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The Godfather of Gore – Herschell Gordon Lewis – passed away on the 26th of September 2016. As a young horror fan, I was enamoured with Lewis’ work. After watching countless slasher films that displayed limited amounts of blood and guts, I somehow stumbled upon Blood Feast and had my perspective changed about early slasher horror. Made in 1963, Blood Feast is a notable effort for being one of the first ‘gore’ films.
While it’s been a while since I’ve revisited Herschell Gordon Lewis’ work, I felt it was time to dig into the archives and pull up this archaic review I wrote in the early 2000’s for Blood Feast. I’ve presented it here with no editing – so any grammatical errors are expected.
Needless to say, if you’re not familiar with Herschell Gordon Lewis’ work, then hopefully reading this review might encourage you to seek out some of his efforts.
Plot:A caterer of various different exquisite foods works also as a mass murderer. Collecting female body parts in a small ocean town, the caterer – Fuad Ramses – wants to use the body parts he is collecting for a feast to bring a dormant Egyptian goddess to life. A blood feast.
To understand the horror genre is to try and understand the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Dubbed the Godfather of Gore, Gordon Lewis essentially invented what is considered the gore horror film, or rather, a gore generation. The “Gore Generation” featured many different films ranging from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Friday The 13th to the Nightmare On Elm Street series. What began such a vast array of gory, murderous films was a small film titled Blood Feast.
Blood Feast in an ingeniously ludicrous and over the top schlock horror film that will have you throwing up and laughing your guts up in its short running time of sixty six minutes. Unless you get the cut version which runs at a mere fifty eight minutes, leaving the majority of the history making gore edited out, thus rendering the film pointless. The story opens with the brutal slaying of a woman in a bathtub. In a tense lead up, as we watch her wash herself, a knife appears in view. Her eye is slashed out and her leg is hacked off in a somewhat humorous fashion. The result is her left naked in the tub, her stump of a leg wavering in the air and her killer brandishing her leg. He flees the scene and the opening credits roll over a picture of the Sphinx. You wonder what the hell you’ve got into, check the timer and see you’ve still got sixty minutes of graphic gory nonsense to get through.
Following the nonsensical story at times feels a little useless. Gordon Lewis had wanted to create a new style of film and whilst making Belle, Bare And Beautiful – a film which carried an Egyptian theme – he created the idea for Blood Feast. A lady wishes to organise a feast for her daughter – who is studying Egyptian history at university – and wants to make it as exotic as possible. In enters Fuad Ramses, possibly the coolest and most overacted serial killer ever, and most oddly named as well. Not that the acting matters when you have such impressive killings on display. Fuad Ramses kills some seven girls in two weeks, all in glorious fashion and all over the top. Essentially Ramses is collecting different sections of the female anatomy for this grand feast to bring some Egyptian goddess back to life. It is all explained with such poor acting during an exposition scene that you only sit through it without fast forwarding to laugh at the bad sets and acting on display.
Gordon Lewis’ idea is hardly a novel idea, but the fact that the killer in the film collects different sections of the female anatomy is enough to see that the plot is not the major reason to watch this movie. Gordon Lewis created this set up as a mere plot device to showcase his graphic gore skills. By today’s standards, the scenes are obviously fake and watching a girl being scalped whilst her boyfriend lays unconscious next to her, you can visibly see her real hair underneath the scalp that is being forcibly removed. The fact that such flaws are noticeable now in a film that created the gore generation does not matter. It’s the mental image that is created that truly turns your stomach.
The focus never drifts away from the gore on hand either. In scene’s where girls get their tongues ripped out, their hair skinned off, or where they are disembowelled, the surrounding environment is drenched in complete darkness. A solitary spotlight lights the action as it occurs, Gordon Lewis ensures the viewers attention is 100% focused on the terrible actions occurring on screen. Possibly his intent to scare us, or merely to make us marvel at the great use of lambs brains in this shot, or a cows heart in that one. Where Gordon Lewis focuses on the gore and building up tension in scenes, he neglects his dialogue and acting direction. Containing some grand cheesy dialogue such as:
Call the Fremonts, fast! And for Pete’s sake, don’t let them eat anything!
It’s at times hard to take Blood Feast seriously with such outrageously bad dialogue, and under par acting as well.
What Gordon Lewis really excels with though, is creating such a vivid explosion of controversy in a time where such films as Peeping Tom and Psycho were the notorious films for being exploitation films. Where Psycho focused on a woman who ran away from her job after stealing money, her death scene featuring the graphic portrayal of a knife slicing through the air, her blood spiralling down the plughole, Blood Feast’s bath scene tops Psycho’s murder scene in the gore factor. Definitely not in the fear factor, but, during the sixties, there was no such thing as a gore film and Blood Feast was not afraid of pushing any boundaries at all.
Filmed over a mere four days, Blood Feast was made for a minimal budget, earning what it cost to make one screen alone. The cost-to-profit ratio was phenomenal. Herschell Gordon Lewis created a series of publicity stunts that would boost the films profile. At some screenings he had set up ambulances outside the theatre in case anyone fainted or felt ill. Outside theatres, people dressed as nurses handed out motion sickness bags. Whilst not original in attempting to set the mood for fear before going into the film – Alfred Hitchcock demanded cinema’s deny people entry into Psycho once the session had started, William Castle’s films were notorious for having stunts pulled at his premieres in an effort to boost the horror factor – people came in flocks to see Blood Feast.
Blood Feast’s success lead Gordon Lewis and partners David F. Friedman and Stan Kohlberg to create what was to become a series of Gore films. Focusing solely on creating vehicles for spectacular gore make up and over the top deaths. The trio’s partnership didn’t last long, but, it lasted long enough for Two Thousand Maniacs to made and Colour Me Blood Red to go into production. Along with Gordon Lewis’ knack for creating visceral images, his choice of titles for his catalogue of films always added the final touch to the cheesy dialogue and god awful acting.
Blood Feast brings itself together for a fantastically over the top finale. Fuad Ramses captures his last girl – a friend of the person he is creating the feast for, but, we really don’t care because she appears for mere moments before she is knocked unconscious and then dragged away to be chopped up to pieces. Sawing off her leg, he bakes it, planning to serve it as the lamb roast of the feast. Usually this sort of behaviour would be terrifying, but in Blood Feast it comes off as hilarious. The retro sets and dull lighting make things seem like some insane magic act. Somehow the police catch wind of what Ramses is doing and his location, chasing him away across a field. Ramses attempts to escape in a garbage truck, but the man driving the truck pulls the compactor shut, not realising Ramses is inside. The police catch up, the butch truck driver jumps out of his cab and asks them what he’s done wrong. The police explain he just killed a madman. The truck driver seems unabashed by this. The police turn away and walk off, leaving us with a final line of dialogue to giggle at:
He died a fitting end for the garbage he was.
Blood Feast turns out to be somewhat of a fun film all round and extremely worthwhile watching. The over the top acting, droll dialogue and extravagant set pieces make a history making film worthwhile viewing.
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis Cast: Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, William Kerwin Writer: Allison Louise Downe
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