Friday, May 29, 2009

H.G. Lewis's "Blood Trilogy"

In the mid 60s, two filmmakers- H.G. Lewis and David Friedman- fearing that the public might tire of the "nudie cutie" movies they were cranking out, decided to turn to the exploitation of blood and gore. The rest is history. Here are the first three landmark films they made, the so-called "blood trilogy".... For badfilm connoisseurs, they are epochal...

Blood Feast (1963)
If you happen to have an Egyptian caterer, never ask them to prepare an authentic Egyptian feast for you, especially if that caterer has a piercing insane stare. Actually, in general, you'd think that someone with that stare wouldn't get a lot of customers in the first place. I could also see the health department cordoning off those eyebrows to protect the public. And then there's the fact that he's preparing this "authentic Egyptian feast" at the same time as girls are turning up mutilated. Not to mention the fact that the cop investigating the case and the girl receiving the feast are taking a night course in which the professor explains to them in great detail that Egyptian feasts to the goddess Ishtar (I know, I know- Ishtar was Babylonian- just play along) involve eating people. Oh, and lastly, one of the victims has turned up on the brink of death all-but- telling the cop "Some Egyptian caterer attacked me because he's preparing this feast for Ishtar, who I realize isn't an Egyptian goddess, but never mind." before dying from having her face ripped off.

At some point, you have to wonder just how stupid Florida police are. But, the movie is a miracle of ineptitude: the sort of "so-bad-it's-incredible" splatter epics that they invented booze & movie nights for. It's also something of a landmark as the first gore movie ever made, and as such, a testament to American ingenuity.

Two Thousand Maniacs (1964)
Two Thousand Maniacs is a leap forward in film making- it's actually quite a bit of an improvement from Blood Feast. Fear not though- they dutifully leaped backwards after this one. The story (on loan from Brigadoon) tells of a sleepy southern town (actually Kissimmee) that was massacred during the Civil War and now returns every hundred years to kill some Yankees. Six strangers wind up here during the centennial, and the plot unwinds accordingly. The lousy acting and stilted humor of Blood Feast returns here; but there's something charming about the Lil' Abner maniacs and their elaborate killing machines, and things move along fairly well. By this point, it's reassuringly clear that Lewis and Friedman realize how ridiculous all of this is.

Color Me Blood Red (1964)
The third film in the "blood trilogy" and Friedman's last splatter epic, Color Me Blood Red finds the boys in a reflective metatextual mood, spinning the story of a mad artist who gains great success by using blood in his canvases, but at what cost? At what cost?!? Adam Sorg, the artist in question, is having trouble pleasing the art world, until his girlfriend cuts her finger and bleeds all over the canvas. After draining his own fingers, he still hasn't got enough blood to finish the canvas, so he... well, you see where this is going.

It occurred to me while watching Color Me Blood Red how closely these Florida gore epics mirror the drive-in Beach Party movies from the same time period. Patricia Lee and Jim Jackel play wacky teenagers here who would easily fit in with Frankie, Annette and Moondoggie. Unfortunately, they don't get killed. But I sort of wish they'd done a straight spoof: Beach Blanket Bloodbath.

By the third film in the series, Lewis's filmmaking abilities have come a long way from totally inept to borderline ept. It is a great relief.

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