When playboy writer Tom Harris follows his publicist to the small, ominous sounding Voodoo Island for inspiration to a new novel, he finds a scientist experimenting with snake venom that turns its victims into zombies.
Voodoo Island gets such a bad rap because of the whole voodoo thing. I told them they should have called it Voodoo Fun Island, the “Fun” part denoting that visitors might have a good time instead of becoming bug eyed slaves to bokur priests, but no one listens to an ornery old zombie like me. I tried explaining that people don’t know the fun side of voodoo, the friendly side of voodoo, the side of voodoo that says, “Hey, we’re not all about zombies and headless chickens, we’ve got ice cream and puppies too,” but I was once again rebuffed because I’m an undead zombie and not a voodoo zombie, so I obviously don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to voodoo. This is true to an extent, I have no idea if there is an “ice cream and puppies” side of voodoo, but I do know fun. Fun and I have a very long history stretching back decades. I made it my mission in life to get as close to fun as possible, to the point where fun would invite me over for pizza and beer, or at the very least beer, the pizza was unnecessary as long as beer was available. The point is, fun and I are very well acquainted with one another, so while voodoo might not be my forte beyond the voodoo zombies I’ve hung out with, not a happy bunch themselves mind you, I’m the zombie to talk to when you want people to come to an island retreat for a good time. Should that good time also involve becoming a bug eyed slave for a bokur priest, well, we all have different definitions of fun now don’t we?
Our film begins with an island tribe sacrificing a girl, or possibly a goat, it’s not entirely clear which one got the old heavenly appeasement treatment, though considering the two looked about to get intimate it might be a good thing we don’t see the full extent of this particular ritual. We then switch scenes to a resort where we’re introduced to Tom Harris, a popular author who fancies himself a bit of a playboy. Tom is in a rut and can’t seem to come up with an idea for a new novel, something he might have an easier time accomplishing if he weren’t spending so much time trying to convince women to sleep with him with stellar lines like “What part of heaven did you fly down from.” In order to drag Tom out of this rut, his publicist suggests they make a trip to an island said to host an army of the dead and a tribe that practices voodoo, two things that usually get left out of the travel brochure. The island has a suitable if less than creative name, Voodoo Island, because Skull Island and Bad Things Happen Here Island just isn’t creative enough. Their trip hits an early snag when the plane carrying them to the island is forced to make a crash landing on Voodoo Island’s beach, and Harris is nearly murdered by a deranged, sickly looking man that appears to be invulnerable to bullets, taking several shots from Harris’ gun without showing any injury. Luckily for them, an armed group of men show up to chase the crazed attacker away and take those who were aboard the small plane to the island’s interior where they meet Dr. Biladeau and his beautiful daughter Jeannie whom Tom instantly becomes smitten with. The good doctor explains that he is using a peculiar venom for medical research, but it quickly becomes apparent that something sinister is happening on Voodoo Island, something involving zombies and a mysterious voodoo priest with plans for the island’s newcomers.
I should warn you right off the bat that there is absolutely no skin eating in the movie, in fact, there’s very little gore at all. With a title like I Eat Your Skin I expected a bit more gore, but there’s little, if any, blood throughout the movie. In fact, it’s a rather tame flick that reminded me more of an old 50’s television show than a horror movie. It turns out the only reason the movie ended up with its title was because a film producer named Jerry Gross, famous producer behind such “classics” like Teenage Mother and Girl on a Chain Gang, needed a film to pair with his I Drink Your Blood. I Eat Your Skin, previously titled everything from Zombie Bloodbath to Adventure in the Caribbean, sat collecting dust for nearly six years before Gross decided to purchase the film for a double billing with his I Drink Your Blood, renaming it I Eat Your Skin to better match his own film. Thus we now have a film that is grossly, pun very much intended, misrepresented by its title. Though to be fair, Zombie Bloodbath would have been just as misrepresenting had that remained the title. I Eat Your Skin was made only a couple of years before Night of the Living Dead but released after Romero’s film which I can only imagine must have hurt its success as well. By the time it was finally released, movie goers were expecting much more violence but were instead given a film with almost none, a film that would have made even audiences of the early 50’s yawn.
I don’t think I can stress enough just how much this movie felt like a cheesy 50’s television show in nearly every aspect, the music, the dialogue, the acting, and the story, allow me to run down the list here. The music had a Muzak type of feel to it, something more akin to be heard in an elevator or at an old lounge bar, not a horror movie. The dialogue is as cheesy as it gets, especially coming from our hero Tom Harris. His pickup lines are easily some of the worst I’ve heard and wouldn’t get you laid at a drunken sorority house, let alone a mysterious compound in the middle of a jungle. It’s not just Harris though, each and every person seems to be dedicated to saying the most forced, cheesy lines they can possibly muster. I Love Lucy had better thought out lines than you’ll find here. Then there’s the story, which is cheesy beyond cheesy. I know I’m using that word a lot, but trust me, few movies have deserved it more. The voodoo trope has been used much, much, much better than it was here, coming across more as a great example of what slightly racist people think happens in the voodoo religion. I’ve seen a lot of older voodoo type zombie movies with more than a hint of old timey racism, but I Eat Your Skin takes the cake with the white characters looking down on the primitive and silly colored savages like it was the first time they were meeting black people. Lastly, there’s the actors who do their best to put on over the top performances. They aren’t terrible mind you, but just like everything else in this movie they are full on cheesy, seeming better suited to appear in an old corny television show than a horror flick, though I believe their coming across as comedic was a mistake and not something done willfully. The best example of this is the voodoo priest who controls the island’s indigenous inhabitants, and spoiler alert on this one though I don’t think it will be that big of a spoiler if you watch the film and have the gift of hearing. He’s behind a mask for most of the film as to hide his identity, but it doesn’t hide much and it’s fairly easy to figure out that he’s Dr. Biladeau’s security chief. This is mainly due to the mask not covering enough of his face, the security chief’s greater height which you can see in the priest, and, oh yeah, the fact that he speaks Spanish, the language of the native inhabitants, about as well as the whitest white person there is. He sounded like he was reading Spanish for the first time out of a translation manual, so it didn’t make it hard to figure out.
As for the zombies, don’t expect much there. With the first glance, I didn’t think they looked that bad, but as the film goes on and you get more opportunities to look at them closely, it becomes apparent that they mashed up Elmer’s glue and cereal for the look, plastering it all over the zombie actors’ faces and calling it a day. The bugged out eyes were achieved by cutting a ping pong ball in half and drawing a black dot on it, or at least that’s the way it looked. I wasn’t expecting anything that was going to blow me away, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite this bad either.
In the end, I wouldn’t bother with I Eat Your Skin unless you’re on a quest to watch every zombie movie ever made. If you’re looking for an older zombie flick, you can do much better than this.
The Undead Review
Directed By: Del Tenney (The Horror of Party Beach, The Curse of the Living Corpse)
Starring: William Joyce (The Parallax View, The Young Nurses), Heather Hewitt (Mission Mars, Dave), Walter Coy (The Gunfight at Dodge City, Juvenile Jungle), Dan Stapleton, and Robert Stanton
Written By: Del Tenney (The Curse of the Living Corpse, Do You Wanna Know a Secret)
Released By: Iselin-Tenney Productions Inc. Cinemation Industries, and Retromania Entertainment
Release Year: 1970
Release Type: Theatrical Release
MPAA Rating: Rated GP
Rotten Heads: Two Heads Out of Five