Halloween Endurance Test: the Blood of the Beast (1949)

Georges Franju’s famed documentary about French slaughterhouses circa the 1950s. Not a horror movie per se, I guess, though watching a full grown horse take a bolt to the forehead, dropping to the ground in a heap is grotesque.

“In the gray steam rising from the blood of the beasts.”

Steam does rise after the horse’s throat is slit. Actually it doesn’t so much “rise” as “gush” out along with the blood. This fact made me wonder why special effect artists don’t use that in movies. Visually it’s stunning if you can disconnect it from all the blood.

The film starts at a horse slaughterhouse, before moving into the (more traditional) cattle abattoir. Watch as a cow takes a poleax to the forehead; dropping in the same fashion as the horse. Then watch as a reed is inserted into the medullary canal; destroying the spinal cord to suppress the cow’s death twitches.

Grisly stuff, I had toyed with the idea of revisiting Faces/Traces of Death et al) this year, though now it looks as if the fates have somewhat forced my hand.

(Signs that I’ve worked at the Red Planet too long; watching the film I immediately noticed that the butchers weren’t cutting away from their body. Safety first people!)

Who knew calves were so easy to decapitate? We learn that in order to keep the veal white, decapitation is used. We also observe at the reed down the medullary canal could probably be used elsewhere besides the horse slaughterhouse. It’s a bizarre, and almost comical when the butchers are trying to cut the calf’s hoofs off, and each time a blade touches it, it goes through death spasms. Watching the torso, bereft of head and hoof, twitching as if to ward off it’s executioners.

Interestingly, they use a “traitor” sheep to lead the rest to the slaughter. One that I’m guessing has been trained to walk to the auction block; unwittingly trading its life for those of its companions.

“Violence isn’t the ends. Violence is the means.”

It was on the grounds of this documentary that Franju was given directorship of tomorrow’s film, the new-wave French horror classic, Eyes Without a Face. You can pick up bits of that film’s aesthetic here too, in Franju’s use of black and white film stock instead of newly invented color.


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