Director/Screenplay/Producer – Del Tenney, Photography (b&w) – Francois Farkas, Music – Lon E. Norman, Art Direction – Robert Verberkmoes. Production Company – Cinematen Industries, Inc.
William Joyce (Tom Harris), Heather Hewitt (Jeannine Biladeau), Dan Stapleton (Duncan Fairchild), Walter Coy (Charles Bentley), Betty Hyatt Linton (Coral Fairchild), Robert Stanton (Dr August Biladeau)
Adventure writer Tom Harris is enjoying the playboy lifestyle on Miami Beach when he is interrupted by his publisher Duncan Fairchild who insists that Tom fly with him to Voodoo Island in the Caribbean to research his next book. After a troubled landing, they make their way to the villa of Charles Bentley and are welcomed. There Tom develops an attraction towards the beautiful Jeannine Biladeau whose father is conducting experiments in a laboratory on the island. Tom also encounters zombies despite Bentley’s certainty that none of the natives practice voodoo. He hears rumours that the natives are preparing for a sacrifice. When Jeannine is abducted, Tom realises that they are intending the sacrifice to be her.
The fame that I Eat Your Skin holds is that it was one half of one of the great double-bill acts of all time. Director Del Tenney had made a film called Zombies in 1964. (At least that is the title that the IMDB gives it – it has also floated around under several other different names. I am unable to find any information as to whether it actually had any screenings under the name Zombies. If it was unrealeased then its correct name should be the one it was first released as, I Eat Your Skin, and all the rest merely count as pre-release titles).
The film’s notoriety came when it was acquired by distributor Jerry Gross, the man also responsible for exploitation classics such as the Mondo Cane series, the original Blaxploitation film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) and most notoriously in taking the rape/revenge film initially titled as the more mundane Day of the Woman (1978) and re-releasing it as the notorious I Spit on Your Grave. Gross renamed Zombies as I Eat Your Skin and paired it up with I Drink Your Blood (1970) about a horde of hippies turned rabid by eating infected meat pies to create one of the most memorably titled exploitation double-bills of the era.
I Drink Your Blood is highly entertaining but I Eat Your Skin is dreary and uninteresting in all regards. What is of interest about the two films, which otherwise have nothing in common even thematically, is that they represent the two different cinematic views on zombies. I Eat Your Skin was made before George Romero came along and features zombies in the original sense of the meaning where they are dumb, shuffling creatures restored to life via Caribbean voodoo rituals. Most films in this vein draw on the two classics of the genre – White Zombie (1932) and I Walked with a Zombie (1943) – which between them inspired a modest output of B-budget voodoo/zombie films throughout the 1940s.
By contrast, I Drink Your Blood was made after this and is directly influenced by Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), which forever identified the zombie as something risen from the dead and hungry for human flesh. I Drink Your Blood is not strictly a zombie film per se – the people in it are more infected as opposed to risen dead – but the influence of Romero’s zombies is unmistakeable. (The title here is also inaccurate as there is no scenes throughout where any human flesh is eaten).
Compared to I Drink Your Blood, which was vibrant, entertaining and rich in ultra-violence, I Eat Your Skin is plodding and drearily dull. The direction is prosaic and fails to even make the Florida locations (which stand in for the Caribbean) interesting. Del Tenney does craft some okay looking voodoo ritual scenes, which have a fervid flavour that looks authentic. The film’s best feature is its’ zombies – when they first appear with big white opaque circles instead of eyes and cracked and peeling skin, the effect is quite unearthly. However, the zombies only make sporadic appearances throughout and feel criminally underused as a threat. The film otherwise slowly trudges its way towards an uninteresting end.
Director Del Tenney (1930-2013) made a number of low-budget genre films during the 1960s. These include producing Psychomania/Violent Midnight (1963) and directing The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964) and the Z-movie classic The Horror of Party Beach (1964). After 1964, Tenney appears to have vanished altogether, although he did reappear about 40 years later with the script for Do You Want to Know a Secret? (2001) and as director of Descendent (2003).
Full film available here:-