Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Corpse Eaters (1974)

"How did this nice dead young man supposedly mauled by a bear really die?" asks a cynical mortician.

Well, that nice young man was one member of a quartet of thirty-something teenagers looking for a wild time by breaking into a crypt and playfully invoking Satan. Clearly, that's not the thing to do in a horror movie, and so our heroes are attacked by a bunch of zombies. Three make it out, but the so-called bear victim does not survive his following visit to the hospital.

You think he might become a zombie himself and eat a mortician or two?

Canada in the 70s is not quite as famous for its idiosyncratic independent horror movies produced for a regional market as its southern neighbour, but Corpse Eaters (as well as some other films I've seen) proves that the same spirit of individual (and glorious) weirdness could strike the more polite country too.

If you're familiar with this style of filmmaking, you'll not be surprised to hear that the film at hand is far from anything which could be called a "good" movie; in fact, I wouldn't blame anyone for calling it a horrible one. This is, after all, a film barely an hour long that wastes the first twenty-five minutes of its running time on scenes of a mortician driving and driving through a cemetery while he's holding a cynical and completely irrelevant monologue, our quartet of non-teenagers having painful fun to equally painful rock music, and a sex scene, before anything that could be called a plot begins.

For the initiated, that first half hour is already full of wonders - scenes that are staged in the least effective manner (personal favourite: a short dialogue between the back of someone's head and a face invisible thanks to the shadow thrown by a door - it's like instant and completely unconscious art cinema), intercutting of scenes never ever meant to be intercut until things just dissolve into a mess of unconnected pictures, a plot that neither starts nor moves but just is - or rather isn't. It's all beautiful, and, before and after the acid rock starts, accompanied by pretty insane synth warbling.

And that's before the - surprisingly creepy looking - pale dusty zombies appear and start a disconnected feeling, and oh-so-weirdly edited, slow-motion attack which culminates in what might be the longest gut munching scene I've ever seen in a zombie movie, though its length is made problematic to measure by its being intercut with the survivors' car driving away, and driving away, and driving away.

This phase of the movie seems to be the product of a mind who has seen all of zombie cinema 1974 had to offer, wants badly to imitate its greatest moments (therefore the epic gut-munching), but hasn't the faintest idea how to realize this ambition on a technical level. As is sometimes the case, this total cluelessness in regards to how horror is properly done leads the film on the road to actual effectiveness as a horror movie by the sheer power of weirdness, at least for ten minutes or so. It is as if the execution of the zombie attack scenes (and a dream sequence) were so peculiar and strange that these scenes can't help but become disquieting like the long lingering look of a possibly psychotic stranger. It's truly beautiful stuff, at least if you're willing and able to see beauty in films like Tony Malanowski's Night of Horror, or in Manos - The Hands of Fate.

Corpse Eaters is a bit more professionally made than these anti-classics, but it has the same air of being a window into either somebody else's quietly skewed mind or into a dimension populated by people for whom it makes sense to produce a film that just ignores large parts of the common language of film and puts wobbling cameras and loving close-ups of weird looking people in its place.

For my tastes, finding a film like this (or more precisely learning of its existence by reading an awesome sounding and true write-up on the venerable Bleeding Skull, as was the case here) that turns moments of boredom and incompetence into beauty and awe (I'm not kidding, if you need to ask) beats watching most canonical classics - even those I like - by miles. Not to sound even more pretentious than I usually do when I talk about films like Corpse Eaters (that's a sentence I love to have written), but it, and its brethren in spirit, are expressions of some of the best humanity has to offer. Let's call it "soul" (without "a").

And I didn't even mention Corpse Eater's own version of the good old Horror Horn - it's a buzzing noise accompanied by a shot of a nearly bald guy just about to vomit. The best thing about it? It's clearly not meant as a joke.


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