Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #374
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: 6 July 1963
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $4,000,000
Running Time: 67 minutes
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Producers: David F. Friedman
Screenplay: Allison Louise Downe
Story: David F. Friedman, Herschell Gordon Lewis
Special Effects: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Cinematography: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Score: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Editing: Robert Sinise, Frank Romolo
Studio: Friedman-Lewis Productions
Distributor: Box Office Spectaculars
Stars: William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H. Hall, Christy Foushee, Ashlyn Martin, Astrid Olson, Sandra Sinclair, Gene Courtier, Louise Kamp, Hal Rich, Al Golden
Suggested Audio Candy
The Misfits “Bloodfeast”
Known as The Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis is widely regarded as the man who single-handedly introduced the world to “splatter cinema”. In fact, the term wasn’t coined until the late seventies when George A. Romero used the term to describe his film Dawn of the Dead and, if you’re being pernickety, then you could point towards Nobuo Nakagawa’s Jigoku from 1960 as being the first of its type but it was Lewis who single-handedly spearheaded this movement on American soil with Color Me Blood Red, Two Thousand Maniacs!, The Gruesome Twosome, The Gore Gore Girls, and The Wizard of Gore all fitting the splatter template and sickening audiences with their relentless grue.
In 1963, audiences were ill-prepared for a movie such as Blood Feast and producer David F. Friedman took full advantage of this fact by concocting a publicity stunt which helped to generate no end of interest using the theoretical grounds that no press is bad press. If you have ever wondered where the infamous “barf bag” came to fruition then look no further as cinema goers were presented with their own personal vomit satchel in case they found the experience all too nauseating. Consequently, the film received an injunction against it in Florida and this just added fuel to the fire, culminating in an impressive box office return for a film shot on a shoestring budget.
The controversy raged on and, in 1984, the DPP made Blood Feast the oldest film to feature in their 72-strong list of official video nasties and one of 39 to be successfully prosecuted. Three decades on it almost seems laughable that this movie could ruffle so many feathers but, when you place it in context, there was no other motion picture making anywhere near the waves at the time and, even in the seventies, many film-makers were still refraining from pushing the envelope, it shows just how ahead of its time Lewis’ film actually was.
Whether it was actually any good is an entirely different matter. To this day, Lewis is often regarded as the closest thing horror has to its own Edward D. Wood Jr. and his résumé consists of numerous features which seemingly fit the “so bad it’s good” category rather snugly. It’s a tough one for sure; on many levels they are laughably inept and lacking any true seal of quality. But, should they be taken on their own merits, then they each exhibited innovation and Lewis has always remained consistent about his motivation for scraping the barrel. He never intended for Blood Feast to be a work of thespian grandeur and instead wanted to give audiences a visceral experience they weren’t likely to forget. Say what you will about him, I would say that he achieved that.
For what its worth, and that ain’t a whole bunch, it told the story of Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), Egyptian caterer and author of the bestseller Ancient Weird Religious Practices, who took to slaughtering all manner of blonde beauties in an endeavor to use their body parts in the resurrection process of the Egyptian goddess Ishtar. Armed with a brace of brows bushy enough to conceal a big-boned wildebeest and a gammy leg, Ramses embarked on an unprompted murder spree leaving local law enforcement officers utterly bewildered by his movements.
Bankable narrative took a back seat to mean-spirited set pieces from the offset and, less than five minutes in, he’d already set out his stool. I’m fairly assured that, should any of these scenes appear restrained by today’s standards, then it is entirely due to budgetary constraints as Lewis wanted his audience to share in every grisly detail conceivable. Outside of the numerous dismemberment and disembowelment, it was the way in which Ramses thumbed his quarry’s intestines enthusiastically which made the greatest impact. At no point were we supposed to be taking it seriously. Shockingly bad editing, duff audio, and Gorgonzola performances put paid to any Oscar nods. However, the very fact that he had the audacity to go where no other film-maker dared, made for an unforgettable view nonetheless.
Which brings me to judgement. I have pondered long and hard about finding a score fitting for such a wonderful piece of trash exploitation cinema. This is where I request reading between the lines. In no way, shape or form is Blood Feast anything other than a bad movie. However, Lewis was a rebel with a cause, that being to shun plot in favor of offering graphic imagery to a vulnerable audience, and his subversive assault on the senses was truly ahead of the game. For its place in time and regardless of the fact that it sucked on almost every level imaginable, I cannot bite one of the hands that fed me most generously during my filmic development. Add another notch to the overall score if you think that blood and popcorn are like peas and carrots and have a pair of dense rose-tinted bifocals on hand, and subtract three if you don’t fit this criteria. As for Keeper… I’m with stupid.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 6/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: The splatter on this particular platter was crude, painted garish red, and is now rather long in the tooth. Having said that, it did exactly what it stated on the barf bag. Beautiful women in varying states of undress were hacked limb from luscious limb, scalped, had their lickers removed (using a bona fide sheep’s tongue no less), eyes popped out teasingly, and breasts ogled at from behind those tufted brow mammals. No other motion picture Stateside could have dreamed to push the boundaries this far, both nudity and gore were considered massively taboo, which made his efforts here all the more staggering. For those reasons, the mantle The Godfather of Gore is pretty much justified. If nothing else he’s the lecherous great-uncle.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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