Herschell Gordon Lewis
Scott H. Hall
1 Hr., 7 Mins.
Blood Feast October 8, 2018
Three years after Psycho’s release, by which time Lewis would become something more than a movie-making dilettante, the latter had an epiphany. Considering that the nudie-cutie genre on which he had recently built his name was on a public-interest downturn, Lewis pondered distorting the Psycho formula to make something more exhibitable, exciting, and customer-baiting. Said the filmmaker, in an interview with Love It Loud, “My conclusion was obvious and logical: Replace tease with actuality.”
Lewis’ brainchild, a 67-minute, gore-heavy quasi-feature-length called Blood Feast, would be shot for less than $25,000 in a scant four days, and released in July, 1963. Front and center in its advertisements were Grand Guignol-esque, blood-toting, provocative imagery and language. Posters promised that there was “nothing so appalling in the annals of horror.” Recent Playboy Playmate Connie Mason, a toothy, slummy blonde, was heavily featured; hand-painted splatterings of blood playfully dripped off the garish title font.
To further pique public interest, the film’s producer, David F. Friedman, insisted some theaters hand out vomit bags. In Sarasota, Florida, he, with William Castle-level flagrance, publicly took out an injunction against the movie. Against the odds, the film, the little blatant cash cow that could, grossed upward of $4 million. In 2002, Lewis said that, despite some censorship issues in the throes of post-production, he and Friedman were able to get away with the film’s release because the censor board, who’d never had to deal with this violent a movie before, “had no regulations against gore.”
One does not have to watch Blood Feast, which is widely, and fallaciously, deemed the first splatter movie, to know that it is not good, per se. I doubt a film shot on this meager a budget and starring this maladroit a cast could be effective even if it were made by a preternaturally proficient auteur.
Its premise is simple. An aging Egyptian caterer named Fuad — who is played by a grey-paint-donning Mal Arnold — has, as the film opens, begun moonlighting as a women-hacking serial killer. The victims are, in Fuad’s wild, Cerignola-green eyes, sacrifices for the goddess Ishtar. A moronic detective (William Kerwin), in the meantime, investigates. A party for which Fuad agrees to cater early in the movie — dubbed an “Egyptian feast” — suggests that the climax might showcase an accidentally cannibalistic carouse.
Lewis’ I’ll-do-it-myself vehemence is admirable. In addition to directing and producing the movie, he also takes over musical and cinematographic duties. But he bungles each responsibility. The score lazily tromps; the photography, primarily comprising stock-still medium shots, is supine. The gore set pieces, while certainly the film’s most valuable and enjoyable-to-watch facets, do not entirely back Lewis’ supposed dedication to tease-replacing actuality. They, too, belabor the limb-littered aftermath of a murder, not the nitty-gritty. (Though there is an admittedly ingenious special effect that innovatively involves a cow tongue.)
Blood Feast is exceptionally abysmal. But its lamentability is comparable to the kind perfected by the bad-movie doyen Ed Wood: Its artistic abominableness becomes as much a spectacle as the inventive effects. Lewis wasn't conventionally talented, but he was clever, and scrappy, where it counted. In part due to its historical significance, and its trouble-free running time, I’d say this is an unintentionally funny feast that’s worth taking a bite into. C+
hile Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho garnered raves when it debuted in 1960, the filmmaker and ex-college professor Herschell Gordon Lewis was antithetically skeptical. The film was, according to its lurid, sensationalist advertising campaign, a slasher film. But the ensuing feature had a habit of foreshortening the actual violence, accentuating the less-grimy aftermath. This, in Lewis’ eyes, was akin to false advertising.