Reviews in the Machine : Island of the Flesh Eaters (2019)
I look back over the various times of my life as well as the things that marked those particular periods and I have to say that one thing I still really love are the cheesy VHS videotape covers you would come across on the sale rack at the store or at your video rental venue of choice. I think the eighties was a great time for fun, gruesome and gritty horror flicks. These weren’t films that were made on a huge budget with an A-list cast. These were meant to be fun diversions. The kind of film where you rented or bought two more like it, invited your friends over and ordered a ton of pizzas. And I think it was this spirit, more than anything that I felt captured by Thomas S. Flowers in his upcoming book, Island of the Flesh Eaters. If Flowers has proven anything to me over the last year or so, it would be his aptitude for spinning a good zombie yarn, already demonstrated in his equally great Planet of the Dead series. I think that as a fan of zombie films, he seems to have a similar path to the one I took, paved the entire way by the greatness that was George Romero. This isn’t intended as a dig against more contemporary offerings but the zombies I grew to love early on were like this. They didn’t run. They weren’t smart. They shambled. They stumbled. And while one or two of them didn’t necessarily present much of a threat, if you found yourself trapped in a mob of the things, you were pretty much experiencing your final moments.
Zombies were brutal and extreme. An implacable force that was disturbing and scary. The premise for this book is equally simple. Mark has just found out that his sister has gone missing while vacationing at the exclusive island resort owned by the rich parents of her boyfriend. Any attempts to contact the island have failed and Mark convinces the father to let him accompany a highly-trained private security force that he has dispatched to the island. Alongside this, Rachel Hawkins is a female reporter who is determined to prove to her mostly male coworkers that she is just as capable at landing the big story. Getting a whiff of a possible scandal in the works, she has also determined to sneak aboard the boat headed for the island, in hopes of digging up some dirt and material. And as would be suggested by the awesome cover art for this book, what is waiting for them on the island is terrifying. And Flowers definitely does not fail to deliver on that implied promise.
This is not a book that drags or takes too long to get to the point. He manages to craft just the right level of suspense and dread before plunging into the frantic desperation of the second half of the book. And when I say it gets brutal, I mean BRUTAL. Characters are taken down in a blur of chapters that is a pleasure to keep up with. And this is how it should be. For me, the biggest trait of those classic zombie films was the sense of inevitable tragedy from the outset, tragedy that is never really explained. We have entered into a period of somewhat zombie saturation by this point, as the Walking Dead has exploded into our culture. Even Disney has offered up their own tenderized version of the zombie. In the light of all this, it gets harder for me to get excited with various iterations of zombie lore. Books like Eaters of the Dead give me a spark of a reminder of what it was about the thing I loved in the first place. I don’t disparage those who write and film zombie books and movies now. Things change. That’s a part of life. But I love it when artists offer up a throwback to the days when the party started.
Check this book out. You’ll be glad you did.