Released in 1964, four years before the genre-shifting Night of the Living Dead, I Eat Your Skin featured old-school zombies—that is, the dead brought to life through voodoo and used for various tasks, including murder. Originally released as a double-feature with I Drink Your Blood, I Eat Your Skin has the dubious distinction of not featuring any skin chomping at all. Indeed, the only lurid thing about this flick is the title. The movie is shot in black and white.
Written, produced, and directed by Del Tenney (The Horror of Party Beach and Psychomania, among others), which originally went by the better title Zombies, I Eat Your Skin took advantage of Florida’s lush atmosphere as bookends to what amounts to an island adventure that mixes voodoo and zombies with mad science and lighthearted and clichéd romance. The mixture is an odd one, particularly when the plot injects corny comedy into the mix, but there have been worse zombie flicks in the old-school mold.
The story centers on playboy romance writer Tom Harris (William Joyce), who spends his days on a Miami beach entertaining and romancing a mix of young women in bikinis. Harris is interrupted one day by Duncan Fairchild (Dan Stapleton), a tycoon and sponsor/agent of the writer. It turns out that Fairchild has discovered an odd island off the coast of Florida. He claims that a mad scientist is working on something incredible on that island. Moreover, he has heard that the natives there have found a way to create zombies. Fairchild believes that such weird goings-on are ideal fodder for Harris’ next book.
With Fairchild’s annoying wife Coral (Betty Hyatt Linton) tagging along, the trio fly off to Voodoo Island, but before they can land there, they suffer fuel issues and have to land along the island’s beach. As the heroic lead and womanizer, Harris goes off to search for civilization. He finds a young woman bathing in a river, but before he can get an eyeful, he encounters a zombie with bubble eyes and poor face makeup. As both the girl and the zombie make their escape, a frustrated Harris returns to the plane, where the trio meets up with head hoser Charles Bentley (Walter Coy), who takes the three to Dr. Biladeau’s (Robert Stanton) mansion retreat. Biladeau claims to be working on a cure for cancer—he is using native plants and synthesized poisons that reputedly bring the dead back into an undead state.
As the Fairchilds take in some sun and get sloshed, Harris gets cozy with Jeannie (Heather Hewitt), Biladeau’s daughter. In the meantime, the natives, including some of the servants at the bwana house, are bringing to life zombies to do their bidding. The lead voodoo practitioner, one papa something-or-other, looks a bit familiar. The voodoo spells are in Spanish and are more in keeping with primitive snake charms and dances than voodoo itself. But no matter, zombies are afoot and the lead voodoo dude sets his sights on Jeannie. The rest of the plot has the doctor and his daughter, as well as the Fairchilds, battling their way off the island, as both zombies and natives try to stop them. Lucky for them, a boat is parked off the island, and all four successfully get off as a close-to-death Dr. Biladeau blows it all to hell.
Although corny at times, I Eat Your Skin gets a bad rep because its title implies so much more in terms of lurid blood and guts. Those who can get passed this disappointment will find the movie is enjoyable in a “B” way, with the characters a bit overdrawn, the script a little too salty for its own good, and the low-budget special effects worth a laugh or two. Overall, the story is pretty good, with a few story twists keeping things lively, although there’s too much dancing and not enough actual voodoo. I Eat Your Skin is also possibly one of the last flicks to feature conventional zombies before Romero threw a wrench into the genre with his flesh-eating abominations. The zombies shown in I Eat Your Skin are mobile, fast, and can even use primitive weapons. Mild and cheap horror it may be, but I Eat Your Skin is nevertheless worth screening at least once.