There was a time when I would have argued that nonprofessional or ‘student’ filmmakers can, and occasionally do, make some of the best movies, especially in the horror genre. I can point to canonized examples, from “Night of the Living Dead” to The Blair Witch Project, to support this idea. By extension, I would have argued that the recent proliferation of digital and hi-def video cameras, which even in the eighties loomed on the horizon, would put this kind of questionable success within the reach of talented kids nationwide.
Unfortunately, idealistic dreams aside, the reality of our current situation, in these long anticipated days of the hi-def video feature, all too often spawns a critter like “Flesh Freaks.”
The plot goes like this: our student hero recounts to his roommate the harrowing experience he has just suffered on a field trip to a South American jungle where his companions got massacred by zombies, while, from amongst his luggage, the jungle zombie infestation cuts loose on the campus around them.
It is tacitly considered bad manners, in a forum like this, to call anyone’s work a “student” film, but it’s hard not to do so when the filmmakers, who are quite proud of their Belize locations, don’t have the sense to also name their college campus in the credits, which lends at least as much to the brooding atmosphere of “Flesh Freaks” as the jungle. It doesn’t really matter, though, because aside from this double fistful of interesting locations, “Flesh Freaks” offers the discerning viewer nothing more nor other than a tiresome hour and a half in the company of some promising kids, who’ve obviously had a lot of fun producing this (not scary, not gory, not funny) feature length home movie.
My collaborator Rhonda Baughman had the misfortune to intersect with this one, though it wasn’t bad luck for me, because, shortly after I started hitting the George Dickel (about halfway through the movie), Rhonda busted out her brand-new, untested sex dice. After a couple of warm-up rounds, during which I twice regretted seeing the movie allow its characters to decline to call campus security at an appropriate juncture, Rhonda and I decided that, to force our attention to remain on the movie, each action indicated by the dice should be carried out for a full sixty seconds, using the counter on the DVD player. As the zombies started to multiply, I realized that the dice, which are heavy on tease and short on payoff, would be improved if either the word “touch” or “tickle” were replaced with a “?” for player’s choice, to allow voluntary escalation. As, with the reluctance of a soldier abandoning his post, I turned away from the screen to comply with a roll which commanded me to “lick ?,” Rhonda (who drunkenly insisted that I use her full name in this review) kindly paid attention to “Flesh Freaks” for me, over my shoulder, noting that the zombie makeup improves dramatically in the home stretch. I found out for myself when a subsequent roll allowed us to switch places, and I saw weird centipede monsters crawl out of zombies’ heads, the movie’s only real effect, right before the credits rolled, allowing me to give myself completely over to the dubious distractions of woman and whiskey, which are sometimes necessary comforts, for a critic working in a market that often subjects him to product like this.
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