Blood Feast (1963) Blu Ray & DVD (Arrow)
N.B. this disc was originally part of Arrow’s late-2016 box set The Herschell Gordon Lewis Feast and is now being re-released as a standalone.
A gruesome Egyptian feast
William Kerwin plays Detective Pete Thornton, who is investigating a series of gruesome murders of young women which are taking place in Miami. In each case, a different body part is removed and taken from the scene. The culprit is one Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), an ageing Egyptian caterer who needs the body parts for a ritual known as the “Blood Feast”, which is used to invoke the rebirth of the goddess Ishtar.
When Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton) throws a birthday party for her daughter Suzette (Connie Mason) she visit’s Fuad’s shop as she wants him to make a surprise meal for her themed around her fascination for Ancient Egyptian culture. He promises to make her an “authentic Egyptian feast” as it would have been served to the Pharaohs 5,000 years ago - without realising that she will undoubtedly be on the menu.
Can Detective Thornton - who happens to be Suzette’s boyfriend - catch this murderous madman before it’s too late?
Watch a trailer:
A cinematic first?
Blood Feast was the film that give director Herschell Gordon Lewis notorious moniker “The Godfather of Gore”. Contrary to popular belief it was far from the first film to feature gory imagery; the 1895 short The Execution of Mary Stuart featured an onscreen decapitation. However, it was arguably the first feature-length colour film whose entire raison d'être revolved around rubbing gory effects in the audience’s faces. It was banned in UK for many years (having ended up on the DPP “Video Nasties” list) but has been available on digital media formats in the country since 2001.
As a piece of filmmaking it’s ineptly made and acted. William Kerwin is the one actor who gives a halfway decent performance; he’s convincing enough as a stock police detective. Mal Arnold, on the other hand, is just unintentionally hilarious as Fuad. His acting consists of putting on a hammy accent and glaring intensely into the camera. The attempts to make this then-30-year-old American look like an ageing Egyptian via some fake tan and grey hair dye complete the ridiculousness. All of the other performances are just laughably amateurish. The plot is wafer-thin and largely resolves itself via a string of amazing coincidences.
The technical aspects aren’t much better. Camera movements frequently stutter. Scenes end with inelegant dissolves. The sound recording quality is fuzzy. The gore effects themselves largely consist of shots of the actors lying smothered in fake blood while Mal gleefully presents animal offals towards the camera in extreme close up.
A z-movie director with a flair for entertainment
However, as inept as it might be, Blood Feast is undeniably entertaining in a cheaply sick way. While Herschell Gordon Lewis (who sadly passed away in 2016) may have lacked technical competence he did have a certain directorial flair. This is evident in the occasionally stylish composition of the shots along with the fact that, unlike some other z-movie directors, he displayed an evident grasp of the concept of “show, don’t tell”. The short running time flies by painlessly, thus making this a better class of trash.
Runtime: 67 mins
Dir: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Script: Allison Louise Downe
Starring: William Kerwin, Mal Arnold, Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H. Hall
Blu Ray Audio-Visual
The colours are a treat for the eyes: bright, bold and vivid. The all-important bright red blood is simply eye-searing. The sound is rough and crackly - but this is undoubtedly a result of the ultra-cheap audio recording on the original source material rather than a fault of the restoration.
The films are preceded by Herschell Gordon Lewis introductions. There are also the following extras on the disc:
Scum of the Earth!
The most notable extra on this disc is an entire other movie! While Herschell Gordon Lewis was best-known for his gore flicks he did make a number of films in other genres too. Scum of the Earth! was filmed back-to-back with Blood Feast with some of the same locations and actors. It was his last film to be shot in B & W (albeit with one brief flash of colour) and also the first so-called “roughie movie” - a term for exploitation films which combined sex and nudity with violence. However, the actual content here is at the milder end of the scale, with a little bit of (mostly off-screen) violence and a handful of bare breasts. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable cheapie with a certain film noir cynicism and occasional flashes of style.
As with Blood Feast it has some laughable technical aspects, casting and performances (Mal Arnold is even less convincing playing a supposedly adolescent character than he was playing an elderly Egyptian in the other film). However, it’s arguably a more engaging film as it’s easy to root for our protagonist Kim (played by Blood Feast writer Allison Louise Downe), a girl who is manipulated into taking part in sleazy photoshoots via a mixture of money (which she needs to enrol in college) and blackmail. William Kerwin also turns in a fine performance as the only blackmailer who displays something resembling a conscience.
Blood Feast Commentary
Mike Vraney from Something Weird Video introduces Herschell Gordon Lewis and Dave Friedman who talk mainly about Blood Feast but also a little about Scum of the Earth!. It’s a lively and humorous discussion with plenty of anecdotes about the film’s locations (extensive use was made of the Suez Hotel in Miami - even down to the imitation sphinx at the front which features during the opening credits). They recall one contemporary review which, upon noting that they credited North Miami Beach Sanitation Department, retorted “those garbage men should know garbage when they see it.” The also mention an incident where the fake leg cooked in the oven caught fire and a crew member attempted to extinguish it in the street with what they thought was water. It turned out to be gasoline! Hilarious stuff.
Filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy and Rodney Ascher discuss their appreciation of Blood Feast and director Herschell Gordon Lewis in this 10-minute featurette.
A 2007 archive interview with the director who talks about his early career as well as his film Scum of the Earth!. He ends by stating that his aim with most of his gory films was not snuff movie realism (which he finds disgusting) but making sure that audiences leave the cinema feeling entertained.
How Herschell Found His Niche
The director discusses his early “nudie-cutie” films with a focus on The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961) - the first of its kind to have been shot in colour. He reveals that the released version of the film was a “terrible” answer print (an initial version presented to allow producers and test audiences to evaluate it) but was still successful enough to stay in cinemas for nine weeks.
Archive Interview with Lewis & Friedman
A 1987 interview with the director/producer duo who, at that time, had reunited after not being in contact for 10 years. They discuss their films and their business model which Friedman succinctly sums up as “forbidden fruit”.
A vintage 1959 short featuring Blood Feast actor William Kerwin. He plays a suburbanite who amazes his dinner guests with his turkey-carving skills. He reveals that he learnt off real-life home economist Martha Logan. The rest of the film features demonstrations of techniques for carving various meat joints. No, there isn’t a horror twist involving carving human flesh or anything like that; it’s just a sponsored informational film from meat processing company Swift & Company. However, it’s just about worth 20 minutes of your life, if not to learn how to carve meat then at least to witness the ultra-twee 1950s depiction of North American suburbia.
Blood Feast Outtakes
45 minutes’ worth of outtakes are presented here. Since they were recorded without sound some random music and dialogue from various Lewis films plays over them.
Scum “Clean” Scenes
Some alternate takes of a couple of the the racier scenes from Scum of the Earth!. The implied rape from the opening sequence is curtailed and a nudie photo shoot is toned down by covering bare breasts with bras.
Three promos for Blood Feast and for three of Lewis’s “nudie-cuties” are presented here.
Blood Feast is (to say the least) a crude and sloppy film but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining. The copious inclusion of Herschell Gordon Lewis contributions amongst the extras makes it a nice epitaph.