The best (and worst) classic flicks and cult favorites
Box Office Spectaculars, 1963
Starring: Mal Arnold, William Kerwin, and Connie Mason
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
The plot: Fuad Ramses (Arnold), lecturer on Egyptology and professional caterer, is also a murderous fanatic in the Cult of Ishtar. His latest dish: an “Egyptian blood feast,” which, he informs anyone who listens, hasn’t been prepared “since 5,000 years ago!” The dish’s prime ingredient: beautiful young women from around Miami. Detective Pete Thornton (Kerwin), who can’t find his own ass with a map and a flashlight, is on the case.
Why it’s good: Original doesn’t always mean good, but “Blood Feast” is truly a landmark in cinema history — the first “splatter film.” Working from a script by Allison Louise Downe, director Lewis slapped together a shoestring crew, rounded up some terrible actors, and shot the whole thing with a magnificent sense of humor. The cinematography is candy-colored, the blood flows like a waterfall of gore, and all the pretty victims — including Playboy model Connie Mason — end up in their underwear before Fuad does his Julia Child routine. It all added up to the perfect recipe for drive-in dynamite in 1963. The lugubrious score, also written by Lewis, prominently features a theremin, three years before Brian Wilson made the instrument famous with his masterpiece, “Good Vibrations” (Wilson’s brother, Carl, had seen the film).
Should I watch it? You must, at least once. It took guts and gall to lens such cartoon carnage and erotica when America’s sensibility was still firmly entrenched in the 1950s. Though The Beatles wouldn’t truly usher in the ’60s as we know them for another year, “Blood Feast” was a harbinger of things to come. Producer David F. Friedman was the godfather of exploitation films, and Lewis is up there with Ted V. Mikels, Ray Dennis Steckler, and Doris Wishman as an accomplished creator of nutcase cinema (John Waters paid homage to both Lewis and Russ Meyer in his first book, “Shock Value”). Friedman spent $24,500 to make this film; he reaped over $4 million in profits. He and Lewis would go on to make this the first part of a trilogy, followed by “Two Thousand Maniacs!” and “Color Me Blood Red,” before Lewis discovered the mail-order business in Florida could make him more dough than movies. He left us this terrific quip: “I’ve always said ‘Blood Feast’ is like a Walt Whitman poem — it’s no good, but it was the first of its kind.” The Something Weird DVD boasts a beautiful transfer and lots of silly extras.
You can catch “Blood Feast” at the latest installment of the Seacoast Repertory Theatre’s Let’s “B” Reel series on Wednesday, Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m. Hosts Timothy Fife and Bunny Wonderland will moderate a Skype interview with director Herschell Gordon Lewis. Before the show, audience members are invited to bring in a gruesome dish for a “Make Your Own Blood Feast” contest. Tickets are available at seacoastrep.org or by calling 603-433-4472.