Blood Feast (1963)

A Weird and Grisly Ancient Rite Horrendously Brought to Life!

Theatrical poster for 1963's Blood Feast
Fuad Ramsey, Exotic Caterer, is responsible for a series of grisly mutilation murders. He is one of the last remaining worshippers of the ancient goddess Ishtar, and the murders are part of a sacrificial rite which happily coincides with a traditional Egyptian feast that he has been hired to cater in honor of Suzette Fremont—a young and attractive woman who will make the perfect final victim! His final victim, however, just so happens to be dating the lead investigator on the murder case.
The crazy eyes of Fuad Ramsey from 1963's Blood Feast
It’s true that one would be hard-pressed to call BLOOD FEAST a good film: the acting is wooden, the gore effects (while plentiful) are cheap and crudely done, and the execution is amateur. But the sheer audacity and DIY attitude of the filmmakers, coupled lovingly with the film’s inherent charms, make it quite an enjoyable ride, and its place in the gory annals of horror history can not be denied.

On a personal level, I was exposed to this film far too young to appreciate it the first time around. I had selected something innocuous and childish, I’m sure, to rent from the video store, but when I got home and opened the case, it was not ESCAPE FROM GILLIGAN’S ISLAND (or what have you) inside. It was a dingy VHS tape with a yellowing label that read BLOOD FEAST. Needless to say, I was intrigued. I had seen horror movies before, I was no stranger to Elvira. Knowing, however, that my mother would never approve of me watching something with such a lurid title, I snuck off to my room and closed the door before beginning the movie. I made it through only the opening scene, in which Fuad Ramses murders a blonde woman in the bathtub, before I became too sickened to continue. This was not one of the Universal monster movies, or some cheapjack giant insect movie. This was the real deal, and I was not ready for it.

We returned to the video store promptly to exchange it for the proper tape.

Tongue removal from 1963's Blood Feast

On a more universal level, BLOOD FEAST threw open the doors to much of the horror that would follow. This was uncharted territory, and it could only have been achieved by a couple of mavericks who only cared about the rule book just enough to keep them from getting arrested. These mavericks were named David F. Friedman and Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Friedman served in the army in WWII, during which he met Kroger Babb, an early presenter and producer of roadshow exploitation films. His encounter with Babb got Friedman interested in show business, and after the war he started doing marketing for Paramount Pictures. His dream lay in the independent market, though, and not the studio system, so he struck out on his own. He and a business partner formed Modern Film Distributors, and it was through this company that he met Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Lewis was an academic and ad man who ventured into filmmaking after a stint at directing television commercials. He cold-called David Friedman at Modern Film Distributors, hoping to find distribution for his first feature film, a comedy entitled THE PRIME TIME (1959). Although this business venture together did not pan out, the two hit it off and went on to collaborate on a number of pictures together. It started with so-called “nudie cuties” like LIVING VENUS and THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE in 1961, but they explored the “roughie” together as well with 1963’s SCUM OF THE EARTH.

Interest in these sorts of films began to wan in the 1960s, as Hollywood began to dabble in the same subject matter. Friedman and Lewis needed to break new ground—and new taboos—in order to stay relevant and keep afloat. If sex was being co-opted by the mainstream, then they would pollute the waters with something even more visceral: blood, gore, and explicit violence. Horror films were old hat, but they planned to celebrate and revel in the grotesqueries that were previously left to the imagination.

And that’s how BLOOD FEAST was born.

Fuad Ramses from 1963's Blood Feast

Fuad Ramsey was played by struggling Miami actor Mal Arnold, who had appeared as an extra in the Friedman-Lewis film GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BARES in 1963 and also appeared in the previously-mentioned SCUM OF THE EARTH, and Donald Farmer’s VAMPIRE COP in 1990 before seemingly disappearing from the screen. He attacked the role with reckless abandon and a hunger as wild as his eyes, but it’s easy to see why he never hit the big time.

Lead investigator Pete Thornton was played by William Kerwin, who never exactly became a household name but still earned an impressive number of credits including appearances in THE HOOKED GENERATION (1968), SOMETIMES AUNT MARTHA DOES DREADFUL THINGS (1971), the hillbilly horror flick GOD’S BLOODY ACRE (1975), and THE EVICTORS (1979). He was something of a regular in Friedman and/or Lewis films, also cropping up in LIVING VENUS and THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE (both 1961); NATURE’S PLAYMATES (1962), BOIN-N-G, GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BARES, SCUM OF THE EARTH, and BELL, BARE, AND BEAUTIFUL (all 1963); TWO THOUSAND MANIACS (1964); JIMMY THE BOY WONDER (1966); A TASTE OF BLOOD and THE GRUESOME TWOSOME (both 1967); and SUBURBAN ROULETTE (1968). William, along with siblings Harry, Edmund, and Betty Kerwin, comprised something of a forgotten family of exploitation cinema—and there’s certainly a fascinating story about them somewhere just waiting to be told.

Also included in the Kerwin Family saga would be Connie Mason, June 1963’s Playmate of the Month who played would-be victim Suzette Fremont. She and William Kerwin met on the set, began dating, and were married the following year. Husband and wife appeared together in TWO THOUSAND MANIACS in 1964, and she had small roles in a number of other films but has concentrated mostly on family life. Connie and William have two daughters, Denise and Kim, who have somewhat expanded the Kerwin family tradition of exploitation films.

For the collectors among you, Eternity Comics released an official (and belated) comic book adaptation of BLOOD FEAST in 1991. Friedman and Lewis reunited for an (also-belated) sequel, BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT, in 2002. The nearly 40-year gap between the first course and the second has left us hungry for more, and although both Friedman and Lewis have passed away, we gluttons can’t help but wonder what’s in store for dessert.

If it’s an ice cream sundae, one can guarantee that the red stuff on top won’t be strawberry sauce.

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