At the time of this writing, we’re at a point where a good deal of film fans are suffering from an affliction that has become known as “zombie fatigue.” Thanks in no small part to video games, zombies began to shamble their way out of the niche horror market and into the mainstream. And then, just like the movies always told us would happen, the zombie outbreak spread swiftly and without mercy, consuming the entire country in a year or so. Zombies were everywhere, and one of the most obvious results of this sudden explosion of pop culture adoration for the walking dead was a glut of terrible, boring, no-budget zombie films. Sure, there were a few good ones scattered throughout the wasteland — Undead, Hide and Creep, even the Day of the Dead remake wasn’t nightmarishly terrible — but for the most part, it was an onslaught of shoddy shot-on-DV stinkers. Worse still, George Romero himself was responsible for many of the stinkers. Land of the Dead was underwhelming, Diary of the Dead was unwatchably rotten, and Survival of the Dead was…well, it wasn’t as bad as Diary of the Dead.
Of course, the knowledge of how awful and derivative most of the movies were by no means encouraged me to stop watching. After all, while I am indeed suffering zombie fatigue, it’s not a total case. I’m tired of zombies in pop culture, with the zombie gatherings and zombie proms and zombie kickball leagues, or whatever else they’re doing these days; but I am not tired of zombie movies. No matter how horrible they are, I still like zombie movies. But as the gates opened and the zombies came stumbling in, I couldn’t help but wonder: where the hell were the Italians?
Back in the late 1970s, when we had our first huge zombie movie glut, it was thanks in large part to the Italian exploitation machine latching onto the concept and cranking them out. Sadly, that machine, once mighty and seeming insatiable, petered out and died during the 1990s. When the microbudget horror revolution started to bloom in the 2000s, a lot of budding horror filmmakers turned to the zombie movie. It was an almost entirely American affair, though, with Japan chiming in with slightly higher budget zombie fare from time to time. Eventually, thanks most likely to 28 Days Later, other countries started getting in on the undead fun. Before we knew it, the zombie outbreak had gone international. But something just didn’t seem right. There were still no Italians.
Was the Italian exploitation industry so moribund that it couldn’t even return from the grave to take advantage of an exploitation genre that had somehow managed to escape the confines of the exploitation film and go mainstream? While some zombie fans were bemoaning the pop culturalization of zombies, I was more concerned with the fact that there was nary a peep from the people who gave us Hell of the Living Dead, After Death, Zombie, and of course, Zombie 3. Well, it took a while, but the Italians have finally come back in from their time in the wilderness and produced a “better late than never” entry into the zombie film revival. It turns out it wasn’t really worth the wait, but then, I guess neither were any of the others when you really think about it.
Eaters is a lot less Lucio Fulci — which, terrible though the writing often was benefited substantially from brilliant imagery and cinematography, if nothing else — and more Bruno Mattei, though with less quirkiness than, say, that pirouetting Klaus Kinski looking dude who gets excited about finding a tutu. In the place of that (perhaps unintentional) weirdness, Eaters serves up boring characters doing dumb things for no particular reason. Our heroes are a couple of former soldiers (or guys who pass themselves off as such) Alen (Guglielmo Favilla) and Igor (Alex Lucchesi) who have holed up in what looks to be your usual low-budget movie abandoned factory with a couple other survivors, all of whom are apparently batshit insane, and a few of which are probably homicidal maniacs. Alen and Igor are typically gruff and obnoxious, but they seem otherwise competent, so exactly why they bother to hang around with these incompetent nutcases is a mystery. Igor’s old girlfriend might be the reason he sticks around — she’s infected with the zombie virus but hasn’t actually turned into a full-blown shuffling flesh eater. A psycho doctor who also has the hots for her has her in a cage in his makeshift lab, using her to try and come up with a cure for the zombie plague, but one would think the trained soldiers with all the guns could deal with one loopy, ranting researcher. Instead, they not only stick around but also follow the doctor’s orders, no matter how outrageous and nonsensical they may be.
Which leads to them hopping in a jeep — because an open canopy is a great feature to have when driving through the zombie wasteland — and taking a road trip to a particularly dangerous zone to fetch some fresh walking dead test subjects. This little jaunt will bring the two soldiers into contact with a crazy bunch of neo-Nazis, an insane religious cult, another mad scientist, and oh yeah — a bunch of zombies. Meanwhile, the plot spirals into the typically insane goofiness that Italian (or maybe Japanese) zombie films are known for, as we slowly learn the true nature of the doctor’s research.
Alen and Igor stumble from one random location to the next, always managing to randomly encounter exactly the person they needed to meet to advance the plot along. The two protagonists themselves are dull as dishwater. Igor spends most of his time brooding and sighing about the antics of his crazy friend, and Alen spends most of the time spouting curse words and insults. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be hardened survivors of the zombie apocalypse, they seem to have almost no survival instincts at all, stumbling into one easily avoidable life-or-death situation after another. How they managed to get by this long is beyond me, because just about everything they decide to do on screen screams of a stupidity even a little kid could probably recognize.
I was pretty excited about Eaters but didn’t have especially high expectations for it. That’s usually a recipe for me walking away from a film feeling at least somewhat satisfied, but this time it just didn’t work out that way. Eaters is dumb and boring and not really any different from any of the other micro-budget zombie films clogging up the small screens of the world. It offers nothing we haven’t seen over and over again — unless this is the first time you’ve seen a character wander off to take a piss only to get attacked in mid-stream — and doesn’t have any interest in executing the formula well. Cliche I don’t mind, as long as it’s well done, but Eaters reeks of half-assedness all the way around, though I think it is half-assedness born of inexperience rather than outright crassness.
And this is one instance in which I am most definitely the target audience. Unlike, say, torture porn in which I have no interest at all, bad Italian zombie films are part of the reason I became a movie nerd. Eaters, as the Italian return tot he genre they milked so gloriously in the 80s, is a movie that should appeal directly to people like me. And I will freely admit that had this come out in the 1980s, I’d probably have a softer spot for it. I suppose it’s no worse than crap like After Death, but even that movie had a layer of silliness to it that made up for the otherwise awful end product. Not so here, where the movie goes about not caring about itself with a grim, unimaginative determination that saps it of any entertainment value.
To make matters even glummer, it’s all played out against a washed-out, brown and yellow tinted world largely generated by CGI. There are some glimpses of dramatic Italian countrysides, but their power as a backdrop is undercut by all the color correction. I really wish we could give the whole color tinting thing a break. I get it. The world is sad and bleak and dirty. Maybe you could actually express that via your story or some interesting art direction instead of just by slapping a yellow tint over everything in post-production. Eaters manages to hit just about every irritating trope of modern horror film making without giving me any reason elsewhere to forgive its foibles. And then we get yet another round of CGI blood and gore — all of which is also brownish black as well, so it’s not like we even get a thrill from a visceral red splash.
Directors Luca Boni and Marco Ristori do, I think, have a lot of potential as film makers if they can divorce themselves from generic CGI tricks and sink their teeth into a decent script. Eaters, however, is a movie you can skip without feeling like you’ve missed anything. After a glut of terrible low-budget zombie films, some interesting things have started happening with the genre lately. The German movie Rammbock was a great little zombie movie, and even though Stake Land calls its zombies vampires, they are still obviously zombies — and Stake Land, I thought, was fantastic. With new horror movies like this actually finding a way to tweak the fetid zombie formula, there’s no excuse for a film like Eaters. It’s better than most of the micro-budget horror coming out of the United States or Japan, but that’s not setting the bar very high. I guess Eaters is worth watching if you are a zombie film completist, but that’s about the only reason. It is an interesting experiment in some ways — the entire thing was shot with a Canon DSLR camera — but an interesting experiment doesn’t make up for being a movie that has no new ideas and doesn’t handle the old ideas with any real energy.
Release Year: 2011 | Country: Italy | Starring: Rosella Elmi, Guglielmo Favilla, Elisa Ferretti, Riccardo Floris, Fabiano Lioi, Alex Lucchesi, Francesco Malcom, Roberto Mariotti, Claudio Marmugi, Steve Sylvester | Screenplay: Germano Tarricone, Marco Ristori | Director: Luca Boni, Marco Ristori | Cinematography: Paco Ferrari | Producer: Luca Boni, Marco Palese, Marco Ristori