Thursday 6 September 2007

Blood Feast (1963) Herschell Gordon Lewis

Oh, how I've waited to see this one! It's been high on my list of must see horror films, just as it was high on the list of the Director of Public Prosecutions' list of video nasties. It was a groundbreaking film, that effectively began the life of the splatter movie, the gore movie, the hack 'n' slash movie, whatever you call it. If its intention wasn't clear enough from the title, it hammers the point home with the title card that has the name of the film written in dripping paint, erm blood.

We open with a gruesome murder. Some young lady is attacked in her own bath by an intruder who cuts out her eye, saws off her leg and takes it away with him in a bag. We know she's not the first victim because the police are warning young ladies over the radio to stay at home and stay safe. We soon find out that the killer is Fuad Ramses, a strange man with a club foot, an exotic accent and a penchant for Christopher Lee-esque hypnotic stares, who runs Fuad Ramses Exotic Catering and worships the dark goddess Ishtar.

Soon those hypnotic eyes get him hired to cater a dinner party and he provides an ancient Eygyptian feast, one that hasn't been served for 5,000 years, even though it's his specialty. This sort of contradiction is not unusual for this film, which is a real drive in movie that was quite obviously never intended for repeat viewings. Egyptian goddess Ishtar is, of course, Babylonian. It goes along with the sudden camera pans as if someone just nudged the camera, the overdone and usually inappropriate soundtrack by Herschell Gordon Lewis himself and the sets which are quite obviously nothing like the rooms they're meant to depict. The police station is notably bare, populated only by echoes. It was apparently filmed for $25,000 in a total of nine days and that shows.

We shouldn't forget the horrendous level of acting ability, either. Somehow we're expected to believe that Playboy Playmate of the Month for June 1963 is a dedicated student of Egyptology, when it's an open question as to whether she can even read. She certainly can't act. Then again, there seem to be quite a number of young nubile ladies interested in buying copies of Ancient Weird Religious Rites. One survivor reminds very much of a cross between Corey Feldman and the Baldwin brothers, and that wasn't a compliment, trust me.

Mal Arnold plays Fuad Ramses, and while he's stunningly amateur he's one of the better actors in the film. He went on to feature as a nudist in Goldilocks and the Three Bares and Adam Lost His Apple, hardly the peak of cinema's output. Then again Connie Mason, the Playmate, found her way into The Godfather, Part II but only as an extra. William Kerwin, the dumb cop, was obviously so happy to be in the film that he's credited as Thomas Wood, but he went away with that Playmate as his fiancee. She would be his wife from 1964 until his death in 1989.

The gore itself is as plentiful as it is obviously fake, the effects poor but gleefully intended. Being 1963 and in glorious colour, it was very very obvious indeed and that's what has cemented Blood Feast's reputation down the years. I'm happy to say that it goes well beyond the infamous tongue ripping scene, to extracted hearts, severed limbs and massive head trauma. There's even a whipping and a table full of body parts. It really is the only thing worth watching here, though the film is surprisingly enjoyable for its notable lack of quality. It is a terrible movie but a real guilty pleasure, a great cult delight. And now I know where Peter Jackson stole his limping machete wielding lope from for Bad Taste!

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