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Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Starring: Mal Arnold, William Kerwin, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H. Hall
There’s no denying just how pivotal and important Blood Feast is in the development of horror cinema. Herschell Gordon Lewis’ film didn’t just push the boundaries of what you could get away with showing on screen, it smashed them beyond repair, ushering in a new era of graphic violence and its consequences. Gore, splatter, call it what you want, it all started here.
Like every other horror filmmaker, would-be or otherwise, Lewis had watched Alfred Hitchcock raise the bar with what you could do with the genre, but unlike everyone else, felt that it was a cheat not to show the actual actions of the murders in graphic detail. Three years later, he would do just that and in his own way, would redefine yet again just what could be done on screen when it came to violence.
Unfortunately, its importance to the genre is pretty much all it has going for it, as it is a poor, poor film in almost every other regard. From the awful dialogue and weak storyline to the truly dreadful cast and camerawork that struggles to even stay in focus at times, Blood Feast is a real chore to sit through, even with its brisk 67-minute run time.
A serial murderer of young women has claimed his fourth victim, leaving Pete Thornton, the police detective investigating the crimes, with no clues as to his identity or motivations. Each corpse has had a part of her body removed, with the most recent having her lower leg removed.
Meanwhile, Fuad Ramses is booked to cater at a party for Thornton’s girlfriend Suzette by her wealthy socialite mother Dorothy Fremont. Suggesting an Egyptian feast theme, Ramses convinces her by explaining that such an event has not been held for 5000 years.
What nobody realises is that Faud Ramses is secretly the killer of the young women and is using their body parts as part of his ancient ritual to the goddess Ishtar, who he plans to resurrect. With the body count rising, Ramses needs only one more sacrifice and sets his sights on Suzette herself…
God, this was hard work. First of all, when you’re watching a horror flick with a budget like this one had, you can’t expect the world. You’re probably not going to get the best of talent either in front of or behind the camera, but there’s a level of shoddy that just feels a step too far to be remotely enjoyable, unless you’re in the mood for a “so bad it’s good” experience. Personally, I’ve never saw the attraction in that kind of experience, so there really isn’t much to recommend here from my perspective.
I honestly can’t think of any other film where every single cast member isn’t just poor, they are absolutely appalling. Every line is delivered as if it is being read off a big card for the very first time. Amazingly, the worst offender is Mal Arnold as Faud Ramses himself. Considering he’s responsible for most of the heavy lifting throughout the film, he’s horribly, horribly incapable of even the most basic acting. Never mind the delivering lines thing, he can’t even convincingly make a sawing motion in his first scene, or replace the receiver of a telephone without making it look awkward.
The rest of the cast are almost as bad, making it impossible to care what happens to any of them, as you are too busy wincing at every leaden line that falls out of their mouths. It’s quite astonishing, really.
Is it all bad though? Not quite. That all-important gore is quite the spectacle, even if it is mainly red paint and wobbly bits thrown around. The first murder in the bathtub is genuinely shocking, with the camera slowly lingering over the victim’s naked and bloody body, her exposed breasts barely covered by bubbles, with a huge red mess where her eye used to be. It’s a brutally effective opener and one can only imagine what a jaw-dropper it was in 1963.
The other murders are equally full-on, with one unfortunate girl having her brain graphically removed, while another has her tongue ripped out of her mouth in what is easily the best scene of the film.
Fuad’s lair, while cheap and perfunctory, has some nice colour to it, its deep reds and lashings of blood contrasting nicely with the blue and gold of Ishtar’s statue. It’s not much, but it’s decent enough. And that’s about it from the positives.
Basically, Blood Feast does well at graphically murdering young women, who are usually stripped to their underwear at the very least, setting a template that would be repeated and reworked again and again for decades to come. In fact, it’s impossible to understate just how important a film it is, both in its initial impact and how it changed the very face of horror cinema.
It’s just a shame that it’s such a bloody awful film at the same time.
The Writer of this piece was: Jules Boyle
Jules tweets from @Captain_Howdy