It had to start somewhere. But a marketing whiz and former school teacher by the name of Herschell Gordon Lewis was the first to capture the attention of American drive-in audiences with his crowning achievement: Blood Feast (1963, 67 minutes). It was the ground zero of in-your-face GORE and would FOREVER change the horror genre. Hundreds, hell, thousands of slasher films would follow in its bloody footsteps.
The movie: Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) is a busy man. He runs an exotic catering business. He's a mail-order book salesman. And he spends his evenings hacking up nubile young girls for the sacrifice necessary to reanimate his goddess, Ishtar. An eye here. A leg there. A dash of brains. All the while, he skulks around, dragging his leg and bugging his eyes -- generally, LOOKING like a homicidal maniac. But when Mrs. Fremont (Lyn Bolton) comes into his store, looking to hire Ramses for her daughter Suzette's party, he locks her in a hypnotic gaze. Soon she unwittingly agrees to host an Egyptian feast and Fuad steps up his collection of, um, ingredients. In the flick's most famous scene, a blond coed (Astrid Olson) gets her tongue ripped right out of her skull. The primitive effect (by today's standards) was done by placing a sheep's tongue, stage blood and red Jell-O into the cavernous mouth of a former Playboy Club waitress -- then allowing the whole mess to spill out for the camera. It's a sight to behold, and when the movie opened in Peoria, Illinois, the word of "mouth" caused a five-mile backup of cars trying to get in to see Blood Feast the following night. And the movie's FULL of that stuff. Fuad dismembers a gal in a bath tub. Knocks another girl's beau over the head, and then proceeds to brain her as well, literally. Trying to sort out the murders is police Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin aka. Thomas Wood), who also just happens to be dating Suzette Fremont (Connie Mason). Will he wise up before Fuad adds Suzie to the dessert menu? Or will Ishtar rise again and whup some mortal butt? See for yourself. What I can tell you, is that Herschell shot the picture in less than a week, in and around the Suez Motel in Miami, with a final budget of only $24,500. It's chock full of amusingly bad acting and "We don't want it good, we want it Thursday" production values. Still, it's enormously entertaining.
Notables: Two breasts. Eight corpses. Knife to the eye. Leg tumbles. Hypnotic-stares. Idol worship. Brains roll. Gratuitous python. Human stew. Egyptology lecture. Heart ripping. Head tumbles. Swimming pool frolicking. Coed whipping. Hand rolls. Death by garbage truck.
Quotables: Hands down, the best line in the flick is from Suzette, "Hey! You wouldn't sacrifice ME on this altar, would you?!"
Time codes: The famous blood-red splatter titles (2:45). June 1963 Playboy Playmate Connie Mason joins the flick (10:50). Headlines from The Daily Chronicle: Teenage girl found slaughtered / LEGS CUT OFF -- 12 prisoners beat me up, Nazi charges -- Beer-sipping horse (11:08). Ms. Mason reads her dialog from a lampshade (24:30). A weird, ancient religious rite (28:00). Suzette and pals cool off (41:40). The thrilling foot-chase finale (1:02:30).
Audio/Video: Astonishingly vivid full-frame print (original ratio) -- dramatically improved from VHS editions. Clear and fairly even mono audio. Herschell's memorable score sounds terrific, especially the kettle drums.
Extras: A fan's feast. An outstanding audio commentary by director H.G. Lewis and partner David F. Friedman. With the help of Something Weird Video's Mike Vraney, the two reminisce about the film -- from conception, through production, to distribution and aftermath. It's a very candid and insightful look at the flick. Also, there's the original theatrical trailer. A 50-minute outtake reel that even the filmmakers didn't know existed (which includes nekkidness). Plus, a clever addition, a 20-minute short with Blood Feast star William Kerwin and the great Harvey Korman illustrating the proper way to slice and serve various meats. A fantastic gallery of newspaper ads, press kits, and photos from: Tomb of Terror, The Prime Time, The Adventures of Lucky Pierre, Living Venus, Daughter of the Sun, Scum of the Earth, Goldilooks and the Three Bares, Bell, Bare and Beautiful, Two Thousand Maniacs!, Color Me Blood Red and, of course, Blood Feast (the gruesome press stills are unbelievable). Last, but not at all least, the keepcase features a reproduction of one of my favorite movie posters, among the copy points is an admonition, "If you are the parent or guardian of an impressionable adolescent DO NOT BRING HIM or PERMIT HIM TO SEE THIS MOTION PICTURE."
Final thought: A true classic. The granddaddy of the slasher genre. It's a must-have for any self-respecting CineSchlocker. Collector Series.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.