October 15, 2017


*** Today begins a week long look at the horror films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the late, great(?) gore auteur that brought graphic bloodletting to the drive-ins in the 1960s. I had planned on writing a fresh review of BLOOD FEAST, but after reading an old review of mine, I decided to be a lazy prick. Truth be told, my feelings on the film haven't changed at all and I could use the day off. So here you go, a reprint of an early Films That Witness Madness review from 2010, grammatical errors and all. Enjoy(?). *** 

No use in mincing words: BLOOD FEAST is awful. Not awful in the PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE kind of way either. Just plain awful. But while it may be unoriginal and unforgivably dull to watch today, in its time, BLOOD FEAST was anything but. In fact, no one had ever seen anything like it before. BLOOD FEAST was, for all intents and purposes, the first true gore flick, a pioneering work that brought unbridled bloodletting and sadism into the drive-in theaters. 

While PSYCHO had already done the whole "madman slicing up pretty girls in the shower" three years earlier, BLOOD FEAST added to that scenario all the gruesome details Hitchcock wisely left unseen. Thanks in no small part to its lurid ad campaign (dreamed up by the film's writer/director Herschell Gordon Lewis and its producer Dave Friedman, both longtime exploitation players) and gallons of spilled blood, BLOOD FEAST found itself a sizeable audience of thrill-seekers and heavy-petters. The rest, as they say, is history. 

BLOOD FEAST, for the fifteen or sixteen of you who don't know, centers around an Egyptian caterer named Ramses who has been carving up women in preparation for an Egyptian "blood feast" in honor of the goddess Ishtar. The homicide detectives - there's only two of them - investigating the crimes have no clues and no leads, but one of them is dating a young girl whose mother has booked Ramses as the caterer for a party she is throwing for her daughter. Ramses, having gathered all the appropriate bits and pieces for his ritual, plans on using the daughter as the final sacrifice, the one that will bring the bloodthirsty goddess back to life.

Were it not for its historical importance, BLOOD FEAST would be all but indefensible. Shot in nine days for under $70,000, BLOOD FEAST looks cheap and feels cheap. There are no name actors on the film (only Playboy Playmate Connie Mason could be considered for that particular honor) and the talent behind the scenes was clearly second-rate at best. The sets are all garish and amateurish, everything is awash in primary colors and dime store props and several individual scenes are clearly pieced together from shots taken in various locations. Of course, complaining about such things is unnecessary and a bit trifling. Anyone expecting professionalism and high-production values in a film called BLOOD FEAST should have their head checked.

This film exists for one reason and one reason only: gore. So how does BLOOD FEAST stack up? Again, those expecting quality effects should think twice before viewing, but there is something genuinely unsettling and queasy on display here. Far from slickly done, the crude effects work in BLOOD FEAST manages to disgust a good bit more than the slicker horror films of the 1980s. Nothing in BLOOD FEAST even remotely approaches realism, but the gore in the film is much stronger than I remembered it being precisely because it is NOT slick and well-executed. The scene where Ramses attacks a woman, forcing his hand into her mouth and pulling out her tongue, a long mangled hunk of something meaty, is still quite disgusting. More sophisticated audiences may laugh off all the shoddy violence on display in BLOOD FEAST but the audiences back in 1963 must have shit their pants.

As much as I would like to join the cult of BLOOD FEAST and proclaim this movie as a mini b-movie masterpiece, I cannot. I simply don't think it's any good. It's poorly paced and terribly inept at just about everything it tries to do - minus the one or two gore effects that genuinely work. The two follow-up films in his "Blood Trilogy", COLOR ME BLOOD RED and TWO-THOUSAND MANIACS, are better made and more entertaining. Either one of those two films would make for better viewing than BLOOD FEAST.

Strangely enough, though Lewis was put through the shredder by American critics through-out his career, the usually more stubborn French critics took him much more seriously. The critics of the Cahiers du Cinema pegged him as "a subject for further research". They really didn't need to look any further than BLOOD FEAST. It is a perfect summation of much of Lewis’ work as a filmmaker: cheap, laughable, borderline misogynistic and obsessed with the red stuff.

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