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Another of the UK 'Video Nasties'.
The film opens (blown up to 35mm from 16mm by the way) with two men stalking through the woods. They open fire on a woman washing by a makeshift camp, shooting her in the throat.
Suddenly the men are attacked and killed by a group of hippies.
It turns out that the two men were Federal Officers (rather trigger happy ones at that) and the hippies are marijuana growers (unusually ruthless ones compared to how Weed cultivating hippies are normally portrayed) who have come to pick their illegal crop.
Not hearing from the two Federal Officers their boss, with help from a young John '"Martin" Amplas, orders the whole area secretly sprayed with a new Herbicide to kill off the crop. And if the hippies get in the way, well that's just their hard luck.
Sure enough the hippies are caught in the spraying and become contaminated. Soon after they start feeling sick and start slavering after meat before turning homicidal!
Meanwhile Forest ranger Tom Cole (played by Director Charles McCrann) takes his Wife, Polly (Beverly Shapiro) and his half Brother on a fishing trip into the woods, unaware that the toxic hippies, with grey faces, sunken eyes and unsightly welts, are stumbling around in classic Zombie fashion butchering anyone they bump into. Oh, and doing a lot of gurgling
Charles McCrann has been a busy boy here. He directs, writes, stars, edits and produces! And given this is his first (and only) film it has to be said he does a pretty good job on all fronts.
And as McCrann was murdered during the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre, it's nice to be able to say that he left behind a good, solid little horror film that hopefully will live on as an example of what can be achieved with little resources but a lot of effort and passion.
McCrann gets things off to a good start with the ever essential to the plot 'soaping up some breasts' scene. From then on the action moves at a reasonable pace as the various separate parties all have fateful meetings.
Very few scenes drag and the ones that do (like a rather peculiar 'nature break' so a young girl and her backward Brother, who are camping with their parents, can grin at some frogs) are thankfully over before causing any real strain on the viewers patience.
McCrann spins the sub plots well and very little here does not work. Though one scene where our heroes are trying to escape in their car, but abandon it simply because of one flat tyre, does seem very silly and contrived
I for one, if I was fleeing for my life from a pack of killer hippies, would have driven that sucker on all four rims if it came to it!
Music wise the film is very hit and miss. An effective pseudo-"Halloween" ditty plays other the titles, but from then one it's pretty much a mixture of empty background music and dodgy light comedy cues.
The acting is very up and down, but McCrann does a perfectly acceptable job and everyone else is at least taking the whole thing seriously and delivering the lines with conviction and the hippies all stumble around and gurgle in a totally professional manner.
John Amplas (despite what you may read in some reviews) only really appears at the end and is not one of the rabid weed growers. But he does okay in his tiny role.
But it is sad to see him, 3 years after his wonderful lead performance in George A Romero's excellent "Martin", relegated to such a lowly support role in such a tiny film.
Tom and Polly come across as likeable and devoted to each other (though some of their romantic high jinx, accompanied by comedy flute music, could have been trimmed down), and make for leads that you genuinely care about.
The highlight as far as characters go though is the alcoholic crop duster and his nagging Wife.
Their less than loving relationship is delightfully summed up when, after he breathes in the Herbicide, the contaminated pilot (all sickly skin and black hollowed eye sockets) stumbles towards her only to be greeted with the following caring words; "By the look of your face I'd say your liver finally gave out"!
The make up by Craig Harris does the job nicely and he who gives us some cheap but effective 'contaminated hippie' FX. Harris went on to have a varied career indeed. Including the FX on that other 'Nasty' "The Boogeyman", playing on the score to Carpenter's "The Thing" and doing sound effects/editing on such movies as "Braveheart", "Back to the Future" and "The Princess Bride".
The gore on display is the most inconsistent part of the film.
There are a few choice scenes of cheap 'n' cheesy mayhem (a spurting arm stump after a hand chopping, a knife in the eye, a pretty violent head bashing, a nice blood drooling throat bite and some messy bloodletting at the end) but very often the film cuts away to only show us some slightly bloodied bodies later on, or simply makes do with some blood splashed on the ground to stand in for any actual on screen death.
There is certainly little here to warrant it's banning, and it is a far cry indeed from such extreme fare as "The Beast in Heat" and "Cannibal Holocaust" with whom it shared purgatory with.
This is also known as "Bloodeaters", "Blood Butchers" and "Toxic Zombies". Though the Zombie title does seem like false advertising as, their stumbling walk and blank eyed gaze aside, there is nothing here to suggest the hungry hippies are in anyway undead.
So what we have here is a well made, solid, entertaining little horror film that does all that's expected of it and would make a nice addition to anyone's collection.
R.I.P Mr McCrann, may your herb never wilt.