The first splatter film: BLOOD FEAST (Lewis 1963)

Blood Feast is a very early American horror film, made way back in 1963. It was composed, shot and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, and is considered the first “splatter” film, a sub-genre of horror noted for its graphic depictions of on-screen gore. The plot focuses on a food caterer named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold) who kills women so that he can include their body parts in his meals, which are ritual sacrifices to resurrect the Egyptian goddess Ishtar (fun fact, Ishtar was actually a Babylonian goddess).

The preview (at the top) advises that the picture

“contains scenes which under no circumstances should be viewed by anyone with a heart condition or anyone who is easily upset. We urgently recommend that if you are such a person, or the parent of a young or impressionable child now in attendance, that you and the child leave the auditorium for the next ninety seconds.”

Well, “leave the auditorium for the next sixty-seven minutes” might have been better advice, but hey, Blood Feast was highly successful, grossing four million dollars against its tiny $24,500 budget, despite receiving terrible reviews calling it amateurish and vulgar. Blood Feast was part of a trilogy, comprising Two Thousand Maniacs! In 1964 and Color Me Blood Red in 1965, although these were not strictly cannibal films.

Lewis had seen Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and felt that it cheated (in the shower scene) by showing blood going down the drain but not the actual murder, and he set out to make up that shortcoming, with buckets of gore and actual body parts (e.g. a sheep’s tongue was imported from Tampa Bay for the scene where Ramses cuts out a woman’s tongue).

He also, like Hitchcock, had some gimmicks to promote the film, giving the audience “vomit bags” and taking out an injunction against the film in Sarasota, Florida, purely for the publicity. The film was banned in the UK as a “video nasty” and not released in full for over forty years, which just added to its notoriety.

Blood Feast was followed by a “tribute” movie, Blood Diner, in 1987, although this was written as a comedy and ended up not directly related to the story of Blood Feast. A belated sequel, Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, was released in 2002.

The plot is paper thin – Ramses is a wild-eyed killer who chops up several young women, described in the poster as “nubile”, supported by cleavage close-ups wedged into the scenery wherever vaguely possible.

He takes body parts from these “nubile young girl victims”, such as legs, tongues, hearts and brains. These he boils in a cauldron (except for a leg which, for some reason, gets baked in an oven), from which he will prepare the offering that will allow the rebirth of the goddess.

The cop on his trail is played by William Kerwin who had a long and illustrious career in film, TV and on stage, despite being in this movie. The cops are clueless for most of the film because apparently weird guys shuffling around with machetes don’t attract much notice in Miami Beach. The murderer conveniently is asked to cater a dinner for a wealthy socialite’s daughter, who will be his final victim, and who is conveniently in love with the cop in charge, with whom she conveniently goes to lectures on ancient Egyptian religious rituals. Oh dear.

The cop sums up the evidence:

“Lust, murder, food for an ancient goddess who received life through the perverted death of others.”

I suppose there are some ethical issues raised, like how come humans can cut out the tongue of a sheep for an appallingly awful movie, but a goddess can’t have a few nubile girls for her resurrection? But such issues, if raised, are raised purely accidentally.

The film managed to achieve 38% on Rotten Tomatoes which, considering the perhaps deliberate awfulness, is not too bad a score. It does not try to be Hitchcock – there is little to no suspense, or even plot, and the music and acting are far closer to pantomime than horror. Each murder is clearly signalled to the audience, with women getting into baths, smooching boyfriends, moving into motel rooms, each accompanied by ominous strings and a snare drum.

The violence is gratuitous, particularly a scene where he whips a girl to death to collect her blood, and the gore is gloriously overdone, as if satirising its tribute to the restrained murder scene in Psycho (which of course had a far more powerful audience affect). The dialogue wanders in a thin band between wooden and absurd, such as these exchanges:

“Well, the killer must have thought she was dead.”
It’s a miracle she wasn’t.”
Well, she is now.”

The Los Angeles Times called it “grisly, boring movie trash” and “a blot on the American film industry.” Stephen King tweeted last year:

Variety called the film:

“an insult even to the most puerile and salacious of audiences.”

Yes it was, and they ate it up.

Stephen King and the cannibal: THE OUTSIDER (2020) S01.E01 “Fish in a Barrel”

The Outsider is a mini-series (ten episodes in the Season) based on a STEPHEN KING novel – ‘nuff said? Well, actually there’s a lot more to be said. Richard Price is the Writer and Executive Producer; he adapted the novel for screen. Price is known for a lot of good stuff, including The Wire, The Deuce, The Night Of and Child 44, which had a similar theme – mutilated and chewed children. The stuff that nightmares are made of.

In Cherokee City, Georgia, detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn from Animal Kingdom and Bloodline) is called to a case which affects him greatly – a child has been murdered, a child about the same age as his kid, who died of cancer a while ago.

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A man walking his dog finds the mutilated corpse in a park. It is covered in saliva and human bite marks.

There’s teeth impressions around the edges.
Animal?
No.

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Ralph quickly finds heaps of evidence including security camera footage, as well as witnesses who identify teacher and Little League coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman from Arrested Development and Ozark, who also directed this episode).

Ralph, enraged, has Terry arrested very publicly at a Little League game.

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It seems like an open and shut case, until footage turns up from another town miles away of Terry asking questions at a conference, at the time of the murder. There is conclusive evidence of both his guilt and his innocence.

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Normally nope, but in a Stephen King story? A hooded figure is standing outside the little boy’s house, and Terry’s daughter is having wakeful nightmares, of a man in her room telling her “bad things”.

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The plot is taut and intriguing, and the cast is outrageously good: besides Bateman and Mendelsohn, fans of Hannibal will be delighted to see Hettienne Park, who played forensic investigator Beverly Katz in that show, until she went too far with Hannibal.

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The cannibalism is a bonus – I wanted to watch this show, and now I can blog it too!

It asks a key question of cannibal studies – who is the outsider? In classical literature, anyone outside the polis was an outsider, likely to eat you. In colonial times, the conquistadors were outsiders, enslaving or exterminating the indigenous populations of the lands they coveted, and in turn painting those tribes as outsiders, by accusing them of being, yes, cannibals. In recent times, the cannibal outsider has been hidden within our cities, chomping his or her way through fellow humans, but often, like Jeffrey Dahmer, considered by his neighbours, in shocked voices,  as a quiet loner and unremarkable. Like Terry Maitland. Who is the outsider in Cherokee City – the quiet teacher who is evidently both innocent and guilty, the mysterious hooded stranger who visits children in their waking dreams, or the traumatised cop who is trying to suppress his rage?

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The first episode is available for watching for free (if you’re in the US or have a VPN) at:

https://www.hbo.com/the-outsider

If not, there’s still a great interview there with Stephen King, Richard Price, Ben Mendelsohn and others.

You can also watch the opening scene, with the ravishing Mozart Piano Concerto 23 as the soundtrack, here.