August 5, 2014

SUMMER OF BLOOD, Day 66: Blood Feast (1963)

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Starring William Kerwin ("Dr. Pete Thornton"), Mal Arnold ("Fuad Ramses"), Connie Mason ("Suzette Fremont"), and Lyn Bolton ("Mrs. Dorothy Fremont"). Not Rated.

Source: Region 1 DVD (Something Weird/Image)
Running time: 01:06:57
Country: USA

Here's something I'm a little ashamed to admit: I've only seen one Herschell Gordon Lewis movie prior to watching BLOOD FEAST for this review. And it wasn't even one of his horror movies - I had the pleasure of watching SHE-DEVILS ON WHEELS back in the day. I've also seen two shitty remakes of H.G.L. movies: WIZARD OF GORE with Crispin Glover and 2001 MANIACS: FIELD OF SCREAMS. As a horror fan, I always knew it was my duty to watch the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the "Godfather of Gore", so I figured I'd go right for the big ones and check out the "Blood Trilogy" consisting of this film, TWO THOUSAND MANIACS!, and COLOR ME BLOOD RED (reviews for the latter two coming in the next few days). Truth be told, I don't know much about H.G. Lewis other than the fact that he's the guy who originated the Splatter movie. As far as his overall body of work and any specific influences he had on the horror genre as a whole, I'm not too well-educated.

BLOOD FEAST opens with a news report about a serial killer who targets women, followed by the killer breaking into a woman's apartment and making her a statistic. The killer, as it turns out, is a guy named Ramses who runs a deli that apparently specializes in catering parties. He also looks like a total dirtbag. Despite his rudimentary makeover consisting of what looks like white shoe polish smeared through his hair and over his eyebrows, as well as a crappy coat of white make-up over his face to make him look older, Ramses is well-played by actor Mal Arnold, who appropriately hams it up. Anyway, all of that being said, a woman looking to cater a dinner party for her daughter seeks out Ramses and asks for something exotic and "unusual". Ramses then successfully convinces her to have an authentic Egyptian feast. Turns out the proposed feast wasn't a spur-of-the-moment choice; Ramses secretly worships an Egyptian goddess and is presumably driven to commit murders based on his obsession with ancient Egyptian mythology. And, for those keeping track, this is the most times I've ever mentioned the word "Egyptian" in a review.

In the meantime there are detectives who've been trying to track down the serial killer but are frustrated due to a lack of clues. The film goes back and forth between Ramses claiming more victims and the cops basically sitting in their office and complaining about how stumped they are. Oh, and I failed to mention that Ramses disembowels his victims and plans on feeding their entrails to the unsuspecting dinner guests. Theoretically, you'd want the cops to get their shit together in time to stop Ramses from inevitably throwing the eponymous blood feast at the end, but that wouldn't be much fun for us, would it? Ironically, the boyfriend of the girl who's gonna be the guest of honor at the Egyptian feast is one of the cops who's trying to catch the killer.

So now that I've seen BLOOD FEAST, I can see how this was a big deal for the time it was made. Back in the early 60s, some movies were still being shot in black and white, so here you have this film in bright color with controversial scenes of gore on full display. As far as the gore itself, the effects are disgusting and silly at the same time; it looks like H.G. Lewis just placed pieces of meat on his actors and dumped red paint on them. But, of course, there's a certain charm to how "DIY" the effects are.

Two particular highlights, for me, are the look of the movie and the character of Ramses, who I totally expected to be annoyed by. As far as the film's look, BLOOD FEAST is full of vibrant colors that pop, which is an interesting contrast to the dark subject matter. And the reason why I ultimately liked the character of Ramses is because of how he was humanized. I didn't necessarily feel bad for him, but, to me, he came across as someone who possibly bit off more than he could chew (no pun intended) in terms of him moonlighting as a serial killer. He might think he's this powerful being with a direct link to mythological figures when in reality he's a delusional and awkward recluse with a gimp leg. Overall, for being a schlocky B-movie, BLOOD FEAST is surprisingly well-made and the acting as a whole is quite decent, all things considered. I didn't "enjoy" myself while watching this per se, but I found the experience of BLOOD FEAST to be a great and long overdue education in Splatter cinema.

Score: 7.5

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