Blood Feast

Blood FeastWith good cause, Brian Albright chose to open his essential Regional Horror Films, 1958–1990 thus, “It’s the summer of 1964, and you and your family have rolled into the Telegraph Drive-In just outside of Toledo to munch popcorn and watch a seemingly innocuous double feature of Spencer’s Mountain (1963) and The Wheeler Dealers (1963).

“Suddenly, up on the screen, a sweaty man in a suit [William Kerwin] appears against a red backdrop and ominously intones: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness some scenes from the next attraction to play this theater. This picture, truly one of the most unusual ever filmed, contains scenes, which under no circumstances, should be viewed by anyone with a heart condition or anyone who is easily upset. We urgently recommend that if you are such a person, or the parent of a young or impressionable child now in attendance, that you and the child leave the auditorium for the next 90 seconds.’

“Before you even have time to cover your impressionable child’s eyes, let alone consider the logistics of leaving a drive-in for 90 seconds, you are greeted in rapid succession by images of a woman in her bra having her tongue gorily ripped out of her head, two lovers scalped [sic] on a beach, a heart plucked from another woman’s chest, and a risque bathtub leg amputation, all in dripping color and all featured prominently in the Herschell Gordon Lewis film Blood Feast (1963).”

Things Were Different in 1963

Yes, in its day, it must have been quite a thing to see. Actually, even now it’s quite a thing to see. If you have a strong gag reflex, you might want to skip it. But despite all the gore, it’s a surprisingly charming and nonthreatening film.

And if I were to pick one film that best sums up psychotronics, it would not be Plan 9 From Outer Space. It would be Blood Feast.

The Invention of the Splatter Film

It is eternally now. As a result, most people aren’t that interested in history — especially the history of things we don’t much think about like socks or pens or book-binding techniques. That’s perhaps less true of film, but still quite true. Film might as well have always been the way it was now. But there’s a (very uninteresting) history of why we see a dozen dull-as-dirty-dishwater superhero movies come out every year. Similarly, there is a history of the modern spatter film. I won’t go into much, but it all started back in 1963 with a remarkable little film called Blood Feast.

Back in 1997, one of the two main people who made the film, Herschell Gordon Lewis (the other was David F Friedman) told the UK rock magazine Kerrang! “I’ve often referred to Blood Feast as a Walt Whitman poem. It’s no good, but it was the first of its type.” I disagree with this. And having read and heard many interviews with the man, I think he did too. It’s just that he thought that was a clever line (And it is!) in addition to being true in the sense that in many ways, his follow-up, Two Thousand Maniacs! was better. But it’s a very effective and enjoyable film even today.

The Strangely Critical Michael Weldon Review

Michael Weldon is the founder of the dearly departed Psychotronic Video and author of every psychotronic film fan’s bible, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film. And unlike the Medved brothers, generally showed a great deal of respect for these unusual films and their makers — or at least objective detachment. This is not the case with his review of Blood Feast.

But it is hard, looking at all of Weldon’s writing about Herschell Gordon Lewis’ films, not to think that Weldon had a problem with Lewis. It may simply be that Weldon knew what great work Lewis was capable of so he was uncharacteristically critical of the other films. Certainly, Two Thousand Maniacs! is objectively a more engaging film than Blood Feast.

But it also had three times the budget and much learned experience from making the first gore picture. Just the same, the gore is not nearly as gory — it’s obvious they wanted it to be more widely distributed. Personally, I don’t find it nearly as enjoyable.

Weldon’s Critical Review

Regardless of any of this, the following overview of Blood Feast from The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film is simply wrong. And it shows he misunderstood the basic nature of the film:

This is it! The infamous first gore film. If you can stand the sight of guts, it’s hilarious.

In Miami, Fuad Ramses, an Egyptian caterer, worships a goddess (a mannequin) and murders women for their body parts. A tongue, brains, and a leg are removed in disgusting and convincing full-color detail.

As the limping caterer, Mal Arnold is a determined bug-eyed psycho. Connie Mason, Playboy’s blond June 1963 playmate, is given an “Egyptian feast” by her mother. Guess who the caterer is.

A weird-looking cop (Thomas Wood) saves Connie just in time and Fuad ends up crushed in a garbage truck compacter.

The acting is terrible. If the actors were as good as the effects it would be nearly impossible to watch.

The girl whose head is ripped open on the beach is Ashlyn Martin, another Playboy Playmate of the Month (April 1964).

Lewis was the first, and for years the only, person making offensive films like this. He had previously made nudie films, but after this rural drive-in hit he did Two Thousand Maniacs, also with the untalented Miss Mason. Lewis is also credited with the music, the photography, and the special effects. In “Blood Color.”

Some of that is brilliant, especially, “Guess who the caterer is.” And it does give you a some idea of what the film is about in a very short space. But I take issue with much of it.

Offensive Films?

For now, I will hold off on discussing the two other Lewis-Friedman gore classics, Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red. But I think that Weldon is totally out of line in calling this an offensive film. What he misses is just what a campy film Blood Feast is — and was intended to be! Much of the gore is indeed as good as anything you will see being produced today. But offensive?

It’s easy to forget while watching the film the first time that the only on-screen violence is the torture scene. And it is laughably mild. It is only on seeing the young woman after she is dead that it is at all shocking. But it makes the viewer wonder just how all that happened given the relatively gentle treatment she received at the hands of the notably unmenacing villain. (See below.)

We must remember, and Weldon certainly knew, that this is an exploitation film. And gore was what was being exploited. People at the time were shocked, there’s no question of that — so shocked people streamed to the theaters to see it, making Blood Feast return over 150 times its cost on its first run.

But Lewis and Friedman knew that the film would shock. (What they didn’t know is if it would shock in a good or bad way). This is doubtless why the film is far more silly than scary.

And really: did anyone ever think a human tongue was that big?

What Bad Acting?

The acting is most certainly not “terrible.”

William Kerwin

“Thomas Wood” is actually veteran actor William Kerwin who plays Detective Pete Thornton. He had been in a number of Lewis-Friedman films, most notably as the star of Scum of the Earth! — a film that is shockingly missing from Weldon’s book.

Kerwin is actually the biggest problem in the film because he is notably better than the rest of the cast that is basically made up of serious, but amateur, community theater people — not terrible. Not even bad. Just okay. Kerwin was a professional.

Before getting into film, Kerwin had a lot of theater experience, including appearing in several Broadway plays. He had appeared in 46 films and TV shows before Blood Feast. After dying at the age of only 62 of a heart attack (Given the time, he probably was a heavy smoker; he certainly was a heavy drinker, which he mixed with amphetamines), he had performed in 149 films and TV shows. To reduce him to “weird-looking cop” is insulting, especially when you consider that he clearly shines in the film.

(He and Connie Mason fell in love, married the next year, produced two kids, and stayed married until his death in 1989. Mason is still alive and never remarried, even though she had only just turned 52. I’m a sentimental old fool, so I choose to believe that they had a wonderful, if relatively brief, life together.)

Mal Arnold and What Blood Feast Is All About

Blood Feast - Fuad Ramses' First Kill
Blood Feast – Fuad Ramses’ First Kill

And then there’s Mal Arnold who plays the villain Fuad Ramses. He’s in a league of his own. He has been much maligned over the years for his campy performance. I beg to differ. For one thing, you don’t know him as an actor until you see him play a teen in Scum of the Earth! where he’s really quite good.

Then, as Rotten Tomatoes puts it, “For all the carnage Fuad Ramses is responsible for in the film, he’s hardly a menacing figure, but Arnold has contended that he played the character exactly as Lewis directed it, completely over the top and with a ridiculous accent.” Arnold played it that way because that was the way to play it.

As I’ve mentioned, Lewis and Friedman knew Blood Feast was going to make people freak out. So they intentionally made the whole film campy to take the edge off. And Mal Arnold is the most important part of that.

He isn’t bad; he’s just weird. Fuad might not be menacing, but he seems a lot like a guy who knocks on your suburban door and asks if he can use your bathroom. Note, in a single year, Mal Arnold at age 30 played a substantial part as a teen and a lead as a 60-year-old man. And he pulls both off, despite the fact that he was limited to three takes.

Other Minor Actors

The film has a lot of actors who clearly have some stage experience but have never been on film. The best example of this is Lyn Bolton, who plays Suzette’s mother, Dorothy Fremont. She gives a perfectly fine performance for the stage. On film, it seems too much like she’s starring in a semi-professional production of The Country Wife. But there are moments, like when she is hypnotized that make me wonder how good she might have been had Lewis not had a 3-shot limit. With more takes and a director who wanted a realistic performance, she might have been quite good.

One thing we know about Bolton was that she took the role seriously and showed up knowing all her lines. So it’s quite likely most if not all of her performance was based on the first take. “Moving on!”

Then there is poor Scott H Hall who plays Frank the police captain. He was no actor and didn’t want to be one. Hall was just of friend of Lewis and Friedman who liked to help out. When the actor hired for the part of Frank didn’t show up, Hall was convinced to take on the role. He was given just one bit of direction, “Shout all your lines!” And still, he’s not bad at all. He’s got a natural authenticity on the screen. Clearly, he’s a more natural film actor than Lyn Bolton (although I have no doubt she would have improved enormously had she been given more experience in front of the camera).

An Exception: Connie Mason

Okay, some of the acting is weak. Some of the people in minor roles either take it too serious or not nearly seriously enough. It’s all fine, because it adds to the campy feel of the film. But unlike Mal Arnold, I doubt they were doing exactly what Lewis wanted.

Connie Mason, who gets third billing and an “and introducing” credit, is in a class of her own. And sadly, it is not a good class.

Mason plays Suzette Fremont, the young woman whose mother is giving her an Egyptian feast as a party. She is pretty bad.

But even though the film ultimately revolves around her, she isn’t in it that much. As a physical actor, she’s fine. She runs into trouble when she speaks.

Of course, she was a model and, according to Lewis in the commentary for the film, didn’t try to do anything except sit and look pretty, walk and look pretty, and swim and look pretty. Just the same, she’s not bad at all in Two Thousand Maniacs! — doubtless having been given some tutoring by her future husband William Kerwin, and much more filming time by Lewis.

The Three Take Maximum

All of the acting has to be seen in the context of Lewis’ three take maximum. Let me put that in perspective.

When Ed Wood was filming Jail Bait (quite a good movie — especially coming from the supposed worst director of all time), he shot 17 takes of a simple seen featuring Steve Reeves. And Steve Reeves was hardly a bad actor.

So all the actors in the film should be given a break. But it’s clear Lewis knew what he was doing, because it all works perfectly in support for the movie he wanted to make.

What’s With All the Playboy Talk?

You’ll note that Weldon points out that two Playboy playmates appear in Blood Feast. In a sense, there’s nothing particularly unusual about this; the tradition is to throw in little bits of interesting information in capsule reviews like this. But while this might have been interesting in 1963, by the late 1980s (when Weldon’s book was published), Playboy sales were way down and the magazine had become something of an embarrassment to most men.

I’ll admit, the review probably first appeared in Psychotronic TV in the very early 1980s, when Playboy was at its peak. But it was an embarrassment to most men then too. And when putting together the book, Weldon could have edited the entry — especially given the importance of the film.

In addition, in Weldon’s review of Two Thousand Maniacs! he again refers to “Playboy playmate Connie Mason.”

What I suppose is most odd about the whole thing is that there is no nudity in any of the Blood Trilogy films. So who cares? Lewis’ wife was certainly as attractive as either of these playmates and is quite nude quite a lot of the time in Scum of the Earth! — a film Weldon somehow missed.

In a modern context, with Playboy not knowing whether it is a girlie magazine or not (it stopped having nude photos but brought them back), it all seems kind of creepy.

What’s Interesting in Blood Feast

I suppose “the tongue scene” is the high point of Blood Feast for most people (see below). But there is so much more to love. And it is true that much of the gore really hasn’t been improved on. If you are into gore, you’ll love it. I doubt many directors today would use an actual sheep’s tongue for that infamous scene. But there’s more to it than that. Great care is taken with the gore. As the now dead, tongueless woman’s head falls to the side, blood (red Jell-O) leaks out of her mouth.

And it’s a fun film to watch. It’s very light-footed. Instead of, “My pa has a barn, let’s put on a show!” we get, “I’ve got some frozen animal parts, let’s put on a show and have a good laugh!” Not that I’m suggesting that’s the only kind of gore — not at all. But while the gore is taken very seriously, the rest is relaxed. It’s really a comedy with gore slathered all over it. Horror, gore, and comedy have long been linked. And it starts here in a very charming way.

Historical Significance and Partnership

But ultimately, you have to watch this film because of its historic significance. It is important because going from nothing to something is far rarer than improving on that something, regardless of how much you do. This is why I think of Blood Feast as a Lewis-Friedman film and not a Herschell Gordon Lewis film. I’ll admit that Lewis had more to do with the making of the film: he directed and shot it. But it was their idea together to make it. And Friedman was very involved in the making of the film too.

What’s more, Friedman’s marketing acumen insured that the film became a hit rather than a sleeper that only a few people would see and thus cause the evolution of the splatter film to be much slowed. As it was, the pair gave up the genre after only three films over the course of two years because the genre had become too crowded. That’s a shocking fact, given the amount of time and money required to produce a film in those days.

Essential Viewing

Blood Feast is a psychotronic essential. If you are interested in psychotronic films, you absolutely must see the film at least once. Most connoisseurs will want to own it. And I am grateful that it is packaged with Scum of the Earth! (another groundbreaking film), which you will doubtless be reading about here soon enough. But most fans will want to have it as part of the Blood Trilogy — along with Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red — which I will also eventually get around to writing about.

History

Herschell Gordon Lewis (director) and David F Friedman (producer) first got together in 1961 during the making of Lewis’ first film, Living Venus where Friedman seems to have worked to some extent as a producer (he received no screen credit, so maybe more like a production manager). I haven’t been able to get my hands on it, but I know enough that it is a nudie-cutie. It sounds like a mixture of comedy and young bare breasted women. Regardless, the two became a team at that point.

Lewis and Friedman

Their first official film together was The Adventures of Lucky Pierre. Yet another nudity cutie — although without even much of a plot — or much of four plots. (It’s shocking to imagine that today they would get a soft R, in some cases a PG-13.) This started their collaboration as camera (Lewis) and sound (Friedman), which would last until the last of the Blood Trilogy.

Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F Friedman - From 'Godfather of Gore: The Herschell Gordon Lewis Documentary'
Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F Friedman – From Godfather of Gore: The Herschell Gordon Lewis Documentary

Both men were, above all else, businessmen. They couldn’t make films if they didn’t make money. So they were always looking for ways to stay ahead of the competition. This led to them making what I still think is the first “roughie.” Roughies were distinctly different and darker. Their first, and only, roughie was Scum of the Earth![1] about a group of people who ensnare young women into posing for pornographic photographs by reeling them in with more and more provocative photos and then threatening to expose them if they don’t continue. It’s an excellent film.

What makes it different from something like Living Venus is that it shows simulated sex (no genitals are shown, of course). But what is most upsetting, even today, is the implied rape. But the film turns out very well and has a very satisfying and sweet ending.

A Different Direction

Still, Lewis and Friedman didn’t want to continue in that direction. I think they had concerns about what they would have to do next. And you only have to pop on a video porn site for a minute to see that the degradation of women is generally as or more important than the sex act itself. But it was more than that.

Lewis put it this way on the Blood Feast commentary:

First of all, the other kind of film was going in a direction we didn’t think we wanted to follow. And it was also becoming quite a crowded field! … Dave and I sat down and tried to figure out what was there that the major companies weren’t making. And a marvelous four-letter word leaped out at us: gore!

They got to work fast. It’s remarkable that they released (arguably) the first roughie[2] and (inarguably) the first gore (or splatter) film in 1963.[3]

Blood Feast Begins

They managed to secure $24,500 to make Blood Feast — that’s $200,000 today. And the film went on to make $4 million ($33 million today). That’s over 150 times its investment.

That made it slightly less successful then Lilies of the Field, which had ten times the budget. But more successful than Promises! Promises! with close to 20 times the budget.

And both those films probably spent as much on marketing as they did on production. As far as I know, Blood Feast spread mostly through word of mouth, with some posters and small newspaper ads, and a lawsuit against themselves that backfired. (They got their own film banned in Sarasota, FL — pretty much their base of operations.)

The Story

I don’t believe in spoilers; I don’t watch a film to find out how it ends. What’s more, I find I have to watch a film at least three times before I really appreciate it. If I loved it the first time, it was probably just facile professionalism that I will never want to revisit. So I don’t worry too much about “spoiling” films for other people, as you will see in my analysis.

But since some people are concerned about this, I’ve hidden the plot summary. If you want to see it, just click the link below and it will appear right below this paragraph.

Who Wrote Blood Feast?

You would think it would be clear who wrote Blood Feast.

The Men Disagree!

It says there in the credits, on a screen all by itself, “Screenplay by A Louise Downe.” But in the commentary track for the film, Herschell Gordon Lewis said, “We gave the screen credit to somebody on the crew because we thought we should. Actually, everybody pitched in for the script on this one.”

In Godfather of Gore: The Herschell Gordon Lewis Documentary, David F Friedman claimed that Lewis and he wrote it and that Downe just typed it. According to him, it was a publicity stunt.

At a later time, Lewis claimed that he wrote the whole thing himself. I know how brain changes as one gets older. You forget things. I’m only in my fifties and Friedman lived to be in his late 80s and Lewis into his early 90s. It’s not hard to look back 50 years and remember what you wanted to believe happen (especially when so many people have been puffing up your ego over those decades) rather than what really happened.

My Suspicions

I am deeply suspicious for a number of reasons. First, this “somebody on the crew” was Allison Louise Downe. She was the star of the film they had just made, the excellent and financially successful Scum of the Earth! (under the name Vickie Miles).

Yes, she was on the crew of Blood Feast, although she isn’t credited with anything else. She did some make-up, but I suspect everyone within grabbing distance was doing that. And she played an extra in the lecture scene. And she did more, as I’ll discuss in a moment. Lewis and Friedman worked that way: getting everyone excited about “putting on a show.” Of course, they were the only ones who saw any real money from it. Except for their wives, of course.

But what Friedman says bothers me even more, because clearly the press release they put out about Downe writing the film was done after the film was released. So why can’t it be true and a publicity stunt?

Changing Stories

It’s also telling that the two men’s stories have changed over the years. That doesn’t speak well of their incompatible stories. (According to Simon Abrams at RogerEbert.com, “This is, after all, a movie whose script is a skimpy 14-page outline that Lewis dictated, and co-transcribed with his secretary Louise Downe” — clearly something Lewis said at some point.) And I’m sure as time has gone on and Blood Feast has become a bigger and bigger deal, they have wanted to take more and more of the credit for themselves.

I’m sure that these two incredibly sexist men thought that what Downe was doing was just typing. Nowhere in the credits does it say that Downe was the assistant director and production manager of the film. Need proof? There’s lots of it in Godfather of Gore, like this still cut from the film:

Allison Louise Downe Not Acting as Assistant Director
Allison Louise Downe Not Acting as Assistant Director

A Story Is Not a Screenplay

But listening to Friedman and Lewis talk about the evolution of the film, it seems pretty clear that they did, in a sense (one that the WGA would never accept) write the story. But they didn’t literally write anything at all. They sat in cafes and drove in cars and talked about the film to the point where they came up with a basic plot line. Then they told Downe what they had come up with and she had to render it on paper.

If these men had written the screenplay, they would have taken credit for it. That was their style — especially for Lewis who gives himself credit for direction, cinematography (twice), and music. If he had edited it, he would have taken credit. So why wouldn’t he take credit for writing it? But we don’t know what to think. According to Lewis, everyone chipped in and they just gave it to a random crew member. According to Friedman, the two of them wrote it and just used this silly young woman to get publicity.

A Notable Omission

It’s also interesting that neither Lewis nor Friedman ever mention the very first thing any reasonable person would mention about her. But I’ll get to that in a moment.

Most bizarre of all is that Downe also wrote the screenplays for five later Lewis films: The Gruesome Twosome (1967), The Girl, the Body, and the Pill (1967), She-Devils on Wheels (1968), Just for the Hell of It (1968), and Linda and Abilene (1969). What’s more, she was assistant director on six of Lewis’ films — only one of which she wrote: The Gruesome Twosome.

Allison Louise Downe in the 1960s

Never have I found Lewis or Friedman mention that this “somebody on the crew” — this “pretty Miami model Bunny Downe” — was, in fact, Lewis’ wife from 1962 to 1971. (He was 36 when they married and she was certainly no older than 20 — more likely 18. When they divorced, I suspect she went away with quite a lot of “his” money. I’ll bet she broke his heart. And I’ll bet he was very bitter.)

I don’t believe for a second that “everybody pitched in.” I believe that Lewis and Friedman came up with the story idea — not the story as it is defined in the industry. And that Downe wrote the script and gets her rightful credit. I won’t give Lewis and Friedman “story idea” credit, because that is not writing.

(I don’t think I’ve ever met a person who found out I was a professional writer who didn’t tell me about at least one idea they have for a book or film. I always tell them the same thing, “You should write that!” The reason is that any professional writer has far more ideas than they can ever write. It’s not hard to come up with an idea for a story. It’s hard — often impossible — to render it in a way that anyone will be interested in.)

The “Actual” Script

I purchased Blood Feast: The Complete and Uncensored Script to America’s First Splatter Movie. It’s published as a comic book — or rather to be displayed in comic book stands. It claims to be written by Herschell Gordon Lewis with film historian John Wooley providing an introduction. And check out what he says about the authorship of the film:

Although Gordon takes credit for directing, photographing, and scoring Blood Feast, reports vary on how much he had to do with the screenplay. In some interviews, Lewis claims that he already had a script with an Egyptian motif, written by someone other than himself, when he decided to do Blood Feast. In his Re/Search 10 interview, however, he says that “we gave somebody on the crew credit for writing that film because I didn’t feel it looked good to usurp all the credits.” For a feature-film script, Blood Feast is written in an unusual form — more like a TV commercial or an industrial film, two things Lewis had done a lot of prior to his movie career. But the scriptwriter’s name, A (for Alison) Louise Downe, also turns up in several other Lewis pictures, notably the girl-gang gore epic She-Devils on Wheels and the demented-wigmaker horror film, Grusesome Twosome (both 1968).

Undoubtedly, though, Lewis is the person who brought this script to life.

There are a number of interesting things here. First is that even Wooley in 1991 didn’t know that Downe was married to Gordon. This was a well-kept secret! I wonder why?

Also, yet another change in Gordon’s explanation. Years later he was saying that everyone pitched in and they felt they should give credit to some random crew member. (Who remembers their ex-wives, after all?!)

He also said that the Egyptian theme came from the hotel he and Friedman were staying at — the one used as the background for the titles.

But the most telling thing in the introduction is the last line I quoted because it concedes that Gordon is way out on a limb in claiming that he wrote the script. There’s a reason films usually have different directors and writers: they do different things. By Wooley’s logic, every screenplay should be credited to their directors because they were the people “who brought [the] script to life.”

It’s Not the Script of the Film

The worst thing about this “script” is that it is most clearly not the script. It is just a shot-by-shot reconstruction of the film, based on the original script, because it gets numerous bits wrong. The dialog, however, is word-for-word with very minor exceptions. And given that Gordon had a three-take maximum, I have a hard time believing that the actors got all their lines so perfect.

But most important of all is that the script is not typewritten, but typeset. Typewritten text takes much more room than typeset text. Yet the typeset text is 31 pages whereas the supposed screenplay was just 14 pages. So this “complete and uncensored script” is a fraud. Not that it isn’t cool to have.

This also destroys the argument Wooley tries to make about the format for the script, given that this is not that script that was shot. (It appears Wooley never saw the actual script.) And even if it were, wouldn’t Gordon’s wife type any scripts she wrote in the same format of the scripts she had seen of her husband’s earlier work?

But if it sheds any light on the authorship questions, it pushes against Gordon and Friedman’s claims. It is yet another example of Gordon trying to take all the credit for himself, even the writer of his introduction has to admit that, yeah, his claim to have written the screenplay sounds questionable at the very least.

Downe Was Extremely Important to the Production

Cameraman Andy Romanoff seems to be the only one around who will speak about Downe truthfully. He was there. He was the assistant cameraman on Blood Feast and Color Me Blood Red in addition to other Lewis films. In Godfather of Gore, he said, “Bunny Downe! She was Herschell’s right-hand — truly right-hand person. She was in his movies. She wrote some of his movies. She was his production manager. She was indispensable in every way for all those early movies.”

At last! A person speaks for Downe! Of course, it’s hard not to get the impression that Romanoff is none too fond of Lewis. Of course, the more I know of Lewis, the less I like him. I like his films, but he strikes me very much like Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman.

The Sexism of a Generation

There was another telling scene where Lewis and Friedman meet up with Jerome Eden, who played the high priest in the film and generally worked as a production assistant to them. He mentions that it is amazing that those films were all just made by the three of them. It’s offensive because there were lots of other people doing things.

But it is particularly telling that he simply doesn’t even think of Downe. She was just a girl. She wasn’t important in making the film. He might have noted that there were a bunch of actors — like the star of Lewis’ previous film. He might also have noted that woman who was always using the clapperboard — something generally done by the assistant director on low budget films (more likely second or third assistant cameraman on union shoots).

In Lewis and Friedman’s defense, Eden’s statement does seem to embarrass them. But I think that’s just because of its amazing level of arrogance. They have no problem slighting the most important crew-member other than those two.

Downe Has Been Largely Written Out of Lewis’ Life

That’s pretty much the only time she’s mentioned in Godfather of Gore. Television producer Ray Sager said something unintentionally telling. “What Herschell was so good at was he found topics that were right out of today’s headlines. He’d see it; he’d get a scene of it; and he’d be writing a script, or Louise would be writing a script the next day. It makes me wonder what other things Downe didn’t get credit for.

She was an extremely important part of Lewis’ personal and professional life for the decade he made the films he’s remembered for. And IMDb doesn’t even mention he was married to her. It’s disgusting.

Given that Lewis and Down had a child together and that she disappeared from film work from roughly 1964 to 1967, I assume she was pregnant during or slightly after Blood Feast was shot, and spent the next few years focused on their child.

So who wrote Blood Feast: the woman in the credits: Allison Louise Downe. And Lewis and Friedman were sexist jerks for minimizing her importance, even if she did break Lewis’ heart.

Was the Cult of Ishtar That Bad?

In Blood Feast, the Cult of Ishtar is presented as an evil Egyptian religion based on human sacrifice and cannibalism. Is it true that although she was a goddess of love, it was “an evil love”? In a word: no. But the film is actually far worse than simply wrong.

Not an Egyptian Cult

To start with, Ishtar was not an Egyptian goddess. She was a Sumerian goddess, who first appeared as early as 6,000 years ago. She went by the name Inanna (at least that’s the English equivalent). But in these early days, she had a very small cult. (See Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods for an amusing look at this kind of thing.)

It was not until the reign of Sargon of Akkad (roughly 4,300 years ago) that she became a powerhouse goddess. The Akkadians had their own goddess named Ishtar, and the two effectively became one. Thus, Inanna became known as Ishtar in Akkadian (present day Iraq and Iran), Babylonia (present day Iraq), and Assyria (present day Iraq, Syria, and Turkey).

Note that Ishtar wasn’t a goddess of Egypt. Certainly there were trading ties between all of these countries, but Sumer (southeastern Iraq) and the other civilizations that followed were far from Egypt — roughly a thousand miles. Given that state-of-the-art travel was the camel, that was a two week journey.

Thus the place Ishtar was worshipped was very far removed from Egypt. Ishtar was doubtless known about by the Egyptian intelligentsia, but she wasn’t worshipped there — ever.

What About Sacrificing Virgins and Eating Them

The cult of Ishtar did not sacrifice 20 virgins each year and eat them. It didn’t sacrifice anyone. In fact, despite Ishtar being the goddess of just about everything, but particularly love and war, the was very effeminate.

From the beginning in Sumer, the priests of the cult of Ishtar were androgynous men, often transvestites. Many (Most? All?) are believed to have engaged in homosexual acts, which is not at all surprising.

So no 20 virgins sacrificed each year. Just a bunch of transvestites who did a lot of singing.

Is There Anything True About Ishtar in the Film?

There is one thing that may have a grain of truth in Blood Feast. Around 4,000 years ago, some believe it became a custom for new kings to have ritual sex with the high priestess of Ishtar, who was seen as a symbol of the goddess herself. But the evidence for this is not that great and it may simply be folklore.

Thus: the one thing that Blood Feast kinda got right probably isn’t true.

What Was Ishtar Like

Ishtar was a very popular goddess for thousands of years. So she evolved — often through accreting other regional goddesses. Thus, it is hard to say what she is like because she isn’t any one thing.

She started as kind of an impetuous but very smart young woman who was always trying to get ahead in life — often by setting people against each other, which is how she became a goddess of war. “Discord” would probably be a better word.

Ishtar’s Most Famous Story

Indeed, the most famous story of her shows this. She tries to take over her older sister’s domain. For this act of hubris, she is sent from heaven to the underworld. She goes, but Ninshubur (her retainer) pleads with the other gods to allow her back. They do so, but she must be replaced by her husband.

Eventually, they come upon a solution where her husband is in the underworld half the year and his sister the other half. This myth is meant to explain the changing of the seasons.

But I don’t think one would think of Ishtar as evil. The gods all act this way. She was more mischievous — a more focus female version of Pan. You can see why she became such a popular goddess — at one point the most powerful in the region: she was cool. She aspired to great heights. She was smart and charmingly devious. She was also a badass when you got her angry by doing things like raping her in her sleep.

So Blood Feast was about as wrong about Ishtar as was possible. But it hardly matters. Ishtar is just a pretext for a pretty ridiculous plot. Although it did get one thing right about the cult, if not the goddess: it lasted until almost 1800. That’s a long running cult — three times as long as Christianity. And it is possible there are indeed worshippers of her alive today.

Blood Feast Analysis

It’s hard to analyze Blood Feast because it is, at bottom, just a narrative designed to highlight a bunch of gore set pieces. And Lewis and Friedman have always been clear that their only motivation was to make money.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter what the intent of the film was. The film is what it is. And it is primarily a cinematic equivalent of teen folklore with the hidden message that young women are under constant threat — most especially if they are partaking in sex. A good example of this would be The Hook where a couple on lovers’ lane barely miss being killed by a psychopath with a hook for a hand — only because they drive away.

(The Hook is the basis of my play, “This Actually Happened to My Sister’s Best Friend’s Cousin.”)

This, of course, quickly became a trope in slasher films (and not because of the two following Lewis-Friedman gore films): if anyone has sex, they will be the next victim. It’s really a bad trope because it makes films a tad too predictable. However, if you include enough intestines, it’s all good.

Fuad represents this pure evil that kills innocent young women. The only woman he kills that isn’t virginal is married. So these are all “good girls.” So the film tells us that even good girls must be very careful.

Is Blood Feast Sexist?

When I used to teach — and even with writers today who I help to develop — I often say, “There are no stupid questions.” But if any question is stupid, this one is.

Of course the film is sexist!

Sexism?
A totally pointless, but certainly non-sexist scene from Blood Feast

First, you have all the “Young women, watch out!” nonsense that is based on the idea that women can’t take care of themselves. (This is a fairly recent invention; it doesn’t seem to have been true of pre-Neolithic people. And it is the Victorian period when it really got bad.)

Next you have women being non-actors — just objects upon which things are done. They are either there to ogle by the poolside, or to be killed for body parts.

And perhaps most telling, there is the whole damsel in distress ending.

But it’s not like you couldn’t say the same thing about a large fraction of Hollywood films today. And the film has a nice reversal where the man does not save the distressed damsel; she is instead saved by her impatient mother. (If the police had not shown up, the ending would have not been substantially different since Fuad runs away at the sight of Mrs Fremont.)

So the film is sexist, but I don’t see that as a major issue since gender mores have changed so little in the last 55 years. Expecting a gore picture to transcend its own time is unfair. Yet the film does manage to do so to some extent.

As Entertainment

I think what I’ve written thus far should make it clear that I consider Blood Feast a silly film. It’s about as threatening as The Cat From Outer Space (which is a great film, by the way).

What’s shocking about the film is that a non-gore cut was made that was shown at “respectable” indoor theaters. That takes most of the enjoyment out of the film. It is the oscillation from comedy to gore that makes it work so well.

For people at the time, the gore was key to the plot. They were so horrified by it that they likely didn’t notice just what a silly little police story Blood Feast was. But for those who didn’t get the gore, they got only the silly police story (I won’t say procedural, because the cops do almost nothing other than stand around complaining that they have no clues.)

Today, the whole film works as a charming romp. Sure, there’s lots of really good gore in it. But we’ve seen it so much that we are desensitized to it. And since we know it is fake combined with its contrast to the rest of the film, it only heightens the fun of what was always a comedy.

Comparison With the Rest of the Blood Trilogy

After the success of Blood Feast, Lewis claims they wanted to make another gore picture — but one that was good. They ended up making two: Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red. And most people would certainly agree that they are better films.

In a standard way — where you are looking at films as to how Hollywood makes them — they are better films. But I don’t enjoy watching them the way I do Blood Feast. They take themselves far too seriously.

That’s not to say they are bad. Two Thousand Maniacs! has great crowd scenes that are simultaneously creepy and funny. Jeffrey Allen as the mayor is a hoot. And the action plot of the two survivors is well done.

And Gordon Oas-Heim is wonderfully twisted as the blood artist Adam Sorg in Color Me Blood Red.

But the gore in both those movies is sub-par — not close to Blood Feast (although the scene in Color where Sorg refills his palette with blood by squeezing it out of his victim’s intestines is one for the ages).

This relative lack of gore really hurts the films. When a man’s hands and feet are tied to four horses that all run away from him, you want to see something more than just a horse dragging a fake-looking bloody arm.

Lewis-Friedman could get away with making more standard films after Blood Feast because they are barely gore pictures at all. And that’s sad because there were far better people to make films about the south’s still smoldering resentment of the Civil War they started and lost, or films about insane artists. Samuel Fuller is the obvious choice for the first. Maybe William Castle for the second.

I'm Surrounded by Idiots

What “Critics” Say

I haven’t had the time to get to the library and look at old newspapers to see the reviews of the time. But I know they were universally terrible based on numerous second-hand sources.

I do know that a critic for Variety wrote, “Incredibly crude and unprofessional from start to finish. Blood Feast is an insult even to the most puerile and salacious audiences. The very fact that it is taking itself seriously makes the David F Friedman production all the more ludicrous. It was a fiasco in all departments.”

Friedman quoted that in his autobiography, A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King. He added, “Herschell and I have often wondered who told the Variety scribe we were taking ourselves seriously.” That’s a famous line and probably has a lot to do with why I’ve always seen the film as a comedy.

Note something interesting about that review: it was written almost a year after the film had been released. The film was a huge hit by then. (Variety never would have reviewed it if it hadn’t been!) How could it be an insult to the most puerile viewer (I don’t know where he gets salacious — women in the equivalent of bikinis was hardly salacious even then)? People weren’t telling their friends to see it because they felt insulted. I’d say that “critic” was pretty typical in his hubris and stupidity.

Why Contemporary Critics Hated It

And you can well see why it was not a critic’s favorite. Other than William Kerwin, all the actors seem to be amateurs at best. (I think Mal Arnold was great and certainly could have been a professional actor. Regardless, he appears to be a bad actor because that’s how Lewis wanted the part played.)

The script is just an excuse for the gore. Much of the dialog seems to be unintentionally funny, although I think that’s an incorrect reading of it. The lighting is acceptable at its best. The score is weird. And the editing is standardly professional, but that only undercuts all the other unusual elements.

But most of all: critics had never seen anything like it. I’ll bet you could find at least a dozen critics who hated Blood Feast for its gore, only to gush over Cries and Whispers nine years later.

Modern Critics

Even today, the film isn’t well liked. Typical is Simon Abrams’ article on RogerEbert.com on the film’s 50th birthday, “Blood Feast is a terrible film, and a historically important one, too.” So it’s bad, but important.

And this isn’t just true of professionals. Lots of amateur film bloggers says the same thing — although with far more words. (At least I hide the synopsis if you don’t need it!)

The other primary take on it is that it’s horrible except for the gore. Hooray! Most “critics” today see it just as they did in 1963, with the exception that gore is now okay to like and they can’t deny the historical importance of the film. In other words, “critics” are as stupid as ever. Actually, they’re worse because they have the ability to watch the film over and over and think about it. But they don’t.

Rotten Tomatoes

Rotten Tomatoes - Really

Shockingly, Rotten Tomatoes only gives this film a 48 percent rating. Most of the negative reviews (and even some of the positive reviews) don’t understand the film and clearly have not watched it more than once.

Otherwise, it’s the same reactions we see elsewhere: historically important, but bad. Bad with good gore. I really don’t know why all professional “critics” aren’t just given a card on it that they can repeat for every review, “I have nothing new or interesting to say about any film.”

Ken Hanke Knows Nothing of Gore

Ken Hanke seems to know nothing of splatter films; he wrote, “Once you get past the now hokey gore, there’s nothing left.” I’ll leave the last part of that statement alone, because it is just another example of a “critic” complaining that the film isn’t what he wanted it to be.

But how can Hanke say the gore is hokey? For one thing, how can gore even be hokey. I don’t think Hanke knows what the word means. Although increasingly used to mean “contrived,” the standard definition is “sentimental” as a pejorative (“mawkish”).

I think the word he’s looking for is “dated,” but that would be too clear. Since film “critics” normally know nothing of film, they often try to put on a show of erudition by using unusual words when simple ones will do. The problem is, the most amazing thing about Blood Feast is that the gore is not dated.

Films since then have gone past it by actually showing the action whereas Blood Feast shows only the results. Certainly there is nothing dated about that tongue, which was quite real. Literal gore becomes neither dated nor hokey.

The Great Exception: Anton Bitel

A great exception is Anton Bitel, but that might not be so surprising since he is Vodzilla’s “resident horror obsessive.” His capsule review states, “Yet while it might be tempting to dismiss Herschell Gordon Lewis’ low-budget, utterly tawdry smorgasbord of sensationalism as dumb-assed trash, it is too self-aware to merit such dismissal.”

Exactly!

And he goes on to note other things that show that he gets the film by referring to Fuad as “a wonderfully daft villain.” Then he notes that the true standout in the film are the two clueless cops. It’s not that I perfectly agree with him, but unlike almost every other “critic,” Bitel clearly saw the film and not just some film that wasn’t what he wanted to see.

Take Blood Feast Seriously

Very few people take the film seriously. There is a method to its madness. It wouldn’t have been hard to make the Fuad character truly menacing or the police story more of a procedural. But artists (Lewis and Friedman didn’t consider themselves artists, but they were) know their audiences. The gore freaked people out enough. If Blood Feast had been terrifyingly realistic too, it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful at the time.

And its “camp + gore = fun” equation works even better today. And that’s why gore and comedy so often go together. See Dead Snow: Red vs Dead for a great modern example.

What to Watch For

Why You Must Watch This Film

If you are going to enjoy Blood Feast, you need to get past a few things. The first is the overall look of it. Most of Lewis’ films look kind of washed out. That doubtless had something to do with the film stock he was using. That’s because even the outside shots don’t look great.

In general, the lighting is flat. It looks a lot like a black and white B picture. There isn’t much depth to it.

Also, Lewis is not much of a cameraman. Shots are framed adequately, but when there is a pan or tilt, you can really see why great camera operators are so cherished by directors while being all but nonexistent to even film buffs.

Most of all, however, you need to go into the film expecting the romp that it is. If you don’t, than some things will drive you crazy — like William Kerwin being so much better than the other actors. But if you see him for the straight man in the zany adventure that Blood Feast is, none of the inconsistencies will bother you.

Lowbrow Goodies

Blood Feast was meant to be lowbrow. It was always intended for the drive-in circuit. But time has not been great to the film on that level. It’s a masterpiece of cinema. But it still has lots of down-and-dirty to appreciate.

  • Gore: it’s as good as ever and oh did they highlight the red.
  • Tongue scene: this really has to get its own entry because it’s pretty amazing. There are scenes like it in other films, but they are just ripping off (or paying homage to) this scene.
  • Sex: I personally think the woman at the beginning taking off her bra (without showing the naughty bits) is far more erotic than the gynecological exams that pass for pornography today. But there is plenty more nubile flesh to ogle in the film.
  • Overacting: while clearly intentional Marcy’s mom and boyfriend are so over-the-top you can’t help but love them.
  • Cooked body parts: the only part of the film that is still shocking.
  • Fuad Ramses’ constant monologue with Ishtar: if it weren’t for that mannequin, he’d have no friends at all.
  • Non-bumbling cops: but only non-bumbling because they do nothing at all.
  • Connie Mason’s non-performance is pretty funny. She’s not so much bad as not even trying. “Uh, Ms Mason? You do know the film is rolling?”
  • William Kerwin: just knowing that his fine performance was despite (or perhaps because of) his getting so drunk every night he had to be carried to his hotel room.
  • Garbage truck ending: what a way to go! When Ishtar abandons you, she really abandons you!

Highbrow Goodies

It’s so much easier to talk about edifying things in Blood Feast because it has the charm of a grammar school play. Despite what Variety had to say about it, the film doesn’t take itself seriously at all. It’s just good clean (bloody, but clean) fun.

  • Gore: for people who are not into slasher films, Blood Feast offers gore in a very comforting setting. There’s virtually no on-screen violence. It’s all implied and then you get to look at a chopped off leg or a tongue big enough for about 4 humans.
  • Knowing comedy: the film really is intended to be funny. And how can you not appreciate Mrs Fremont’s reaction on the revelations about her caterer, “The guest will have to eat hamburgers for dinner tonight”?!
  • A really effective and unusual score.
  • Mal Arnold’s genius performance as the only villain less threatening than Snidely Whiplash.
  • William Kerwin: his stand-out performance is so effortless than he comes off as Marlon Brando compared to the other, less experienced and capable actors.
  • The lecture scene: this is a very effective way of providing the motivation of Fuad’s actions. And most of it is voice-over for a recreation of the ritual killing. You may recall Humphrey Bogart take on this.[11] Blood Feast certainly gives the viewer something interesting to look at.
  • Surprising damsel in distress reversal: rather than go with the standard version where the detective runs in and stops Fuad from cutting off Suzette’s head, it is her impatient mother. The police do not show up in the nick of time — something uncommon even today.
  • Letters to Fuad: these are used subtly to indicate that Fuad thinks he is getting divine guidance.

Summary

It’s certainly true that Blood Feast is not a good film by typical Hollywood standards. Much has been made of the supposedly bad acting, but I consider this simple ignorance on the part of viewers. It’s more telling in the unusual script, the skimpy lighting, mediocre camera work, and uninspiring locations.

Blood Feast Is Not Meant to Be a Hollywood Movie

But Blood Feast was explicitly meant to be a film that was not like what Hollywood was producing. As Herschell Gordon Lewis put it, “We as self-declared innovators decided that we wanted to make the kind of movie that the major companies either could not make or would not make.”

And how could they not do that? The year Blood Feast was released with its budget of $24,500, Hollywood released Cleopatra with a $31 million budget. That’s well over a thousand times as much money. And although Cleopatra is quite a good film, it lost money on its first run because the studio spent more money promoting it than it did producing it.

Enjoy It as It Was Meant to Be Enjoyed

My take on all films (this may explain my fondness for psychotronic films — or any other kind of “odd” art) is that it should be judged on its own terms. Lewis-Friedman were not trying to make Cleopatra. They were trying to make Blood Feast, and they succeeded at least as well as the producers of Cleopatra.

The truth is, Blood Feast is a fun movie that moves bristly to its conclusion. It’s disappointing only if you are expecting it to be Cleopatra (which, at over 4 hours, could use some major trimming — especially during the interminable and doubtless hugely expensive — parade into Rome).

Obviously, if you can’t stand the sight of blood, you might have a problem enjoying this film. But to a large extent at the time and overwhelmingly now, its so zany as to be inoffensive. And as the post for Don’t Look in the Basement repeated, “It’s only a movie.” It isn’t real blood, even on the sheep’s tongue.

Many Levels of Greatness

But Blood Feast works on so many levels that it’s a crime for any serious film lover to miss. It is a very effective gore picture. It is wrapped in a light, even charming, narrative. It’s utterly unpretentious. And its close to Citizen Kane and Birth of a Nation in its influence on future filmmaking.

For me, it’s a comfort film. If I feel bad, I can put on His Girl Friday or Blood Feast. I find them equally entertaining, largely for the same reasons.

Blood Feast is not so bad it’s good. Rather, it is so much what it intends to be that it is great.

Technical Information

Information about the movie itself:

  • Release date: 6 July 1963
  • Length: 67 minutes (note, there was a non-gore cut version that was roughly 10 minutes shorter, but it hardly matters given it was created just to satisfy conservative opinion at the time; without the gore, it’s just a very silly movie)
  • MPAA Rating: NR (note that the IMDb’s parent’s guide indicates that the film was banned in the UK until 2001 (now you must be 18 years old) and is still banned in Germany; in The Netherlands and New Zealand you must be 16 to rent or purchase it; Singapore gives it a PG rating, but apparently just for the cut version without the gore; and it suggests that the MPAA would give it an R rating today; keep in mind that the page also says, “The mummy/goddess at the end of the film is particularly disturbing in appearance” — indicating that maybe the page is not accurate, given I have no idea what they are talking about)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 (Later release as 1.85:1)
  • Film: 35 mm Spherical

Cast and Information

Film is a group process, but on a film like Blood Feast, it is less so. Just the same, we know that Friedman and Lewis had lots of friends who helped out on their shoots who we will never know about.

For example, Scott H Hall, who appeared as the police captain was only there because he was a friend of the two main filmmakers. They called him a “helper-outer.”

A special problem with just about all Friedman-Lewis films is that so many people (even technical people) used different names. In the following list, I have listed their actual names with their credit names in parentheses.

Uncredited Credits

Also, be very careful in listening to Wikipedia and IMDb on matters such as these. This is particularly true when it comes to “uncredited” information. In general, it is best to go with the credits themselves, as much as possible.

For example, Herschell Gordon Lewis and Stanford S Kohlberg are listed as uncredited producers. The claim that Lewis was a producer on the film is as absurd as the claim that Friedman was the director.

I’m sure there was some cross-over, but you will note that IMDb does not claim that Friedman was an uncredited director, because you just don’t do that. They were a partnership, and producer and director was a pretty good description of what they did.

(In general, producers don’t get nearly the credit they deserve for the essential creative contributions they make to films.)

Stanford S Kohlberg

As for Kohlberg, calling him a producer is just silly.

He was a legendary drive-in owner — very creative. He was also very helpful in distributing Blood Feast. That’s basically it.

But according to Friedman, after the film was completed, he spoke to Kohlberg who suggested they open it in Chicago (where he was based). Friedman nixed that idea. He said he wanted to open it somewhere the film press would not notice it. They opened in Peoria, Illinois instead.

His feeling was that if they opened in Chicago and it did poorly, it would get in the trade papers and they would have a tough time selling it to any other theaters. If a producer consulting with a theater owner makes the theater owner a producer, then there are a whole lot of uncredited producers in the world of film.

If you read Kohlberg’s obituary in The Chicago Tribune (which is really just what Kohlberg’s children told the paper), he produced the whole Blood Trilogy!

I know of no source that would indicate that he acted as a producer for Blood Feast — or that he was around before, during, or after production. He was just one of a number of theater chain owners who Friedman knew and worked with.

Credit Where It’s Due

I have no problem giving credit for a film to a large number of people. As I’ve said, filmmaking is a team endeavor. But it’s always positions like producer and writer[12] that get this treatment.

A production assistant who helps out by loading a film magazine once never gets an IMDb listing “Assistant Cameraman (uncredited).” And it’s doubtless that a lot of people would qualify for exactly that kind of credit on any non-union film — Blood Feast most of all.

So here is my best shot at who did what in Blood Feast:

  • Production Company: Box Office Spectacular, Inc
  • Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
  • Producer: David F Friedman
  • Screenwriter: Allison Louise Downe
  • Cinematographer/Camera Operator: Herschell Gordon Lewis[13]
  • Editor: Robert Sinise and Frank Romolo
  • Sound Recording: David F Friedman
  • Composer: Herschell Gordon Lewis
  • Actors: William Kerwin (Thomas Wood), Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H Hall, and others

Purchasing Options

There are various ways to get Blood Feast.

The Blood Trilogy

The most obvious is to get it on Something Weird’s The Blood Trilogy blu-ray or (the much more expensive) DVD (don’t believe what Amazon says, it includes a bunch of special features):

The Blood Trilogy

Blood Feast Special Edition

However, I think it is better to get the Blood Feast Special Edition. For one thing, it contains both Blu-ray and DVD copies. But more important, it comes with Scum of the Earth! which you can’t get by itself.

I like the rest of the Blood Trilogy, and you really should see the other two films. However, I think you will find that they don’t keep drawing you back the way that Blood Feast does. Real fans will want to own both.

Blood Feast Special Edition

Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast

For the true fanatic, there is Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast. It includes 14 films — pretty much everything you would want to see except for Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat. The films are:

  1. Scum of the Earth!
  2. Blood Feast
  3. Two Thousand Maniacs!
  4. Moonshine Mountain
  5. Color Me Blood Red
  6. A Taste of Blood
  7. The Gruesome Twosome
  8. Something Weird
  9. She-Devils on Wheels
  10. Just for the Hell of It
  11. How to Make a Doll
  12. The Wizard of Gore
  13. This Stuff’ll Kill Ya!
  14. The Gore Gore Girls

It also includes a bunch of extras, as these kinds of things usually do:

Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast

Take your pick, but see Blood Feast — at least once — or dozens of times like I have.

Notes

Sometimes I get a bit sidetracked, so I’ve gotten into the habit of using endnotes. In this particular case, it’s a bit out of control.

Note 1

The only current way to get Scum of the Earth! alone is via a DVD-R. Don’t do that. You can get it with Blood Feast (it contains both Blu-ray and DVD), The Defilers, Night Tide, or doubtless other films.

Note 2

The reason I question Scum of the Earth! as the first roughie is that it is very subtle. There’s only one scene of simulated sex. And the implied rape is subtle enough that Lewis and Friedman could easily make the case to authorities that there was no such implication and that the censors just had dirty minds. But it’s clear and disturbing to anyone watching.

Note 3

This was hardly the first time gore was used in film, however. Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 classic Yojimbo has two very memorable gore scenes: a dog walks by with a cut-off hand, and later, the lead character, Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune), cuts off a man’s arm, and it is quite realistic with the dismembered arm lying on the ground with the bone and cut flesh plane to see. The follow-up, Sanjuro (1962) features an absolutely awesome arterial Spurt at the end of it. But neither of these films were primarily interested in the gore. It was just used in support of stories that would have worked fine without any gore.

Note 4

This was one of Orson Welles’ biggest complaints about the production cut of Touch of Evil. The film starts with a man putting a bomb in the trunk of a car. A couple get into the car and the camera follows the car. The studio put credits over this. Welles correctly pointed out that the scene lost all of its suspense because everyone knows that the car will not explode during the credits. Notice the difference in how these sequences affect you, even though they have exactly the same visuals. (Also, Welles’ use of the sound of the nightlife rather than a score adds to the sense of danger.)

Here’s the studio cut:

Here’s Welles’ cut:

Notice how every time the leads are near the car you become anxious. But in the studio cut you don’t even notice — many viewers completely forget about the bomb once the credits start. Credits can be very important.

Note 5

The Sphinx head and the pyramid behind it used for the titles were decorations at the hotel Lewis and Friedman were staying at when they came up with the idea of making a gore film. Hence the Egyptian theme for the film. Now that’s what I call exploitation filmmaking!

Note 6

Until Blood Feast, William Kerwin had always used the name Thomas Sweetwood. For Blood Feast he used Thomas Wood, which he used for three remaining films he made for Lewis: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), A Taste of Blood (1967), and Suburban Roulette (1968). He also used the name for five other films, including his brother Harry’s film, My Third Wife, George. I have no idea why he changed names, but it is clear that he didn’t want these films to harm his studio career.

Note 7

Some have claimed that “Fuad Ramses: Exotic Catering” is an error and it should be “Fuad Ramses’ Exotic Catering.” I’ve inserted the colon because that is what is implied. The sign has two lines: “Fuad Ramses” on top and then “Exotic Catering” below it. This implies a colon. The sign is simply telling you who he is, “Fuad Ramses,” and what he does, “Exotic Catering.” There is nothing wrong with “Fuad Ramses’ Exotic Catering.” But it is a mistake to claim that “Fuad Ramses: Exotic Catering” is wrong. It’s a perfectly acceptable sign. If, on the other hand, the words were printed on a single line without a colon, semicolon, or comma, then it would be wrong. Regardless, even if it were wrong, you would have to be the worst kind of pedant to care.

Note 8

This is not true. He will get the last ingredient to take to the party, but he’s planning to add yet another “ingredient” at the party. So he really needs two. Not to be pedantic.

Note 9

He was 30 years old with white sprayed in his hair. As I write this in June of 2018, he is still alive, about to turn 85. Eight years ago, when interviewed for Godfather of Gore, he looked great at 77. He had been a body builder throughout his life and still looked great — admittedly with the skin of a man who enjoyed the Florida sun. But what’s amazing about the film is that somehow, this good-looking 30-year-old man in great shape does seem like an old man. Someone in Godfather of Gore referred to him as the worst over-actor of all time. That’s not even close to true. His is a brilliant performance. And the idiot who said that shows that the only film he ever saw Mal Arnold in was Blood Feast. He clearly could have been a “legitimate” film actor had he wished.

Note 10

This is amusing because the actor, Connie Mason, showed up for the shoot not knowing her lines. Herschell Gordon Lewis took an instant dislike to her as a result of that and other things. But he still cast her in his next film, Two Thousand Maniacs!, where she’s actually pretty good. He was pressured by Friedman (because having her in the film made it easier to sell) and William Kerwin (because she was his wife and I assume he loved her).

Note 11

Bogart may have said, “Whenever I have to deliver exposition, I hope they put two camels behind me fucking so the audience’ll have something interesting to look at.” That quote is taken from Lew Hunter’s Screenwriting 434

It’s not clear if he ever said this and if he did, what exactly he said. I’ve seen various versions of it. It’s possible that Bogart used the line many times and said it different ways. It does have the sound of one of a person’s “greatest hits” — an interesting story told at parties and similar occasions.

The problem is, I have no primary source. Indeed, many writers don’t say Bogart said it but “reportedly” said it. “Reportedly” is a weasel word and generally means, “I’ve heard people say it.”

Regardless, here are a few variants:

  • If I ever have exposition to say, I pray to God that in the back of the shot they’ve got two camels fucking.Ann Hornaday
  • If I ever have to give exposition, I pray that in the back of the shot they have two camels fucking.Steven Goldman
  • Producer Rob Long recalls that once, when a great deal of exposition had to be spoken in a concluding scene, Humphrey protested that the only way the monologue would work is “if two camels were in the background, fucking.”Stefan Kanfer (Note that Rob Long is just repeating a story he’s heard because he wasn’t born for over 8 years after Bogart died.)
  • If you’re going to give me something expository to say, you better have two camels f-ing in the background.Drew Yanno

More people just quote Lee Hunter and call it a day. But there is no reason to believe his quote is any more accurate than any of the others.

Note 12

The problem with writers is particularly bad because especially in Hollywood, dozens of writers can work on the same script. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) has a whole judicial process for determining screenwriting credits. One can write quite a lot of dialog, for example, and get no credit, because the WGA doesn’t see dialog as being nearly as important as most film viewers. Structure and characters are far more important.

Probably the two most memorable scenes in Crimson Tide (discussion of submarine films when the crew is on the bus, and the discussion of Lipizzaner stallions at the end of the film) were reportedly written by Quentin Tarantino. He was hired to “punch up” the script.” Some time ago, IMDb had him listed as an uncredited writer. They no longer do, perhaps because the site is trying to clean up its act. Or perhaps because the WGA has come down on them. Regardless, it’s clear that the film would be negligibly changed if those sequences had been removed — especially considering there was already dialog for those scenes.

Note 13

Amusingly, Lewis gets credit for shooting the film twice in the credits. This may just be a mistake or an indication of his enormous ego. I tend to think the both. I think he was responsible for the last credit is “Photographed and Directed by HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS.” (Note that it doesn’t say, “Audio Recorded and Produced by DAVID F. FREIDMAN.) But no one noticed he had already been given credit in the proper place.

–F Moraes, 17 June 2018

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *