Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Video Nasty #6 - Blood Feast

"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...

Mal Arnold as the demented Fuad Ramses... "Have you ever had an Egyptian feast ?"
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.

8 comments:

  1. Another list of shame, this wasn't a readily available title when I would have liked to have seen this and once it was I'd already seen a couple of other Lewis films and kind of lost interest. Nice review though Wes and I have to say you're doing really well keeping the interest up for such variable films! Are you planning on ploughing straight through or are you going to take a break? Maybe we will see if the nasties really are dangerous if you're doing them all straight?

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  2. Thanks Mart... originally I was gonna do a few Nasties and mix it up with other films - I like the idea of doing Blood Feast one day and some Ingmar Bergman film the next, but I've been enjoying revisting the films so I might go straight thru. I'm only 6 films in so I might have to pick up the pace. The Video Nasties have been flogged to death over the years but hopefully people are enjoying it and are checking back...

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  3. I too salute your fortitude, Wes. I've seen a couple of Lewis films and that was enough for me... Still if it wasn't for Blood Feast there probably wouldn't have been NOTLD so we have to be grateful for that. Lewis himself was quite an urbane man, shame like you say that his directing was so inept.

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  4. Thanks Jon… Worth mentioning that HG Lewis has something of a double life – he’s also a legend in the advertising business and the prolific author of numerous books on the subject - How to Make Your Advertising Twice as Effective at Half the Cost; Effective E-Mail Marketing: The Complete Guide to Creating Successful Campaigns; Catalog Copy That Sizzles : All the Hints, Tips, and Tricks of the Trade You'll Ever Need to Write Copy that Sells – the list is endless !

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  5. I don't know about you, but I think it is quite funny that HG Lewis is now in the advertising business! I ashamed to say I've not seen too many of his films, but the ones have I have seen (including this) have been a lot of fun. It must have been quite an experience seeing this sort of stuff when it was first released on unsuspecting audiences!

    As far as I remember, we played a drinking game while watching this one. Hey, I live in Belfast, there's little else to do! Every time someone mentioned 'an Egyptian feast', we drank. It was a messy night... ;)

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  6. …and I’m down in Cork where there is even less to do ! Mal Arnold really chews down on that Egyptian feast line ! Yeah the HG Lewis horror stuff is great if you're in a particular mood. His theme song for 2000 Maniacs is one of the most insidiously catchy songs ever recorded for a horror film !

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  7. Oh yeah - love this one! I bought a book about HGL and his films through Fangoria magazine in the early 80's - it took a long time coming - and then the company sent a note - it said something like "We are sorry for the delay in getting the book to you - we held it back to have the author and Herschell Gordon Lewis autograph the book for you. If you don't like the delay let us know and we'll cancel your order and refund your money." WHAT?!?! Wait a couple of weeks to get the book autographed? Hell yes I'll wait! The book dutifully showed up a couple of weeks later inked by both men. Awesome. However, in those days at the dawn of home video there was no way to actually see the movies - so that book was my only ticket to HGL's crazy cinema. Finally, years later - I started to see his movies on VHS. Saw this one with some college pals - we laughed all the way through it. I have since purchased the movie twice - once on DVD in an HGL boxset - and again as a triple feature Blu-Ray (!) with 2000 Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red. Who would have EVER thought Blood Feast would be on Blu-Ray? Have you seen the excellent HGL documentary from the last couple of years? Well worth seeing.

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  8. A great story of patience rewarded. I'm not an autograph hunter by any means, but a small few have come my way over the years and they're nice to have - there's a special kind of voodoo in signed objects ! That's interesting that the HGL's films were hard to see on VHS in the US - I guess I assumed the opposite was true. I imagine this looks utterly eye-popping on Blu-Ray. Even the Something Weird DVD from way back in 2000 still looks fantastic today - and a nice rebuttal to that Grindhouse asethetic of scratched, scuzzy looking prints... I seem to have missed that HGL documentary but will investigate, thanks. I find HGL an extremely patchy film maker but I like having his films out there. Cinema would be a poorer, less interesting place without him...

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