"I've often referred to Blood Feast as a Walt Whitman poem. It's no good, but it was the first of its type" So said director Herschell Gordon Lewis about his most famous film. One wonders what the great American poet would have made of Blood Feast had he seen the film in 1963 - most likely he would high tailed it back to his New Jersey tomb.
Whitman's great collection of poetry, Leaves of Grass, published in 1845 was called "a mass of stupid filth" by one outraged critic, something that can be easily applied to Blood Feast. In the film, an Egyptian caterer named Fuad Ramses is killing women and collecting their body parts for sacrifices to his god Ishtar. For Lewis and producer David Friedman, Blood Feast's simple framework gave them the perfect excuse to unleash a cascade of splatter on unsuspecting audiences. The nudie cutie genre which Lewis had begun his film making career with was now spectacularly swept aside by the Gore film...
Whether Blood Feast was the first film to show graphic gore is uncertain. Mario Bava nailed a spiked mask to the face of Barbara Steele in Black Sunday in 1960, and in the same year Jigoku a Japanese horror film offered up some graphic imagery in its depiction of Hell. What is certain is Blood Feast took screen violence to a new level, with its dismemberments, scalpings, heart-ripping, and the most famously a tongue pulled out at its roots. Blood Feast gleefully wallows in the crimson carnage, but none of the violence is remotely disturbing, so completely sabotaged by the film's all-round ineptitude. The clunky script which is at pains to spell everything out is full of howlers - at one point, the chief of police, frustrated by the lack of clues to nail the killer declares "This man is uncanny!". Lewis' direction is amateurish, shots are routinely framed with little concern for composition, and the camera not so much moves but splutters along after the action. Still, Lewis manages to grab one great moment, when the shadow of the offscreen killer's hand falls over leading lady Connie Mason's body, perhaps a nod towards a similarly chilling moment in Murnau's Nosferatu.
The cast deliver uniformly dreadful performances with stilted line readings and generally behaving like they were under some heavy medication, doing little to distinguish themselves from the storeroom dummies Lewis uses for his effects shots. Lewis himself remembered Connie Mason, in less than fond terms - "I've often felt that if one took the key out of Connie's back she'd simply stand in place". Whatever about Mason's turn, the shameless mugging of the bonehead boyfriend who finds his girlfriend a splattery mess sans brain matter is truly astonishing.
Of course Blood Feast's many short-comings are hardly the point. Lewis and Friedman's film was a huge hit and Lewis returned to the gore formula sporadically throughout the 60's and early 70's with 2000 Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, The Gruesome Twosome, Wizard of Gore and The Gore, Gore Girls. Today the film remains essential viewing for students of Bad Cinema and provided you're in the mood, the film is a lot of fun. David Friedman writing in his autobiography A Youth In Babylon, summed up Blood Feast rather well - "It's been cussed, discussed, dismissed, denounced, decried, despised, disdained and acclaimed"
Blood Feast is available on DVD courtesy of Something Weird Video and the results are marvellous. The fullframe transfer is quite a beauty with eye-popping colors and the print is generally in excellent condition. Audio is perfectly adequate, dialogue is clear and Lewis' own (minimalist) score is well done. Extras include an extremely interesting and lively commentary track from Lewis and Friedman, and there's the usual Something Weird goodies like rare shorts, trailers, Exploitation art and some 40-min (?) of Blood Feast outtakes.