Release Date(s)1988 (May 31, 2022)
Studio(s)Cinevest International (Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: D+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: C
- Extras Grade: B+
In 1968, an unfamiliar face flashed across movie screens, one that would quickly become iconic—even though the name of the actor who played the part would remain relatively obscure to all but the most ardent fans of the film. The face belonged to Bill Hinzman, whose cemetery ghoul was the first to heed the call of “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” in Night of the Living Dead. Twenty years later, Hinzman returned on both sides of the camera for FleshEater, and the results were a trifle less iconic.
FleshEater was a no-budget quickie made to capitalize on the home video release of a colorized version of Night of the Living Dead. Hinzman’s story, such as it is, features young people going off on a Halloween hayride into the woods, only to find themselves becoming a zombie smorgasbord. In addition to co-writing and directing the film, Hinzman brought back his cemetery ghoul, while offering no explanation for how or why it returned. There are some vague references to satanic rituals, but nothing is fleshed out (so to speak). It’s all just a skimpy excuse for zombie carnage, though it did provide Hinzman the opportunity to cop a feel from some of his younger female co-stars.
For many years, Night of the Living Dead had the reputation of being an amateurish production, but that had nothing to do with the film itself. The problem was that it was only being seen via public domain prints that were in terrible condition. When Elite Entertainment released their THX-certified LaserDisc of the film in 1994, it was as if a veil had been removed, and George A. Romero’s consummate professionalism was on full display.
In contrast, FleshEater is an example of what could have happened in 1968, if not for Romero’s natural talent, and his years of experience making industrial films at The Latent Image. Hinzman was also there from the very beginning, but his indisputable abilities as a still photographer didn’t necessarily translate to moving pictures. FleshEater is Night of the Living Dead minus Romero’s filmmaking skills, and his gift for social satire. Does that mean that it’s not worth watching? Of course not, but it does need to be viewed with appropriately low expectations. At least there’s a welcome return of another Night of the Living Dead veteran near the end. It’s not much, but it’s something.
Cinematographer Simon Manses shot FleshEater on 16 mm film using spherical lenses. Since it was intended for a direct-to-video release, it was framed at 1.33:1. (There does appear to be open space at the top and the bottom of the frame, so Manses may have been protecting just in case they were able to do a matted theatrical release.) Vinegar Syndrome’s Ultra HD version utilizes a 4K scan of the original camera negative, which was cleaned up and graded for HDR (only HDR10 is included on the disc). Given the 16 mm origination, there isn’t 4K worth of detail available on the negative, but this scan certainly wrings every last bit of information out of it. The biggest difference is in the management of the film grain, which can get understandably heavy during some of the low-light shooting conditions (though there’s just a touch of noise visible in the darkest shots). There are a few blemishes on the top and bottom edges of the frame in a handful of shots, which would have been matted away if the film had received a theatrical release, but they’re visible here. The HDR grade provides slightly more saturated colors than on the accompanying Blu-ray, with deeper contrast and brighter highlights, such as more vivid halation around light sources.
Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English subtitles. It’s a harsh track, with excessive sibilance in much of the dialogue, and the effects can also sound brittle. The level of background noise varies widely from shot to shot, so it’s clearly a mix of production dialogue and ADR that don’t blend well together, but that’s the way that the soundtrack was originally produced. Erica Portnoy’s score sounds fine, but it wears out its welcome due to consisting of a single theme that’s repeated throughout the film.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Ultra HD release of FleshEater is a 2-disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy of the film. Aside from the commentary track, all of the extras are confined to the Blu-ray in order to maximize the bit rate for the UHD. The insert is reversible, with different artwork on each side. There’s also an embossed slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 5,000 units, which was designed by Robert Sammelin. The following extras are included, all in HD:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Audio Commentary with Simon Manses, Erica Portnoy, Andrew Sands, and Brad Henderson
DISC TWO: BD
- Audio Commentary with Simon Manses, Erica Portnoy, Andrew Sands, and Brad Henderson
- Zombie Nosh LLC (19:35)
- All Roads Lead Back to FleshEater (18:32)
- The Family Continues (7:27)
- Carnage in Compositions (7:30)
- Family of Flesh Eaters (9:25)
- Crushed Pink Grapefruit Brain (14:40)
- To Live and Die in PA (8:57)
- Meatballs and Missing Actors (8:01)
- Minor Budget Majorette (7:05)
- Behind-the-Scenes Still Gallery (9:52)
The commentary is moderated by Vinegar Syndrome’s Brad Henderson, who does his best to keep things on track, and also tries to keep Manses from dominating everything. Some of their memories can be a little shaky at times—for instance, they can’t recall if makeup artist Jerry Gergley had worked previously on The Majorettes, which is another reason why it’s good that Henderson was on hand to clarify things like that (he clearly did his research to prepare for the track). Even with guidance, it’s a bit scattershot like cast and crew commentaries tend to be, but it still has some interesting information about the making of the film.
Zombie Nosh LLC is an interview with producer Andrew Sands, who explains the genesis of the project, and describes how he became involved with Bill Hinzman. Due to the limited budget, he ended up performing a variety of different jobs on set, including some acting that he acknowledges wasn’t very good. He has a lot of praise for Hinzman’s unpretentious nature. All Roads Lead Back to FleshEater is an interview with cinematographer Simon Manses, who relates the path that he took to becoming a cinematographer, starting with working as a camera operator on George Romero’s The Amusement Park, and finally graduating to DP for FleshEater. He also tells stories about making the film, but he doesn’t really talk about the actual cinematography very much. The Family Continues is an interview with Bonnie Hinzman, who married Bill in 1972, and was with him on set and off. She talks about her own experiences on FleshEater, though her contributions were necessarily rather limited. Carnage in Compositions is an interview with composer Erica Portnoy, who’s married to Simon Manses. She explains how she recorded the score for very little money, and also describes the interesting paths that her own life has taken since the film was made.
Family of Flesh Eaters is an interview with Heidi Hinzman, who played the little girl zombie in the film. The experience inspired her own interest in filmmaking, and she currently works as an assistant director. Crushed Pink Grapefruit Brain is an interview with makeup effects artist Jerry Gergely, who gives a breakdown of his career both before and after FleshEater, and then talks about his favorite effects on that film. He also shows off some of the surviving props. To Live and Die in PA is an interview with John Mowod, who played one of the teens in the film. He shares how he met Hinzman while auditioning for a play, and offers his favorite moments from making FleshEater. Meatballs and Missing Actors is an interview Unit Manager Paul Giorgi, who offers his own stories about having to wear multiple hats on the production. Minor Budget Majorette is an interview with hair stylist and makeup artist Terrie Godfrey. She met Hinzman when she worked on The Majorettes, and she acted in the film as well—something that she would do again for FleshEater (she played the lackadaisical police dispatcher).
FleshEater is a film that no one would have ever expected to get the 4K treatment, but Vinegar Syndrome appears quite happy to be the Spanish Inquisition of the Ultra HD home video market, and they’ve got many more offbeat titles yet to come this year. If people try to lecture you about the death of physical media, proudly wave your 4K copy of FleshEater in front of their faces. Thanks to boutique labels like Vinegar Syndrome, physical media keeps rising from its grave, ready to take a bite out of your entertainment dollar.
- Stephen Bjork