Blood Feast ~ 1963, Herschell Gordon Lewis, USA
Clocking in at just over an hour, and with a reported budget of only $24,500, Blood Feast is the achievement that would forever enshrine Herschell Gordon Lewis as a name revered amongst horror aficionados the world over. While on first inspection, the lion’s share of this film sucks like friggin’ crazy, it actually can’t be overstated how ahead of it’s time Blood Feast really was. Often cited as the first ever legitimate gore film, this movie began a period of Lewis’ professional life where he would pioneer a new level of blood and guts based exploitation, and would eventually earn the honorary title “The Godfather of Gore.” Today, Blood Feast is over 50 years old, and is still far gnarlier and more explicit than most modern horror films. Time to step up your game, Hollywood.
THE PLOT~ Fuad Ramses, caterer, religious fanatic and serial teenage girl dismemberer, opens up a highly regarded catering business in what appears to be a sexless episode of Mad Men. Knowing that America is the land of religious freedom, he takes advantage of his newly acquired civil liberties and beings to horribly mutilate the shit out of young women- you know- for Ishtar. Can the police stop him before he finishes doing whatever the hell it is he’s trying to achieve? Hell yeah, but first a bunch of girls get the shit murdered out of them, and we watch it all in off-puttingly drawn out sequences of next-level motion picture violence.
How violent and bloody is Blood Feast? Well, today, the vilest, more despicable low budget splat merchants still use this as a benchmark, and I imagine John Waters probably thought it was the best thing ever when he was 16. So, it’s pretty bad.
Lewis often said that he considered himself a business man, not an artist, so he viewed his motion picture work as an entirely commercial endevour. Kudos for honesty, but this attitude is reflected in every aspect of Blood Feast’s production, this is an artless, by the numbers motion picture that put very little energy into appeasing film theorists. Start to finish, Blood Feast is plagued with boring compositions, “just enough to get it done” dialog, horrendous acting, and thick, red acrylic paint substituting for blood. All of this juxtaposed against the disturbingly retro quaintness of the early 1960’s makes this film feel like some form of Satanic kitch, like a 1950’s themed burger joint operated by Jason Voorhees. The weird thing is that I wouldn’t want it any other way, if the acting were actually good, it would probably be really, really disturbing. Blood Feast is definitely a “bad” film if you hold it up to any artistic scrutiny, but it just feels so right. This is the humble birth of gore cinema, if it didn’t sort of suck, wouldn’t that just feel inappropriate somehow?
Additionally, time has been very kind to Blood Feast. The novelty of an early 1960’s gore film existing at all is tremendous, but its clumsy production, lousy story, and prehistoric tropes make the film markedly more fun today than it has ever been before, by all accounts, this is a movie that will continue to gain entertaining value as it becomes more and more antiquated. There’s just so much to laugh at! In the movie, one of our would-be mutilation victims is dating a policeman, who appears to be in his late 40’s- and that’s weird, because I think she’s in high school. Also, at the end of the picture, our bad guy dies in exactly the same way that The Shredder does in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, so I really want to believe that Eastman and Laird owned a battered VHS copy of Blood Feast back in the 80’s. Really, I want that to be true.
There’s really no argument to be had for Blood Feast’s artistic merit. It wasn’t better than other gore films, it was just “first,” but that’s still important. At the end of the day, people don’t like Lewis’ output for its artistic merit anyway, and Blood Feast is a fun movie that deserves the worship it receives.