The Video Nasties #1 – Blood Feast (1963, HG Lewis)

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‘Have you ever had an…Egyptian feast?’

*NOTE*

For this epic video nasty marathon, I will be covering not only the Section 1 and 2 Nasties (those that were actually taken to court), but also the Section 3 titles, which were never officially prosecuted but were liable to seizure from video stores. And yes, that means I will be covering 154 films…

We have to start somewhere, so what about here?

1963. The assassination of JFK. Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech. The beginnings of Beatlemania. And somewhere in Florida, a couple of nudie-film makers prepared to change the face of cinema forever, for better or worse.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the one that arguably started it all – David F Friedman and HG Lewis’ Blood Feast, the first real gore movie.

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Oh sure, there had been movies with scenes of explicit violence before, such as Nobuo Nakagawa’s 1960 Jigoku (The Sinners of Hell), which revelled in full colour scenes of torture and mayhem. But as you can imagine, this Japanese art house classic didn’t really get the chance to play to the masses in the States. No, instead of the classy and beautifully photographed horror of Jigoku, the West’s first real introduction to on-screen gore came via a newspaper with the headline LEGS CUT OFF. It came via a tongue big enough to belong to a giraffe being torn from a centrefold’s throat. It came via Blood Feast, and the world was never the same again.

The only problem? The film, for the most part, is utterly boring.

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The brutal murders of several young women have left the police baffled. The bodies are mutilated, with one victim having had her tongue removed, another her brain and so forth. Six minutes into the movie, the mystery killer is revealed to be one Fuad Ramses, Exotic Caterer. We know he’s old, because he has talcum powder in his hair and eyebrows.

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Fuad is preparing to make a sacrifice – or BLOOD FEAST, if you prefer – to Ishtar, an Egyptian goddess, played by a gold statue so tacky that Michael Jackson would have turned it down on the grounds of good taste. The killings continue until one of the moron cops realises that all the victims were part of the same book group (yes, that is correct). But Ramses is doing the catering for the party of the cop’s girlfriend Suzette, and has plans to make her the final sacrifice, setting the stage for one of the slowest moving climaxes in film history…

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Lewis himself once remarked – and by law, I have to quote this if writing about the man – ‘I’ve often compared Blood Feast to a Walt Whitman poem. It was no good, but it was the first of its kind.’ An astute man, was Mr Lewis. Blood Feast is an incompetent and slipshod production (brought to you by Box Office Spectaculars Inc, no less) that fails on every conceivable technical level. Shots are poorly framed and often badly out of focus. Actors visibly read their lines from cue cards. The pace is slug like, not helped by the fact that Fuad Ramses seems to do everything in slow motion. The dialogue, when it actually comes, is trite and unconvincing (‘Well Frank, this looks like one of these long, hard ones,’ says our brain dead lead cop, perhaps thinking he was in one of Lewis’ earlier softcore movies).

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And that score! Dear god, don’t get me started on that score. The bulk of the music is two timpani drums being hit, at regular, monotonous intervals, making the horror sequences sound like they’re being soundtracked by the footsteps of a cartoon elephant.

But none of that is really the point. This is exploitation cinema at it’s purest and most undiluted. This is two men, tired of shooting skin-flicks, looking to make a quick buck and in the process accidentally inventing a new sub-genre – The Gore Movie.

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The violence, when it comes, is pretty surprising even now, mostly due to the use of real butcher shop offal, ladled out over the nubile flesh of the naked victims.

A girl taking a bath has her eye and leg removed. Another is attacked while in her underwear and has her tongue torn out by hand. And in a flashback to ancient Egypt, a model with very visible bikini tan lines is stabbed between her breasts.

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This queasy mixture of sex and violence is the reason that Blood Feast was banned and successfully prosecuted, as the BBFC is notoriously strict on the combination. Most of the victims are in a state of undress when Ramses attacks, and the camera lovingly lingers on their bloodstained corpses, panning up and down their bodies in a bizarre attempt to titillate the audience with cold, dead flesh.

It’s a hard film to recommend. Technical quality is of very little consideration for me, but when absolutely nothing works, from the photography to the script to the score, it makes the film a real slog, or, you might say, ‘one of those long, hard ones.’

Regardless, in a perverse way, Blood Feast is the most important film on the Nasties list, as it arguably paved the way for all that followed. But like the man himself said, just because it was the first, it doesn’t make it good.

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2 Responses to The Video Nasties #1 – Blood Feast (1963, HG Lewis)

  1. lysette says:

    Too true Herschell, too true… yet I love his movies for all of these reasons! The lurid colors, the confusion, the almost zen like pacing; I find myself simultaneously infuriated and relaxed. An acquired taste for sure.

    Like

  2. Maybe I was in the wrong mood. I’ve seen Blood Feast several times before and enjoyed it, but man, this time around I’ve never felt 67 minutes crawl by so slowly. That score…THAT SCORE…and to think, I have it on vinyl!

    Like

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