"Behind this Membrane...You Will Be Driven To a Point...Midway Between Life and Death!"
Although touted as the first "gore" film (H.G. Lewis's Blood Feast was 1963), The Flesh Eaters was perhaps the first gore film with an actual plot & story (no offense to ol' H.G.) and it looks ahead a bit to the "Nazi mad doctor/experiments "genre (The Frozen Dead, Flesh Feast & Shock Waves) that would start a bit later.
After a prologue showing a man & woman meeting a weird fate while swimming off their boat we meet alcoholic has-been actress Laura Winters (Rita Morley) and her secretary Jan (Barbara Wilkin) who charter he-man/hero-type Grant Murdoch's (Byron Sanders) plane to fly from NYC to Provincetown, MA. After encountering a storm and engine trouble the plane is forced down on an "uninhabited island" (?) off the coast of New England (!) and soon after landing the group meets marine biologist Dr. Peter Bartell (speaking with a German accent HINT HINT) played by Universal horror regular Martin Koslek (he also appeared as Joseph Goebbels in FIVE different films !). A picked clean skeleton is found washed up on the beach along with piles of glowing fish remains and it's soon discovered that the ocean is filled with flesh eating bacteria ! Although wisely the film does not immediately established Bartell's connection to the bacteria he's a sinister enough presence (and don't forget that German accent !) that we know that he's got some ulterior motive lurking there.
Bartell then attempts to put the moves on Laura ("muscles and a suntan don't make a man - its intellect ! ") and he's rebuffed after a hinted at attempted rape. Laura then becomes stranded on some rocks while attempting to retrieve her suitcase full of booze and while rescuing her Grant gets some bacteria on his leg. In one of the films graphic moments it's cut out of the bloody wound with a knife (luckily Jan is there to immediately rip off her blouse to provide a bandage).
One of the first rules of outdoor survival - rip off your blouse for a quick bandage !
Eventually a beatnik named Omar ("I feel the love baby !!" played by Ray Tudor) appears offshore on a raft, joins the group and soon a romance starts developing between Grant & Jan (who after sacrificing her blouse for a bandage is forced to wear a strapless bathing suit). Prof. Bartell then sets up an experiment in which he electrocutes some of the bacteria and although initially showing it successful in killing it, afterwards it begins to grow into a huge & pulsating blob under a sheet. Then showing his true colors by secretly having Omar drink some of the bacteria after which it starts eating him from the inside out, the by now thoroughly evil professor pushes him out to sea on his raft with a missing midsection (that's represented somewhat amateurly, but kinda cool "animated gore") along with a tape recorder blasting his screams out !
Bartell then shoots Laura, buries her in the sand (although she does make a surprise appearance later) and at this point relates the back story of the flesh eating microbes to Jan & Grant. Turns out he's an American scientist that was sent over to Germany after the war to study the Nazi science stuff and it's there that he discovered the bacteria secret. There was some Nazi experiment/lab footage shot for the flashback sequence but it wasn't used in the final cut of the film (it's included as an extra on the Dark Sky DVD). This along with casting an actual German actor in the role makes me wonder if his part was originally written as a German scientist, but for some reason was changed at some point to American ? Anyways, now thanks to the electrical jolt the bacteria now emerges as a huge crawling monster with tentacles - and thanks to Bartell talking everyone into setting huge electrodes up in the ocean earlier there's gonna be a giant monster climax ending !
The rather ingenious special effects (the pulsating, squirming bacteria was done by punching tiny holes in the negative with pins, there by giving it a moving appearance), plus the dissolving skin closeups also look really neat. These plus the moody B & W cinematography and shocking for the time gore effects all add up to a great little horror film. Koslek is excellent in the role of the evil professor. Born in Germany in 1904 he became an outspoken critic against Hitler and fled to America in 1931 where he began his career in Hollywood. He died in 1994.
Directed by Jack Curtis,beautifully shot by Carson Davidson and edited by future adult feature auteur Radley Metzger. The ad campaign promised "It will sterilize you with fear !!"