Meateater, The (1979)

A guy at my high school carried the nickname of “Bob Grunge.” He had long, greasy hair, owned several exotic pets, and rarely took showers. I went to his house once — he was selling a guitar — and he scarred me.

If The Meateater were personified, it would be Bob Grunge. Crude, smelly, and alternately scary-then-goofy, this first and only film from director Derek Savage (now that’s a name) is a few non-showers away from something remarkable. There are Humphrey Bogart impressions, a cop named Officer Wombat who gnaws at an endless supply of beef jerky, and orthopedic shoes. In the middle of it all, the Crest Theater looms with all its rat-infested, piss-stained, old-kook-killer-on-the-loose glory. For nearly an hour, I pet the rats, inhaled the smells, and gasped accordingly. Each minute was my pleasure. Then, somewhere around the PONG scene, the stank fizzled.

Mitford Webster decides to leave his high-strung career as a shoe salesman (“I have a bleeding ulcer!”), pack up the family, and follow his lifelong dream to own a movie “thee-ate-her.” Unbeknownst to the Websters, their newly-purchased Crest Theater also houses a Jean Harlow obsessive who eats rats and stutters. He is . . . The Meateater! Supposedly. From there, a schlub named Raymond (Vernon Potts, a graduate of Horror High) projects a film called Grizzly Safari Wholesome Movie. A hanging corpse leads to the introduction of Officer Wombat, some talk, hot dog plugs, people eating, a Napoleon Dynamite twin, more talk, and people sitting around. Fizzle.

Technically, The Meateater is a jumble of ideas. Odd eye and mouth close-ups rub elbows with hilariously awful compositions, achieving an inadvertent, sloppy artsiness that fits the tone of the film perfectly. Deadpan non-actors hang on for dear life. The unglued score from Arlon Ober (Legacy of Satan, Nightbeast,) steps right in line. All of that, combined with a legit sense of the sinister (and a few chuckles), lands The Meateater into primo trash territory. It’s menacing and nutty — a lovely mix. But a very promising concoction devolves to an anti-climax. There’s a lack of ideas and little exploitive quality.

I passed on Bob’s guitar, but I’d never desert The Meateater. A dulled final third keeps this scruff-fest from hitting the jackpot. But, that’s no reason not to see it. The Meateater will always be poised for greatness, even if that’ll never fully happen. Grunge can work in mysterious ways.

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