Blood Feast (1963)

This is it, folks. This here is the flick that internet pundits have labeled the First Splatter Pic or First Gore Movie. Herschell Gordon Lewis’s place in film history is assured with labels like that, even if they are not entirely accurate. You, in the back! Put down that paperback copy of “Ancient Weird Religious Rites” and pay attention. It might be more precise to call Herschell Gordon Lewis (HGL)’s most famous work, Blood Feast, the first slasher film.

Newcomers to HGL are generally surprised by just how inept his films are throughout. This is probably because the prominent bloody messes put off most reviewers before they even notice the wooden acting, pathetic sets, and idiotic dialogue. Michael Medved classified HGL as a runner-up to Worst Director of All Time, but his analysis of HGL focused almost exclusively on the gore, which I feel does HGL a serious disservice. After all, Dario Argento had plenty of gore, but not everyone agrees HE’S a bottom-feeder. (I don’t, for one.)

HGL’s claim is that after finishing one of his soft-core nudie movies in Florida, he had some extra film left over. Notoriously tight with a buck, he tried to think of some way to use it and says he made a list of possible genres with his producer, David Friedman. The topic that sprang off the page at them was “gore” so that’s what they went for, writing the script in a matter of hours.

Blood Feast proved a colossal hit by low-budget standards.  This impelled Lewis to make five more gore-oriented pictures over the next 8 years, though none were as successful as the first. These have remained his most enduring successes, though he was responsible for 38 movies.  Most of the rest of these have been so thoroughly forgotten that not even HGL’s fan base clamors for their release.

And here we are – at HGL’s “big bang” as it were. The day the universe was created. Is HGL’s most profitable film as awesome as it should be? Well … maybe … to me.

THINGS TO LIKE ABOUT HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS

  • · His villains are never EE-VIL capitalists, mad doctors, or Gummint Spooks.
  • · He doesn’t use sound stages.  It’s real settings.  (Hey, those are cheap!)
  • · He doesn’t use stock footage. (Unusual for low-budget directors.)
  • · He never features a has-been actor on the skids for marquee value. (You won’t see John Carradine , for instance.)
  • · He never uses the cheap tactic of dark and murky shots, where it’s hard to make out what’s going on. (On the other hand, everything is so bright and artificial it looks like a soap opera.)

But what DOES he use? Well … let’s take a look.

A platinum blonde walks into her blue-lit apartment to the sound of a repetitious kettle drumbeat. Later on, in Lewis’ movie Color Me Blood Red we hear the exact same drum for several minutes. This one, it’s used somewhat more effectively. For one thing, ominous things might be about to happen – like, we’re watching a movie named Blood Feast and there’s a girl, obviously a victim, entering her bathroom.

She turns on her transistor radio, and in best b-movie style, the announcer immediately starts talking about the latest murder – a young girl found dead in a park. Blondie (the film doesn’t give her a name) holds her hands to her head in horror at the shock of hearing about the “latest” murder.  Does that seem realistic to you? I mean if you’re alone and you hear the radio telling about some atrocity, do you clap your hands to your cheeks in horror? Or is it just because I’m a crabbed old grouse? (Yes, I know, Mr. Begg. YOU do this. You probably wring your hands when worried, too.)

Anyway, the radio says that all women are supposed to stay inside their homes after dark. Ah, the good old totalitarian days, when the cops could order us around like that. In modern Florida, they’d probably just advise the women to get a gun license. (When this was actually done in 1967 during a massive wave of rapes in Florida, it reduced the incidence of assaults by 88%. Oops. Er. Sorry. Didn’t mean to go all political on y’all. Back to our story.) Why am I talking about Florida? That’s where HGL filmed his movies. Now you know, if you didn’t already. He was a local Florida film-maker who provided grist for the drive-in mill.

Blondie clicks off the radio, stunned by the horror of being bossed around by the announcer. I note that the sexist announcer didn’t even name the girl who’d been found dead, which seems like kind of an incomplete news item, but there you are. I say Blondie is a platinum blonde, but her hair is a really artificial shade of silver, with blue highlights, like a little old lady. Plus her blue dress and the blue furnishings in her apartment (it’s all color coordinated) add to the feeling that something’s wrong with her hair.

Cheesecake! She takes off her dress, exposing those giant grandma panties that women wore in the 1960s, and gets into the tub. She wraps a towel around her when she walks to the tub and climbs in, doffing the towel just at the last second, Just like all YOU ladies reading this doubtless do when you take a bath. She has some light reading by her tubside, titled “Ancient Weird Religious Rites”, one of my favorite books.

This is definitely not a bible with a fake embossed label.

There is a little more to this sequence that I feel impelled to point out. The girl carefully lays the book down on the side of the tub, on the bare blue porcelain. But in the close-up, the book’s on a towel. Then we cut back to the girl lying in the tub, and the book is nowhere in sight. Not only that, but the tile background has changed. There is a checkerboard pattern in the close-up, but only bare blue tile in the medium-distance shots. We’re not even 90 seconds into the movie, and HGL has already managed to screw up his continuity three different ways! A lesser genius would have impressed us by making even one such error so swiftly and so obviously.

It’s also clear that the door of the bathroom is wide open, presumably so the camera can see her. But who takes a bath with the door open? I mean, even if you live alone, usually you close it to keep the cold air out. Oh yeah, and she’s wearing lipstick and eye shadow in the tub. Like that’s likely.

But OH NO a creepy guy with a knife teleports* into the room and stabs her while she screams. HGL pulls off another awesome feat because the victim’s eye shot of the killer shows a green room, whereas all the other shots of the bathroom show it as blue (except for the close-up on the book, which add checkered tile).

[* clarification – I don’t mean he really teleports. It’s just edited so choppily that it seems that way.]

Our hero.

She shrieks piteously as HGL makes the unusual cinematic choice of zooming in on the killer’s blurred sleeve. The drum beat finally ends (Yay!), but is replaced by what sounds like a spooky Wurlitzer (I swear). The killer, whom we later learn rejoices in the moniker of Fuad Ramses, smiles cheerfully and we get a look at his handiwork. Blood is everywhere.

Whoa! As the camera slides along, we see that the soap suds don’t fully hide our girl’s charms – that’s unusual for one of HGL’s gore films. He did plenty of nudie cuties, but he kept his gore films free of nipples (until his very last gore film of the period – GORE GORE GIRLS). So seeing a glimpse of nudity here really surprises me. However, it’s not too overt, and the breasts have suds on them, and the camera doesn’t linger.  Therefore I’m suspicious that, in fact, this is a simple blunder by HGL. He didn’t notice, or forgot to edit the shot. It’s his classic slipshod tradition.

Fuad Ramses suffers from a condition seen in my earlier review of Wizard of Gore – namely, he’s a comparatively young guy afflicted with old-age makeup. I guess HGL liked his villains as older men. ‘Cause we older men are bad, I guess. The guy playing Fuad isn’t quite as juvenile as Guy Sager (Montag in Wizard of Gore), but it is still offsetting.

Anyway, Fuad takes a butcher knife (not the same knife he killed her with, either) and starts to chop away at the girl’s lower parts (not those lower parts, you perv). Meanwhile we see the girl’s hand slowly slide down the tile, proving that HGL saw Psycho. It’s somewhat less effective than Psycho’s death scene, however, since we already saw our girl laying dead in the tub, immobile, and with her hand down by her side, not up on the tiles. Chalk up another HGL continuity triumph.

I know Ken loves this kind of thing – you’d think he’d like HGL more than he does. He could find as many gaffes in one HGL film as in a whole decade of Michael Bay’s output.* Well, we finally see what Fuad was after – the girl’s left lower leg, from the knee down. He puts it in a blue bag and exit Fuad. What a jerk – he just wastes the rest of the meat!

[*Editor Ken:  Well, probably not, since I pretty much avoid Bay’s films like the plague. So the thought of wading through a decade of his work—which I’m pretty sure is exactly what it would feel like—doesn’t strike me as a promising venture.

As a side note, Sandy, you might want to do a companion review of the HGL knock-off flick The Undertaker and His Pals, which is basically a mash-up of this film and Sweeney Todd.  It might give you an idea of what Lewis’ work would have been like if he were slightly more ambitious as a filmmaker, and evidenced a satirical streak. ]

Psycho was great, by the way. So great, apparently, that HGL now has the girl’s other hand piteously droop down the tiles in death. I guess if Hitch did it once, doing it twice makes HGL twice as good as him. We then zoom in on her leg stump in the tub. It’s not a totally pathetic gore moment by HGL standards and looks rather nasty. His fake blood is not as egregious as usual, either. It’s a weird texture and doesn’t mix into the bathwater properly, but … well maybe it is pretty egregious at that.

Lest I seem to damn Lewis unjustly, let me say that this is not a bad opening. We have already seen some passable gore – certainly spectacular by the unsophisticated standards of the time. Lewis is, indeed, carving himself a name in exploitation.

Cue the opening credits.  Uh-oh, we now view the hoary face of the Sphinx, and I am amused by the fact that Lewis’s production company is named “Box Office Spectaculars”. The kettle drum again pounds away, this time accompanied by the gloomy sound of a saxophone, and the title is spattered in blood. It’s actually the best title I’ve seen in an HGL picture. Good grief – I find myself praising HGL again and again. Am I doing it wrong?

HOMICIDE BUREAU CHIEF OF DETECTIVES reads the sign on the door. No HGL movie is complete without guys sitting around in offices talking stiffly.  And so we now enter such a scene, with two guys and a desk representing a faked-up cop office. One of these guys is the Chief, and the other is Pete, a detective. Pete is probably the hero, since he’s played by William Kerwin, who shows up in several of HGL’s magnum opi. The two carefully expound facts that both are supposed to know already; i.e., that there have been no fewer than seven murders of young girls in two weeks.

The chief suspiciously eyes the man who just placed a huge caterpillar on his desk.

Oh yeah, all the bodies were “badly mutilated,” or so opine the cops. Is there a way to “goodly” mutilate anyone? Lewis is a strong believer in the maxim “don’t show me, tell me,” and so we endure his actor-substitutes regurgitating their memorized lines for our education. At least the Chief is balding – strike a blow for hairlessness!

Alas, Pete tells the Chief to get ready for one of those “long, hard ones.” In the hands of a punier director I would assume this to be a less-than-sly double-entendre. With HGL, I’m thinking a tone-deaf scriptwriter. The Chief then orders Pete to tell ALL of the radio and TV stations to repeat their canned warning about the murderer every half hour! That seems pretty intrusive to me but I guess they have the Might of Right on their side. And it’s for the women’s own good anyway. Dumb broads are getting slaughtered like chickens.

Check out the many different styles of the letter “A” in this sign.

Fuad Ramses proves to be a caterer, and into his shop strides a lady whose time has, sadly, passed. She is wearing white gloves, a bright orange broad-brimmed hat, and a mink coat, sort of a cut-rate Florida Margaret Dumont. She marches up to the sinister Mr. Ramses and introduces herself as Mrs. Fremont, doing so in the most stilted and unnatural manner possible.  A few minutes in, and she’s already set the bar for bad acting in this movie very high indeed.

But not high enough – Fuad Ramses arcs his eyebrows and bugs his eyes out like Stepin Fetchit and manages to outdo Mrs. Fremont in the Bad Actor department without even saying a word! He is my hero. I surrender, Mr. Ramses.

[Editor Ken:  Mrs. Fremont?  By gad, that does sound like the name of a Margaret Dumont character.  And frankly, one can see Groucho playing a Fuad Ramses, if it came to that: “Fremont, eh?  Well, she might say it’s free, but you always end up paying for it later.”]

Anyhoo, Mrs. Fremont is giving a party for her daughter in two weeks, and wants something … unusual. Does Mr. Ramses have any suggestions? He does indeed, and he speaks! I am not disappointed – based on the mugging he pulled off before he spoke I had pegged him as a dire actor indeed, and every word that drops from his lips confirms it. He’s abominable! Even alone in my room as I watch this tripe, I laugh out loud. He’s that funny. Mrs. Fremont is unable to see how sinister the caterer acts, and asks him what he recommends for the party.

Who wouldn’t trust this man with their life?

“Have you ever had … [eyes bug out] … an Egyptian Feast!” (cheap musical sting!)

Mrs. Fremont is thrilled. Her daughter, Yvette, is a student of Egyptian culture.

Ramses: “Yes. An authentic dinner, such as one might have attended in ancient Egypt. The actual feast of an ancient pharaoh. It has not been served for five thousand years.”

Ramses’ eyes bug out even farther, and Mrs. Fremont seems hypnotized or something. She was already excited about the feast, so the hypnosis doesn’t really add anything to Ramses’ enticements. Ramses then boasts that this type of affair is his specialty. Wait … didn’t he just say that this thing hasn’t been served in 5000 years? How can he be a specialist in it?

Ramses: “Things will be arranged just as the feast of the goddess was given five thousand years ago.”

Mrs. Fremont, puzzled, asks about the “goddess” referred to. I guess she’s not a neo-Pagan, and Ramses hurriedly covers up his gaffe. They babble on some more and when she leaves, I giggle when I see Ramses actually rubbing his hands together like Snidely Whiplash! What a buffoon! I must confess that I adore this movie from start to finish. It is to me as Brainiac is to Ken Begg.

Fuad then limps his way into the back room of his shop. He has a pretty massive limp, which makes sense because people crippled in body are almost always also deformed in mind. Just think of famous villains such as Helen Keller, Steven Hawking, Joseph Merrick, or Christopher Reeve.

I’m happy to note in HGL’s favor, in passing, that Fuad Ramses operates out of what seems to be a real store. It even sports one of those big jars of pickled eggs that no one ever eats. Fuad’s back room has a sinister red glow emitting from it. Just before he closes the door behind him, Fuad peers suspiciously over his shoulder. You know, in case we the viewer didn’t “get” that this was a scary place.

And is it scary? It has a stove, a red curtain against the back wall (?) and the World’s Cheapest Shrine. Fuad lights a brazier flanking a purple-clad mannequin of Ishtar and begins to pray. When the camera moves sideways, we see that the other brazier is already lit. That’s a time-saver. Fuad tells his gold spray-painted deity that at last he can do the Egyptian Feast. The time has come! Why didn’t he already do it on his own? Was he waiting for a Mrs. Fremont to foot the bill? What a cheapskate! He does seem to have been making some preparations ahead of time, judging by the seven (7) girls the cops talked about.

I’ve been trying to get my wife to wear her make-up like this for years.

We now cut to a girl walking out of a beauty shop while looking at the local newspaper. We zoom with a musical sting to a headline reading “LEGS CUT OFF,” which does not jive with what we saw. The girl in the tub only lost one leg! I guess even in the 1960s the press took liberties with the facts. It’s errors like this that got us into Vietnam. And in Vietnam, there were atrocities like severed limbs. See? I argued a full circle. Let’s see you outdo that, Mr. Begg!*

[*Editor Ken:  Dude, I don’t even know what you’re talking about.]

Then we see a man looking at the exact same headline, and there is another shock zoom in (with sting!) to the same headline. Then we tragically go back to the teensy police chief’s office.  He is yelling about the newspapers at Pete, who appears to be his only underling. I hate this place. Why does HGL keep putting scenes here? Oh yeah, because it saves money.

The police chief struggles mightily to wrest the title of “worst actor in Blood Feast” from his peers. However, while he does a creditable job, he is unable to sink to the depths perpetrated by Mrs. Fremont and Fuad Ramses. He does ham up a storm though, pounding his fist and whining about how “This guy’s uncanny! We can’t find one clue!” and so forth. He stoops to asking Pete if they’d checked with the girl’s neighbors. I’d guess that is pretty elementary cop stuff. Asking that of Pete is like reminding a librarian to put a book back on the shelf rightside up. But maybe the Chief’s just frustrated. Like me.

For at least a minute, Pete explains that no one heard nothing. He then mentions that the only active thing the girl took part in was a book club. Are book clubs “active”? Anyway, no one picks up on the “book club” thing yet. (Yeah, I know that’s a spoiler for later. Tough.) Meanwhile, the Chief decrees that every street for two hundred miles will be patrolled to find the killer. Can he really order that? He has a LOT of pull! Maybe he is the governor’s uncle.

Fade to Black. (See? HGL knows Film Technique.) The light re-opens upon a couple smooching on the beach after dark, though HGL’s klieg lighting kind of dominates the scene. The girl wants to go home, because of the police warning, but her smarmy boyfriend sweet-talks her into staying. She’s worried because of “all those murders and everything.” And everything? What else is there besides the murders? And aren’t they enough? Well, the boyfriend tells the girl to “prove you love me”.

From Jabootu.Net, a Public Service Message: Ladies! If a boyfriend or potential boyfriend asks you to prove you love him, it means he doesn’t love you! He’s only thinking of himself. Please do your part to prevent heels like him from contributing genetic material to future generations. Thank you.

We see the boyfriend’s simpering puss loom into the camera as he gets ready to kiss her again – frankly it’s the most horrifying thing I’ve seen in the film so far.

“Hey, turn off those arc lights! We’re trying to neck over here!”

Uh-oh! The dread Fuad Ramses advances. (Almost a rhyme!) We can tell because he drags his leg like my man Kharis. While corny, Fuad’s handicap is useful from HGL’s point of view – it lets us identify the killer even in a distance shot by the awkward way he moves. That’s smart, when you consider that he’s just a guy in a suit and tie. No weird mask or anything. On the other hand, after coming up with the “leg-dragging” idea, nothing else is done with it. Fuad’s obsession is not attributed to his leg.

For that matter, near the end of the film he has a long foot chase with some cops and manages to outrun them. (!) So I’d have to argue that HGL didn’t exploit the leg thing fully. There is also the fact that the leg-dragging is really obviously bogus. I mean, at the age of 8 me and my friends imitated Mummies stalking around the neighborhood, and we did a better job of it. But I digress.

Fuad’s shadow in the klieg lighting falls right over the smoocherinos, but the cruel script doesn’t let them notice his presence. He lifts a … stick? … overhead, and the boyfriend leisurely rolls over and looks up before Fuad lets him have it. The girl then shrieks “Howdy!” (at least that’s what it sounds like to me), and Fuad pulls out a machete. Nice – and seventeen years before Jason Voorhees ever took center stage! He swings and the camera cuts to a long shot.

It turns out that Fuad is able to pop from a standing position to a kneeling one during the course of a single machete swing, so maybe the cut was a poorly chosen one. The girl must be dead because she doesn’t move any more. It’s obvious that HGL had not yet learned that deaths are more gruesome if they last longer. So far no one has survived more than a single slash.

The camera lingers lovingly on something indistinguishable (but red!) in Fuad’s hands. It’s frankly impossible to tell what it is. An internal organ? Blood-smeared sand? Modeling clay? Could be anything. We now see the girl laying by him and she is scalped, which totally violates continuity with our first view of her on the sand after she was killed. Ah, now we see a close-up view of the girl with the top of her head chopped off. Apparently the mysterious mass was supposed to be her brain. It was kind of small though – I mean it was less than a double handful. On the other hand the girl fell for the “prove you love me” line. So maybe her brain didn’t fill all the space allotted, if you get my meaning.

I now laugh out loud as we see more of the red stuff on the sand (but without her head nearby, to give it context) and a hapless boa constrictor recoiling in disgust. I mean, what the hell, Herschell? Are there boa constrictors on Florida beaches? Is it supposed to be a generic snake, and if so, why pick such a huge, distinctive one? We see another view of the chop-top and every time it looks worse. In an “artistic” touch, we go from the bloodified head to the red revolving light of a cop car.

The cops are on the beach getting sand in their shoes and covering up the body. Meanwhile, the boyfriend, his head bandaged, is doing the second-worst job of mourning ever seen on the silver screen. (The “King” is hands-on-head guy from The Wizard of Gore.) Boyfriend cries like a two-year-old and clings to a cop and in general fails to raise my estimation of him as an actor or as a character.

To me, the most interesting part of the scene is that we see that the boyfriend is a shrimp. He is like a head shorter than the cops. (The fact that this was the most interesting part of the scene may indicate for you, dear reader, how much the scene dragged.) Wait, there is one other good part of the scene. One of the cops drags off the boyfriend forever, and the cop’s Colt revolver has a cool staghorn grip. The cops shake their heads and tell us that the killer took the girl’s brains, in case we hadn’t already figured it out.

Back to the stupid tiny cop office while the girl’s parents sob and try to answer questions. Not sure what they can add to the investigation – oh wait she was in a  dum dum DUMMM! BOOK CLUB!! Those things are death traps! The way the cop figures it out is pretty dumb though – he asks if the girl belonged to any organizations, and the parents think of the book club. I guess I don’t think of book clubs as real “clubs” myself, but I guess Fuad has to get caught somehow.

The pot thickens.

Meanwhile Fuad Ramses inserts what are clearly intestines into a boiling pot, adding to my mystification. He just stole the last girl’s brains, right? Who gave up their guts to him? He tells his gold-painted Ishtar mannequin that “it’s nearly ready.” I am starting to get worried about Fuad’s catering skills – he is going to put on the Egyptian Feast in like two weeks yet he’s cooking stuff today? Won’t it go bad? Is he going to freeze it? I want to see the Health Department’s inspection results on this joint before hiring him.

Fuad tells Ishtar that it’s the ancient formula, needed for the goddess’s rebirth. Note that there is no indication of anything supernatural in this movie, by the way – the “rebirth” thing is either symbolic or because Fuad’s a loon. And how do I know Fuad’s crazy? (Besides the killings, I mean.) Because he praises Ishtar as “mother of the pale darkness.” The Pale darkness?! That’s like a “hushed bullhorn.”

The next scene cracked me up hard when I first saw it, and still does. A guy dressed like a sailor escorts a young lady out of his convertible to her digs. (She lives in one of those two-story apartment complexes that blight the South.) A cello plays “How Dry I Am” drunkenly, and both the sailor and gal weave drunkenly back and forth as they climb the stairs. HGL couldn’t have been more ham-handed if he’d spray-painted DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE on the backs of their outfits.

It’s dumb also because the sunlight and shadows indicate that it is almost noon, or at most an hour or two away. And these maroons are already dead-drunk? Wow. In an interesting (to me) bit of culture shock, since the couple get out of the car together, it’s clear that they drove home while so drunk that they can barely walk. In a modern movie, that would be a crime akin to murder, or treason, or saying a racial epithet.* (That last assuming a white character, of course.)  But drunk driving was not considered the crime of crimes that it is today. Yay, modern mores!

[*Editor Ken:  You forget smoking.  Remember that scene in Deep Blue Sea where a guy lit up a cigarette, and you just knew a monster shark would be snacking on him in a minute or two?]

Lewis helpfully gives us two clues that the scene is sinister. He starts playing Fuad’s Theme (that damn kettle drum), and we see Fuad glaring from a nearby doorway. It’s weird that the humorous cello solo is interspersed with Fuad’s Theme. I doubt Lewis was trying to combine terror and comedy, so I’ll just put it down to incompetence.

Sailor Boy hugs and smooches the girl on the stoop and then waves goodbye as she goes in. He doesn’t even try to get invited for a nightcap (a daycap?).  I suppose he realizes he’s too drunk to perform. Or he’s too drunk to remember that the girl is drunk, too, and maybe some nookie may have been forthcoming. Or Lewis just had to get him offstage as soon as possible so Fuad could kack the drunken damsel. Fuad lurches out of a stairwell and makes a beeline for her door. Go get ‘er, tiger!

Fuad politely knocks on the door, and the girl answers in her bra (WTF?). Fuad lunges for her and pushes her onto her bed, his fingers in her mouth. The editing here is weird – is her bed next to her front door? Also, I wonder why she doesn’t just bite him. Can you be too drunk to bite? The girl’s moans and cries sound like she’s in an echo chamber – I guess HGL is incapable of filming a scene without something being off-kilter. This time, it’s the sound quality.

We see Fuad from behind, his hand working busily away at (presumably) the girl’s mouth. Meanwhile, the girl’s hand slowly droops to one side, as if she was dead. But why is she dead? We then see that Fuad has, in his hands, a tongue. It’s as long as Gene Simmons’, too. The girl lies there with blood around her mouth and I guess she IS dead. Do you collapse that fast from losing your tongue? I never thought of that as a merciful death.

In a side note, it has been oft-reported in the hobby press that the poor girl had to put an actual semi-rotten sheep’s tongue in her mouth for Fuad to remove. If this is true, then Herschell Gordon Lewis has yet another crime to answer for at St. Peter’s gate, because its extraction is not visible in the final film. We see Fuad holding the tongue, and the girl’s open mouth, and that’s all. By golly if I was forced to put a raw animal tongue in my mouth for a movie, they better use every damn inch of the footage or there would be hell to pay. This hapless girl ended up doing it for nothing! What a trooper.

As her head keels over to one side, she unrealistically opens her mouth wider to let extra stuff drip out. Another case of HGL not knowing how dead people behave. Or don’t behave, rather. I mean, you can visibly see the girl working her jaws to expel the goop.

We cut to a living room featuring the beloved Mrs. Fremont. A young blonde strolls up and this proves to be Suzette, the female lead. We are finally introduced to her 25 minutes into the movie. Mom tells Suzette all about the party she is throwing. I seem to recall planning my own parties when I was in my 20s, which is how old Suzette seems to be. Even if she’s supposed to be in high school, I still think having Mom plan everything is a little weird.

Poor Suzette, though. In the midst of mom telling her, she breaks in, and says, “But I was thinking about all those murders, and it sort of takes the joy out of everything.” Yeah, those serial murders sure are killjoys.  She even mentions how the police haven’t found any clues. How would she know that? Are the police admitting they haven’t found clues?! That’s not the police I know and love from today’s less sophisticated age. [Future Sandy: she proves to have an “in” at the cops, so it makes sense after all. Kind of. ]

In another great line, she “shudders when I think about that maniac … butcher, butchering all those girls.” It seems clearly like a miscue (saying “butcher” twice in a row) but does HGL reshoot the scene? No way. It was plenty good enough for him. Mom then reassures Suzette that “the dinner party will take our minds off all these horrible killings.” This maybe is a bit shallow, but then Mrs. Fremont has definitely not been portrayed as a Deep Thinker type.

The level of dialogue in this scene, by the way, is not up to 6th grade school production standards. If you think I’m joking, or exaggerating, go ahead, rent this movie. I double-dog DARE you. Sadly, we now undergo Mrs. Fremont talking on the phone for a while giving us absolutely no new information. I don’t think we’re supposed to be ogling her.

Pete the cop decides to devote the rest of the movie towards hunting down and imprisoning the decorator responsible for his living room wall.

We move to the Ancient History lecture that Suzette was attending. The professor mentions Ramses, and gestures to a stylized gold mask on the wall behind him. He has several cheap Wal-Mart level decorations on his wall, plus some incredibly awful and busy wallpaper. Today’s topic (besides Ramses): the cult of Ishtar. His class is full of young lipsticked women (that bright-red shade really stands out). Yeah, like every ancient history class I’ve attended.

Near the back wall, we see Pete the cop taking notes. I guess he’s bucking for Lieutenant and figures boning up on Egyptian gods might help.  Or maybe the town is so small that this is all they have for entertainment. Anyway the professor drones on and on and is as boring as many of my real professors. When the professor mentions virgin girls serving Ishtar, Pete looks at Suzette Fremont (sitting next to him) and they smirk at each other. Are they supposed to be boyfriend/girlfriend? Art mimics life! The two actors got married to one another around this time.

While the professor gibbers on, we have a flashback to ancient Egypt. There a redhead with bright red lipstick in a white robe (lots of redheads in Asia and Africa in those days, as seen for instance in The Conqueror) lies on an altar, while dry ice helpfully conceals the lack of any backdrop or city set. The evil priest walks up to the intended sacrifice and terrorizes her with a boa constrictor. What is it with boa constrictors and this movie? Is there a less terrifying snake?

The priest then stabs her with a knife while a trumpet plays a comedy riff. (That’s what it sounds like, anyway, although I’m sure that wasn’t the intent.) The professor explains about the Blood Feast of Ishtar, but what’s to explain? Bits and pieces of the girls are used to prepare a meal. It’s not rocket science. It doesn’t make the movie scarier, or more sensible, or help things hang together in any way. Like so much of HGL’s output, it’s just filler.

An example of Egypt's well-known "pea soup" fogs.

HGL’s fabulously realistic recreation of Ancient Egypt.

When the priest yanks the knife out of the girl, we see her ancient Egyptian bikini lines. Then he supposedly yanks her ancient Egyptian heart out and we see blood and stuff. He walks away with the heart, and we see the girl’s inert corpse. More blood drips on her blouse from above, though there is no source for it.

Back to the boring old prof., who says the blood feast was abolished by some dude in the 15th dynasty. Just to check on HGL’s accuracy, I look up when the 15th dynasty was, and it was 3500 years ago instead of 5000 years ago like Fuad says. Close enough, really. The lecture ends, and Suzette and Pete walk up to the front of the room and shiver at the horror of what was wrought in Ishtar’s name. Their conversation is so patronizing that even I blanch and refrain from reporting it. I’m skipping ahead to the next scene.

It turns out that Pete & Suzette are indeed sweeties. At least Pete calls her “honey,” and she insists he come to her party. [Future Sandy: he doesn’t, though.] Pete offers her a lift home. She has to phone her mom first, whom she creepily refers to as “Mother,” as in, “let me call Mother first.” Pete proves to have libido on his mind on the way home and stops the car for what I assume is a little kissy-face. But no, instead he leans back in his seat and stares at the stars. (It’s a convertible! Yay!)

Next to him is a hot blonde (a former Playboy playmate, no less), and he’d rather look at the stars and philosophize than get to first base. Pete is a class act. At least for a while, then he gets to the kissy-face stuff. But before it gets too mushy for the pre-teens, a news bulletin cuts in and we discover a girl has been found “near death.”  That’s really nasty, and it also conflicts with the tongue-removal we saw. In another awkward note, the bulletin says that the “girl’s identity has not been established.” Really?

All is explained in the ensuing set-piece in the cops’ office. The girl was found on the outskirts of town, the side of her face hacked away. The cops hurry to the girl’s hospital room, hoping against hope that she can identify the killer. So it’s not the tonguectomy, but another assault by Fuad which we were not allowed to witness.

Mr. Lewis – remember us? The audience? You are supposed to be showing us scenes of violence. It was you that titled this thing Blood Feast. Are your gore scenes so expensive you had to skip one? They sure don’t look it. Or does your movie need padding, at 67 minutes? (Or only 58 minutes for the “edited” version, for which I can’t imagine a target audience.)

The cop calls the girl Janet, so I guess she was identified.  All she says is that her attacker had “wild eyes,” was a “horrible old man” and kept saying “Eetah.” Her face is completely bandaged, which means HGL could re-use a previously-seen actress in the role. After her not-very-useful report, she collapses and in best movie-hospital style proves to be dead. The doctor even takes her pulse and shakes his head. So there you are.

The IV bottle is filled with grape Koolaid, which may explain the patient’s upcoming tragic death.

The cops take notes. Their new plan is pick up every single person over 40 in the area who has a police record. Yeah that narrows it down. Plus they ponder the name Eetah. My own theory is that the girl obviously mispronounced Eegah!, the name written in blood. Of course, HGL’s theory is probably that it’s a mispronounciation of Ishtar, the Egyptian goddess.* But who are you gonna believe? Plus if you think about it, Eegah the caveman is probably older than 40 – more like 40,000. On the other hand, Eegah! is one of the few films in existence which is worse than Blood Feast, so I’m not doing myself any favors switching genres.

[*Editor Ken: What?  How the hell does “Eetah” sound like “Ishtar”?!  Hmm, wait, that does substantiate that this was what HGL was thinking.]

The cops head to their car, where a couple of uniformed officers open the doors for them, like chauffeurs. Meanwhile the mighty Wurlitzer plays on. I swear the sound track of this movie sounds like an old-time ice skating rink’s background music.  If it seems like I’m too focused on the music accompanying HGL’s movies, let me explain. He often did his own music, and even played it, so he is far more responsible for the soundtrack than a normal director. (And yes, I do mean to contrast HGL with “normal” in that sentence.) His music and other sound choices are bizarre, to say the least. But at least it’s not canned music. Give the man that much.

Fuad Ramses sits in his store with “sad” music playing (?). He opens an envelope which contains a handwritten note ordering a copy of his book, “Ancient Weird Religious Rites”, and asking him to send it C.O.D. to an address in Miami. Amusingly, the girl (you can tell from the handwriting) asks for the book to be sent in a plain wrapper. No doubt she’s hoping for some salacious images inside. I think we’ve just figured out how Fuad finds his victims. Obviously a book such as this would be a HUGE hit among the nubile females of Florida.

After reading the note, Fuad gives forth a Sinister Smirk™, just in case we, the audience, hadn’t twigged to what’s going on. Officially, though, this is the movie’s first connection of the “book club” with Mr. Ramses. Fuad now telephones his Future Victim’s™ house and finds out that the girl (Trudy) is over at the Fremont place. Apparently she’s a pal of Suzette F., our heroine.

Rather than being discouraged by the fact that his future victims know each other, and thus killing one might alert the other, he rolls his eyes to the heavens and prays, “Oh Ishtar, mother of Black Sun (?). Tomorrow, you shall have life. For I, Ramses, shall give you life. Only one more thing do I need. And the formula will be complete.” Dialog to live by. Next time I’m asked to given an invocation at church I’m strongly considering quoting Fuad here. It’s ecumenical!

What bugs me most about this shot is how accurately Ramses copies the expression Hollywood uses when trying to make an actor seem “spiritual.”

We cut to a swimming pool with several bathing beauties, all wearing full make-up and their hair all done up fancy. We hear a perky little piano beat. After less than 10 seconds of the piano, the drum beat (Fuad’s theme) returns and a sinister shadow falls over one of the Pool Girls. Is she about to be killed? No, because we now see the murderous Fuad Ramses clambering clumsily over a wall, evidently getting away.  That bum leg NEVER gets him in trouble! The girls in the pool shrug (literally!), and off our man limps.

The girls chat about the party being planned by Suzette’s mom, and they carefully dry their legs. (This apparently being the only part of their body which got wet, seeing as their coiffure and lipstick survived intact). Suzette tells her friend that she thinks Mom is planning an Egyptian Feast. I’d guess from the title of the film that it’s probably not hummus and crackers. Suzette then ploddingly explains (again) that she has been interested in Egyptian culture lately. (Suzette, not Mom).

One of the girls strolls towards her car in a pleasant suburb. I wonder if it’s Trudy. At least I think it’s one of the girls who was at the pool. She’s not wearing a bikini anymore, and it’s a long shot so it’s hard for Eagle Eye Sandy to tell. The drum beat pounds away like a Roman galley slave driver. We watch the girl march for quite a distance – around the back yard, past a car, down the driveway. Hey, got to extend the movie to a full 67 minutes, right?*

[*Editor Ken:  Hmm, that sounds familiar.  Is she attacked by ‘Bigfoot’?]

Suddenly the drum beat breaks into a roll and our limping killer lurches after her. He hits her across the back of the head and she drops without a shriek. He then clumsily picks her up and carries her off. This all happens in broad daylight, in late afternoon (I can tell by the shadows), with houses and lawns all around. I guess there was no Neighborhood Watch in 1963 Florida, because it seems like a pretty risky place to commit a crime. The camera lingers on one final piteous shot – her dropped handbag (?). Tragic.

Heartbreakingly, HGL returns us to his horrible little cop cubicle, with the Chief on the phone. It’s hard to convey just how bad these scenes are – stiff acting; labored exposition; fixed, immobile camera. They add nothing as far as I’m concerned and just make the process worse for all involved. Especially me. The Chief says how Trudy, Suzette’s friend, is missing. Pete is worried, too. The Chief exits his office, and leaves Pete behind with a pile of papers. What police chief lets his subordinates work in his (the chief’s) private office?

Here is an example of just how stupid the dialog is. The Chief told Pete “we’re doing everything they can,” then ordered him to “keep me posted.” Isn’t Pete one of his cops? Isn’t Pete assigned to the case? (No surprise there, though.) Shouldn’t he tell Pete, “do everything YOU can?” Also, Pete seems to be the only plainclothesman on the force. It’s maddening. I hate this room more every time HGL drags me here.

Pete now, in the middle of working on the case of the missing girl Trudy, Suzette’s friend, phones Suzette to tell her he’ll be late for her dinner party.  I guess Trudy wasn’t that close of a friend, so they’re going through with the party anyhow. Suzette apparently expounds to Pete that she is having an Egyptian feast hosted by Fuad Ramses in honor of the goddess Ishtar, just like in the lecture they attended. At least, all these points are remarked upon in Pete’s half of the conversation.

We move to Fuad’s private nook, where we get to see the boa constrictor slither along the floor. I can only suppose that someone on HGL’s crew owned the pet snake, and HGL decided to get as much use out of it as possible, as this is the third time it’s shown up. “Ancient Weird Religious Rites” is prominently enthroned on a lectern, which seems rather presumptuous of Mr. Ramses – doesn’t Ishtar’s 5000 year old cult have any scriptures more hoary than the book Ramses wrote himself?

Fuad is dipping something unnameable (at least, I can’t figure out what it is) into his boiling pot, and we hear a girl moaning softly in the background. We also see Fuad’s lacquered wooden worktable, laden with blood and frying pans, and a fake severed hand. Wood? That must be hard to keep clean. Fuad starts talking about now he has to add the flavor of blood … dead blood, and the girl’s sobs become louder.

He pulls down a whip which is clearly made of decorative strings, and hobbles over to the girl, whose back is mostly exposed, chained to a rafter or something against his wall. He urges Trudy to give herself up to the Goddess, but his last-minute attempt at missionary work falls on deaf ears. He then begins to flog her gently, and never have whip marks been so plainly created by hitting a girl with red-painted strings.

Eventually, she collapses in that idiotic manner I have previously discussed in my reviews of HGL’s films; the girl is limp, hanging from ropes (or chains in this case) and yet somehow remains erect, with her arms and elbows bent. Fuad then gets a loving cup – seriously, it is the kind of prize you’d expect to receive for winning “best in class” at a dog show – and holds it under the girl’s dress to catch the feeble dribble of faux blood produced. In fact we do not see a single drop of blood fall into the bowl.

Back to Pete in the Chief’s office. Lots of cigarette butts in the ashtray indicate the passage of time. Suddenly he says aloud, “Eetah! Ishtar!” and makes the connection between the hospital girl’s statement and the mad cult of Ishtar. So I guess my own caveman theory was mistaken. Pete now calls Dr. Flanders – the scholar who spake on the blood cult – and asks him some questions. We hear and see Pete’s side of the story only. It’s like one of those old Bob Newhart sketches, except without humor or interest. Massive parts of Blood Feast’s storyline are delivered by one-sided phone conversations. Pete does it, the Chief does it, Suzette does it; hell, even Fuad Ramses does it. Blargh!

Note that Fuad cooks his feast in a pizza oven.

Fuad is preparing his feast in an oven propped up on cinder blocks. He lovingly shoves a fake leg on a cookie sheet into his oven. I’m sure we all recall that in the very first murder we saw, Fuad absconded with a girl’s leg. This is plainly supposed to be the same leg. Presumably it was kept frozen, because this is at least two weeks later, as we know from the dialog. But then why is it still bloody? Even better, I am secretly delighted when I realize that the leg Fuad chopped off was a left leg, and the leg in the oven is a right leg.

Fuad comes back to the oven when the dish is done. He almost pulls open the handle with his bare hands, flinching at the last minute and using a towel. I guess he’s not very experienced as a chef.  The leg seems done to a turn, though I am suspicious of the dry ice fumes that pour from the sides of the oven. Also the leg is now on a white-enameled cookie sheet instead of an aluminum one. The wonders of the modern kitchen.

Suddenly we see Pete the cop trying to break into the back of Fuad Ramses Exotic Catering. I hope he’s got a warrant. A siren plays on the music (it’s clearly part of the music, not of the foreground sound), and Pete waves a cop car up. This contains two harness bulls and some guy with a hat that he calls “Frank.” Is this a new character, introduced near the end of the movie? Or did Pete just forget to call his chief “Chief”?  My latter theory is confirmed, as Frank proves to be the Chief when we see him closer up. I knew HGL wouldn’t spring for another actor’s salary.

They rush into Fuad’s shop and look around. Nope, no bloody corpses here. Then they have the bright idea to check out the back room.  The back room is dark except for a spotlight on the curtains at the rear, but when they switch on the lights OH MY GOODNESS. Oh wait, we knew it was full of bloody stuff – we’ve seen this room like eighteen times in the movie already. Well I guess the big reveal was suspenseful for the cops, if not us.

“And most recently of all, a “Roman Toga Party” was held from which we have received more than two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion SO profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.” Animal House

I swear I didn’t realize the foreground object was a head until the fourth time I’d watched this film.

When the lights finally come on, lo and behold Trudy’s corpse lies on the table with a LOT more blood sprinkled over her than we saw during the flogging. It seems like Fuad’s bowl didn’t manage to collect much blood, if all this was left over. We get a long closeup of Trudy’s corpse which is pretty distasteful, but it also confirms that, in fact, she has no wounds, just a lot of fake blood poured over her.

For some reason hunks of plastic or something are on her back. It’s possible they are supposed to be flayed flesh, but they’re just sitting there like those hot rocks some massage therapists use to heal a bad back. Between her legs a bowl of salad is comically set, complete with mixing forks. It does look like Fuad sprinkled blood over the salad. I guess he wanted hemoglobin for the dressing, which might explain why he needed so little.

It took me a couple seconds staring at the freeze frame of the salad before I could figure out what the weird object is in the foreground – it’s a head! It’s so phony and badly constructed that I couldn’t parse it at first. Also it is covered with blood, but since everything else in this movie shares that characteristic, I should have been able to see through it. The head is bald, despite the fact that it is supposed to be a girl’s. (Which I know not only because all the other heads have been those of girls, but because it has neatly plucked early 60s eyebrows.)

Pete then theorizes, “If I’m right, then these are the leftovers from the preparation of the Feast of Ishtar.” He then carefully explains to Chief all about the feast, like this is important information. Isn’t it more crucial that they find Mr. Ramses? Who cares about the cult’s theology, dude? Let the prosecutor worry about Church vs. State issues.

As they peer around they find ANOTHER bowl of salad on a rear table, but this one doesn’t seem sprinkled with blood. So I guess Fuad has a blood and no-blood table at the Feast of Ishtar, kind of like the morose little vegan spread set up on a corner table at the neighborhood barbecue.  HGL then unwisely gives us another look at the false head. Even the gallon of blood poured over it doesn’t help.

So, consider this. Pete knows that his fiancée, Suzette, is having an Egyptian feast catered by Mr. Ramses. Pete has planned and carried out a police raid on Ramses’ catering shop. Pete is looking at the corpse of Suzette’s friend, Trudy. But only now does he suddenly do a double-take and say, “Holy smokes, we got to get to the Fremont house!” No wonder Fuad was able to kill so many girls in this town – the cops are friggin worthless.

The Chief proves even more useless when he immediately yells at a bunch of offscreen cops and orders them to call the Fremonts and … take a guess. Does he want the Fremonts to (A) run for it? (B) Try to hold Ramses? (C) Barricade themselves in a room? Nope, none of those. He says, “For Pete’s sake, tell them not to eat any of the food!” Not the first thing I would have thought, but hey, maybe the Chief’s an amateur chef. Oh yeah, then he tells them “try not to make Ramses suspicious until we get there.” Yeah that’s brilliant, with a crazed killer in the house. These cops are great. But at least it looks like they’re going to catch the killer themselves, which rarely happens in a HGL gore flick.

We now move to the dinner party, which is pretty obviously made to please Mrs. Fremont and not her daughter. For instance, most of the guests are middle-aged. In one quick shot I see three adult men and four adult women. Isn’t that sufficient numbers to waylay Fuad Ramses, who is, after all, crippled, and not particularly tall? We’ll never know, because a youthful beauty is hogging the phone, so the cops’ call can’t get through. Strike a blow for stereotypes.

The girl explains in some detail that her boyfriend is overseas and she’s “holding,” waiting for him to get on the horn. It seems kind of presumptuous to me, to attend a friend’s party and then make a long-distance call on the friend’s phone while snooting the actual festivities. I suppose this level of rudeness didn’t occur to HGL, though. Remind me not to invite him to any of my parties.

Ramses walks in and commands the party’s attention. He tells Mrs. Fremont that to make the feast more authentic, he needs Suzette’s help. Uh-oh. He takes Suzette alone into the kitchen, which is notably empty of all foodstuffs. Suzette is obviously surprised, and Fuad is inanely nonplused. Didn’t he think she’d wonder about that?

In fact, I’m wondering about that. Where IS the food? Was he worried she’d see all the blood and stuff? Except it’s cooked so there wouldn’t be blood. But maybe she’d get suspicious upon seeing hands and legs, you say. Well yeah, but he could have covered it up or kept the more obvious hunks in a cooler or something. I’m sure the actual reason for the absence of the chow is because HGL didn’t want to lug all his fake body parts into whosever house he’s using for this bit.

I don’t get it. Where is HGL heading with this scene?

Fuad’s excuse is that the food is in the garage. He then asks Suzette to be kind to an old man, and do whatever he says. Filled with naïveté, she agrees and lies down on the counter, apparently not suspicious that he’ll cop a feel. He then tells her that she needs to raise her arms, close her eyes, and say the prayer to Ishtar which is really short: “Oh Ishtar, take me unto yourself.” That’s it.

However, Suzette is such a ditz that she proves unable to follow these simple instructions. She giggles, sits up, says “This is silly,” gets the prayer wrong – it’s like watching Gilligan try to follow a recipe. No doubt HGL wanted us to be all nervous Susan is about to get whacked. Instead, it makes me irritated – not because I particularly want Susan dead, but just because the scene is annoying and it goes on waaaay too long.

She keeps popping up like a jack in the box and she never does get the prayer exactly right. She keeps saying “oh MY Ishtar” instead of “Oh Ishtar”, but apparently that’s good enough because Fuad puts up with it. I guess he can tell that this is the best he’s going to get. He pulls out his machete, says his part of the prayer, and gets ready to behead Suzette.

But just at that point, the meddling Mrs. Fremont walks in with some frivolous remark and sees him about to off her daughter. She holds her hands up in best silent-movie fashion and shrieks, as Fuad hobbles away. A neighbor stands right in the middle of the street (gotta love this stuff), watching the film crew follow after Fuad, and we hear the fake sirens on the soundtrack again. I guess the cops are finally arriving.

Pete and the Chief pull up into the Fremont’s driveway, completely ignoring the fleeing Ramses, who’s not 50 feet away with machete still in hand. Eventually, Pete notices Ramses, and points, sending the two uniforms after him. Then Pete and the Chief rush into the kitchen. Pete comforts Suzette, while the Chief informs Mrs. Fremont that the feast is police evidence (!). Her response, “I guess we’ll have to eat hamburgers for dinner tonight.” Wow. I say wow.

Despite the fact that he was just in a suburban neighborhood, suddenly Fuad is running through the bleak wasteland of a city dump – chased by the two cops, soon joined by Pete and the Chief. Here follows a Great Moment in Filmdom™. It’s on record that when HGL filmed the chase scene, he naturally enough told the cops not to catch Fuad, because he had another fate in store for the killer cultist.

But the cops misunderstood, because when they chased him, they kept reaching Fuad and passing him by. Which is even worse. HGL said that he told the cops not to do that – they are supposed to chase Fuad and NOT catch up. It seems like a simple-enough task. But his cop actors (maybe they’re real cops, who knows?) were unable to comprehend these orders.

As a result, HGL had to film the chase scene several times, continually restarting. Thus we see Fuad, with his severe limp, constantly outdistancing four healthy men all running at full speed. Sometimes the cops are like 10 yards away, sometimes 50 yards. It’s rather reminiscent of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Lancelot keeps running and running at the castle in the swamp, but never seems to get there. The cops have their guns out, but don’t shoot, even when Fuad throws (?) his machete at them.

The Great Escape.

The music is still stellarly wrong – there is an orchestra keening a sad song, kind of like what you hear when lovers part. Surely this ought to feature tense chase scene music. But HGL never fails to miss a cue. At one point the uniformed cops are just missing from the race and all we have left is Pete and the Chief. Maybe HGL couldn’t stand the cops’ ineptitude any more – and if HGL is upset with your performance you must be really bad.

Suddenly Fuad sees a route of escape – a garbage truck! He quickly, if clumsily, clambers into the back, and it takes off. But OH NO the truck’s crusher activates and Fuad is caught in it. Alas poor Ramses. Pete stops the truck and the third-worst actor in the world jumps out wearing a wife-beater, a big cigar in his mouth (dude you’re an assistant garbageman, not a mafia goon). They open the truck’s back and a big smear of blood and a broken wooden plank(?) are all that are left of Fuad Ramses. I note in passing that the Chief is wearing a completely different hat at the dump than he had at Ramses’ catering joint.*

[*Editor Ken:  Well, duh.  That was his suspect-chasing hat.]

Any normal director would end the movie here. HGL, not normal, continues with Pete explaining to the Chief a bunch of stuff we already know. Like about Eetah and Ishtar sounding alike. He explains it in quite a bit of detail, telling us all manner of things we know, like about “Ancient Weird Religious Rites” (a book I keep at my bedside even today). They end with some lame-ass remarks, and don’t even try to retrieve Fuad’s corpse. The garbageman just closes up the back of the truck again and drives away. Doesn’t that violate some ordinance or another?

Ishtar weeps for Fuad, as do I.

I am filled with self-loathing because of my own horrible tastes. Why do I keep watching this man’s films? He clearly hates me and everything I love.

CARVING MAGIC

The disc I own (by Something Weird Video) has a short titled “Carving Magic,” which teaches us how to cut up a hunk o’ animal properly. I’m not sure if it was helmed by Lewis, but one of the main actors, William Kerwin, is one of HGL’s acting troupe. In fact, he plays Pete the cop in Blood Feast. If it is by HGL, it’s clear he missed his calling. His bright lighting and over-emphasized, but clear, acting is helpful for an educational short.

I think my favorite part of “Carving Magic” is the fact that the turkey Kerwin carves at the start is besieged by about a pound of parsley ringing it. And that the only other dish on the table is a small mound of red jell-o lounging on a depressed-looking cabbage leaf. The culinary delights of middle America, before we knew about fruits and vegetables.

Another great moment within this film is that halfway through, Kerwin shows his friends another film about carving. I’m not sure what the point is of this – it seems insane. I mean, why have a film-within-a-film in an educational short? Especially since the film repeats the exact same instructions they gave us earlier! (It’s even the same narrator, Martha Logan.) I guess the director had to pad his short out to 20 minutes, and how much can you really say about carving meat?

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Mal Arnold (Fuad Ramses) has only been in a smattering of films, and was only a star for Blood Feast. Tragically two of his roles were as “nudist” in a pair of HGL’s softcores. I’ve heard Ken B. complain about seeing certain women doff their blouses. Still, I bet he’d rather watch a whole topless volleyball team of Karen Blacks rather than encountering Mal Arnold in the altogether. The best thing that can be said about Mal Arnold’s acting skills is that he never ever forgets which of Fuad’s leg is supposed to be crippled.

William Kerwin (Pete the cop) is a staple actor in Lewis’s collection of ne’er do wells. He showed up in several of his pictures, and then actually went on to a long career on TV. You have probably seen him in one or another forgettable 80s series.  He is sadly miscast as a male lead, but I can see that he might be able to pull off a big part, or even a supporting role. And while I don’t care for him as lead, Kerwin’s clearly as good or better than the numbnuts that Lewis uses as masculine stars in his other works.

Connie Mason (Suzette Fremont) was a Playboy Playmate in 1963, and also starred in Two Thousand Maniacs. Apparently she fell in love with William Kerwin (who must have hidden virtues – I certainly can’t see ‘em) and actually married the guy. She kept working on TV through the 1980s as well, and despite her somewhat sordid start via a skin mag, kept it clean through her film career. She was even in a Bond movie (Diamonds Are Forever), though her part was so miniscule she went uncredited.

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  • BeckoningChasm

    I have to say, the main Jabootu page and part one of the review had me scratching my head for the first few paragraphs. Why is Ken talking to himself so much? Then the penny dropped.

    Now, you’ll change the bylines and I’ll look like a LOON.

  • Nope, that’s why I leave the comments here. Besides, everyone knows I screw this stuff up all the time. (In this case, remembered to credit Sandy in part 2, but not in part 1.)

    I have to say, the main Jabootu page and part one of the review had me scratching my head for the first few paragraphs. Why is Ken talking to himself so much?

    Apparently you don’t remember much from when you met me. Talking about my self is like “my thing.”

  • BeckoningChasm

    Well, I don’t remember you using the third person so much–

    “Ha, Ken, looks like I have you just where I want you, SuperFOOL!”

    “That’s what you think, Ken!”

    “What?! How could you foil my plans so easily, Ken!”

    Incidentally the review is top-notch. When I first stated reading Sandy’s reviews I put a bunch of HGL stuff in the Netflix queue. Really, though, it sounds as if HGL simply didn’t care about the audience at all–once you’d paid your dime, he could not care less. I can imagine him putting a sign in the theatre, “This way to the egress – 25 cents.”

  • Rock Baker

    I can’t bring myself to read more than the first few paragraphs because it seems a strong possibility that I might see this flick someday. The one I saw was Two Thousand Maniacs, which took me by surprise and turned out to be a decent B picture. Because of that I decided that I’d see the other two (Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red) if I got the chance. What I read of the Color Me Blood Red review didn’t inspire a lot of confidence that the better-than-I-expected streak would continue. Due to its place in film history, however, I figure I’ll need to see Blood Feast at some point. So I can’t let myself read the review, but I always find the first few paragraphs to be an absolute scream.

  • I agree, I thought this was Sandy’s strongest piece yet. He’s really getting on a roll. This is book material, right here.

  • BeckoningChasm

    By the way, the poster graphic–that’s not the real one for the original Blood Feast, is it? None of those names look familiar (other than HGL as the writer).

    But HGL isn’t the credited writer of Blood Feast, is he? I thought it was a woman, Alison Downe…

  • alex

    Sandy I read and enjoyed your HGL reviews. As a lover of bad cinema I watched most of his films and there is something I just don’t understand about him. Maybe you or one of the contributors can explain. How come this educated and intelligent man made such stupid and inept films?

    HGL has a Master’s degree in Journalism, was a teacher of English Litterature, ran a sucessful advertising agncy so how come when I watch one of his film it seems like it was directed by a crazy drifter? I know many people would say HGL had contempt for his audience and didn’t care but even when he did try to make a real picture, 1967’s A Taste Of Blood, it was an inept and crashing bore and just as crazy and nonsensical as the rest of his output.

    Roger Corman’s intelligence and education showed in some of his Poe adaptations, Harold Harvey’s Carnival Of Souls was a sophisticated horror film even if it was a 30 thousand dollar cheapie made by an industrial filmaker. So how come HGL never could ‘pull it together’ and become something like a real filmaker? I honestly don’t get it.

  • fish eye no miko

    Just as a point of fact: Ishtar was a Sunerian Goddess, not an Egyptian one. Yet another way HGL messed up in this film. [shakes head]

  • BeckoningChasm

    I think the difference between Lewis and Corman is outlook. And perhaps ambition. Lewis was contemptuous of his audience; once they’d paid, he didn’t care anymore. The fact that his industrial films (if they are his) are more professional is key – they already paid him, so he had no motivation to be lacking in delivery. They gave him, say, $2000 to make a film about how to carve meats, there’s no motivation for him to cheat them since he already had the money. As for his feature films, well, no one paid him to do them – in fact he had to spend money to make them! – so why not film any damned thing and release it. Audiences wouldn’t remember.

    While Corman could be notoriously cheap, I think he also had his eye on the next film, and his ambitions were more than “to make as much money as he could in Florida.” His films were shown everywhere, and I think he knew that if his name was attached to something that stank, there would be repercussions, ie, the audience would abandon him.

    That difference in scope may be the chief difference. After all, people knew Roger Corman’s name back in the 50’s and 60’s, whereas nobody knew Lewis (or had seen his films) until the 80’s and the boom in home video. Even then, his films were more talked about than seen. Given the (evident) shoddy nature of his work, would it have any interest if it were more widely known? Would he have more cachet than, say, William Girdler or Boris Sagal?

    I mean, the lure of the unseen film is an especially fervent one among film fanatics. People talk about “lost classics” based solely on the reputation of the artists involved, with never a frame of film in evidence. I mean, what if you’d heard of a long lost film directed by Alfred Hitchock, with a script by Nigel Kneale, starring Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi? You’d want to see that, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you be galvanized every time you heard about someone who might have the negative somewhere in a church basement?

    Uh….

    I think I got a bit off track there. Ooopsie.

  • Toby C

    ” It might be more precise to call Herschell Gordon Lewis (HGL)’s most famous work, Blood Feast, the first slasher film.”

    I would have thought that was 1945’s “And Then There Were None.”

  • Re: Corman and Lewis, I that in the past I’ve opined that Corman’s priorities were a) make the movie just as cheaply as humanly possible, and then b) make it as good as you can, as long as it doesn’t cost you an extra nickle. Corman’s genius was to surround himself with talented people, from screenwriter Charles Griffith to his stock company of players like Dick Miller, who worked their asses off for peanuts because they wanted to make movies.

    Anyone can find people who would do anything to be in a movie (especially at that time), but Corman found people who were actually really good at their job, and who also generally brought a tongue in cheek attitude to the gig that was entirely appropriate given the ludicrously small amounts of money Corman spent making his films. This continued when Corman stopped directing and became a producer; he still found incredibly talented people to make his films (Joe Dante, etc.) who were also motivated much more by a sheer love of film than by the pittances that Corman paid them or gave them to make their movies.

    Corman was also a pretty good director, but he sort of found his level with the Poe films, which is why he gave up on (comparatively) lush studio filmmaking after only a couple of attempts. He also presumably found it alienating to have to get every little thing right, and probably was even vaguely offended to be spending so much money, even if it wasn’t his.

    So Corman wanted his films to be good, at least to the extent that he didn’t have to pay the slightest bit extra for it, and found the people who would make that happen. Lewis…just wanted to make a buck. I don’t think he really cared one way or the other. If you bought a ticket, he didn’t care if you liked the movie or not.

  • Lewis is my hero and I love everything about him. But it’s a self-defeating love I admit.

  • alex

    I probably should not have mentionned Roger Corman in my previous post, he’s not a good example to compare to Lewis. I should have said Ed Wood. Wood was a goofball so he made goofy pictures. HGL wasn’t a moron, so how come he only made moronic pictures.

    Lewis made films from 1959 to 1972. In over 10 years of practice he never mastered anything about how to make a movie. His suspense scenes are not suspensfull, his horror scenes are not scary and his attempt at humor never work. It’s technically impossible for an intelligent person to do something for 10 years and not become somehow good at it (Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of sucess). Yet Lewis fails to improve. He’s not stupid, he wasn’t drunk or on drugs while making these pics so what happened?

    I do agree that he probably didn’t care most of the time but what about A taste of Blood in 1967 where he did try and failed completely? The man defies comprehension.

  • You can’t pigeonhole genius, I guess.

    I recommend that you watch Blood Feast, then get Blood Feast II and watch it, so you can see just how much he’s improved as a auteur over the years. It’s eye-opening. (Hint: BF > BF2)

  • BeckoningChasm

    I think Ed Wood genuinely loved making movies, but aside from Glen or Glenda, Plan 9 and Bride of the Monster, a lot of his stuff is dull. Jail Bait is jut a rather incompetent film noir.

    Still, I think he genuinely wanted to make good movies. He just didn’t have any talent. Or rather, he had the opposite of talent.

    I’m guessing Lewis looked at film-making the way a factory worker would look at sausage-making. The more he can make, the faster he’s done and can go home and get hammered. Start anew the next day.

    BTW, isn’t 2000 Maniacs supposed to be Lewis’ best film?

  • The Rev. D.D.

    That seems to be the general consensus re: 2000 Maniacs!. I know of the four I’ve seen, it is. By itself, it is a decent little timewaster; not great, but not bad and pretty fun. Compared to the rest of his movies I’ve seen, it’s like freakin’ Return of the Living Dead.

    Masochist that I am, I kind of hope Sandy brings this to T-Fest; it seems weird to me that I’ve seen a few of HGL’s movies, but not his best-known one.

    Sadly, I know that won’t happen, since my inside sources tell me the T-Fest line-up is:

    Prehysteria!
    Prehysteria! 2
    Prehysteria! 3
    Dinosaur Island
    Break
    Carnosaur
    Carnosaur II
    Carnosaur III
    Raptor

  • Really? I heard the T-Fest line-up was to be:

    Tristar Godzilla
    Tromeo & Juliet
    Graffiti Bridge

    Break

    Earth Girls are Easy
    Rhinestone
    Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2

  • Regarding the snake, according to a commentary on a different Something Weird DVD (I think it was The Erotic Adventures of Zorro), David Friedman says that it was his own pet snake, and it got used in many of the films he produced. It’s been a while since I heard the commentary, but I seem to recall he thought it added to the production value or something.

    As to HGL’s inability to improve… Consider the terrifying possibility that these are genuinely the films he intended to make, that (for example) the musical choices reflect what he truly thinks is appropriate to each scene.

  • Rock Baker

    I remember on the commentary track for Two Thousand Maniacs that Lewis wanted that film to have production values. That they tried a little harder because, more or less, they actually wanted to make a good movie that might get a wider release than the dreck they usually put out. So it cost more than probably any other picture he and Friedman made. It payed off artistic-wise, but they may’ve felt the returns didn’t warrent the effort of making more ‘good’ movies. They made pretty good money cranking out lowest-common-value exploitation flicks, so I guess they felt they knew what they were doing. (Although, Friedman noted on one of his tracks -either Two Thousand Maniacs or She Freak, the only ones I’ve heard- a nudie western he/they’d made, there was a line to the effect of “we were very careful to make the characters interesting because if the audience didn’t believe in them the integrity of the movie would be lost” and he was talking about A NUDIE WESTERN! Seems like the integrity of such a flick would be easy to maintain as long as the gunbelts didn’t ride too low.)

  • in HGL’s defense, I have never heard him mouth such tripe as “the integrity of the movie would be lost”. That’s pure Friedman. Pretension is alien to HGL, and he always seems rather bemused by his cult status – it’s plainly not sometbhing he expected, particularly at this late date.

    It is true that 2000 Maniacs did not do as well financially as Blood Feast (apparently nothing did) so maybe that’s why he cut back on the “production values”. Perhaps that’s why his next film, Color Me Blood Red, is a poster child for Homeric-level cutbacks.

  • Rock Baker

    So, Sandy, will this series go on to include Year of the Yahoo? That’s one HGL film that’s not only hard to classify, but has a moment or two of actually being pretty good. Since you’re far more expert on all things HGL than I, I’d like to see your take on it.

  • Rock Baker

    And I would like to stress, Year of the Yahoo has a few MOMENTS of being pretty good. I’m not saying the movie is ‘good’ because I’m not insane (as far as I know) but it has some surprisingly competent scenes, and a fairly nifty soundtrack. Hmmm, maybe HGL only acted as producer.

  • Ericb

    I love the ancient Egyptian priest who looks like Elvis in Vegas.

  • Not-So-Great Cthulhu

    Very entertaining review! It definitely has more wit and effort put into it than the film itself did. Er… although that may be damning with faint praise.

    I think this may be the only HGL movie that I’ve seen so far (I’m not counting Monster a-Go-Go), unless I’ve blocked out others in order to preserve my sanity. I found it to be aggressively incompetent, yet strangely entertaining (possibly due to its incompetence).

    I can’t help but get the impression that the only element of the movie that HGL did care about was the gore scenes and that they were sufficiently disgusting for the time. He probably figured that those scenes would be reason enough for people to pay to see the film. Everything else was just there to waste running time.

  • rocketeli

    nice review. it’s magna opera in plural however

  • roger h

    Harvey Korman is the other guy in the meat carving film. He also worked with HGL in the dawn of his career, nudie films IIRC.

  • BLOOD FEAST will be at T-Fest this year.

  • BeckoningChasm

    I just watched this tonight. This review is spot-on. I would like to note only two things:

    1. In the picture of Fuad looking “spiritual,” those while cans behind him are cans of oatmeal. I know, because my mother buys that brand. It’s still being made today.

    2. The bit about the Feat of Ishtar “not being performed for 5000” years, even though it’s one of Fuad’s specialties…I think Fuad just means it hasn’t been performed as part of society. In the same way that Americans don’t wear Colonial-era clothes, but you can still find people dressed that way at Colonial Williamsburg. Fuad is in essence a re-enactor.

  • Lurker Below

    All the stuff that HGL says about Ishtar is… boneheadedly wrong to say the least. Although I am not a member of “the universe is a friendly place” crowd, all the ‘facts’ quoted about Ishtar are cringeworthy.

    Here are a few examples:

    1) Ishtar was an Assyrian/Babylonian goddess. And while many ancient empires recognized shared features in gods, she would not have been worshiped in Egypt.

    2) Ishtar was the god of fertility, sexuality, love, and war, and her cult may have involved sacred prostitution. Needless to say, with that portfolio, virginity seems an unlikely requirement for priestesses.

    3) Ishtar was notorious for the bad fortune of her lovers, whether mortal or god. It would seem more likely that any human sacrifice aimed at her would be of young men, not young women.

    Honestly, if he were to choose any goddess, the Aztec goddess Huixtocihuatl would have been a much better bet. Huixtocihuatl was also a fertility goddess, and in her most important rite, a woman was treated as the embodiment of the goddess over a ten day period and ritually sacrificed at the end it.

  • Eric Hinkle

    These are all fine points, and I enjoy reading some words on history or mythology by someone who knows the topics — but I seriously doubt that Mister Lewis cared much about how properly scholarly his work was. At least, I doubt he cared any more than, say, TV writers.

  • Lurker Below

    Oh, I know he probably didn’t give a damn. It’s just frustrating how easily you could have refuted his entire story, even back when this movie was filmed.

  • Eric Hinkle

    Yeah. I feel much the same way when I see a really inventive mangling of history in film. Especially when it’s done to get the ‘proper lesson’ across.