Mike’s Review: Blood Feast (1963)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
In order to hype the film, Herschell Gordon Lewis gave theater-goers “vomit bags” and allegedly took out an injunction against the film in Sarasota, Florida

★★★ out of ★★★★★

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis

There has to be a “first” everything.  First to the moon.  First political crisis of 2019.  First college football champ — that’s not from Ohio or Alabama.  Even first horror movie of the 20th century (read: The Damnation of Faust, 1903).  So it should come as no surprise that some deviate had to concoct the first gore film in the horror genre.  Sure there were pieces and parts (no pun intended) that picked around the edges of gore, but before 1963 no one had ever jumped in to the murky morass of gore.  That was until Mr. Herschell Gordon Lewis quit his job at Mississippi State College, put aside the profitable but questionable nudie film making biz, and decided to get right with GORE, glorious gore. 

Blood Feast was the end result of Herschell Gordon Lewis’ insatiable appetite for the nastier side of film.  The story, also written by Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman, involves a psychopathic Egyptian caterer, Mr. Fuad Ramses, and his desire to stir up a “blood feast” to the benefit of the Egyptian goddess, Ishtar.  While it would be another 24 years before the ill-fated Dustin Hoffman/Warren Beatty joint would come to life, weirdly, Ishtar was a rather fitting setting for Herschell Gordon Lewis’ low-rent garage film making prowess. 

Blood Feast starts with an absolute bang, or rather chop.  A young women comes home from work and decides to slip in the tub after removing all of her 1960s garters, hoists, braziers, and other lady-like ephemera.  After a split second of luxuriating, Fuad Ramses pulls out her eye and then chops of her leg at the knee. In the early half of the 21st century audiences have been lulled to sleep by the onslaught of slaughtering slaughters, but in 1963 a bloody eyeball and a severed leg, well, that was something else. 

Fuad Ramses, in his part time gig as an exotic caterer, is hit up by a wealthy socialite, Mrs. Fremont, who explains to him that her daughter, who also happens to be taking some Egyptology classes at the community college, is having a party.  Fuad Ramses decides that the party will be the perfect culmination of his ancient Ishtar resurrection rites and he agrees to cater the free wheeling college soiree. The kids need to eat and Fuad needs to prepare the blood feast — a match made in fertile banks of the Nile itself.  Fuad quickly sets his sights on a bevy of bodacious local young ladies and gets to chopping.  This blood feast, it turns out, requires lots of parts from lots of lovelies.  Possibly the nastiest bit of hacking and slashing comes when Fuad stalks a drunken young couple at a motel and then pulls a woman’s tongue out through her throat.  Yes.  It’s that gory.

The local constables eventually get hip to Fuad’s gore-soaked plans and Blood Feast culminates at Mrs. Fremont’s Egyptian-themed party for her daughter.  Thankfully, none of the guests actually have to gnaw on Fuad’s people parts cioppino, but Fuad’s plans are fully foiled.  He flees the Fremont’s mid-century modern abode and runs, or rather trundles, to the nearby dump and frantically seeks refuge in the back of a dump truck.  The garbagemen unwittingly start up the compactor and…roll bloody end credits. 

Blood Feast is full of questionable acting, dialogue, shot locations, and set designs.  The goddess Ishtar is a spray painted gold mannequin with too much eye shadow, Fuad has some really funky looking caterpillar eyebrows glued to his forehead, and a good quarter of Blood Feast’s scenes are entirely out of focus.  These qualities and deficiencies are of course undone by Herschell Gordon Lewis’ masterful and liberating approach to the use of gore, gore, and more gore.  Sure this film will likely lose favor and slip in to the public domain at some point, but the foundational importance of Blood Feast can’t be understated.  Herschell Gordon Lewis definitely had a distorted vision, but without this messed-up masterpiece modern horror would not exist as we know it today. 

The MPAA wouldn’t be around for another five years after Blood Feast, but we’re going with a solid R rating. Blood Feast is available for rent at Amazon.

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