on 21 February 2004
Blood Feast, the brain child of goremeister Herschell Gordon Lewis is one of the most important horrible movies ever made. Without question, the movie really, really stinks in more ways than I would have thought possible, but this, ladies and gentlemen, 1963's Blood Feast, gave birth to the blood and gore genre we know and love today. One man, H.G. Lewis, decided he was going to make a statement; he was going to shock people; he was going to give people gore as they had never seen it before; nothing could stop him, not the atrocious script, not the mind bogglingly bad actors, not his insistence to never shoot a scene more than three times no matter how awful it came out, and not the lack of any funds whatsoever; as long as Lewis could afford barrels of Karo syrup, he was happy. Looking back now, it's pretty hard to believe that this level of gore actually shocked people in the early 1960s, but history tells us that it did. Believe me, we've come a long way since then, but it was H.G. Lewis who blazed the trail we tread today.
On the face of it, Blood Feast would seem to have some good things going for it: a catered feast secretly prepared with human blood and body parts, the influence of an ancient Egyptian religious rite, a number of dead bodies, and even a Playboy playmate in the form of Connie Mason (Miss June 1963). Despite all this, though, the movie drops an H bomb from the very first moment. Plot-wise, you have a series of gruesome murders striking fear all over town, with the killer bagging nubile young women at a rate of 3-4 a week. From each victim he takes a different body part (each time it looks like intestines to me, yet it can be an eyeball, an arm, a heart, whatever). The killer needs these "ingredients" so that he can bring the blood-thirsty goddess Ishtar back to life. The police are clueless, and I do mean clueless; they smoke cigarettes and sit at their desks as hard as they possibly can - heck, the chief even bangs his hand on the desk every now and again - but they just can't come up with a single clue (largely because they can't recognize a clue if it falls on top of them like a ton of bricks). Meanwhile, a wealthy woman is planning for her daughter's birthday celebration and, as a special surprise, she hires Fuad Ramses to cater the party. Ramses promises her an authentic Egyptian feast, and this idea goes over like gangbusters because daughter Suzette just so happens to be attending weekly lectures on ancient Egyptian cults. Suzette also happens to be the girl of one of the town's only two detectives, so you see how all of this starts fitting together.
While the gore is pretty unspectacular from our modern viewpoint, Lewis succeeds quite well at times. We don't actually get to see the actual killings, of course, but there are plenty of shots of our killer pulling out parts of human bodies in his blood-soaked hands, mixing up a batch of young woman blood soup, hacking off limbs and such, and of course cooking such delicacies. Lewis makes a point of admiring his gruesome handiwork, oftentimes panning the camera slowly across the whole body of a mutilated, blood-spattered, thoroughly dead victim. There is one scene in particular that impressed me, involving the appearance of a girl who has a sunken cavity in her chest where her heart used to be. By and large, though, the gore is quite campy to us modern-day horror fans, but one should try to appreciate it in its proper context.
I can't conclude without addressing the performances of the actors and actresses involved with this movie. This may well be the worst assembly of hopeless actors I've ever seen. I don't know where Lewis found these people. You can't just take people off the street and have them perform this badly; it takes years of devoted practice to become this bad a performer. Lewis must have had some of these kids in a bad actor's training camp from the time they could talk in order to coax such wooden, ridiculously bad performances out of them. Then there is the terrible music, which continually takes one of three forms: endless repetition of two drum beats, the playing of a kazoo-like instrument, and terrible pipe organ music of the type that worked well alongside silent movies but does not work at all in this film.
Basically, Blood Feast is a horribly campy, low-budget, sub-B horror movie that now serves as hilarious entertainment which can not be taken the least bit seriously. Were it not for its importance as the first true blood and gore film, this would be just another forgettable trek through the dark forest of bad horror movies. Its historic importance to the genre, however, makes it a film every gorehound must watch and pay homage to in some way.