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BLOOD FEAST (1963)

“Have you ever had….an EGYPTIAN FEAST!?”

Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis

Starring: Mal Arnold, Thomas Wood (William Kerwin), Connie Mason, Lyn Bolton, Scott H. Hall, Toni Colvert, Al Golden, Ashlyn Martin, Gene Courtier

Screenplay: A. Louise Downe (Herschell Gordon Lewis)

Synopsis:  After listening to a radio report of yet another mutilation murder in the area, a girl tries to relax in the bath with a copy of the book, Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Suddenly, a figure looms up beside her…. As the girl screams helplessly, her attacker stabs her in the eye, then proceeds to hack off her leg, which he carries away with him…. At the Homicide Bureau, the Chief of Detectives (Scott H. Hall) and Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin) discuss the horrifying wave of murders, which has seen seven girls killed in two weeks, each of them having a body part removed. Meanwhile, Mrs Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton) visits the catering service of Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), telling him that she is planning a dinner party for her daughter, Suzette (Connie Mason), and wants something truly unusual and different. Ramses suggests an Egyptian feast, one not served for over five thousand years. Mrs Fremont agrees enthusiastically, explaining that Suzette is a student of Egyptian culture. When Mrs Fremont has left, Ramses slips into a secret room at the back of his store. There, amongst cooking pots and body parts and other evidence of Ramses’ grim activities, is an effigy of the Egyptian goddess, Ishtar. Ramses prays to the figure, telling her that the time is near…. At headquarters, Pete fills the Chief in on the little they have learned about the bathtub victim: that she was a quiet girl with no boyfriend, but well liked and active in her book club. That night, a couple necking on the beach falls victim to Ramses: the boy, Tony (Gene Courtier), is knocked unconscious and the girl, Marcy (Ashlyn Martin), killed. Her skull is hacked open and the brain removed…. After the body is discovered, Pete and the Chief try to interview Tony, but he is hysterical. The girl’s parents are little more help. Her father explains that Marcy and Tony had been going steady for over a year; that she had a lot of friends; and, while not belonging to any one group, was a member of a book club. Pete is about to follow up on this when a fresh outburst of uncontrollable grief from Marcy’s mother distracts him. Across town, a drunken couple staggers upstairs to the woman’s rooms, unaware that they are being watched. When the man has left, Fuad Ramses forces his way inside, wrestles the woman down onto the bed, and rips out her tongue with his bare hands…. At the Fremont residence, Suzette tries to get excited about the upcoming dinner party, but tells her mother that with all the murders, it is hard to enjoy anything. She then departs for her weekly lecture on ancient history, a course which Pete, her boyfriend, attends with her. This week, the lecture is on the cult of the goddess Ishtar, which marked the coming of spring with an orgy that culminated in the “blood feast”, wherein the priestesses of Ishtar were butchered and their flesh consumed, in order to bring about the re-birth of the goddess herself….

Comments:  Government censorship. An unfree press printing deliberate lies for political ends. The jailing and fining of individuals for acts retroactively deemed “illegal” by the courts. The suppression of dissenting voices and opinions.

Welcome to the Evil Empire.

No, not any of the so-called “Evil Empires” that we’re used to hearing about these days. On the contrary, this time we’re talking about one of the supposed Good Guys – Great Britain, no less, circa 1985; the era of the “Video Nasties”.

It all began innocuously enough, early in 1982, with a tacky advertisement for an even tackier film – Sergio Garrone’s S.S. Experiment Camp – falling foul of the Advertising Standards Authority. A few months later, a landmark newspaper article was published: “How High Street Horror Is Invading The Home” warned that the lack of regulation within video industry, and the absence of any age restriction in the hiring of videos (films on video not then requiring classification), was allowing children access to horror movies of the most extreme kind. This article was printed in an essentially “respectable” paper, the Sunday Times; but before long, the tabloids would seize upon the issue of these “Video Nasties”, as they were dubbed, and for over a decade wage against them a war of misinformation, misdirection, and outright deceit.

The details of that war are both horrifying and hilarious. For years, barely a violent crime of any description could be committed in Britain without the tabloids finding some film, any film, to blame it on – in the process, blithely absolving the actual criminals from any responsibility for their actions. Thus we read about – ulp! – a series of sexual results upon ponies, which were deemed to be due to the influence of “Video Nasties or a new moon”. The perpetrator of an assault at a garage is described as “wearing Freddy Krueger blades” (he was carrying martial arts weapons); two teenagers who murder a third and bury his body in the woods are “copying The Evil Dead”; a rape-murder is supposedly incited by John Carpenter’s version of The Thing (!!); while, best of all (excuse my warped perspective), a gay bondage murder is somehow blamed upon a viewing of – Zombie!?  Given the prevailing climate, who can blame Britain’s defence lawyers for jumping on the scapegoating bandwagon? – although as it turned out, they were no more knowledgeable about horror films than your average tabloid hack. Consider the case of Robert Sartin, who claimed during his trial that he was “driven” to carry out a fatal shooting spree, by “hearing the voice of Michael Myers”. I assume that I don’t have to point out to any visitor to this website the slight flaw in that argument.

(One study of the “Video Nasties” era, See No Evil, suggests that the “Michael” in question was actually Michael Ryan, who only weeks before Sartin’s own shooting spree shot dead sixteen people, and then himself, at Hungerford. Authors David Kerekes and David Slater go on to build a persuasive argument that the biggest influence on such mass shootings is not violent film, but media coverage of similar incidents. Needless to say, this is not a view that commends itself to the press.)

Hindsight being, as they say, 20/20, the real agenda behind this bizarre media campaign is now all too obvious. That home video and the Thatcher government should arrive in Britain almost simultaneously is one of this sorry saga’s great ironies. The early years of the new Tory administration were marked by skyrocketing unemployment, an equal rise in the crime rate, and by mid-1981, riots in the streets; all very embarrassing for a party that prided itself on its hard-nosed “law and order” stance. Unable to admit that the implementation of its economic policies might be in any way responsible for this sad state of affairs, the administration looked around for a scapegoat, a target; preferably an inanimate target, one that wouldn’t react to the next set of Government policies by looting, assaulting policemen, and lobbing Molotov cocktails; and best of all, a target that could be attacked with impunity, one that hardly anyone would bother defending.

And it found one. Boy, did it find one. With the Rupert Murdoch-controlled section of the media firmly in its back pocket, the government set out to prove – or at least, to convince – that the nation was suffering from something far other than failed economic theory. Within weeks of that initial, comparatively levelheaded, look at the state of home video in Britain, the tabloids were howling about “this tide of degenerate filth”; about “violent, sadistic and perverted videos”, films that were “soul-soiling”, that “deaden decency and encourage depravity”. Meanwhile, the Home Office was swiftly clearing the way for the prosecution of films under the Obscene Publications Act (this being the document containing that notorious “definition” of obscene, having a tendency to deprave and corrupt). These “Video Nasties”, the public was told repeatedly, were so sick and vile that they could turn ordinary, law-abiding citizens into rapists and murders; while children exposed to them would have “their minds raped”, inevitably growing up “disturbed and dangerous”, a “time-bomb of violence which will explode on the streets of Britain”.

As a matter of fact – or so the argument went – to show a child such a video was to be a child abuser; to make or distribute or sell a Nasty was to be one, too; and, for that matter, you were a child abuser if you argued against censorship, expressed doubts that horror movies were really to blame for violent crimes, or even suggested that we all just slow down for a minute and think about this…. (“No-one has the right to be upset at a brutal sex crime or a sadistic attack on a child or mindless thuggery on a pensioner, if he is not prepared to drive sadistic videos out of our high streets,” intoned David Mellor, then Minister of State at the Home Office.) Sadly but perhaps not surprisingly, in July of 1984, the Video Recordings Act was passed, in theory a form of “film classification”, in reality – state censorship.

Now – let’s take a look at one of these depraving and corrupting “Video Nasties”; in fact, the granddaddy of ’em all….

***********************************

Some, or at least one, of my fellow B-Masters might not agree, but in my opinion this is one Roundtable where we were definitely spoilt for choice

After a little of the usual amicable wrangling, and my not entirely unregretful surrender of Night Of The Bloody Apes, I finally settled upon the oldest of all the Nasties as my choice for this Roundtable. Herschell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast was originally released in 1963, a full twenty-one years before the Video Recordings Act was passed in order to control “this new evil”. Blood Feast is generally regarded as “the first gore movie”; and although the film’s claim to this dubious honour has been disputed in some quarters, in the most basic sense it is probably true. While in Asia and in Europe directors were beginning to push the boundaries of explicit screen violence, there is a fundamental difference between the work of, say, Georges Franju and Mario Bava, and that of Herschell Gordon Lewis (and no, I don’t just mean that that Franju and Bava made very good films, while Lewis made a very bad film!). In films such as Eyes Without A Face and The Mask Of The Demon, the violence, while shocking even to this day, is integrated into the work as a whole. In Blood Feast, the so-called “story” exists purely to provide an excuse for the violence. It is the first film where graphic effects are the entire raison d’être.

In 1963, things were getting tough for Herschell Gordon Lewis and his partner, David Friedman. For a few years the two had made a comfortable living turning out “nudie-cuties”, exploitation films that without actual sex scenes, nevertheless showed as much naked flesh – usually female, but not exclusively – as they could get away with. But in Hollywood, things were also starting to loosen up in that regard. Recognising that there was no way they could compete with the majors, and recognising also that “there are only so many ways you can show girls playing volley-ball”, Herschell and Dave looked around for some unoccupied territory….

Years later, Frank Henenlotter would recall one particularly traumatic night from his misspent youth: “We heard rumours that there was a film at this drive-in that showed breasts. That’s the only reason we went, watching this girl undress, hoping we’d see a flash of her breast, and all of a sudden this guy comes in and cuts off her leg! We just panicked and ran!”

One imagines that the young Frank was not the only one scarred by an unprepared encounter with Blood Feast. Literally, nothing like it had been seen before on American cinema screens – and it was in colour! Determined to get the absolute most out of his extremely limited resources – the film was made for only $24,500 – Lewis decided upon what he later called intensive gore. The girl in the opening scene does not only have her leg cut off: she is first stabbed in the eye. Another girl has her head smashed open. A leg is baked in an oven; a heart is cut out; a girl is flayed by whipping; and most notorious of all, a tongue is pulled out….roots and all.

There is a contradictory quality about the gore scenes in Blood Feast. In the technical sense, they are entirely unconvincing….but “unconvincing” is not the same things as “ineffective”. There is a rare intensity about these scenes, a determination to really rub the viewer’s nose in it. It is true that there are no impact shots – Lewis had neither the budget nor the expertise for that – but in their place are lingering “aftermath” shots not easily forgotten: a bloody stump, complete with bone, sticking up out of the suds in a bathtub; brains spread across the sands of a beach; an empty mouth….

Blood Feast is in many ways a piece of anti-cinema: the shots are static; most “compositions” consist of two people sitting in a room; the actors (with one exception – we’ll get to him later) can be seen reading their lines from cue cards, off notes lying on a table, and in one case, even off his own hand; but it is never so distant from what we regard as “the rules” of cinema than when the camera, with what Stephen King once called (talking about Maniac, from memory) “a dead-eyed leer”, simply stares unmoved at the carnage before it. There is such a complete lack of artistry about it all that, perversely, it ends up lending an unnerving verisimilitude to the proceedings. In fairness, however, there are also a few details that are too authentic for comfort: the blood from the first girl’s stab wound pooling in her ear, for instance, and the horrid goo welling up within the mouth cavity of the “tongue” victim. These are touches that we rarely see in more “realistic” scenes of violence, and they add a disquieting credibility to the essentially crude effects.

Take the gore scenes out of Blood Feast, however, and what we have left is a Komedy Klassic.

Blood Feast boasts some wonderful usage of the Plot Point-Specific Radio©, that friend to unskilled screenwriters everywhere. The opening seconds of the film introduce us – however briefly – to an attractive young woman whose first act upon entering her home is to switch on her PPSR©, which (in the dulcet tones of HGL) instantly informs her, and us, of “another murder”, a girl found “dead, badly mutilated”. Our young woman registers some shock and concern, but it could as well be in reaction to the suggestion that she not leave her house unaccompanied as a way of expressing sorrow for the victim. The PPSR© goes on to advise all women to Lock their doors! Alas for our new acquaintance, she has an extremely literal mind; or perhaps – as will prove to be true of all the other characters in Blood Feast – she simply has the attention span of a guppy. In any case, having locked her door on the way in, she wanders off without – dum, dum, dummm – locking her window….

(“Dum, dum, dummm”, indeed: the sparse score of Blood Feast is notable chiefly for the dramatic scenes being underlain by the slow, steady beat of a kettledrum: bom – bom – bom – bom –  The score was composed by that inexhaustible multi-tasker, HGL, and in the case of the kettle drum, played by him, too; he says, because he forgot to hire a drummer. I’d be prepared to bet the drummer in question asked for a dollar or two too many…)

We then get a salutary reminder of Dave ‘n’ Herschell’s previous occupation: with a psycho-killer on the loose, our young lady decides it’s time for – what else? – a bubble bath.

The following brief scene usually provokes guffaws for a number of reasons, one of them being the lady’s choice of a book for tub-reading: an imposing tome entitled Ancient Weird Religious Rites. However---

I might as well play True Confession here and admit that before I settled down for my viewing of Blood Feast, I also took a bath – not a bubble bath, just a bath – into which I took my own choice of, ahem, relaxing reading material: Killing For Culture: An Illustrated History Of Death Film From Mondo To Snuff. Consequently, the moment described above elicited from me, not a giggle, but a squirm of embarrassment.

But I had no trouble laughing at a couple of other details, such as the revelation that the young lady is wearing ENORMOUS UNDERPANTS. I guess that in Florida in the early sixties, attractive young women may very well have worn ENORMOUS UNDERPANTS….but somehow it isn’t something you expect to find in an exploitation film; particularly not when the same young lady immediately obliges us with a flash of her right breast. That taken care of, she wraps herself in a towel for the arduous two-pace trip to her bathtub – further obliges us with an always-titillating towel-drops-to-ground moment – then steps into….a pre-filled tub!? Now that’s a good trick.

And alas again, we’ve barely had time to determine whether or not we can see nipples through the artfully deposited bubbles, when---

“AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!”

Fuad Ramses suddenly appears and stabs our poor person’s Janet Leigh through the eye. We don’t see the stabbing; what we see is the knife raised again – from it dangling an indeterminate chunk of bloody meat….

Fuad beams as he contemplates his handiwork; and as Fuad, Mal Arnold, not for the only time in the film, takes on an unspeakably creepy resemblance to Harpo Marx. We then get a close-up of his eyes and, good lord, I haven’t seen eyebrows like that since Faye Dunaway did Joan Crawford! Fuad leans over his victim, raises the knife again, and hacks – and hacks – and hacks….and finally turns towards us with a severed leg in his hands, the stump from which it was detached poking out of the waters of the tub, the bone clearly visible….

….at which point, we recall, the young Frank Henenlotter and his cronies bolted into the night. Had they not, they might have exercised their minds, as I am doing, with the puzzle of why Ms Bathtub ’63 bled more from her stab wound than she did from her amputation. Fuad stuffs his trophy and his knife into a carry bag and departs; while the camera favours us with one more thoughtful look at the bony stump.

Blood Feast is, at this moment, all of two-and-a-half minutes old; and we are obliged to tip our hats to HGL for giving the punters not just what they were promised, but more than they ever expected. Which, come to think of it, isn’t such a bad definition of the Nasties in general.

The credits then roll, and the words Blood Feast form themselves over the image of the sphinx. Or rather of a sphinx: the one that stood outside the Suez Motel in Miami, whose vaguely faux-Egyptian decor suggested to HGL the film’s even more faux-Egyptian back-story. The credits past---well, folks, it’s time that we braced ourselves. We may have survived Blood Feast’s opening dismemberment, but now our courage and our endurance will really be tested, as the film’s cast….tries to act.

I’ve watched a lot of bad movies in my time, both bad-entertaining and bad-bad; and I swear, I cannot for the life of me think of any other film that boasts such a collection of dreadful, dreadful actors. These guys make the cast of Plan 9 From Outer Space look---well, I was going to say “Oscar-calibre”, but that’s no real mark of quality. Anyway, you know what I mean. Watching, you begin to wonder if these aren’t in fact skilled actors pulling a sick joke on the audience: it’s that hard to believe that so many people could be this bad by accident. However, that said, I’m obliged to cut one of our contributors a little slack: Scott H. Hall, who plays Chief of Detectives Frank Idontrateasurname, was not, in fact, an actor; he wasn’t even an “actor”; he was one of the crew, tagged to fill in when someone didn’t show up. So we can forgive the conscientious way he recites his dialogue out of the palm of his hand….and when that runs out of space, off cue cards on the table in front of him. He may not be any good, but he isn’t any worse than the alleged professionals around him.

(And yes, I did say there was one exception; and yes, I will get to him….)

We cut to the Homicide Bureau – one room containing one desk, two chairs, a pot-plant, and an ashtray the size and shape – and colour – of a zucchini – wherein sit Our Heroes, the aforementioned Frank and Detective Pete Thornton. In lieu of a Plot Point-Specific Radio©, the film here helpfully serves up a Plot Point-Specific Chief of Detectives, as Frank fills us in on what’s been going on.

(A word about Scott H. Hall’s delivery: HGL apparently advised him to try and disguise the fact that he didn’t know what he was doing by shouting. A little shy, perhaps, Hall initially went instead for a kind of Shatner-esque delivery, giving us his lines with a rollercoaster cadence; thus---)

“….SEVEN killings in two weeks….YOUNG GIRLS….each killing more BRUTAL than the other….”

Pete, more phlegmatic than his Chief, more or less agrees that it’s a bummer. Frank goes on to bemoan the fact that through all of this, they haven’t found one clue – not one. You might want to keep that statement in mind, folks, as the case unfolds before us. PPSCOD Frank further informs us that all of the victims have been mutilated, that “certain limbs and organs have been removed”. Pessimistic Pete chimes in here with a complaint about the D.A.’s office, which is “getting hot. The newspapers are really playing this one up, too,” he gripes. What, just because there have been seven BRUTAL killings of YOUNG GIRLS in two weeks? The bastards!

Pete – aka “Thomas Wood” aka William Kerwin – then goes on to earn himself a slice of immortality, by delivering a line that would, shall we say, be far more at home in one of Herschell’s “nudie” films (particularly considering Kerwin’s nudge-nudge reading of it!), and which Something Weird have gleefully reproduced in as much of their advertising and promotional material as possible:

“Well, Frank,” quoth Pete, “this looks like one of those lo-oo-onnng, hard ones!”

(“I know what you mean,” responds Frank, for one alarming moment suggesting that we’re wandering into exploitation territory that even HGL never dared touch.)

Frank then orders Pete to see that the TV and the radio repeat their emergency broadcast every thirty minutes – which I guess, to be fair, might explain the PPSR©.

And now folks, as far as bad acting is concerned, it’s time for the clash of the titans! In the red corner: Mal Arnold as Fuad Ramses (which, by the way, is pronounced “Foo-ard”). We’ve met Mal already, of course, but then he just had to leer into the camera and wave a knife around. Now he has dialogue to deliver. If you wanted to be polite, you could call his style “measured”; or you could just cut to the chase and say that he sounds like Bela Lugosi on Quaaludes. Best of all, he accompanies his lines with a series of grimaces and facial tics that suggest either severe unrequited love or an equally severe intestinal upset. I’m not sure it’s entirely accurate to describe what Mal Arnold does in this film as “acting”, but it sure is entertaining.

And in the blue corner, Lyn Bolton as Mrs Dorothy Fremont. The best thing I can say about her, um, performance is that she overtly reads her lines from cue cards slightly less frequently than almost everyone else. If you can imagine a maniacally hyperactive melding of Mrs Oliver Wendell Douglas and Mrs Thurston Howell III, you’ll have some notion of Ms Bolton’s effort at acting like “a socialite”. She does refrain from attempting an accent, however – thank heaven for small mercies – and perhaps it was a consequent feeling that her performance was a bit lacking that led her to compensate by choosing for herself the single most appalling hat I’ve seen since….well, since I ragged on the entire cast of Atlantis, The Lost Continent for the same transgression.

Let the battle begin!

Somewhere in Miami, we learn, there is a store called “Fuad Ramses Exotic Catering”, and into that store wanders Mrs Dorothy Fremont. Mrs Fremont introduces herself, and instantly Fuad leans across the counter and delivers a leer that stops her in her tracks. (This moment always feels incomplete: there really should have been a “A-yyyyyessssss???” accompanying that leer.) It would be too much to say that Mrs Fremont has a one-track mind, because that would imply that she had a mind in the first place; but in any case, there certainly isn’t room for more than one vague idea inside her head at a time; and so, undeterred by having an unspeakably creepy little Harpo Marx impersonator leering at her, she presses on. She is planning a dinner party for her daughter, and wants something “unusual”, something “totally different”. Fuad suavely agrees that he does cater to….unusual affairs (offering a line reading the likes of which the world has not heard since dear old Bela was wishing everyone “Good-bye!” in The Devil Bat); and with a leer that makes the previous one look like a friendly smile, utters the immortal line, “Have you ever had….an EGYPTIAN FEAST!?”

With nary a moment’s hesitation – or any inquiry into what, exactly, an EGYPTIAN FEAST is – Mrs Fremont pounces on this suggestion, explaining that her daughter, Suzette, is “a student of Egyptian culture!” (If you think this sounds unlikely at the outset, just wait until you’ve met Suzette!) Fuad offers another lean and another leer – and, fulfilling my heart’s desire, a “Yyyessss” – as he promises an authentic EGYPTIAN FEAST, one that hasn’t been served for “Five. TThhhousand. Years.” An exceedingly odd bit follows, as we get yet another Lugosi-like moment, a close-up of Fuad’s eyes. Presumably this is to imply that he’s putting some kind of hypnotic whammy on Mrs Fremont, but she’s already agreed to the EGYPTIAN FEAST, so what the hell? But least we get another good look at Mal Arnold’s eyebrows. A second or two later, Mrs Fremont comes to – well, as “to” as she ever does. Fuad goes on to say lots more “meaningful” things about how “unusual” the party will be – mwoo-ha-ha! He also calls it “the feast of the goddess”, reiterates that whole “Five. TThhhousand. Years.” business, and adds that “things have been ready for a long time. A long time.” All this puzzles the uni-neuroned Mrs Fremont, but Fuad covers his slip with an airy gesture intended to imply that he’s just an absent-minded old exotic caterer, given to remarks about goddesses and long-standing preparations that have no particular significance. The party is set for “two weeks from Saturday”, and Mrs Fremont departs. Watching her go, Fuad – bless him! – actually does the traditional villainous hand-rub – mwoo-ha-ha-ha-HA! – a gesture that I believe has not in fact been used by any villain for Five. TThhhousand. Years. We also learn at this point that Fuad – oh, bless him, bless him! – has a limp. He’s just the complete package, isn’t he?

Left to his own devices (and with the kettledrums reaching a crescendo on the soundtrack), Fuad enters a secret room at the back of the store. Evidence of his extra-curricular activities abounds – a cooking-pot, an oven, bloody bits and pieces; while in the far corner stands….oh, dear. Oh, dear, oh, dear….

What it’s meant to be, is an effigy of the Goddess Ishtar. What it is, is a department store mannequin, spray painted gold. I’ve seen some tacky idols over the course of my cinematic wanderings, but I think the Goddess Ishtar might just take the prize. But at least we understand: (i) why Ishtar is so pissed off (well….that, and someone told her she just had to see that film with her name in the title); and (ii) why she really, really wants to get reincarnated. Fuad spouts a lot of gobbledygook, none of which is very clearly enunciated, but we get that he’s her slave and she’s his lady, his goddess. (Things as they should be, right?) We also get a close-up of Ishtar. That was probably a mistake.

Then it’s time to meet Our Heroine, although we don’t at this stage know she is Our Heroine, as we are not formally introduced. She’s just a blonde with a newspaper. (Nothing dates Blood Feast so much as that when Suzette buys her paper, she just drops a coin into an open canister attached to the unguarded paper stand.) The headline of the paper screams LEGS CUT OFF! – when we know perfectly well that only one was. You’d think that with SEVEN (or now EIGHT) killings in two weeks….YOUNG GIRLS….each killing more BRUTAL than the other, there’d be no reason for a paper to exaggerate things, would you? – but I guess the tabloid instinct dies hard (as indeed we’ve already discovered in the course of this Roundtable).

(Actually, given the tightness of Blood Feast’s budget, I’m astonished by the effort that went into this mock-up paper. I have a particular fondness for the sub-headline that promises us a story about a Beer Sipping Horse. Welcome to Florida.)

Okay, maybe it was at this point that HGL suggested to SHH that he shout his lines. Frank is re-introduced SLAMMING his newspaper down and BANGING his FIST on the desk. “A PATHOLOGICAL KILLER ON THE LOOSE AND WE CAN’T FIND ONE CLUE!!!!” he bellows, with gesticulations to match his decibel range. “THIS MAN’S UNCANNY!!!! NOT ONE FINGERPRINT!!!! NOTHING!!!!”

Pete, clearly the calming ying to his Chief’s raging yang, gives a Yeah-whaddya-gunna-do?-type shrug and nod. He then reports his findings about the bathtub victim: she was a hostess in a restaurant, no boyfriend, never had any friends over, belonged to a book club. Ah, well. At least she led a full rich life. Frank nevertheless orders Pete to “Stay on it.” Yeah, who knows what you’ll find out? Maybe she owned a pet rock. Frank then comforts himself with the thought that “the police for 200 miles around are on this” – too bad all the murders have been in your jurisdiction, hey, Frank? – and optimistically adds that, “We sure should get him if he tries it again.”

Which is of course the cue for another murder.

We cut to a couple necking on the beach. WRONG!!!! The girl, Marcy, “feels funny” about all the murders and wants to leave, but her boyfriend, Tony, gives her the old “what could happen, I’m here” routine and insists on staying. Marcy reluctantly gives in, and Tony presses his advantage by pushing her down on their blanket and demanding, “Now – prove you love me!” Instantly, Fuad limps in, knocks Tony unconscious, and smashes Marcy’s head open. There ain’t no damn justice in this world!!

(By the way – just to prove that not all the idiocy in Blood Feast was played out in front of the camera – Ashlyn Martin, who plays Marcy, prepared for her big scene by getting her hair done!!)

Sharp as Fuad’s knife was during the previous murder, that’s how blunt his machete is here: the contents of Marcy’s skull are left spread out over a remarkably wide area. We get one of our lingering shots here, as Fuad drops to his knees, scoops up a portion of brain, and kind of….fondles it….before putting it into his carry-bag. While Fuad has been scrupulously thorough to date in his collection of “certain limbs and organs”, here he collects no more than a token fragment of grey matter; a fact that probably tells us all we need to know about the Blood Cult of Ishtar.

As my colleague Nathan Shumate is fond of saying, sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

(This sequence also features one of the great inexplicable moments in screen history – or rather, it used to. In this age of the DVD commentary, nothing is really a mystery any more; and these days we know why it is that, sitting on the sand next to Marcy’s macerated cerebellum, there is a pissed-off boa constrictor: it was David Friedman’s pet, and it got loose and wandered into shot. Reluctant as always to do a re-take, HGL reacted by writing the snake into the film.)

The police eventually show up, and Frank and Pete make a futile attempt to interview Tony, who is, to put it mildly, a tad put out by the recent turn of events. Okay, I’ve been making oblique exculpatory comments about one of the cast members of Blood Feast long enough. The person I am referring to is billed here as “Thomas Wood”, but is in fact William Kerwin, who alone amongst this sorry crew manages to give something approximating an actual performance; and who, fittingly, would go on to have quite a reasonable career. (That is, if you can describe as “reasonable” a career that involves not just multiple appearances in films by HGL, but work also for William Grefé, Bob Clark, and – eep! – Sydney Pollack.) Kerwin sticks out like a sore thumb in Blood Feast. In the face of all the mass hysteria passing for acting around him, he’s so low-key he’s almost invisible. (Perhaps he was hoping that if he stood really still, no-one would notice he was in the film.) Professional as he always was, there are nevertheless moments when Kerwin can’t quite prevent an expression of dismay from crossing his face when confronted by his fellow Thespians’ attempts at, uh, thesping. This scene on the beach is one of those times: the pitying glance and sad shake of the head that Kerwin gives here is less, we feel, “Pete Thornton’s” reaction to the horror of Marcy’s murder than it is William Kerwin’s reaction to the horror of Gene Courtier’s attempt at conveying Tony’s hysterical grief.

“A-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HOO!!” blubbers Tony. “It’s uh-all my fau-hal-hal-hal-alt!! AH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAAHHH!!!!”

(Sad shake of the head….)

Frank – or possibly Scott H. Hall – begs, “Take it easy, Tony!” (and considering his recent offering….); but Tony, apart from muttering something about “a shadow”, can only weep and wail and wiggle, and is finally carted away. Frank and Pete do more sad head shaking, before Frank orders the body taken away, which raises all sorts of gruesome forensic questions about how go about making sure you’ve got all of…. Oh, never mind.

At the police station, there’s more weeping and wailing and wiggling as Mr and Mrs Franklin, Marcy’s parents, come in for an interview. (Although Mrs Franklin, we notice, is not so hysterical that she forgets to carefully smooth her dress over her knees upon sitting down. She’s a lady, she is.) The Franklins are little help to Our Heroes, explaining that Marcy was “not much of a gadabout”; that she and Tony had been going steady for over a year; and that she didn’t run with any particular group. Oh – and she had her name on a book club list.

“Book club list?” exclaims Pete. “Wait a minute! What do you mean, book club list?”

And for a second – less than a second – for an infinitesimal fraction of time – there is almost….light. But the ephemeral incandescence of Pete’s intelligence burns itself out even as it is born. Mrs Franklin has another outbreak of grief, and Pete loses his train of thought.

One thing I do have to take issue with, though: what is with you Floridians!? Are these really the best epitaphs that you bereaved families and friends can come up with? Beloved daughter of John and Mary. She belonged to a book club. Yeesh!

(Oh, yes, I know, I know: and I’ll get She once wrote a thirty-page review of Blood Feast. Like I should talk.)

Ooh, someone’s in the kitchen with Ishtar! Red mood lighting on, Fuad drops – something – into a cooking pot, which emits a belch of unmistakable dry ice fog. He chattily informs his Goddess that “all is nearly ready”. And indeed, the kettledrums instantly kick in again. We cut to the parking area of a motel, and watch a drunken couple stagger up a flight of stairs to the woman’s room. The man (played by David H. Friedman himself, I do believe) at length departs, which is the cue for Fuad to suddenly appear. He knocks on the woman’s door, forces his way in, wrestles his new victim down on the bed, jams his fingers into her mouth, and – ulp! – rips her tongue out with his bare hand. In a pair of shots that seem to go on forever, we see the tongue, bloody roots and all, dangling from Fuad’s clutching fingers; and we see….the aftermath.

This sequence is so disturbing that it seems almost churlish to point out that at no stage during Fuad’s lengthy assault upon her did the young lady make any attempt to bite….

After this lengthy delay, it is finally time for us to be properly introduced to Our Heroine. Having already had to describe the acting of all the other cast members of Blood Feast, I’ve very nearly run out of pejoratives; so how do I go about conveying to you all that viewers of Blood Feast have to suffer at the hands of Connie Mason? “You read about her in Playboy!” announced the ads for the film, with respect to Ms Mason; not, you’ll notice, “You saw her accepting the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement!” HGL, having had Ms Mason thrust upon him, so to speak, by his partner, was philosophical about her capabilities. “She had talents, all right,” he later observed, “but they didn’t lie in that direction.” For myself, perhaps I can best express my feelings on the subject by saying that when it comes to acting ability, Lyn Bolton and Connie Mason are excellently well cast as mother and daughter.

Still, at least Ms Bolton can read her cue cards; Ms Mason can’t even do that properly. Failing to respond to her mother’s remarks about the upcoming dinner-party with any enthusiasm, Suzette explains that “all those murders” make it difficult to enjoy anything. “It’s TERRIBLE!” she finally declares. Wincing at her stilted delivery, we can only agree. Suzette elaborates, “I just shudder when I think of how that butcher---” [Pause. Long look at the cue card. Puzzled frown.] “---that maniac. Butchering all those girls.” [Head turns. Eyes remain fixed.] “I wish they could find out who did it and put him where he belongs.” Mrs Fremont tries to convince Suzette that the party will take their minds off “all this horrible killing.” Suzette obligingly agrees, then announces that she is heading out to “the weekly lecture on ancient history. We’re learning about the cults of the Egyptian gods!” Mrs Fremont declares this to be “a coincidence!” and starts to babble about “the nicest little man”--- Realising that she’s spoiling her own surprise, she then just drops it; and Suzette having the attention span not so much of a guppy as that of a piece of seaweed, promptly forgets all about it.

And speaking of coincidences - !? Who should turn out to be Suzette’s boyfriend and fellow ancient history buff but Detective Pete Thornton? You might think that Pete would have more pressing calls on his time than lectures on Egyptology, what with seven – eight – nine – ten unsolved murders on the books; but I guess even 50% of Miami’s homicide cops needs a night off occasionally. Pete and Suzette listen gravely as one Dr Flanders expounds upon – the trickle of coincidence swelling to a flood – “Ramses I and Ramses II”. And then we are all swept away by a veritable tsunami of coincidence, as Dr Flanders turns his attention to “the cult of Ishtar”, one of “the most bloodthirsty religions of all time!” The somnambulant Pete perks up a bit as he learns about the “twenty virgin priestesses” who for “six wild days” would “mingle” with the men of the city. (Now, there’s a euphemism I haven’t heard before.) And then, on the seventh day….the Blood Feast of Ishtar!

We get a flashback here, a bloody pay-off for our (presumed) patience through all this exposition. We see one priestess lying on an altar. The high priest approaches. Around his neck is – whoo, hoo! – a boa constrictor. He thrusts it into the girl’s face, and she recoils in horror. Frankly, sister, if that’s the worst thing that happens to you today…. Sure enough, the next moment she’s having her heart cut out.

While all this is playing out, we also hear about how, as the climax of the festival, the no longer quite so virginal priestesses were slaughtered, their was blood collected in silver dishes, and “certain organs and limbs” were removed, prepared in dishes and consumed…. The festival concluded with the high priestess “rising from the altar”, Ishtar re-born. Cut back to Dr Flanders, who tells his spellbound audience that it is said that there are followers of Ishtar even to this day, but – chuckle, chuckle – we don’t believe that, do we? Here endeth the lecture. Afterwards, Suzette is all emotional and shuddery, Pete all matter-of-fact and logical. Suzette dwells on the fact that they actually ate human flesh….until Pete (with a condescending, “Aw, c’mon, honey!”) suggests they talk about something more pleasant. So they talk about the murders instead. Pete reveals that Tony (you know – ol’ “A-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HOO!!”) finally calmed down enough to speak of an older man with grey hair and “wild, glowing eyes”. He also tells Suzette that he has a kind of clue of his own – “Something about a book” – but that he just can’t make it fit.

Pete offers to drive Suzette home, but the two of them end up parking out by a lake. But they’re safe, because it’s broad daylight. I mean, it’s midnight. It’s dusk. It’s….confusing. Pete drives a convertible (all the better to film and record you in), and the combination of the car’s blood red interiors and Suzette’s hot pink dress could leave you wishing that Fuad Ramses would wander in and remove your eyeballs. Suzette wonders whether it’s really safe, and Pete tells her with a leer that she’d probably be safer with the killer than with him. Oh, that’s tasteful. Pete then tries to get romantic, but gosh, shucks, he just can’t find the right words. “I guess I’m a better policeman than I am a public speaker,” he concludes sheepishly, leaving our minds boggling at the thought of just how bad a public speaker he must be. All this modesty sweeps Suzette off her feet, and Pete is just getting a little action when that darn PPSR© (the moral guardian of Miami) puts a stop to it by announcing that the maniac has struck again, but that for the moment his latest victim is still alive.

Having disposed of Suzette (no, not that way, unfortunately), Pete meets up with Frank. At the hospital they learn that the girl had “her face hacked away, clear to the bone” and “her eyes gouged out”. (Let’s hope at least that she saw Suzette in Pete’s car first.) The guy playing the doctor in this scene gives Connie Mason a run for her money in terms of sheer inability to read his lines: “So far, we, uh, don’t know who she is. There was no identification. Uh, on her. When the police brought her in. [Pause] Uh, your Missing Person Bureau is, uh, checking. And although, uh….we’ll let you know if….we get a report.” The dying victim, her head swathed in bandages (saving a salary: it’s the girl from the altar under there) manages to describe a “horrible old man” with “wild eyes”, who said it was, “For I’tar! I’tar! I’tar!” There’s nothing actually wrong with this girl’s tongue, mind – or her ears; so you can put your own judgement on this little “mistake”. As it turns out, she probably could have bellowed “HE SAID IT WAS FOR THE BLOOD FEAST OF ISHTAR!!” and it wouldn’t have made any difference. An hour after sitting through a graphic description of Ishtar’s wicked ways, all Pete can offer is that the name I’tar “somehow sounds familiar.”

Kill me now, Lord.

Back at his store, Fuad is reading a letter from a girl called Trudy Sanders, who wants to order a copy of his advertised book, Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Ah –HA!! See how it all fits together?? (Although as it turns out, there’s no need for the victims to have read the book; it’s not part of the ritual or anything. Not to anticipate the ending or anything, but if Fuad had just picked his victims at random, they never would have caught him.) And then The Great God Coincidence interests himself in our affairs again, as Fuad phones Trudy’s house, and learns that “she’s at the Fremont residence”.  In fact, it’s time for a little cheesecake. Trudy is frolicking in the pool with another girl, as Connie – I mean, Suzette – strikes model poses in a bikini by the poolside and pretends to read a book. (Looking at Suzette – I mean, Connie – I’d just like to say that it’s kind of nice to know that there was a time when Playboy centrefolds were just natural, ordinarily attractive girls. That said, I don’t really think that Connie Mason is all that attractive. For one thing, she suffers from that peculiarly American affliction, having way too many teeth.) As Connie lies by the pool, a threatening shadow looms up – and is gone the next instant. Proving surprisingly spry for an old guy with a gimp leg, Fuad is off and away and over the garden wall before Connie can see him. (Of course, it helps that, with the sun to her left, Connie first looks to the right – that is, at the pool – for the origin of the shadow.) More T&A as the girls towel off, then Trudy departs to do some shopping….she thinks. Suzette and her unnamed friend babble about the party, and Suzette guesses that her mother is planning “an Egyptian feast!” “An Egyptian feast!” echoes the friend (try saying it just once!); and as the scene fades, we register just how far up the social ladder the Fremonts must be: in their yard they have….pink flamingos….

Meanwhile, the unsuspecting Trudy is ambushed and knocked out. In Suzette’s front yard. In broad daylight. Fuad picks up the unconscious girl and carries her away. On foot.

It’s a little known fact that under Miami law, there have to be twelve murders before anyone is allowed to initiate a Neighbourhood Watch program.

The next day – the day of the Egyptian feast!! (the Egyptian feast!!) – Pete and Frank worry that Trudy, too, has fallen victim to the killer. That is, Frank worries. As soon as the boss has turned his back, Pete’s on the phone to Suzette – not about Trudy; about dinner. He explains apologetically that he’s going to be late for the party, what with having eleven unsolved murders on his hands, and all. They do eventually get around to mentioning the unfortunate Trudy. Pete tells Suzette that – surprise! – there’s no news, but advises her to try and enjoy her party anyway. During the rest of Blood Feast, we spend a lot of time listening to Pete talk on the phone, only ever getting his side of the conversation. Here, this is A Good Thing, as we don’t have to listen to Connie Mason. Instead, we infer Suzette’s contribution from Pete’s responses. We also infer – and correctly – that Pete is almost as big a moron as his girlfriend. Having learnt that Mrs Fremont’s big surprise was indeed an Egyptian feast (an Egyptian Feast!), Pete goes on to learn one or two other details that you might have thought would be of some interest to him.

“…Fuad Ramses! Nope, never heard of him….oh, just like Dr Flanders’ speech, huh?….Ishtar! [Chuckles.] Well, I hope it isn’t exactly like Dr Flanders described it! But it does sound like fun, and I’ll be there just as soon as I can. Good-bye, darling. [Hangs up.] Ishtar! Ha, ha!”

You know, I’m pretty sure that there’s something in the Geneva Convention that forbids Pete and Suzette even to consider reproducing. It’s in the part about Crimes Against Humanity.

We hop back to Fuad’s for a lingering shot of Ancient Weird Religious Rites and a visit with – whoo, hoo! – Dave Friedman’s boa, and then we find Fuad himself collecting the final ingredient from Trudy. Trudy is chained to the walls being whipped, with silver bowls placed on the floor beneath her to catch the rivulets of blood. This is easily the film’s least convincing piece of violence, but we are distracted from that fact by the combination of Mal Arnold’s bare-teeth snarling and his cries of, “Give yourself up to the goddess! Give yourself UP!”

Back at Headquarters, Pete has stopped chuckling to himself for long enough to exercise a brain cell or two. “Ishtar,” he murmurs. “I’tar…. Ishtar! I’tar!

Let there be light, begged the people who had suffered through forty-nine minutes of Blood Feast; and finally – there was light….

Pete grabs for the phone and calls Dr Flanders, whose number he has memorised for some mysterious reason, and asks for a bit more information about the Blood Feast of Ishtar. You mean, apart from the fact that it involved the slaughter of young women and the removal of certain organs and limbs and that there are followers of the cult of Ishtar to this day? And in fact, we don’t hear the “bit more” that Dr Flanders volunteers, although Pete seems impressed by it. He asks Flanders if he’s ever heard of someone called “Fuad Ramses”, and is further impressed to learn that he is the author of that runaway best-seller, Ancient Weird Religious Rites. “Why, we found a copy of that at - !” gasps Pete. Cutting off Flanders, he makes another call and sends “all cars” in the direction of “Ramses Catering” (the address of which he just happens to know, for all he doesn’t know its name).

(By the way, I know I’ve complained about cinematic anti-intellectualism plenty of times before, but I can’t honestly say I’ve ever struck a film so frankly anti-reading as Blood Feast. “If only those girls hadn’t been so darned literate! How many lives might have been spared?”)

Over at Fuad Ramses Exotic Catering, it’s business as usual: Fuad is just popping a human leg into a pizza oven. It’s nicely roasted by the time the police finally get there. Those “all cars” we heard about turn out to be – count ’em! – one, carrying two uniforms, Frank and Pete: the entire manpower of the Miami police force, at least as far as we know. The uniforms are sent around the front, while the detectives prepare to enter at the back. “I hope you’ve got a strong stomach!” Pete warns his Chief.

It took so long for the MPD to summons all of its resources that the bird has, of course, flown. Pete and Frank go to check “in the back”, and by the light of their torches, they see the effigy of Ishtar. “What the name of all that’s holy is that!?” exclaims Frank, who must not spend much time shopping in department stores. (For those of you who doubt the power of Ishtar, behold!! – Frank’s hat suddenly appears from nowhere!)

What follows is, I think, the one really successful moment in all of Blood Feast. Pete and Frank start groping for a light switch, find one, throw it – and then see what, all this time, they’ve been standing right next to….

Namely, what’s left of Trudy Sanders. We get a long, slow pan down the length of her body here, and I’m not sure what’s more disturbing: the partial (and rather convincing) severed head on the table next to her….or the bowl of salad between her ankles. As Frank reels, nauseous, Pete adds up one and one for him, explaining about the Blood Feast of Ishtar, and that body parts of young girls are – ulp! – cooked, to satisfy the goddess. And then the penny drops.

“Holy smoke! Frank, we gotta get onto the Fremont house! They’re having a dinner party – and Fuad Ramses is the caterer!” cries Pete. “Fuad Ramses!” cries Frank, just for the fun of saying it, I think. (Just watch “Frank” in this scene: he doesn’t dare use or close his right hand, because that’s where his lines are!) Pete beats feet, leaving Frank to issue orders to the unseen uniformed cops. And it is to Scott H. Hall that the privilege of uttering one of the greatest lines in film history falls.

“Harris, get on that phone! Call the Fremonts! For Pete’s sake – tell ’em not to eat anything!”

At the Fremonts’, the high-society shindig that we’ve been hearing so much about is in full swing; or to put it another way, six uncomfortable-looking extras are trapped in a room with Connie Mason and Lyn Bolton. That desperate phonecall from “Harris” never does get through, however: there is a piece of phone-in-use schtick so lame, I can’t even be bothered trying to explain it. Let’s just say that one of Suzette’s friends won’t hang up – although Suzette does her best to get her off the line by braying, “NAAIIIIIRRRRNCY, Mr Raiiirrrmses is about to serve!” (Ouch! I thought she was from Florida, not Noo York!) Mr Ramses himself then appears, and announces that “the Feast of Ishtar” is about to be served – but first – he needs the co-operation of “the young lady in whose honour it is being given.”

“Oh, I’ll bet there never was a party like this one!” trills Mrs Fremont. “Oh, but there was,” purrs Fuad. “Five. TThhhousand. Years. Ago.” He leads the reluctant Suzette into the kitchen, where the two of them start playing Big Bad Wolf and Little Red Riding-Hood. Fuad explains that the food is still in the garage, because it would be a “desecration” to bring it into the house before Suzette had blessed it. He then manages to persuade Suzette to lie down on the kitchen counter-top, so that she can play her part in the, uh, “blessing”. And Suzette obliges. She initially decides that “This is fun!”, but then has a moment of doubt as she recalls the words of Dr Flanders. “Say, you wouldn’t sacrifice me on this altar would you?” she demands with a straight face. Fuad is caught off guard, either by the inference that Suzette knows about the actual Feast of Ishtar, or by the sheer magnitude of her stupidity. “Uhhh…of course not,” he finally replies. Reassured, Suzette lies down, and Fuad explains that she must close her eyes, stretch up her hands, and speak the words, “Oh, Ishtar! Take me unto yourself!”

And this is where the whole dastardly scheme falls apart – because Suzette, you see, can’t remember her lines.

I really can’t help wondering whether this moment was a private joke on the part of ol’ HGL, an understandable dig at his less than accomplished leading lady. In any case, Fuad is left nearly weeping with frustration, trying to coach his vacuously giggling student while hiding a machete behind his back, and begging Suzette not to “break the heart of an old man!” This goes on – and on – and on – until the puzzled Mrs Fremont wanders into the kitchen to see what the heck is taking so long. She arrives just as Suzette has finally mastered her terribly difficult seven-word speech, and finds Fuad about to bring down the machete – we wish. Mrs Fremont screams hysterically, and the thwarted Fuad limps away in alarm.

(We note in some disbelief that the Fremonts apparently live opposite a car park and a petrol station. And I’d really like to know who the guy some distance up the street is, who – understandably – simply stands and stares as a gimp with a machete lurches through his neighbourhood.)

The MPD then shows up. Jeez, fellas, what’d you do? Stop for coffee and doughnuts? Astonishingly, Pete actually notices Fuad limping down the street, and – oh, nice division of responsibility, Pete! – sends two of the uniforms after the maniac killer, while he and Frank go into the house. Suzette is still having hysterics in the kitchen, and as Pete comforts her, Frank breaks it to Mrs Fremont that Fuad is the killer, and that “this feast is evidence of murder!”

“Oh, dear,” responds Mrs Fremont. “The guests will have to eat hamburgers tonight!”

If only Fuad had taken a moment, and offed both Suzette and her mother when he had the chance, instead of running away like that! What would society not have owed him?

Still, it falls to Mrs Fremont to ask the home question, And have you caught him? Pete admits, well, no, they haven’t – but they will. They have to! He glances at Frank who is, I’m pleased to note, sufficiently abashed to stop just hanging around the kitchen and go out to help in the chase. Not Pete, though. He chooses this moment who break it to Suzette about Trudy, so he gets to comfort her for a while longer, until Frank bellows from offscreen somewhere, “Okay, Pete! Let’s go get him!”

Meanwhile, you might be surprised to learn that the Fremonts not only live opposite a petrol station and a car park, but just down the road from the City Dump. Location, location, location. Fuad is still limping along with he machete, easily outstripping the two athletic young cops chasing him. Pete and Frank drive up, but decide in the interests of fair play (and of dragging out the movie a minute or two longer) to park the car and proceed on foot. One of the screen’s great chase scenes follows, as the old man with the gimp leg manages to keep about twenty yards between himself and the four hardened, trained professionals chasing him. (Mind you, Pete hasn’t stopped smoking since we first laid eyes on him. See what it leads to?) Fuad then decides that twenty yards isn’t far enough, and chucks his machete at his pursuers, who all drop back about another twenty more. (In fact, the uniforms disappear altogether!) And then – a chance! Fuad spots a garbage truck that is just about to depart, and hops into the scoop at the back of it. The truck starts to pull out, and Pete, whose nasty little habit has really caught up with him, gasps, “Frank, stop the truck!” Frank sprints off gamely, but in the end, the forces of Cosmic Justice decide that they can’t afford to leave matters in the hands of these two clowns any longer, and step in to serve up a little karma. As the truck rolls off, the crusher at the back is activated; and the last we see of ol’ Fuad is a single bloodied hand jutting out of the back of the truck.

(Staging the climactic scene of Blood Feast at the dump, and having Fuad crushed to death by a garbage truck, is of course HGL’s little gift to all film critics. You can almost picture the unrepentant grin as he effectively says, “Go ahead, fellas! Take your best shot!”)

Frank finally manages to get the truck driver’s attention, and he jumps out to see what all the kerfuffle is – just in time to see a bloody mess being spread all over the scoop in the back of his truck. The driver seems remarkably unphased by this turn of events: his attitude is less “Oh, my God!” or “WTF!?” than it is, “Aw, not again!”

Frank, privileged as always, gets to deliver the epitaph of Fuad Ramses: “He died a fitting death for the garbage he was!

Well – it ain’t He tampered in God’s domain, I guess, but it will do. Hey, you know what the main difference between Bride Of The Monster and Blood Feast is? Bride Of The Monster knows when to stop. Instead of a dramatic chord and a fade to black, Blood Feast gives us---gives us---

---gives us another full minute of – get this! – Pete explaining the brilliant detective work that put him on the trail of Fuad Ramses. He actually – gasp! choke! – BRAGS about the Ishtar/I’tar thing!!!!

It’s not hard to see what’s going on here: HGL is struggling desperately to drag Blood Feast out to the magic seventy-minute feature-length mark. (He would later have the same difficulty with The Gruesome Twosome, hence the opening sequence with the talking styrofoam heads.) Alas, Pete’s detective work was not quite brilliant enough to fill the required five minutes, so Blood Feast concludes with Our Hero waxing philosophical:

“So, Frank – who knows if the spell of this monstrous goddess has possessed anyone else? Lust, murder…. Food for an ancient goddess who received life through the perverted death of others! Let’s go home, Frank.”

And – both lighting up again; will they never learn? – go home Frank and Pete do, leaving the hardworking and dedicated employees of the North Miami Beach Department of Sanitation to clean up the mess. We get one parting shot of the Goddess Ishtar, weeping blood – awww – and then it’s The End.

Final count? Sixty-six minutes, fifty-five seconds. Sorry, Herschell!

***********************************

That, then, was a “Video Nasty”. I’ve been sitting here for a while after watching it, trying to feel depraved and corrupted. Mostly, I feel like a beer.

It’s understandable that in 1963, audiences might have been sent so far into catatonic shock by the gore scenes of Blood Feast that they didn’t notice the cheerfully goofy ineptness of everything around them. By 1985, however, you’d think that people might have gained enough perspective to make a more accurate assessment of the material. For all that it lingers upon the bloody dismemberment of scantily-clad girls, Blood Feast is essentially harmless, much closer in spirit to Lewis and Friedman’s “nudie-cuties” than to the “roughies” in which they also dabbled. A quick boob shot here, a girl in a bikini there, a shock scene to break them up…. Just a little titillation, and no damage done.

That those who were most vocal, most active, in the condemnation of the Nasties knew nothing and cared less about film in general and horror movies in particular is painfully evident. Nothing, however, spells it out quite so plainly as the wildly heterogeneous nature of the titles that ended up on the DPP’s list; a gathering that saw innocuous efforts like Night Of The Bloody Apes, Contamination and, yes, Blood Feast rubbing shoulders with undeniably contentious works such as I Spit On Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust and The Gestapo’s Last Orgy. The list contains three, possibly four, films with serious arthouse pretensions. There are slasher films, of course, both worthy and unspeakable; supernatural horror films (and nothing, I think, demonstrates the fundamental ignorance of the anti-Nasties campaigners – or the fact that they hadn’t seen most of the films they were persecuting – more than the constant stigmatising of The Evil Dead as “the worst of the Nasties”); zombie films; gore films; a giallo; a race-hate film; a Mondo film; and some delightfully silly science fiction. There are films that were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time – like Eloy de la Iglesia’s The Apartment On The 13th Floor, which was re-titled “Cannibal Man” for its British release, and promptly fell foul of the censor as a consequence. (As, indeed, did nearly any film with “cannibal”, “don’t” or “evil” in its title!) And then there are the films that, let’s face it, have no merit whatsoever; dull, inept, dismal little films, that in the natural course of events would have sunk into deserved oblivion – except that they somehow landed on that dreaded “List” – and thus automatically became “Collector’s Items”….

These, then, are the “Video Nasties”; the films that were going to destroy British society, had the gallant, self-sacrificing souls at the British Board of Film Cens---sorry, of Film Classification – not stepped in and prevented it. Mysteriously, neither James Ferman nor any of his underlings seem to have ended up depraved and corrupted as a result of their viewing of all the Nasties; nor is there any record of any of them going on a rampage of rape and murder. Funny, that.

Like all manufactured hysterias, once it had served its purpose the Nasties scare was allowed to die away. This was not, however, before the British tabloids had sunk to a whole new shameful nadir with their handling of the death of James Bulger, the three-year-old boy abducted and murdered by two ten-year-olds; a tragedy that the newspapers, ignoring the total lack of evidence and the blanket denials from the police, the parents, the defence lawyers and the perpetrators themselves, chose to blame upon, of all ridiculous things, Child’s Play 3.

In time, video began to give way to DVD, a medium whose cost-effectiveness meant that films for which there was only a niche market could still be profitable. Specialist companies began to emerge that not only released obscure or contentious titles, but treated them with as much or more respect as the majors did their blockbusters, restoring the prints, subtitling them, collecting bonus material and releasing the films uncut. One of the leaders in this field is, of course, Something Weird Video, behind which lurks none other than….Frank Henenlotter. That Frank was left depraved and corrupted by that early encounter with Blood Feast, no-one would attempt to deny; least of all him. And thank Ishtar for it.

Where do the “Video Nasties” stand today? Of the films originally branded with this peculiar cinematic Mark of Cain, nine remained banned in the UK. These are a mixture of “Nazi atrocity” films (whose banning is understandable if not excusable), and films that, let’s face it, are so entirely crappy that no-one’s bothered to get then un-banned. Some of the titles – even a number of those most loudly proclaimed “obscene” some twenty years ago, such as Snuff, Zombie, The Driller Killer and – gasp! – The Evil Dead – have now been released uncut; while the rest, for one reason or another, continue to feel the wrath of the censor. Among these is Blood Feast; and amazingly (to me, anyway), of all its violence what they chose to cut was the completely unconvincing whipping scene – on the grounds that it constitutes “sexual violence”. I find myself indignant on behalf of Fuad Ramses.

And what of the one that started it all? The first film sent to the DPP for prosecution under the Obscene Publications act, a work condemned for its “extreme violence”, publicly branded as “this exercise in depravity”, and subsequently banned, S.S. Experiment Camp was passed uncut in the UK in 2005. And if we needed any further evidence of the contrived and fraudulent nature of the entire Nasties campaign, consider this rightfully shamefaced statement from the BBFC, which accompanied the film’s DVD release:

The content of the film is in fact very mild and poorly executed. If anything, it was the title of the film and its original packaging that led to difficulties, rather than the content. The idea of the film may, of course, be offensive to some but that is not a good enough reason to cut or reject it. We would only cut or reject a film for adults if the content was illegal or harmful. SS Experiment Camp is neither illegal nor harmful, just tasteless….”

Footnote:  Most of the quotes in this review are taken from the three main studies of the “Video Nasties” era: See No Evil, by David Kerekes and David Slater; Seduction Of The Gullible, by John Martin; and The Video Nasties, edited by Martin Barker.

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