The Meateater (1979)

The opening scenes might be more WTF than WOW, although it quickly becomes clear that this is just another run-of-the-mill drive-in move, rushed to theatres to capitalise on the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The title is tacked on purely as a marketing device to reel in the fans of that classic. I don’t recall any instances of the antagonist consuming any meat or meat by-products.

Focusing on a world weary shoe salesman who decides to start a new life as a movie theatre owner, unfortunately his plans are hampered by the in-house psychopathic Jean Harlow obsessive bent on destroying the teen population of their sleepy little town.

The acting fluctuates somewhere between passable and atrocious, but the film is shot in such an amateur style you’ll barely even notice actors. Some of the actors are so wooden they seem to be sprouting leaves. The police characters were ripped straight from the Giallo movies making their name around the time of this movie, which I found to be a nice touch. Plus any movie with a cop named Lieutenant Wombat can’t be all bad, especially when you give him such choice chauvinistic lines which are both offensive and hilarious in equal measure.

One thing this movie does have going for it is that it is shot on gorgeous film stock, deep and rich. It gives the movie a kind of early 60s Herschell Gordon Lewis quality, which almost allows you to forgive some of the poor shot choices and jerky camera work. The script is pretty weak too, loads of expository dialogue is shoe-horned in while other lines are just sheer nonsense which the actors trudged through in monotone. I’m not sure if the movie was bankrolled by McDonalds but the burger giants are mentioned a bunch in the short running time along with other branded foodstuffs including the entire Oscar Meyer Weiner jingle.

This was pitched to me as one of those good bad movies, prime for riffing on over a few beers with your mates over. I can see why people think that too, but I thought there was a bit more to it than that. Some of the choices were pretty brave even though they mostly fell flat. The themes of obsession, mental disability and an almost paedophilic lust are ones that are used rarely even these days so to give those taboos a run in the drive-ins during the late 70s is surely a bold move. The object of the psycho’s affections doesn’t look an awful lot like Jean Harlow, making the whole third act seem incredulous while tarnishing any kudos the film deserves for being subversive. Sure, there is no surprise when the killer is revealed, but what do you expect from a script this weak?

The movie is basically all nonsense and the climax is nigh on pathetic but a pretty fun ride with enough chills to keep you watching. If you can stomach people constantly referring to the cinema as a “THEE-AY-TER”, and don’t mind wading through still after still of Jean Harlow, then I would say give this a go.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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