‘Corpse Eaters‘ is a low-budget Canadian horror movie that was written and produced by Lawrence Zazelenchuk and released released in 1974.
It is often cited as being Canada’s first gore movie.
Lawrence Zazelenchuk’s life story is as dark and mysterious as the movies he created. But it comes down to this: Zazelenchuk, a resident of Ontario, had two dreams in life and he accomplished both of them. The first was to own and operate his own drive-in movie theatre, The 69 Drive-In. The second was to create a horror film to show at his theatre — not to make a quick buck, but to scare the bejesus out of the drive-in’s patrons.
After a lot of hard work and patience, Zazelenchuk put down his entire life savings ($36,000 to be exact) and self-funded the production of what would later become the granddaddy of Canadian gore films: Corpse Eaters. The film had a long and fairly successful run at The 69 Drive-In, before being purchased by a distributor in New York for $5,000. Zazelenchuk jumped at the offer, hoping his movie would go on to scare American audiences for years to come.
But there was a catch. The distributor never intended to release the film. Corpse Eaters was used as a tax write-off, put on a shelf and forgotten. The film faded into obscurity for years until Encore Home Video released it on DVD in 1993, claiming to have transferred their copy from ‘the only known surviving print’. As for Zazelenchuk? He later sold the drive-in, moved to Florida and died at the young age of 36.
Knowing a little bit of history on the man himself, I can’t help but notice and love the overwhelmingly “drive-in” feel of Corpse Eaters. In fact, that is hands down the coolest part of the film. Lawrence Zazelenchuk must have seen a lot of drive-in movies over the years and knew the business well — and that dedication to his craft shows in almost every scene of the film.
Corpse Eaters starts with a bang, giving viewers a warning that potentially stomach-upsetting scenes lie ahead. The producers inform us that due to suggestions from previous test audiences, they feel a moral obligation to include a warning before every questionable scene. This warning takes the form of a creepy old man throwing up while alien abduction sound effects (circa 1950) play in the background. You might think such a gimmick would ruin the surprise, but it ends up adding to the eerie nature of the film.
The story primarily focuses on a group of four teenagers. Two of the people in the group are brother and sister, and the other two are their respective significant others. After a boat ride scene that lasts about a minute too long, the foursome have a frisky day at the beach before deciding on their plans for the night. The girls want to go to a local rock show and the guys want to spend the night in the graveyard. Oh, did I mention it’s Friday the 13th?
They draw straws, the boys win and before long the group is pulling up to the land of tombstones. It’s all fun and games until a big storm comes rolling in and the friends are forced to take refuge in the conveniently-open, crypt-looking, definitely-don’t-go-in-there mausoleum. Once inside, someone quickly realizes they left their cigarettes in the car and the group decides to hold a séance instead.
Luckily, one of the guys remembers (near perfectly) some crazy demonic incantations his uncle used to say when he was a kid. I’m not kidding around. These incantations are the real deal and at times call out Lucifer himself. After an unsuccessful first attempt, the guy running the show turns the crucifix on the wall upside down and tries again.
Yup, it definitely works this time and bodies start flying out of their graves à la Night of the Living Dead. I won’t spoil the rest of the story, but the group has to deal with the can of zombies they just opened, and it gets pretty gritty from there on out.
For being a horror movie from 1974 and Canada’s first alleged gore film, I think Corpse Eaters is beyond awesome and it really impressed me in a lot of ways. Whether it’s an awkward sex scene or total mutilation by zombies, this film never hesitates to go over the top and push boundaries.
I can only imagine how cool it would’ve been to pull up to The 69 Drive-In, buy a box of popcorn and watch this gem on the big screen in all its glory. This film is a little hard to track down, but if you haven’t watched it, I recommend you do. It’s a true piece of horror movie history and, clocking in at 57 minutes, it’s worth every minute of your time.
Watch Corpse Eaters (1974) below:
Written by: Joe Tallman