“Blood Feast” (1963)


Directed By
Herschell Gordon Lewis

Version Reviewed
Special Edition Something Weird Video DVD © 2000, Region: 0, Format: NTSC

Total Runtime
~1 hour, 6 minutes, 57 seconds

A young woman turns off a radio broadcast describing a recent string of mutilations, urging women to stay inside after dark. She disrobes and gets in her bathtub. A crazy man appears out of nowhere! His eyebrows are wild, his appetites wilder! He shoves a knife in her eyeball. Red gloop falls from the blade. He hacks off one of her legs at the knee with a big machete and stuffs it into a sack. The camera pans over to show that Victim #1 was reading a book called “Ancient Weird Religious Rites”. More on that later.

Now I want ketchup. Maybe a soy dog with the works.
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

Down at the Homicide Bureau, lead detective and main character Pete (William Kerwin as Thomas Wood) stirs a coffee while discussing the murder and mayhem with his chief, Frank. There have been seven killings in two weeks, and no leads to go on. The Chief is a comically bad actor. He reads his lines off his palms all movie. Regarding the case, Pete remarks that it “looks like one of those long, hard ones.”

Next, a socialite asshat wearing a hat named Dorothy Fremont walks into a grocery store called Fuad Ramses’ Exotic Catering. She requests “something unusual” for a dinner party she’s hosting in two weeks to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. She explains that she wants to be the talk of the town. The Fuad who runs the place (Mal Arnold) is the killer from earlier. Erm, yeah, there’s no mystery here. He talks her into ordering an “authentic” Egyptian feast, like a Pharoah would have eaten five thousand years ago. He does this by entrancing her with his gaze. By total coincidence, Ms. Fremont’s daughter Suzette (Connie Mason) is dating Pete and studying Ancient Egyptian culture.

The words on this sign can be rearranged to read “Cinemagoer fux, is castrated.”
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

After that, Fuad limps into his back room and up to a gold mannequin draped in blue sheets and says, “Oh, my Ishtar… Oh, my goddess. I am your slave, my lady of the dark moon.”

Outside, a woman holds up a newspaper that reads “Legs Cut Off!” Other headlines include “12 Prisoners Beat Me Up, Nazi Charges” and “Beer-sipping Horse”. Those last two should have been subplots. This movie’s only an hour long as it is.

[continued below]

Thoughts (Possible Spoilers)
That night, Fuad ambushes two lovers on a beach. He knocks the guy out and makes off with his girlfriend’s gray matter. The next morning, he rips a woman’s tongue out of her mouth with his bare hands. He’s later shown stirring a pot of body part stew.

In between visits to crime scenes, Pete goes with Suzette to a lecture on the Ancient Egyptian blood cult of Ishtar. Here’s where the bulk of the backstory is dumped in. The orator explains that way, way back when, priestesses from the city of Antioch would be willingly slaughtered, their blood drained, and their organs prepared as a feast for the townspeople. Once the feast was consumed, Ishtar would appear from a tomb, or something, and do stuff, or whatever. Fuad, it seems, is reenacting this ritual. Suzette will serve as the final piece of the puzzle, his thirteenth sacrifice to the goddess of fertility and destruction.

All the info discussed here goes in Pete’s ear and out the other, apparently, cos he fails to connect the crimes to the local Egyptian, who it turns out is the author of Ancient Weird Religious Rites, who just so happens to be catering his best girl’s birthday, even after a dying victim confides in the cops that she was attacked in the name of “Itar”. Goddamn, Pete. I mean, goddamn. One more virgin dies via whipping. Her blood is on Pete’s hands.

The protags finally figure it out at the end — every victim was a member of Fuad’s mail order book club. They track him down, and chase him into a garbage truck, where he’s mashed up like the garbage he is.

Fun fact: a few minutes of research taught me that Ishtar was actually a Mesopotamian goddess, meaning she was never worshiped by Ancient Egyptians. This qualifies Blood Feast as a work of alternate history. Or ignorance. To quote The B-52s, “I ain’t no student of ancient culture…” but I know that Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were two different things. Ancient Egypt was built on the Nile River in present-day Egypt. They had mummies, and pyramids, and Hieroglyphs, and all that. Mesopotamia was comprised of several civilizations and was located between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in present-day Iraq. They invented Cuneiform (or “wedge-shaped”) writing. Their gods were different.


Herschell Gordon Lewis’ movies define exploitation. Almost all of them focus on taboo subjects like nakedness, psychedelic drugs, and dismemberment.

What can I say about his most popular movie, his magnum opus, that hasn’t already been said? Probably not a whole lot, but I’ll give it the old college try. As you may know, Blood Feast was the first explicitly gory film of all time. It was an instant drive-in success and later became a cult classic that influenced generations of filmmakers.

Lewis loved telling the story of how he and producer David F. Friedman got stuck in a traffic jam ten miles out from Peoria, Illinois, on their way to the movie’s premiere. Their first assumption was that there had been a bad accident. They were pleasantly surprised when they realized the cars were lined up for their film. It was then they knew they were onto something. Peoria is a two-and-a-half hour drive from my place. It’s known as a prototypical middle American city, and even has its own figure of speech, Will it play in Peoria?, which means if something is well received there, it will most likely go on to be a hit elsewhere. Blood Feast is a great example of that proving true. Lewis and Friedman followed their blood-soaked success with a pair of companion pieces, Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965) — and even reunited in 2003 for a dang good sequel (below right).

There are two different accounts as to where and how the idea for Blood Feast came about, both perpetuated by Lewis. The first one has it that he and Friedman were left with a gallon of fake blood they’d mixed up for a prior production. After wondering what to do with it, they decided to go all-in and just use the whole thing for a horror film.

The other version appears in a UK TV show. In episode 3 of The Incredibly Strange Film Show, Lewis reminisces with a smile, “I was actively looking for some sort of subject matter… The kind of movie the major companies either couldn’t make, or wouldn’t make… I had seen a movie there, in Miami somewhere… and I was complaining to somebody about the lack of realism in [it], and in mid-sentence, I stopped. Archimedes in the bathtub! Eureka! I found it — gore. I turned to go back to the motel to start putting notes together and there confronting me was this fake sphinx. The sphinx and I exchanged meaningful glances, and Blood Feast was born.”[1] The sphinx he refers to is one of two statues guarding the entrance to the Suez Motel in Miami Beach, Florida, where he and Friedman were staying. The opening credits, fan favorite “tongue scene”, and beach attack scene were all shot there.

A man named Stanford Kohlberg put up the money for Blood Feast so that he could run it exclusively in his own chain of drive-ins across the Midwest. It was filmed in 4½ days in Miami, for a cost of $24,500. The cast and crew were given three takes per scene.

Connie Mason was the Playboy Playmate of the Month, June, 1963, and was cast from the Playboy Club in Miami where she worked as a waitress. She was apparently not skilled at memorizing her lines and showed up late to the set. Lewis buried her all the time in his interviews. “Acting was simply not one of her talents.”[2] he told fellow exploiteer John Waters for Waters’ book Shock Value. Funnily enough, Lewis brought Mason back for the second part of his Blood Trilogy, Two Thousand Maniacs!.

That’s because Lewis didn’t care about acting. Acting was never the purpose of his films. The purpose was to find something mainstream films hadn’t touched on yet and cater to that, pun intended.

In the same way that Ramses cooked a blood feast for Ishtar, Lewis cooked a blood feast for us.
Credit: Something Weird Video DVD

In every interview of his that I’ve seen or read, Lewis admitted without shame that his sole motivation for making Blood Feast — and all his other movies, for that matter — was money. He was a businessman first and foremost, an advertiser who owned his own theatres and car rental company. He wrote books about (and gave lectures on) marketing and copyrighting, and even taught for a while at a university. Filmmaking was never an outlet for him to express himself, it was nothing more than a side-job, one that spanned four decades and turned out thirty-eight bad — yet beloved — sex, exploitation, and gore films. Along the way, Lewis pioneered genres and impacted untold weirdos (myself included), even though all he was doing was trying to make a quick buck.

Lewis didn’t delude himself, or let his success go to his head. He knew his movies were crap. In the audio commentary for Blood Feast, he compares it to a Walt Whitman poem, stating “It’s no good, but it was the first of its kind.” In Shock Value, Lewis concedes, “We ourselves thought it was pretty schlocky.”

“When it comes to filmmaking, Lewis has no conscience.” an unnamed associate of his told the Chicago Tribune in 1972. “He doesn’t care what the script is like, but he knows he can make money with whatever he turns out and he gives his audience pie instead of steak. He doesn’t want to improve the standards in his films, and he doesn’t know anything about the basics. He’ll grab a master-shot and then leave and when he gets back to the cutting room and finds he has nothing to work with, he’ll blame the camera man or the sound man. If you’ve been connected with Herschell, you’re considered a shoddy filmmaker. I like him personally, but professionally, I’d like to see him run out of the business. I would recommend that anyone interested in the film business make one feature with Herschell to learn how not to do it.”[3]

Shots fired. It’s no secret that Lewis had his mind on his money and his money on his mind. His movies reflect it. They’re objectively bad, but for some reason they’re still really enjoyable. If you’ve been here before, you know that bad movies are my thing at this stage of my life.

I don’t recall when or where I first heard about Blood Feast. It was just one of those titles I’d made a note of and tucked away in the back of my head as a young horror fan. I bought it after I watched the “world famous” trailer sequence for Something Weird Video on my 20th Anniversary Basket Case (1982) DVD.

Two of the standout moments from the film, as shown in the trailer above, are Fuad’s eyebrows. You can’t talk about Blood Feast without mentioning them. You just can’t. I don’t know if it’s ever been said what they used to gray the guy’s hair. To me, it looks like his eyebrows were coated with silver enamel paint. They’re completely unnatural looking, yet, Lewis focused so closely on them that we see every hair, pore, and sun spot on Mal Arnold’s face in perfect detail. I guess he knew there was no hiding how bad they looked.

I wish Fuad would hypnotize my wife with that gaze.
Credit: Something Weird DVD

In my opinion, Blood Feast is one of the most entertaining and well-paced movies in Lewis’ arsenal. Compare it to something like Gruesome Twosome, which is padded with bullshit and stages the same kill scene over and over again, and the difference is night and day. I don’t watch it as frequently as I used to, but it’s still special to me because it played an important part in leading me down the bad movie rabbit hole from whence I never returned.

Extra features for the Something Weird Video DVD include audio commentary with Lewis and Friedman moderated by SWV founder Mike Vraney, a trailer, fifty minutes of outtakes (including better shots of the first woman’s tittays!) set to music and audio clips from assorted HG Lewis movies, a gallery of exploitation ads and artwork (6:48), and an informational short about how to carve meat starring William Kerwin. All in all a great disc. Well worth the six bucks I paid for it.

Body Count
6 before the events of the movie, 7 during.

Bod Count
1 pair of boobs.

Overall Enjoyability
5 long hard ones out of 5.

I Got My Copy From

Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964)
Color Me Blood Red (1965)
A Taste of Blood (1967)
The Gruesome Twosome (1967)
The Wizard of Gore (1970)
The Gore Gore Girls (1972)
Blood Diner (1987)
Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh (1991)
Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002)

1. “Herschell Gordon Lewis”. The Incredibly Strange Film Show. Channel 4. United Kingdom. 19 Aug. 1988. Television.

2. Waters, John. Shock Value. New York: Running Press, 2005. Print.

3. Clifford, Terry. “The Guru of Gore” Chicago Tribune 16 Jan. 1972: Page G16. Print.

Further Listening
See how many Blood Feast clips you can pick out of this video.