Monday, July 4, 2011

Blood Feast (1963)

**(out of four stars)

Instead of watching fireworks on America's birthday, I sat down and revisited what most call the original "splatter film". I'm talking about non other than Blood Feast. H. G. Lewis is often credited as being the "godfather of gore". His gore epics came long before other such films as: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and glorified franchises like, Halloween and Friday the 13th. Lewis was making gore pictures before they existed. He is considered a pioneer to some and a failure to others.

In 1963, Blood Feast opened in theaters and garnished a cult following very quickly. For being a film, not like any other, it also quickly became the target of criticism. Many critics called it garbage, and they might be right. It all depends on how you look at the film itself. To me, this is why film (or any other art form) is great. It's subjective.

Lewis and partner/producer, David F. Friedman, made up most of the crew of this film. While Lewis concentrated on photography and direction, Friedman would do sound and would often play small, uncredited roles, just to stay within the film's budget. The two collaborated on a number of projects throughout their careers. Blood Feast is one of their best known efforts to date.

The film centers around Fuad Ramses, a deranged caterer, who kills his victims and uses their assorted body parts as a sacrifice to the Egyptian goddess, Ishtar. Mal Arnold plays Ramses, the wide-eyed, crazed caterer. He's often considered the first machete wielding psychopath of cinema. I'm not sure if Lewis or Friedman ever called for great performances, but Mal Arnold is over the top, as he should be. He's effective for this b-schlock, type of film. Fills the bill just right.

The better performance comes from Thomas Wood. He plays Detective Pete Thornton. Detective Thornton is on the hunt for Fuad Ramses, although he doesn't connect the dots until his Egyptian class professor fills him in on Egyptian myths. Not to sure if I'd want this detective running around trying to find a killer in my town! He's often a bit too busy trying to get it on with his love interest.

Aside from the above mentioned duties, Lewis also did the score of the film. The score has this organ, that kind of accentuates the cheesiness of this film. By all means, it shouldn't fit, but it does. It's just another oddity to the film that makes it charming, if that's even the right word!

The gore effects were good for the day. I find them quite entertaining. Limbs are hacked, tongues are ripped out and gallons of blood is spilled. The blood is like a thick red paint (not really), but that's what it reminds me of. In one scene a woman's heart is ripped out. Again, for the time, it's very effective. Lewis said that the actress couldn't hold her breath long enough for the take, so he had to use a still frame. The scene is still effective to this day, but if they had the talent that was needed, it could have been more grotesque.

Another bit of trivia comes in the editing department. Robert Sinise, father of actor, Gary Sinise, cut this film. As he was cutting the film, he asked Friedman, where such a film would be played. It was far too graphic for the generation of film goers of that time. I guess Sinise knew the film would be a bit shocking to audiences. He would be another returning member in the H.G. Lewis camp.

Going back and listening to some of the commentary by the filmmakers you can tell that they weren't taking themselves seriously. They're quick to point out the the film isn't gold, but they also knew that they were doing something that no other filmmaker was doing at that time. It's very hard to be critical of a film like this when you know the filmmaker's initial intentions. They were obviously making films for profit and didn't take the profession too seriously. Again, depending how you view that is your opinion. I'd say that what they set out to do was shock and entertain people of that time. I'd also say that they were quite successful in their endeavors. For me, anytime you watch an H.G. Lewis film, you're going to be entertained. That's just my view on it. If you watch one of his films with a serious, analytical eye, then you're going to be disappointed.

I'd say watch it. Watch it on a weekend with some friends (maybe with some booze), but if you don't take it seriously, you'll have a great time with this film. If you do take it seriously, you're missing the point and wasting your time. Whether you like it or not, there is no denying that this film paved the way for most horror films that we see today. It truly is a staple in horror cinema.

Starring: Thomas Wood, Mal Arnold and Connie Mason

Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Screenplay by: A. Louise Downe

67 mins


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