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Om Nom Blood Feast!

I don’t have too much to say about Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast (1963). It’s not a very deep movie. The plot is as rudimentary as could be, following an Egyptian caterer named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) who stalks, abducts, and murders women in the Miami area as he prepares the titular feast, in honor of his goddess Ishtar. (Never mind that Ishtar wasn’t an Egyptian goddess, and no such bloody ritual existed.) An incompetent detective slowly, slowly hunts him down; meanwhile, the detective’s girlfriend’s mother engages Ramses to cater the girlfriend’s birthday party. Eventually the party happens, then the detective corners Ramses, who is crushed in a garbage truck. The end.

The only real reason we’re still talking about Blood Feast over forty years later is that it’s a fucking gory movie. Whenever possible, we’re treated to close-ups of the victims’ entrails, severed limbs, and wounds, all gushing copious amounts of bright blood. Thus, Wikipedia dubs it “the first ‘splatter film’,” and to an extent they’re right. Blood Feast signaled a pivotal moment in horror history, as the Production Code’s decline and the rise of independent production made over-the-top gore a very real aesthetic option. Unfortunately, despite its historic significance, it’s also barely watchable.

In fact, Blood Feast is so poorly made that if it had a little less excessive gore, I suspect it would’ve received the MST3K treatment. Every single cast member delivers their lines in a stilted, uncertain manner, with the exception of Arnold, who hams it up so much he might as well have an apple in his mouth. The camerawork is equally miserable; I’m being charitable when I say this movie reminds me of early John Waters, or the Kuchar Bros. It has that na├»ve quality to it, as if Lewis had seen one or two Hollywood movies and was trying carefully, but futilely, to imitate them, although the film also has a few moments of clear, intentional humor, especially as Ramses tries to get the detective’s giggling, inane girlfriend to sacrifice herself. (If you can’t tell, the film also has an unsurprising undercurrent of misogyny.)

So there is plenty of so-bad-it’s-good enjoyment to be had from Blood Feast. The bad acting, awkward dialogue, organ-and-drums soundtrack, and oversimplified color scheme (Lewis has a Godard-like obsession with primary colors), when added to the sanguine set-pieces, yield a mildly silly good time. The film occasionally teeters over in unbearably bad territory, though, during a few monologues that drone on for several minutes (in a 67-minute movie); if you can persevere through those, then Blood Feast is worth a gander. Ultimately, its historical significance is its greatest asset. Even more than Psycho, it marks the transitional period between ’50s monster movies and ’70s slashers. Ramses is the perfect segue from Vincent Price’s vengeful mass murderers and the Creature from the Black Lagoon to Black Christmas‘s Bobby and Michael Myers. Now remember the magic words: “Oh Ishtar, take me unto yourself!”

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