Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things

Denez McAdoo

Blood Feast”Nothing So Appalling in the Annals of Horror!”1963unrated – 70 min

One of the more well knows in an elite circle of complete unknowns, cult movie director H. G. Lewis is widely regarded as the great-grand-pappy of gore. In Blood Feast, his first film to not include cheesecake concubines happily jiggling for the camera, Lewis effectively defines a whole new genre of filth and depravity: the gore film. Let’s enter our way-way-back machine to 1963, a time of innocence and greater naivety. A time before the mop-topped Beatles had our youth “turned on,” a time when the horror film was defined by the bloodless Universal monster movies of Frankenstein’s monster and the mummy. Yes, it was in this environment that a cash-strapped, zero-integrity, try-anything-once young director of nudie cuties named Herschel Gordon, stumbled upon a formula for quick success by pandering to the lowest common denominator of sub-human fascination and entertainment. After watching an old gangster flick in which a character was shot dead, Herschell noticed the relative lack of blood in the shot. This got him thinking. He had an idea. He had a market. He had his niche. There was only one obstacle standing in the way of imminent success: talent… of any kind… whatsoever.

Perhaps the young Herschell was more of an “ideas man” and should have left the actual employment and execution of his film to someone more skilled. But no, this, it can be argued, would have robbed the film of a certain harrowing and chilling aesthetic quality unique to desperate sleaze films. Backdrops are two-dimensional, the characters are one-dimensional, and the dialogue is either dry and stiff, or painfully overacted. The plot is paper-thin and features zero character development. The cinematography comes across as abstract with the color pallet largely consisting of washed out sea foam greens and glistening cherry reds. With both production costs and moral integrity scraping the bottom of the barrel, your average moviegoer might be inclined to ask, “Where exactly is the entertainment value in all of this?” But this is where Blood Feast manages to be almost post-modern in its approach, reducing any sense of entertainment into a series of brutal and violent images (though in the hands of Lewis, possibly borderline seductive and maybe even perversely beautiful) strung together only by a plot the width of a hair. There is no message, and there is no lesson learned. Only a visually stimulating assault on the senses, that only produces an emotional response (disgust, repulsion, nausea, glee) in the viewer. As a product of western culture, Blood Feast, along with all the gore films that followed, deliberately touch a sensitive nerve of American morality and idealism, and it does so simply for the sake of shock. The films effectiveness is achieved, not in spite of, but because of, it’s lack of professionalism. As a film, Blood Feast develops short, fast and loud. This is true punk rock cinema, a full 15 years before the term “punk” meant anything beyond the equivalent of telling you prison cell-mate to smile like a doughnut. But, we can try to remove Blood Feast from the limitations of the past (sure it was a novel concept… in 1963), or from the high standards of the present (no, its cinematography isn’t comparable to, say, Titanic). Instead look at the film as an isolated work. Forty years later, Blood Feast is still one disturbing piece of cinema. Though not exactly terrifying: the suspense is about as tightly woven as grandma’s knickers and the killer is revealed in the first five minutes. But, if ever there was an argument that two wrongs can make a right (or in this case, at least six or seven wrongs) Blood Feast proves that the whole of the movie can be greater than the sum of its (body) parts.

Honestly, for all my efforts to justify the value of this movie, chances are any self-respecting, god-fearing, red-blooded American probably will, and, rightly so, should hate every thing about it. That’s OK. This movie wasn’t made for you. However, if eating paint chip sandwiches and gargling Robotusin sounds like a Saturday night out, then this movies may be right up your alley.