Sunday, July 29, 2012

Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1963)

Have you ever Egyptian feast? Well, have you? Just kidding. It's a question I've been asking people (i.e. random strangers) ever since I saw Blood Feast, one of the greatest, and, thankfully, one of the shortest, films to combine two of my favourite things: pastel-coloured polyester dresses that zip up in the back and exquisitely rendered gore. Did you just say, "exquisitely rendered angora"? As I do loves me some angora, especially when it's been rendered in a manner that can best be described as "exquisite." No, silly, I said "gore." You know, bloodshed, carnage, butchery, etc. Oh, I thought you said, "angora." Yeah, no, I said, "gore." Is it okay if I continue, you angora obsessed pantie sniffer? While I don't appreciate you making assumptions about my sniffing habits, yes, you may continue. Just lay off the personal attacks. Sure. Getting back to my original question regarding the Egyptian feast. The moment the question is asked by one of the characters in this surprising ghastly film ("surprisingly" because it was made in 1963), I could have sworn that I felt something move inside my inexpensive underpants. Which is weird, since nothing that appeared on-screen when the "Egyptian feast" line is uttered was even close to being in my erection wheelhouse. The hat worn by Mrs. Dorothy Fremont (Lyn Bolton), while appealing in a campy sort of way, was definitely not the reason, so why was I, to quote Christian Slater in Pump Up the Volume, "hornier than a ten-peckered owl" seconds after it was asked? Well, the only logical explanation I can think of is that I liked the way Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) paused in-between the words "had and "an" in, "Have you ever Egyptian feast"? Yeah, but there's a big difference between liking something and liking something, if you know what I mean. Okay, I realize you probably don't know what I mean, but to quote the Jiffy Park attendant from the Seinfeld episode, The Wig Master, " we ask that you please bear with us."     

What can I say? I love overly dramatic pauses, they turn me on. And the pause employed by Fuad Ramses, the owner of Fuad Ramses Exotic Catering, was probably one of the best pauses of this or any decade.

I also dug the way he pronounced the word "unusual," which is fitting since Fuad Ramses is one unusual dude. Only problem is Mrs. Dorothy Fremont was born without the ability to spot dangerous psychopaths, particularly when they're in her midst. I knew the second I saw his eyebrows that Fuad Ramses wasn't hooked up right, but Dorothy seems oblivious to the many red flags Fuad Ramses was putting out there during their brief conversation about catering. To be fair, she did stop Fuad Ramses on several occasions after he said something that could be construed as...unusual, but she failed to follow up her impromptu interruptions with anything substantial, giving Fuad Ramses ample opportunity to merely dismiss his weirdness as, "oh, nothing."

Which reminds me: If I ever impregnate a woman via [consensual] sexual intercourse, and she gives birth to a daughter, I'm gonna send her a telegram (probably from an insane asylum) suggesting that she name her "Dorothy." The main reason for this is so that I can put "Father of Dorothy" in parentheses after my name on my non-existent driver's license.

In order to give us a taste of what kind of gruesomeness we should expect over the course of the next hour (that's right, I said "hour"), director Herschell Gordon Lewis has Fuad Ramses remove the legs of one Pat Tracey (Sandra Sinclair), a blonde woman who bathes regularly, wears a white bra with white panties underneath her blue sleeveless dress (it's almost as if the white bra and white panties served as some kind of "underwear"), and listens to news radio (an informed blonde is a productive blonde). Removing her clothing utilizing the bra first technique, Pat hears a news report about a local woman being "badly mutilated" in the suburban Miami area. She makes a face that indicates that she is shocked by what she hears (she even touches her face with her hands to emphasize said shock), but continues to get undressed. After all, she's safely ensconced within the impenetrable walls of her modest apartment.

Only problem is, one of the walls of her apartment has a door that leads to the outside world, and through that door enters one Fuad Ramses, the sneakiest exotic caterer in all of Miami-Dade County. Carrying a knife, Fuad walks up to Pat, who's still soaking in her aquamarine bathtub, and stabs her in the eye. After he's done admiring the eye socket meat dangling from his blade, Fuad proceeds to cut off her legs. Why is he putting her legs in a bag? And why was Pat reading a book called "Ancient Weird Religious Rites"? (It was sitting next on a shelf next to the bath.)

I guess if I want to know the answers to these questions, I suppose I'm going to have to continue watching. And I sure am glad that I did, continue watching, that is, as the scene where Mrs. Dorothy Fremont pays a visit to Fuad Ramses at Fuad Ramses Exotic Catering is about to take place. A classic meeting of the minds if I ever saw one, Fuad and Dorothy talk about ritualistic observances. The eyebrow endowed Fuad is secretly planning a catered affair that will set in motion the return of Ishtar: Goddess of Blood, while the guileless, eyebrow diffident Dorothy, whose large orange hat helps her keep predatory sea birds at bay, is secretly planning a birthday party for her daughter Suzette (Connie Mason). When Fuad finally does get around to asking Dorothy if she's ever Egyptian feast, she answers no, but is intrigued because her daughter just happens to be a fan of ancient Egyptian culture.

The way I see it, Fuad Ramses has been asking people whether or not they have ever Egyptian feast at random for years, and has always gotten nothing but perplexed looks in return. However, when he asks Mrs. Dorothy, she seemed excited as all get out. This excitement no doubt took Fuad by surprise as he has gotten used to their perplexed looks over the years. Agreeing to serve an authentic Egyptian feast, the kind that hasn't been served in five thousand years, for Suzette's birthday, which is in two weeks, Fuad rubs his hands together in a menacing manner, and limps to the back of his shop to chat with his golden Ishtar statue, which is draped in an exquisite blue cloth and flanked by two lit torches.

You gotta admit, the fact that Fuad Ramses' unexplained limp reminded me of Peggy Gravel's leg brace in Desperate Living was pretty cool (I love, no scratch that, I adore unexplained limps). Also, it didn't hurt that Mal Arnold delivered his lines in a manner that caused me to think of Mr. Joy, the doorman from Café Flesh, as every line is filled with pauses and uttered while leaning forward ever so slightly.

Speaking of Mink Stole, who wears a mink stole in Miami?!? The unflappable Mrs. Dorothy, that's who. On top of sporting a giant hat, she wears a fur during her meeting with Fuad Ramese.

Anyway, the fact that a head line that reads, "Legs Cut Off," is on the cover on the local paper can only help spread the word that there's a psycho-killer is on the loose. Think about it, with seven women "badly mutilated" in the past two weeks, the dedicated members of city's homicide bureau need all the help they can get.

As Det. Pete Thornton (Thomas Wood) and Captain Frank (Scott H. Hall) are discussing the case, I couldn't help but notice that Pete was blocking the house plant that usually sits on Frank's desk. In the first scene in Frank's office, the plant can be seen sitting on his desk, yet in the second office scene the plant was being blocked. In other words, was the plant there, or was it removed? The only reason I ask is because I noticed that the plant was missing in the third office scene (the scene where Pete and Frank interview the parents of one of Fuad Ramses' victims). Spoiler alert: The plant is back where it belongs sitting on the corner of Frank's desk during the fifth and final office scene.

While the texture of the blood seen throughout Blood Feast had a brightness about it that usurped the blood spilled in other movies, it should be noted that the clothes had a certain radiance about them as well. Take the beach scene, for example, the blood oozing from the now brainless head of Marcy (Ashlyn Martin) looked like a river of squashed cherries, yet the glare coming off her blue peddle pushers was so profound that I almost forgot that the contents of her head were spilling out all over the beach. You could say the reason the clothes had a pastel sheen to them had a lot to do with the period (early 1960s) and the location (suburban Miami), but I like to think that it was done deliberately.

Taking his "ingredients" back to his makeshift kitchen, in the next scene, Fuad Ramses can be seen stirring a pot while mumbling about its contents being "nearly ready." The reason it's "nearly ready," as opposed to just plain ready, is because it needs something to give it that "special flavour." It turns out it needs a little tongue. And not the kind of tongue you can find down at your local butcher shop, the type of tongue he's looking for is currently wagging inside of the mouth of an intoxicated blonde woman (Astrid Olson) stumbling around outside a cheap motel. As we wait for Fuad Ramses to forcibly remove her tongue, we're treated to the demented music of Herschell Gordon Lewis. Yeah, that's right. H.G.L. composes all the music heard throughout Blood Feast as well; a score replete with the monotonous sound of a kettle-drum being repeatedly struck and, of course, a creepy ass cello.

The blood slowly trickling out of her mouth as she lay there tongueless on the bed was a ghastly delight. However, the same can't be said for some of the acting in this movie, as certain performers were definitely not up to the challenge. Take Marcy's boyfriend, for instance. Even though the level of his hysterics were on par with someone who just found out their brunette girlfriend's brain was scooped out of its cranial housing by a sick and twisted killer, I thought the manner in which Gene Courtier employed these hysterics was, to put it mildly, extremely flawed; his yelling seemed off somehow. Others like, say, Connie Mason and Scott H. Hall were also lacking in the talent department, but they all shared their scenes with consummate professionals, like, Mal Arnold, Lyn Bolten and Thomas Wood, so their awfulness was somewhat nullified.

I didn't buy for a second that Suzette was into Egyptology, as Connie Mason's blank expression gave me no indication that she was interested in anything, let alone ancient Egypt. Luckily, Thomas Wood's detective character is going steady with Suzette, and accompanies her to the weekly seminars on Egyptian culture that take place down at the early 1960s version of the Learning Annex. The simple act of placing Thomas Wood next to Connie Mason, who was wearing a pink dress with a mysterious symbol over the left pocket, at the lecture caused her to come across as more lifelike than usual.

As Suzette's party draws near, Herschell Gordon Lewis ratchets up the tension by introducing us to Trudy Sanders (Christy Foushee), a brunette friend of Suzette who catches the eye of our sinister-browed killer. Okay, maybe introducing a woman with brunette hair didn't exactly ratchet up any tension, but it's got to be more exciting than listening to a boring lecture. It's true, the lecture did feature a brief flashback to ancient Egypt where a youthful Fuad Ramses stabs a leggy woman (Louise Kamp) on a slab, but it was still pretty dull. In fact, everything that takes place between the phone call Mrs. Dorothy makes while wearing a purple dress with white trim to the phone call Fuad Ramses places at his shop was borderline tiresome. The only reason I liked the phone call scenes was because both calls were made on rotary telephones. On the other hand, the sense of realistic dullness added to the film's disquietude. Horror films that take place in environments that are bland or nondescript in nature are much more effective than one's that take place in more well-worn locations (dark castles, isolated cabins, creepy basements, Mississauga, etc.), and you can't get anymore bland or nondescript than suburban Miami.

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  1. Wow. Those are some eyebrows. I'm surprised their agent couldn't get them title credits.

    The organ in the clip you posted is the best part.

    Have you seen "Blood Diner" ( Its sort of a re-make of this. Only with more emphasis on (intentional) humor. It was on late one night and I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. Its gleeful and twisted. But the ending is sad.

  2. I haven't seen Blood Diner, but I've seen the poster. I know, that's not exactly the same thing. But I have heard of it.

  3. Gosh yes, Blood Diner! I love the scene where the dumber of the killer-brother pair is watching rasslin' and Captain Hitler or whatever is threatening America in the worst Midwestern accent ever. Second-best wrestling scene in film behind FEMALE TROUBLE.

    Blood Feast is the least of the "classic" Lewis stuff, IMO. "Realistic dullness", indeed. But it's still a must-watch and historically important. I just think 2000 Maniacs and Wizard of Gore have a lot more to offer. Ace review!

  4. That's it, I'm adding Blood Diner to the list. And... Done, and done.

  5. I just wanted to tell you that last night, I went to a goth bar in Denver, and dissent and I danced to Shriekback's "Nemesis." This place was right up Yum-Yum Alley. A lot of German industrial :)

  6. A goth bar in Denver, eh? Which reminds me, Toronto's premiere goth bar was turned into a Starbucks not-so long ago.

    Yum-Yum Alley should be the name of my nightclub.


    Did you see EW's list of the Top 25 Cult TV Shows? Someone should tell them what the word "cult" means. Oh, and where was Duet?