Blood Feast (1963)


Nastiness Rating:

Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by: Allison Louise Downe (as A. Louise Downe)/David F. Friedman (uncredited)/Herschell Gordon Lewis (uncredited)

This is where it all started, folks. “Nothing so appalling in the annals of horror” the trailer screamed, and it was right. By today’s standards, it’s pretty tame (and severely stupid), but in 1962 it was something that no one had ever seen before. They never thought they would see it. They never wanted to see it again.

Or did they?

Blood Feast is the brainchild of Herschel Gordon Lewis. He was just looking for a way to get butts in seats, so he took Psycho about 20 steps further. In fact, he went over the edge from where Psycho went. He showed the blood and the cutting and the body parts, and it was all in vivid color.

Unfortunately for Lewis, he didn’t have the directorial talent, acting talent or writing talent of Hitch. Instead, he had to work with his buddies who had basically no experience (or talent) whatsoever. But he had the gore, so he made fucking millions from his tiny investment. After the assassination of President Kennedy, people were clamoring for some fake gore. They had seen the real thing. What could the fake thing really harm at this point? And, oh my, isn’t it fun?!

A killer named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) is on the loose. He’s dismembering the bodies of beautiful young women, sometimes in their own homes. Sometimes in their own bath! Why would he do this? Well, maybe it has something to do with the book that his first victim (in the movie, anyway) is reading: Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Or could it be because of Ramses’ Egyptian Feast! (Cue spooky organ music!)

The cops are useless. All they can say about the murders is that a “pathological killer” committed them. No shit! When they’re not sitting in their office, they’re allowing a girl’s boyfriend to hang out around her mutilated body. Not only that, but they seem to find out about all of the murders from the media. (And is one of the cops in college?)

And there’s the plot. Two short paragraphs. Not a whole lot there. There’s something about a mother who is having Ramses conduct the Egyptian Feast for her daughter, not realizing what will be served, but really it’s all about the gore.

And what glorious gore! Sure, it looks a little cheesy today, but I can imagine it being pretty damn shocking in 1963. Hell, there’s a lot of blood (er, red paint) for a movie made today. The hearts and livers and such are pretty obviously taken from a butcher’s shop, though.

But don’t look to this movie for anything else. The acting is incredibly wooden, seeming as if the “actors” are reading from cue cards the entire time. The sets look like they were set up in someone’s living room. The lighting looks like they had one light and just set it so it would wash out all of the flaws on the women’s faces. And, of course, the story is super lame.

As a product of the early 60s (or just about any other decade through the 90s), this movie is all about carving up beautiful young women. So much misogyny on display. It’s a fun movie because of the weird innocence of the gore, but keep in mind that it’s not particularly lady-friendly.

One more quick observation: In 1963 there was a rule about showing nipples and gore in the same film. Whether it was a written rule or not, Gordon goes to some pretty ridiculous lengths to follow it with strategically placed items covering up bits and pieces. He had made some “nudie cuties” before, so he wasn’t shy about nudity. He just didn’t want full nudity in a film that was all about gore. And I get it. Even a weirdo like Gordon knew that sex and violence do much more damage together than just one or the other.

(Or he just didn’t want to run afoul of pornography laws. Yeah. That’s much more likely. There’s still a LOT of skin in this movie.)

A note on the gore, here: This is purely in the “Grand Guignol” tradition. It’s gross, sure. But it’s obvious stage trickery. Modern audiences are used to things looking super realistic with guts being pulled out of real-looking bodies where the incision is actually seen. This is not like that at all. Gordon was not a veteran of the stage, but he knew something of how this sort of thing had been done since before the turn of the century. And, just like it fooled people on stage way back when, it made people sick in the early 60s. But they kept coming back for more. Gordon made his career off of movies like this for about a decade.

Just to show how truly weird the early 60s were, the producers of the DVD have included a short called “Carving Magic.” It’s all about carving meat and stars Thomas Wood who played the college student/police officer as a guy who learned to carve while working on a short about carving meat. I never realized it, but the color in the 50s and early 60s really makes meat look disgusting. I’m a pretty avid meat eater and this short almost turned me off of it. But it sure did make carving look like something really, really interesting. Something that people talk about at dinner parties ad naseum.

Weird ass 60s.

LOW POINT: “PROVE you love me!” Then he proceeds to rape the camera with a slightly blurry close-up. I know we boys are pretty stupid, but that’s just outright lame.

Or maybe when the “smart girl” is dumb enough to believe Ramses when he’s tricking her into saying all of the words of the rites just before he raises his machete to kill her. (Wait…they had machetes in ancient Egypt?)

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