‘Well, without an autopsy, I’d say cause of death is this corkscrew stuck in her ear …’
Blood Feast (1963) has, as director Herschell Gordon Lewis, admits ‘a certain stature’ as the trail-blazing gore movie. It’s still an outrageous watch, with the ketchupy yet confrontational gore scenes and amateurish melodrama, but it was scarcely a loss for the world of cinema when Lewis, after barely a decade of busy production, gave up making movies in favour of pioneering a field which really ought to make him among the most despised human beings on the planet (he’s the bastard who invented junk mail). A full generation after some serious (and not entirely contemptuous) attention was paid to Lewis’s work by John McCarty, John Waters and others, Lewis returned to deliver a sequel to his best-known work, executive-produced by old-time partner David F. Friedman and scripted by W. Boyd Ford (whose unenviable resume includes gigs as Brad Renfro’s assistant, Ashley Judd’s driver and – proving he does know something about catering — craft services on Hotel Erotica). Actually, it’s not the first sequel stab: the 1987 quickie Blood Diner was originally planned as Blood Feast 2, and several other efforts (Mardi Gras Massacre) have homaged, imitated or riffed on the original. Shot in 2002, Blood Feast 2 didn’t get a UK release until 2010.
Hefty, greasy-haired Fuad Rameses III (J.P. Delahoussaye), grandson of the killer from the first film, moves back into the original Rameses diner and re-opens the catering business, intent on assembling another Egyptian cannibal feast at the behest of diva Mrs Lampley (co-producer Melissa Morgan, channelling Mink Stole or Deborah Harry from Hairspray) to celebrate the engagement of her daughter Tiffani (Toni Wynne). Tiffani’s comically dim friends – who have names like Misti Morning, Laci Hundees, Trixi Treeter, Candy Graham and Brandy Alexander – plan on throwing a lingerie shower for her, but get picked off one by one by Rameses in old-fashioned grope-for-butcher’s-offal-inside-the-rubber-torso gore effects punctuated by a surprisingly cool rockabilly soundtrack and really dumb one-liners (‘I don’t want you to serve appetisers, I need you to be appetisers’). A glowing-eyed statue is supposed to be the Rameses’ old idol Ishtar (pronounced correctly this time), and a hammond organ plays eerily to indicate its supernatural influence. Tough hero cop Mike Myers (Mark McLachlan), Tiffani’s fiancé, pukes whenever he sees a corpse, even as his hawaiian-shirted slob partner Dave Loomis (John McConnell) eats at crime scenes. Myers instinctively knows Rameses is guilty, though there’s a running joke about him neurotically rejecting good advice from women who aren’t total idiots like him, notably a smart red-headed secretary (Veronica Russell) who realises that a crossword clue ‘four-letter word for a kind of woman ending in U-N-T’ is ‘aunt’. Loomis stubbornly resists the obvious theory, and suggests there’s an organ-transplant ring run by the Russian mafia in town. Later, both change their minds and Loomis wants to bust Fuad while Myers wants to leave him alone. Unlike his grandfather, Rameses gets to serve his feast at a wedding reception (John Waters cameos as a priest cruising for altar boy trade, purring ‘bring a bathing suit … I got some beer’ at a candidate). After the wedding, the hero, his wife and the sidekick cop track Rameses to his lair, where he’s proving how mad he is by trying to kill Mrs Lampley before she’s paid his bill. Ishtar’s eyes glow and Myers is possessed enough to shove a couple of skewers into his mother-in-law’s eyes – whereupon Tiffany shoves the idol over onto him, killing him, and she has a cheery clinch with the only other survivor, Dave (‘hey, are you hungry?’).
Though its plot is almost the same, this isn’t the same kind of film as Blood Feast: if that was funny or strange, it wasn’t the filmmakers’ intention, but this is an attempt at deliberate comedy (‘is he well-equipped to constipate your marriage … no, silly, consummate is a kind of soup’) which comes a long way after the Lewisian turns of early John Waters (though Lewis did try something similar in his original career in The Gore-Gore Girls). It’s hard to tell whether Lewis really hasn’t changed as a filmmaker (the way Jerry Warren hadn’t when he made Frankenstein Island) or is working hard to match his old wooden, poorly-lit style – with fades to black at the end of scenes which seem to be place-holders for commercial breaks in an alternate world where things like this get sold to network TV. A few scenes have expressionist lighting (a lot of red gels) and tilted Batman angles, which evoke the Ted V. Mikels of The Corpse Grinders (Mikels beat Lewis to the punch by making a Corpse Grinders II). These actors seem to be striving after that uninflected bad acting manner (with over-punched joke-lines), but don’t do as good a job as, say, the cast of Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (who have funnier deadpan lines to deliver). In any case, it’s not caricature enough to be really funny – the job of reprising Lewisian style with modern splat is done more exensively (and expensively) in 2001 Maniacs – and only gets any rise at all when it defaults to simple sleaze: red brain matter corkscrewed out of a girl’s ear, maggots writhing on the gutted tummy of a corpse, the set-up for a lesbian grope interrupted by Fuad with a knife and a meat-tenderiser, eyeballs fished out in close-up, human meat fed through grinders, the hair and face peeled off a skull so a brain can be groped. One of the reasons why Blood Feast is more watchable than most camp classics is it gets its job done at just over an hour – Lewis’s later efforts, like Color Me Blood Red and A Taste of Blood, drag between the atrocities and are fairly tough to watch: this isn’t as dull as they are, but its latter stages are deadened by protracted, cumulatively numbing sitting-around-in-offices scenes between the throat-cuttings.