Thursday, October 23, 2014

Industrial Terror: Blood Feast

He evolved from a purveyor of nudie cuties into the “Godfather of Gore,” eventually transforming into an internet marketing guru. Herschell Gordon Lewis always had a good sense of where a buck could be made. Today, we’re here for the gore. Notoriously graphic in its day (be forewarned, a cow’s tongue will stand-in for the human article), Lewis’s groundbreaking Blood Feast screens as part of the Anthology Film Archives’ Industrial Terror film series (not safe for lunch trailer here).

Someone is killing and dismembering the young women of Miami. That would be Fuad Ramses, an Egyptian caterer, who is stocking up for the cannibalistic smorgasbord that will be the centerpiece of the resurrection ritual for his mistress, the goddess Ishtar. He is a sweaty, club-footed sad sack (bizarrely, he looks a little like Torgo in Manos: the Hands of Fate and has vaguely similar theme music), but Ramses is still lethal enough to keep Det. Pete Thornton working overtime. Fortunately, the copper can rely on the patience and understanding of his new girlfriend Suzette Fremont, whom he met through their weekly Egyptian Studies lecture series. They are both crazy about Egyptian culture. So much so, Fremont’s mother seeks out Ramses to cater a party in Suzette’s honor.

There is really no point in pedantically dissecting the narrative inconsistencies of Blood Feast. The whole point was the splattering gore. Yet, it is a strangely chipper film given the carnage it unleashes. While Carnival of Souls and Night of the Living Dead transcended their budget constraints, Feast really looks like it was made on the cheap and its ensemble is hardly professional grade, but it accomplishes everything Lewis set out to do, so there you go.

Without question, the best known cast-member is former Playboy Playmate Connie Mason. Ordinarily, the Playmate thespian does not inspire much confidence, but she is far from the worst offender when it comes to awkward line readings—far, far from the worst. You could even argue she adds an upbeat, appealing presence, but that is admittedly grading on a steep curve.

By today’s standards, the Godfather’s gore looks quite amateurish, but we had to start somewhere. This is a pretty bad film according to just about any rational criteria, but it has been truly influential, paving the way for every explicit horror film that followed. You have to laugh at it, but it is way too much for a show like MST3K to handle. Given Lewis’s cult following, any serious horror film cineaste will have to deal with it at some point, so the Industrial Terror film series is probably the perfect venue to bite the bullet. It screens with Carving Magic, a short Lewis whipped up for Swift & Co. teaching the proper technique for carving meat. That’s right, meat carving. What more needs to be said? For exploitation fans in need of some sleaze, they screen together this Friday (10/24) and Monday (10/27) at Anthology Film Archives.