Blood Feast (1963)

*. I did something a little different on my most recent rewatch of Blood Feast. I knew the movie was garbage, but that the director Herschell Gordon Lewis had done a fun commentary I’d enjoyed a few years earlier. So in preparing these notes I just played the movie with the commentary (which Lewis shares with producer David Friedman). I doubt I’ll ever watch Blood Feast (with or without the commentary) again.
*. Lewis was quite a character and his play-by-play is full of interesting tidbits about the production as well as other humorous asides. I got a real laugh out of his description of the fake blood they used. “The blood was so realistic, if you had a transfusion you would probably die but you wouldn’t know why you had died.” Tell me that isn’t a better line than anything in the movie.
*. In the commentary Lewis also stakes Blood Feast‘s sole claim to fame. This is that it marked a watershed in the presentation of cinematic gore. All of the slasher films of the ’80s are, in Lewis’s reckoning, the children of Blood Feast. “I’ve often referred to Blood Feast as a Walt Whitman poem. It’s no good, but it was the first of its type.” (Which, I think, is an odd thing to say about Whitman, in that he did write some good poetry and wasn’t the first of any subsequent school.)
*. Does Lewis have a fair claim to being such a pioneer? Yes and no. He did push the envelope on gore, but I don’t think Blood Feast, despite being highly profitable, was that influential. For one thing, how many people actually saw it? John Waters and who else? I think the slasher films derived more directly from the giallo genre.
*. Still, as the original, or at least the oldest, of the U.K.’s “video nasties” I guess Blood Feast does deserve some credit, if only as a footnote in the history of horror. Lewis was never under any illusions that he was doing anything more than trying to make a buck out of a new exploitation niche (he’d been doing “nudie cuties” before this). Nor was he under any illusions that he was actually making anything good. Shot in about a week (4, or maybe 9, days) for a budget of $25,000, with few actors and a crew that mainly consisted of Lewis holding the camera and Friedman doing the sound, you’d be insane to expect competence much less quality.
*. I found it a bit odd that Lewis defends the film on the commentary from criticism by saying it’s only a “fantasy.” Did people really complain about it not being realistic? Or by fantasy does he just mean that it was meant as a joke?
*. All this said, I do find Lewis’s output a cut above the usual exploitation fare. I’d rather watch one of his movies than the work of William Grefe, his fellow Floridian bargain-basement horror maestro. And next up for Lewis was going to be Two Thousand Maniacs!, a movie I rate very highly. He was not without ability. It’s just that it’s hard to make a good movie without even trying.

3 thoughts on “Blood Feast (1963)

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