "Harry" Harris has been spending too much time helping lonely young housewives cheat on their husbands and not enough on composing his next Haydock-'n'-Harmon style potboiler. Duncan is forcing Tom and his own wife, Coral (which everyone always pronounces as "Carl"), to go to a Pacific island so that Tom can get some inspiration and make them more money. The island in question? Voodoo Island, home of snakes, zombies, and beautiful women. After an attack by one of the zombified locals, featuring the most hilarious decapitation set to film, Tom learns of the voodoo sacrifices of the island, and the mystery only deepens from there. As he falls in love with Jeanine, daughter of the local scientist, he'll need to solve it before their island Heaven becomes a Hell.

Does I Eat Your Skin hold up after all this time? Or have I grown too cynical with age to enjoy its cheesy, clumsy charms? I can say that fortunately I continue to enjoy the experience. I have perhaps moved on in some regards--for example, the mere presence of voodoo doesn't bring chills to me simply by merit of being some mysterious foreign religion. Now I know more about voodoo and I understand that there's not really such a thing as a "weird" religion (well, I mean, besides Scientology--excuse me, Sci***ology). There's almost certainly something racist in I Eat Your Skin, with the black pagan islanders trying to sacrifice a Blonde Caucasian Virgin™ and everything, something which I didn't pay attention to as a kid. It kills the mood a little bit, but of course the true evil behind the voodoo cult turns out to be a white man. His alias's name, though, is Papa Negro. That brings it back to uncomfortable a little bit.

But the movie is groovy, the shadows and zombies are creepy, and the dialogue is amazing. Any movie that uses the word "praytell" as part of its snark is going to be top of the charts for me. The acting, especially from the lady playing Coral, almost reaches self-parody at times. Did I mention, too, that this was the first movie I saw to have a sex scene in it? It was the early '60s, though, so nothing gets shown, and I wouldn't realize what it was until years later, when the sheer comedy of the scene wore off. There's also a wonderful zombie transformation sequence when some poor asshole is injected with the zombie drug and starts becoming one of the flesh-eating fiends with some Larry Talbot-style dissolve cuts. 

On top of all this, the movie doesn't drag, unlike most of the movies which I adored in my childhood that I've tried to rediscover over the years. That, more than anything else in my life right now, is important. I run a magazine, I write books, I work a day job. I have finally reached the stage of maturity where I cannot afford to watch movies without merit. Thankfully I have some solid luck these days, in these matters. And I have a great and bountiful past behind me to examine anew. Every scene in I Eat Your Skin flows well into one another, and while there is some dwelling (especially on the voodoo dancing), usually forward kinetic motion is a thing. There was some degree of care behind this, from the man who also brought us The Horror of Party Beach. There was enough to hook me. Just as easily, I could've slipped away from this path forever in the moment of watching this. Imagine if I had watched fucking Cathy's Curse instead of this. I would probably end up just watching Casablanca for a living. Assuming such a thing is tenable. (You'd think people would stop paying for reviews of Casablanca after awhile.)

Whatever. Be cautious but know that I Eat Your Skin is a party in your living room. Beget a trash legacy of your own with what you find in it.

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