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Review: Blood Feast

Andrew Barker, director of A Reckoning (check out my interview with him), wrote this fantastic review.

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Starring: William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Astrid Olson

Picture this; it’s 1963, you’re at a Drive-in somewhere out in the mid-west. Overhead, the stars glimmer like a scattering of diamonds in the dirt. A Chuck Berry number is playing somewhere across the sea of cars. Kennedy is still in office (just), Vietnam is, for many, just the name of a far off country, and Dylan and The Beatles are yet to change everything. In the movies, Rock Hudson and Doris Day are endlessly chasing one another round in the search of the perfect Hollywood romance, and Charlton Heston is still playing that all-American messiah. But that was just in the theaters, in the flea pits and drive-in’s it was a different story entirely. There you would find juvenile delinquents, 50ft women, teenage werewolves, flying saucers and, most dangerous of all, Rock n’ Roll!

But still, even if that was your bag, nothing could have prepared you for what was to become known as the world’s first splatter movie; Herschell Gordon Lewis’ monumental Blood Feast. The flick’s introduction to the world came by way of a trailer, in which Feast player William Kerwin announced to the audience:

You are about to witness some scenes from the next attraction to play this theatre. This picture, truly one of the most unusual ever filmed, contains scenes which, under no circumstances should be viewed by anyone with a heart condition or anyone who is easily upset. We urgently recommend that if you are such a person, or parent of a young or impressionable child now in attendance, that you leave the theatre for the next 90 seconds.

And boy, he wasn’t kidding! Nothing so shocking, primal and downright nasty had ever been seen before. Nowadays, we are somewhat numb to violence in the movies, but back in 1963 this film must have been like an atomic bomb being dropped on cinema.

Produced by legendary exploitation filmmaker David F. Friedman and directed and photographed by H.G Lewis, Blood Feast was made on the kind of budget that Michael Bay would sink on one frame. It starred Mal Arnold as psychopathic caterer Faud Ramses and Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, and was shot in a mere five days in and around Miami Beach.

It tells the story of our boy Ramses, who wants nothing more than to worship his Egyptian Goddess, Ishtar (actually a Babylonian Deity, but lets not worry too much about that hey) and resurrect her by way of an ancient and sacrificial feast. For the feast to work properly, and for these trailblazing filmmakers to drip the screen in glorious, unshakable requisite gore, Ramses needs fresh young body parts, mainly taken from nubile young women. Of course.

He takes a brain from one; the legs from another, and in the films most infamous sequence, the tongue clean from the mouth of a pretty young blonde (Astrid Olson). Using a lamb’s tongue and strawberry jam for imitation blood, HGL created one of the most visceral and memorable death scenes ever committed to celluloid. Once you’ve seen that girl’s fleshy, flapping, and unnervingly long appendage yanked from her mouth, you don’t easily forget it. In that moment HGL single-handedly created a whole new genre, and laid the foundations down for what was to become known as the slasher film. Faud Ramses can clearly be seen as a forerunner to Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, and other characters of that ilk.

Herschell Gordon Lewis blew open the doors for filmmakers like George A. Romero, Wes Craven and ultimately, Quentin Tarantino. His other films, The Gruesome Twosome, the excellent Two Thousand Maniacs, The Wizard of Gore and his final film before semi-retirement from movies, 1972’s The Gore Gore Girls, pushed horror films into new and uncharted territory. But it is Blood Feast that overshadows his other work, simply because it was the first of its kind. Regardless of the flicks lack of production values and ropey ‘acting’ style, its sheer power can still not be diminished.

HGL returned to directing in 2002 with the much belated sequel Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, leaving a 30 year hiatus that makes Terrance Malick look like a workaholic; but that was played more for laughs, than shocks.

Blood Feast remains a milestone in horror, a seminal piece of work which pretty much set the tone and formula for the modern slasher film. After all, they do call Herschell Gordon Lewis, the Godfather of Gore!


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