Believe it or not, exploitation existed well before the Grindhouse theaters. Yep, from the 30's to the early 60's, people were releasing trashy exploitation with gratuitous nudity and the occasional gory thrills (see Dwain Esper's inane but very amusing 1934 flick "Maniac" for example.) The late 50's and early 60's were also an era in which less low rent fair (such as the pivotal French classic "Eyes Without a Face" and the British Horror favorite "Fiend Without a Face") showed audiences more than they expected in the blood letting department.
But this isn't about movies that appeal to the Criterion crowd, this is about the exploitation movies. Low Budget flicks at the time were beginning to push the envelope as far as gore was concerned. "The Monster of Piedras Blancas" showed audiences bloody severed heads, while the inane MST3K favorite "The Brain That Wouldn't Die" gave us brain surgery and other moments and Herschel Gordon Lewis broke all the rules with "Blood Feast." Another movie in this tradition is Jack Curtis' 1962 flick "The Flesh Eaters."
Hard luck charter pilot Grant Murdoch (Byron Sanders) has to fly a bitchy. alcoholic actress (Rita Morley) and her sexy assistant Jan (Barbara Wilkin) to Provincetown. What do you know, mechanical problems and an impending storm causes them to land on a deserted island, where German scientist Peter Bartell (Martin Kosleck*) resides. Thing is, he's got a rather dark past (shocking I know) and it involves flesh eating microbes that surround the island.
In the field of Proto-Grindhouse Exploitation, "The Flesh Eaters" is something of a classic. The cast is mostly strong, with Morley doing a good job as actress Laura Winters, finding a great way to make her a controlling bitch while offering her brief moments of vulnerability. Wilkin is decent, though it's obvious that she's been cast mainly for her figure (she even takes her shirt off-no nudity, but it's the thought that counts I guess.) Kosleck does a good job with his role, though he looks and sounds a lot like fellow German actor Udo Kier. As for the gore effects, well, they won't cause many to lose their appetites, and they aren't too graphic, but few movies at the time showed flesh being eaten away from the bone, and there's a certain charm to the cheap effects on display.
If the movie does suffer any problems, it's in Ray Tudor as Omar, a white, Jive talking Hipster (the 50's and 60's type, not the type of today) who serves as our comic relief. Every time He opens his mouth, you just want to cringe, and you are happy when he kicks the bucket in what's also the best death in the movie.
Interestingly, this would be the only movie directed by Curtis, who went on to be the voice of Pops on "Speed Racer." It's something of a shame, because "The Flesh Eaters" is a capably directed (well, more so than other exploitation films of the time) and acted little B-Movie that's a must for fans of low budget horror of the era.
*Kosleck escaped Germany in the 30's during the Nazi regime, only to end up playing a former Nazi in this movie. Irony can be a cruel bitch sometimes.