Blood Feast (1963)
Having grown up hearing such wonderful things about Herschell Gordon Lewis and his classic Blood Feast, my expectations coming in were quite high. Blood Feast is, after all, the world’s first gore film, after Lewis and partner/producer David Friedman decided to make a film the world had never seen before. Color film was now a reality, so why not put the palette to the test?
What I didn’t expect to notice, right off the bat, was how inept some of Lewis’ shots would be. I know he cut his teeth writing ad copy, so he must’ve noticed that there’s a crew member’s shadow visible in the first scene! I’m not expecting much here, I mean, this is the first gore film, but I have to maintain some kind of professional standards.
Such debating quickly ended when Blood Feast’s first victim dies less than two minutes into the film. A killing clearly inspired by Hitchcock’s Psycho, but Lewis and Friedman does it one better by not making us wait 45 minutes to get to the good stuff.
Such quickness is needed, as Blood Feast’s length is barely over 65 minutes; leaving no time to spare. There’s no room for exposition; such as why villain Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) is the whitest Egyptian seen since Moses. (Hmmm… perhaps Blood Feast is traditional in that sense.) There’s not even enough time to introduce a believable hero, so Ramses pulls double-duty by being the film’s antagonist and the main character.
Ramses is the character we spend the most time with, which makes sense considering he’s also the most interesting. Fuad coming off similar to Walter (Dick Miller) in Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood. Minus the hapless loser angle, because Ramses shows no emotion except sheer, unrepentant joy here.
It’s this joy that presumably explains his haphazard approach to serial killing. The cops cries about him leaving no clues at the scene of the crime fall short once you see the crimes. Two occur in broad daylight, one girl gets dragged by the limping Ramses all the way back to his shop, where she’s sacrificed on his shrine to Ishtar, and the final one takes place at Suzette’s (Connie Mason) birthday party. While the party is still going on! Ramses just takes her to the kitchen and prepares to slice her up.
The breakneck pace of the killings is never explained, nor is Ramses sloppy work within. With one murder he takes the victim’s tongue, another a heart. The one at Ishtar’s shrine gets sliced up every which way. So in this sense the cops are correct. There is no rhyme or reason behind why Ramses is killing, but slumping around with his huge limp, I have trouble believing that there were no clues left behind.
Then again, this movie exists to show blood. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.
Which is why it’s amazing that in Mau Mau Sex Sex, Lewis and Friedman talk about how their films differed from porn. To quote Lewis, he, along with Friedman, “sold the sizzle, not the steak.” Yet watching Blood Feast, you see the similarities between the two strains of exploitation. It appears as if most of Blood Feast was filmed in or around motel rooms; much like its XXX relatives. (Blood Feast wouldn’t carry a rating, as the drive-in theaters didn’t need them.)
Okay, I guess some time is spent trying to develop detective Pete’s (William Kerwin) character, but he comes off as a stiffer actor than Playmate Connie Mason was reported to be! He’s on the hunt for a serial killer who’s been taking his victims’ body parts. He learns in Egyptology class about the feast of Ishtar; where the Egyptians sacrificed a maiden to the goddess. Then he receives a call from Suzette, about how her mother is throwing her a authentic Egyptian Ishtar-ian feast.
Clues go right over his head. It’s not until after another girl dies that he puts it all together.
Given the amount of attention Blood Feast’s (lackluster) protagonists get, it should be no surprise that Ramses’ business, Fuad Ramses Exotic Catering, is the most realistic looking location.
Until Connie Mason’s pool scene at least. I like to imagine that my parents watched this movie when they were dating, and seeing how gorgeous the pool scene was cemented their decision to move to FL so many years later.