Corpse Eaters (1974)

Author: Brett H.
Submitted by: Brett H.   Date : 2008-04-30 12:03

Directed by: Donald R. Passmore & Klaus Vetter
Written by: Lawrence Zazelenchuk
Produced by: Lawrence Zazelenchuk

Reviewed by: Brett H.

“Attention, please! The motion picture you are about to see contains certain very stomach-upsetting scenes. The producers feel they have a moral obligation to warn each and every ticket buyer of this fact. Although most people have the ability to cope with the sudden nausea and shock, there are some people who cannot handle it. Test audiences, after watching this motion picture, suggested that a warning of some sort be included before each scene they felt to be upsetting. Therefore, the producers have inserted a special warning buzzer and picture of a patron reacting to the scene. When you see the man turning green and the buzzer sounding, those of you who feel you cannot take it, please do not look at the screen. Here is what to look for. It is your only warning of the scene coming up. Thank you for your cooperation.”

If you recognize the name Lawrence Zazelenchuk, you must be one of two things. Either you are one of the most devout horror fans on the planet or you have done your work in the universe of Canadian horror. Little is known about the man and even less about his films. Two of his horror films are most likely lost for eternity and his most well known feature, Corpse Eaters, also happens to be one of the rarer horror films out there. Zazelenchuk made enough money to buy his drive-in on Route 69, just outside of Sudbury, from his work on his first two lost films. Along with his own theatre, he had another dream. He wanted to have a horror film of his own to play in his drive-in. With a meagre $36 000 budget, Zazelenchuk couldn’t afford his ideal star, the king of cameos, John Carradine. Rolling with what he had, Zazelenchuk brought local bums and high school friends together to make what is essentially Canada’s first gore film.

On August 16, 1974, at the 69 Drive-In, the dead rose in Sudbury, Ontario. A successful local run followed before Lawrence Zazalenchuk was offered $5000 for distribution rights from a businessman from New York. Zazalenchuk only really had one goal for Corpse Eaters, and it was the complete opposite from what all the other exploitation filmmakers had on their minds. He wanted his movie to scare as many people as possible and thus jumped at the chance to have his film displayed on more screens. The savvy businessman didn’t inform Lawrence of one thing… he was purchasing the film without any intent on releasing it. It was used as a tax write off, declared as a loss and Lawrence Zazalenchuk’s heart and soul gathered dust. He ended up selling his drive-in and buying a hotel in Florida before dying at the early age of 36. But, the dead did indeed rise that monumental night in Sudbury. The ground regurgitated the dead once more tonight, this time in Southern Saskatchewan. Sadly, it wasn’t in a drive-in theatre.

Two couples are out having fun on their boat before stopping ashore for a bit of fun in the sun. One couple is more than willing to get sand in their underpants and the beer flows (in very flopping places) before they get busy. The other couple, well, it’s the familiar story of “I was willing, but she wasn’t ready”. But, there is much more fun to be had. Having seen all the rock shows, one of the guys of the group gets that crazy idea that only seems to ever happen in horror movies. It is Friday the 13th and the man figures there’d be nothing more happening than going and spending a night in the graveyard. One of the ladies is pretty reluctant, but straws are drawn and the result comes out in the man’s favor. After arriving, a thunderstorm ensues and they take cover in a crypt filled with coffins and bones. The moustached man decides to hold a séance or some sort of satanic ritual calling Lucifer, because… well, when in Rome, right? This naughty deed is met with disastrous results as the ground spews out the snarling dead and there is more gore than you can shake a severed arm at.

"Heart" is the word that comes to mind when watching Lawrence Zazelenchuk’s drive-in treasure, Corpse Eaters. It’s more apparent when one knows the history of the film and although it’s far from high art, Zazelenchuk’s $36 000 was money well spent. It’s too bad that the film was never truly released because the blood and gore along with the high cheese factor and great title would have definitely amounted to some serious video release bucks and far more fans than Zazelenchuk could have ever imagined. You’d have to have a heart of ice to not feel for the man who threw down all the cold, hard cash he could muster to make a horror film with the sole intention of pleasing an audience. He wanted to make people cringe in disgust the way he would cringe and he made the film he wanted to make. A true horror fan making a true horror film for other true fans, and it was all taken away from him for a few measly bucks. It’s not the first time things like this have happened, and the horror genre is scattered with stories ranging from studio manipulation, people getting screwed out of royalties or worse yet, the video nasty situation overseas. Lawrence Zazelenchuk stood by the genre he loved and made his film with as much respect as he could possibly give it. In terms of early Canadian zombie movies, Deathdream is the brains and Corpse Eaters is the brawn.

The Corpse Eaters could very well be mistaken for an Italian film because the blood definitely flows (and squirts). The zombies have creepy caked on makeup applied by Lawrence Zazelenchuk himself. Supposedly, even this gory version has cuts and hopefully a true DVD emerges from horror hell one day so the whole world can appreciate this work. The drive-in gimmick is present in this version of the film, so when a gory scene comes up, we actually get to see what audiences did back in Sudbury, along with the quoted introduction from above. A man gets ill and you know to turn your head and the sound buzzes, but that would ruin all the fun. You, nor I, nor Lawrence Zazelenchuk himself would be caught dead missing eyes being popped from their sockets and devoured, blood stream from a ripped-open neck and zombies chowing down on guts. That’s not all the film has to offer, it’s tremendously rich in dreadful atmosphere as the graveyard and crypt are downright creepy and gothic fans will get their fix as much as gore fiends.

It’s cheesy for sure, featuring vast amounts of hilarity when you’re not being treated to macabre. The film has the aforementioned great nude scene in which the viewer sees boobies bounce from the point of view of a dweller in the forest. A madman? A zombie? Nope, an owl! Sorry, Hills Have Eyes II, but your dog flashback has nothing on this horny bird of prey! Not only that, but a ’stach sporting man pours Molson Ex beer on the floppin’ tits of a lucky Sudbury woman. I’ve got to hand it to these Sudbury guys, they sure know how to treat ’em! The main zombie attack of the film features very interesting musical accompaniment with a bunch of cool Evil Dead-like distortion effects and slow motion. The main music of the film is actually pretty creepy and any music used in the film definitely accentuates the scenes very well. If you want to get down to it, the film has quite the slasher vibe considering it takes place on a Friday the 13th, not to mention a group of teens drinking, sexing and trespassing, which is pretty stereotypical slasher fodder.

Aside from the gore similarity that one could compare to certain European romps, there’s ironically a fair amount of Fulci/Franco trademark zooms to the character’s eyes. Conversely, the film has a Herschell Gordon Lewis feeling to it because of bad/inane dialogue and obviously over-the-top gore. There’s always something about experiencing a lost film that makes a horror viewer smile, and Corpse Eaters is no different, except it has a much more interesting and personable story behind it. It’s not the easiest film to come across, but if you dig deep enough, you’ll find it mingling with some rotted cadaver somewhere deep beneath the earth. With Corpse Eaters, Lawrence Zazelenchuk becomes a Canadian Herschell Gordon Lewis, even if he did pass the directing duties onto someone a bit more capable. It’s a film many horror fans would gladly come back from the grave to witness; if they only knew it existed. Lawrence Zazelenchuk did his best, worked hard and eventually was screwed over by a greedy American. Sounds Canadian to me! I would never want to part with this film, and I would encourage every Canadian horror fan to seek it out and for the most part is a must-see for the cheesy b-movie fan. Others should definitely proceed with caution. You’re not going to be able to find this one in rental stores, so there’s only two options; buy it or trash it. There’s no doubt what you must do in regards to Corpse Eaters, a tremendously gory and creepy, monumental piece of Maple Leaf fromage… Buy it!

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