When producer David Friedman and director Herschell Gordon Lewis (who also scored these movies) teamed up to find the next big thing they struck drive-in movie gold. Tapping a vein rich with blood, they unleashed on an unwitting public the first American gore films ever made and got pretty rich in the process. Often imitated and rarely duplicated, the original 'Blood Trilogy' films were released on DVD by Something Weird Video and Image Entertainment in the early days of their partnership (remember those snapper cases?) and were later reissued and are now, along with Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case, marking Something Weird's initial foray into high definition. Here's a look at what you'll find on this disc:
Blood Feast (1963):
Nothing to appalling in the annals of horror! After a great opening credits sequence in which blood spells out the movie title over an image of the Sphinx, we meet Mrs. Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton), a very proper woman who wants to throw a party for her daughter, Suzette (Playboy Playmate Connie Mason). She hires a caterer named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) after he sells her on the idea of an Egyptian feast. As Fuad goes about preparing the meal, local ladies start disappearing and a pair of cops - Frank (Scott H. Hall) and Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin, credited as Thomas Wood) make the scene and try to figure out who has been killing these women and why. Yet all the while, Ramses prepares his feast... and his sacrifice to Ishtar!
Fairly awful in terms of acting and direction, Blood Feast nevertheless delivers exactly what it promises. Insanely gory even by modern standards, this one knocked the socks off of sixties era theater goers and before you know it, this twenty-five thousand dollar production had cleared a few million in box office returns. Ever the promoter, producer Friedman came up with novelty barf-bags to hand out at theaters and even went so far as to bring nurses to screenings to help out in case people fainted. These wacky exploitation tactics worked wonders and the film made a killing in spite of the fact that it's really pretty terrible.
As terrible as it is, however, it's hard for any self respecting horror buff or drive-in fan not to have a good time with this one. Mal Arnold, who Lewis would later use in Goldilocks And The Three Bares and Scum Of The Earth is perfect as Fuad, delivering his lines with complete conviction and delivering one of the most thrilling gimp legged chase scenes through the suburbs of Miami you're ever likely to see. Connie Mason isn't much of an actress but she looks great here and handles her role just fine. Her relationship with Kerwin might not ever go down in the books are a romance for the ages but they make for a likeable enough pair. It's the gore effects though, that combined with Arnold's flat out weird lead role, that keep people coming back to this one. It's silly, splashy, gooey, gory and fun - sure it looks as cheap as it was and it's goofy as goofy can be but it never overstays its seventy minute running time and it's nothing if not entertaining, albeit sometimes for all the wrong reasons. Lewis would follow this up with a sequel, Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat in 2002.
2000 Maniacs! (1964):
Connie Mason and William Kerwin were cast again in this follow up, this time playing a couple named Terry and Tom who, while out for a drive, wind up in the small southern town of Pleasant Valley. Amazingly enough, they've arrived just in time for the town's centennial celebration, much to the delight of the ridiculously friendly Mayor Buckman (Jeffrey Allen in the first of a few films he'd make for Lewis) who just insists that they stick around and enjoy the fun. When a few more tourists - John (Jerome Eden) and his wife Bea (Shelby Livingston) and David (Michael Korb) and his wife Beverly (future Mrs. H. G. Lewis herself, Yvonne Gilbert) - wind up in town as well, the citizens of Pleasant Valley start to show their true colors when it turns out that the different celebratory events are all based around killing off one of them! Yeehaw, the south is gonna rise again!
Not as deliriously gory as the film that came before it, 2000 Maniacs still manages to serve up some healthy doses of grue but this time tongue is placed so firmly in cheek that you know you're not supposed to take any of it seriously at all. From the troubadours who wander the streets strumming their banjos and singing their songs of the south to the overly hospitable citizenry of the town itself, this is a film that wants to make you laugh as Lewis and company start to get very creative with the gore set pieces. Whereas the earlier film was content to simply show you severed limbs and entrails, this one brings the mayhem to the forefront and makes a spectacle out of each and every death scene in the movie. It's in keeping with the story's nature and with the ridiculously over the top performances and again helps us to overlook the low budget trappings that are evident in some of the acting.
The film would be remade as 2001 Maniacs in 2005 with Robert Englund playing the mayor, and there'd be a sequel to that remake in 2010 called 2001 Maniacs: Field Of Screams but neither one matches the original even if they're moderately entertaining in their own right.
Color Me Blood Red (1965):
Last but not least, 1965's Color Me Blood Red tells the macabre tale of a struggling painter named Adam Sorg (played by Gordon Oas-Heim, credited as Don Joseph) who brings some of his latest paintings to be displayed at a local art gallery run by Mr. Farnsworth (Scott H. Hall). Here a critic named Gregorovich (William Harris) tells him he has commercial appeal but could do better in his use of color. Sorg takes this to heart and eventually winds up stabbing his nagging girlfriend in the head and using her blood to create a new painting. Of course, once it's displayed it's the surprise hit of the show, though Sorg won't sell it, not even for fifteen thousand dollars.
As Sorg's career starts to take off thanks to his newfound methods, he finds himself in need of more blood to use - and he finds it in the form of a few nubile young ladies in the area. Meanwhile, some teens decide to have a nocturnal beach party right outside Sorg's home and he tries to talk one of the girls into modeling for him.
Basically a remake of Roger Corman's A Bucket Of Blood (made five years earlier), this third installment isn't as gory or sensationalist as the first two entries but it's still a fun time at the movies. What makes this one work is Gordon Oas-Heim's rather over the top performance as Sorg. His tendency to snap at his girlfriend over the most minute matters lets him chew the scenery on a pretty regular basis while the big finale lets him go completely over the top. More gore and tighter pacing would have gone a long way towards making this one a better film than it is - do we really need multiple scenes of people riding water bikes on the beach? - but as it stands now, even if it's the weakest of the three films in this collection it still offers up a couple of nasty gore scenes and some memorably quotable oddball lines of dialogue ("F is for.... Farnsworth!"). Like the other films in the set, it's quirky, goofy and cheap but pretty entertaining and enjoyable drive in fare.
The past DVD editions were all fullframe but these were shown widescreen theatrically so the AVC encoded 1080p high definition widescreen presentations on this set make sense. Of the three films, Blood Feast looks the best, showing the most improved detail and color reproduction and looking the most like an actual film print. 2000 Maniacs and Color Me Blood Red are both noticeably improved over the DVD issues as well but detail isn't quite as strong and these two movies look just a little bit softer. Now, you've got to keep in mind that these movies were made fast and cheap and so that's going to be reflected in the picture quality. Don't go into this one expecting perfection, because you're not going to get it. The picture has been cleaned up across the board but there are still occasional scratches, cigarette burns here and there, and those shots that were out of focus on past releases are still out of focus here as that was inherent in the original photography. Overall though, fans of these films should be pleased. Image has somehow managed to cram all three movies onto one disc without any major compression artifact problems and there weren't any edge enhancement issues to note during playback. Black levels look good, though not reference quality, and any noise reduction that has been applied is minor. All in all, you're not likely to see these movies looking any better than they do here any time soon.
Each film gets the LPCM Mono treatment here and while these mixes certainly aren't fancy they sound just fine considering the low budget origins of the three movies in question. Sometimes the dialogue sounds a bit flat and sometimes there's some mild background hiss but really, that's the way it should be. These movies sound pretty low-fi, just as they should and anyone expecting lossless surround sound remixes had their head in the clouds. Unfortunately, no alternate language options or subtitles are provided.
Extras are carried over from the previous DVD releases from Something Weird Video, starting off with a commentary for each of the three films from producer, the late David Friedman, and director Herschell Gordon Lewis. If you haven't heard these tracks before, you're in for a treat as the two men have got pretty sharp memories and don't pull any punches. They discuss the importance of casting, how certain locations were used, and of course, the films' notorious gore effects but also discuss distribution, theatrical play and the independent filmmaking scene of the sixties in a good bit of detail. Neither man are ever really ever at a loss for words and these tracks are packed full of information delivered with a refreshing sense of honesty and humor.
Also carried over are the outtakes that were included on the standard definition releases. None of this material has any accompanying sound so it's presented with some soundtrack music over top but there's some neat stuff here. Blood Feast gets fifty minutes of material, 2000 Maniacs gets about eight minutes worth of material and Color Me Blood Red slightly less than that. None of this stuff is essential, but it's great to have it here. Will you go through this stuff more than once? Probably not, but you'll check it out once if you dug the features and you won't regret it when you do.
Rounding out the extras are trailers for all three films and a trailer for the new Lewis documentary, The Godfather Of Gore (the only new extra feature on the disc), a still gallery and some animated menus and chapter stops. The only extras are that are in HD are the trailers for Blood Feast (and it looks amazingly good for what is!) and The Godfather Of Gore
Gory, gory hallelujah! Fans of Lewis and Friedman's holy trinity of blood soaked exploitation classics will absolutely appreciate the upgrade in audio and video that this Blu-ray release provides and while there isn't much in the way of new extras, at least all the old ones are there and intact. Those expecting a perfect Blu-ray presentation might not dig this set but anyone who 'gets it' most definitely will and since you really can't argue with the price, The Blood Trilogy comes highly recommended to gorehounds and trash movie fans everywhere.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.