Monday , April 22 2024
For October: revisiting 1963's landmark "appalling" gore/horror flick. . .

Blood Feast

“Nothing So Appalling in the Annals of Horror!” the ads proclaimed – and, for once, this wasn’t hype. When Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast premiered in 1963, it was the first of its kind: a low-budget gore film that treated blood, viscera and severed body parts like they were naked breasts in a nudie movie. (Lewis, not surprisingly, had started out in the exploitation industry lensing nudies.) A surprising success on the drive-in circuit, it led to a new career direction for Lewis, who quickly cranked out a series of splatter cheapies (2000 Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Wizard of Gore, etc.), ultimately changing the look of horror cinema forever. The candy-colored blood in George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead would probably not have been possible if Lewis hadn’t earlier painted the town of Miami overly bright red.
Feast is one of those movies that’s frequently discussed among film geeks and gorehounds (John Waters even cites it in his early career memoir, Shock Value), though it’s not been widely seen by most regular folk. With good reason: by any critical measure, the flick is a piece of crap. Directed quickly and with actors so unstudied that one of ’em has to read his lines off his palm (while his buddy carries around a notepad that he pretends to write in, but you know he’s really using it to jog his memory), packed with Playboy playmate victims who behave so awkwardly in front of the camera that their killings almost seem a mercy, and centered around a hammy blue-haired villain whose every evil pronouncement is punctuated by a campy trilling organ, the movie’s only lure is its extreme and thoroughly unrealistic goriness. (When it first came out, the horror fan magazine Castle of Frankenstein branded it “amateur night at the butcher shop.”) I recently re-screened this cheesy movie landmark in its Something Weird DVD incarnation. It’d been years since I’d first viewed it, and I was certain that the pic couldn’t be as awful as I remembered it. If nothing else, watching it again made me feel better about the quality of my long-term memory. . .
The flick revolves around Egyptian caterer Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), a specialist in “exotic foods” who by night is a serial murderer. It opens with one of his killings: a buxom young blond in a bubble bath, with a book entitled Ancient Weird Religious Rites on the tub, is stabbed in the eye by Ramses who suddenly appears in the bathroom. Like the killers in 80’s era slasher pics, Ramses has the ability to instantly show up anywhere and get away quickly even though he walks with a severe limp. The madman chops off one of his bathing victim’s legs (we’re treated to a lingering close-up of its bloody stump), dashing off with the dripping appendage. He returns to his shop, where he has a large bubbling pot and a gold-painted manikin doubling as the statue of an Egyptian goddess. (No, it’s not Kim Cattrall.)
The Miami police (Thomas Wood and palm-reading Scott Hall) are stumped. Though Fuad has performed his atrocious murders without wearing gloves and just plain stumping around the crime scene, we’re told he’s left no clues. “Well, we’re just working with a homicidal maniac, that’s all,” detective Pete deduces, but despite such Sherlockian insight, the caterer quickly gets away with two more murders: lopping off the top of one young girl’s skull so he can swipe her brains and then yanking out the impossibly long tongue of a second. (Reportedly, a sheep’s tongue was utilized for the second gore effect.) The machete-wielding Ramses is collecting body parts in sacrifice to the Egyptian goddess Ishtar (not the last time that this poor deity’ll be attached to a lousy movie), and he’s selecting his victims through a book club he’s created for his own dire uses. All of his victims have the same Weird Religious Rites hardback in their apartments, though when one survives long enough for the police to question her, she says that the killer chanted, “All for Eat-ar!” Which doesn’t say much for that gal’s ability to retain what she’s read.
At the same time, Ramses is hired to cater a birthday party for Suzette Fremont (blond former Playmate Connie Mason), who shares an interest in Egyptian mythology and is the girlfriend of policeman Pete. The two attend an Egyptology lecture where they’re told the story of the titular Blood Feast: a ceremony for Ishtar wherein beautiful long girls are slaughtered and fed to the attendees, climaxing with the killing of a high priestess who becomes the living incarnation of Ishtar. Though Pete is one of the two cops hearing the dying “Eat-ar” declaration just a few hours after attending the lecture, he doesn’t immediately make the connection – not surprising in a police force that apparently hasn’t heard about fingerprints yet. By the time he puts two and two together, it’s the next day and time for Suzette’s party. Will the police arrive in time or will Suzette join her sisters in slasher victimhood?
Oh, why bother trying to drum up any suspense? (The movie sure doesn’t.) Playmate Connie survives.
Feast climaxes with a thoroughly laughable foot chase sequence – with the elderly, gimping Ramses improbably keeping ahead of a quartet of strapping policemen, only to meet his bloody death in a trash compacting garbage truck. (Ever aware of irony, Lewis has one of his pursuing cops note, “He died a fitting death. . .”) Cut to a shot of the statue of Ishtar crying blood: a poignant finish to this groundbreaking slice o’ trash cinema.
Most serious horror fans were indeed appalled by Lewis’ flick when it premiered, though in the drive-in – where much of the audience probably wasn’t even listening to the dialog and only coming up for air long enough to catch glimpses of the slow tracking shots of bloody young girl corpses – it was a relative hit. Included on its Something Weird DVD package is the 60’s era trailer for the movie: it doesn’t provide a single hint about the movie’s plot, just collects shots of every blood-spattered corpse and grisly killing in the flick. That’s Blood Feast, distilled to its essence.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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