Blood Feast (1963)
03/09/2016 - From the start, Blood Feast is exploitation trash cinema at it's best. Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, this "splatter" flick - reportedly the first of it's kind - packs serious gore into an otherwise quite terrible movie. Produced by David F. Friedman and with a screenplay (really?) by Allison Louise Downe, Blood Feast was famously crafted as Lewis' response to the lack of gore and action in popular horror films of his time (and a change-of direction from the "nudie cutie" flicks he'd been making, as that genre was becoming increasingly crowded). Dismissing the expectations of substance or quality, Blood Feast is a celebration of blood and gore carefully balanced over a paper-thin plot and never once supported by its dialogue or performances. It's absolutely magical.
From the creepy relationship between a twenty-something girl and a fifty-something detective, to the one-sided telephone conversations, to the (somehow) complete absence of any actual police officers, this thing absolutely screams amateur film-making and we'll-take-what-we-can-get casting. Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin) manages to rise above the rest of the cast - he's not good, he's just not as obviously inexperienced or untalented. Female actors are present only as an object of the villain, quite possibly cast for their bust sizes (variety is key).
Constant (and painfully delivered) reminders of the "party," which is to be the location of the film's climax - sort of - are the rice filler in this burrito. A far-too-long monologue explaining the ritualistic history of the killings - featuring a cut-scene that, um, doesn't match what's being said? - that's the lettuce. But then, this movie isn't about the story, it's about making something in 1963 that shows it all, gallons of red blood and those bulging breasts on women with absolutely nothing to say. It's offensive and crude and trash, and far more fun than much of what's been made in the last couple of decades.
It's a passionate effort to create something that appeals to the most primal of our curiosities. Blood Feast boasts a script that continuously falls flat on its face, acting that feels like the prerequisite setup for a porno scene, and continuity errors that are genuinely - laughingly - distracting. And none of that matters, because all you want is to see the next victim slaughtered and dismembered, which is entirely the point of this film and entirely what makes it such a fantastic watch.
The opening: a woman listens worriedly to a radio broadcast warning of a string of local murders while she disrobes for a bath. She quickly meets her end at the hands of a wild-eyed, machete-welding man who in turn severs and collects the lower half of her leg. Nudity, dismemberment, bubbles, blood, and that immediately boring timpani score all manage to harmonize in one of the most memorable cold-opens I've seen in a long time.
The kills themselves could easily be scenes from a silent film; no words are necessary. They play cold and detached, like our villain (the easily overlooked Mal Arnold). Your curiosity is teased and played, while your mind takes a nap, your will is silenced, your emotions devolved. And already I've paid this film too much thought, more than ever intended by its makers.
H.G. Lewis continued making films in the "splatter" niche for a few years, crafting what his fans have called the "Blood Trilogy:" Two Thousand Maniacs in 1964, and Color Me Blood Red in 1965 (both also produced by Friedman). He later moved on, again feeling the genre was becoming too crowded. His filmography contains features from many exploitation niches, but it is his work on Blood Feast that contributed most to his legacy as "the godfather of gore."
Blood Feast is well worth the 67 minutes it takes to watch; either for the comedic lack of film-making skill on display, or for the gore that will likely surprise you for it's age. Blood Feast might be an easily dismissed laugh, but don't be surprised if a few of the images stick with you, in that dark part of your mind that relishes the macabre.