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Sunday, 28 December 2008

Blood Freak (1972)

This 1972 film has been made available by Something Weird Video, which should suggest just how strange it really is. It's a safe bet that anything that they release that you have the remotest chance of seeing anywhere else is going to be very strange indeed and this is one is certainly pretty unique. Sure, it's a bad film in so many ways it's almost unreal, but it's pretty unique as bad films go. Ed Wood is the obvious comparison for a few reasons: partly because the ideas far outreach the talents of those involved, not to mention the budget, but also partly because of the quality but partly because of the narration. Periodically the film is interrupted to allow co-director Brad Grinter to read us some commentary off the papers on his desk. I'm so used to Plan 9 from Outer Space by now that I subconsciously translated his words into the intonations of Criswell. It would have been an improvement.

The other co-director is Steve Hawkes, who also plays the lead role of Herschell. In fact he's so important that the opening credits mention that he's the star both before and after all the other credits. He's a big guy who looks like a cross between Hugh Jackman and Alvin Stardust with a large quiff and what looks like a pretty nasty burn on his arms. We first see him heading down the Florida Turnpike on his bike, in footage that's as jerky as Cloverfield ever was. Obviously Hawkes and Grinter couldn't afford a steadicam and didn't have the talent to build one the way Peter Jackson did for Bad Taste.

Anyway, he helps out a young lady who's wearing a short skirt and having car trouble. She's Angel and she invites him home in thanks, but she's not the sort of character you'd think. This may be how porn films start but this is far from a porn film and Angel is far from the sort of character you'd find in one. She's a bible basher and so offers Herschell a place to stay out of the goodness of her heart. Unfortunately she's also offered a place to her sister Ann and seemingly no end of her friends, all of whom seem to be professional drug dealers. Herschell's a good guy too but I don't know how he could have made it this far given that all it takes to persuade him to smoke something is to call him a coward. So in no time flat, good guy Herschell is a drug addict boffing Ann.

He still has Angel to help him out though and joining her at some sort of impromptu bible study session lands him a job. He's hired by the owner of the Midway Turkey Farm and Hatchery, which means he gets one day of solid work throwing turkeys around and then he starts getting used as a guinea pig in supposedly routine human food experiments. Given that I'm sure you're wondering by now why the film is called Blood Freak, I should explain that one day of eating experimental turkey at the turkey farm turns him into one. He jiggles about for a while in a field like Elvis having an epileptic fit, then heads home to show Ann that he's mutated from Herschell into Herschell with a bizarre turkey mask over his head.

The logic of this story is such that Ann doesn't have a problem with him being a turkey. OK, she's known him for a whole two days at this point and she does initially faint in shock at the sight but it takes her a whole thirty seconds to progress to the point where she calmly wonders aloud about where their relationship will lead and what their future children are going to look like. After all she doesn't actually have to look at him. Yeah, the logic is quite astounding. You won't be too surprised to find that while she's dreaming about Herschell and being unwittingly traded for drugs, Herschell is out searching the town for people doing drugs, hanging them upside down, slitting their throats and drinking their drug altered blood.

There are other twists here This is an amazing film. No, that doesn't mean good in any way, shape or form, but it's certainly amazing. It's a film to watch and ask just what the filmmakers were thinking. They certainly had a point to make here and they had all sorts of ideas, both philosophical and cinematic, to expound. Yet the question remains: what were they thinking. Did they honestly think that the sort of filmgoers who would turn out to see Blood Freak would watch this and be persuaded to give up hard drugs or turn to Jesus?

That certainly appears to be the moral tone: if you're a good Christian you don't even really need to be in the film much, just turn up at the beginning and end of the film to be a catalyst for change. Meanwhile everyone else suffers through panic, depression, addiction, hallucination, death or strange mutation into weird turkey headed monsters killing to feed an unavoidable urge to drink the blood of drug addicts. The irony is that the narrator is throwing all this moral high ground at us while choking on a cigarette. The production obviously didn't have enough funds to take a second shot of that scene. So this could be an attempt to convert us all out of fear to the teachings of Jesus, or it could be a social comment on the American presence in Vietnam. Maybe it's just a straight anti-drug film. Whatever it is, it's amazing and the most amazing thing is that somebody would make it.

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