Blood Feast is the original splatter movie: it came out in 1963, and was deemed to be utterly shocking by critics and the public—but of course it’s incredibly tame compared to what’s out there now. Despite the fact that he made dozens of films, it’s the one that the director of the film, Herschell Gordon Lewis, will be best remembered by. In fact, when Lewis died recently, Blood Feast was normally in the headline in articles about his passing. It even spawned the sequel Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat in 2002, which has a cameo from John Waters. Waters was heavily influenced by Lewis’s work, along with the films of Russ Meyer.
As the film opens, murders of young women are happening all over Miami, and a crummy detective is trying to solve them. Meanwhile, there is a food caterer called Fuad Ramses who is a psychopathic cannibal. Could these things be related? A mother asks Ramses to do the catering for her daughter’s engagement party. However, they are completely unaware of his inclinations and his sacrifices to the Egyptian goddess Ishtar. The “blood feast” of the title refers to the way he plans to resurrect the goddess.
It’s a total riot in its breathtaking running time of only 67 minutes. There is gore aplenty and it’s incredibly cheap and fake-looking, which just adds to the charm of the film. The infamous tongue scene may have lost its full impact over the years, but it’s still a shocker. Blood Feast is full of campy late ’50s and ’60s kitschiness to boot.
Over the years, Lewis was always incredibly self-depreciating about the qualities (or lack thereof) of his films. He famously said, “I see filmmaking as a business, and pity anyone who regards it as an artform and spends money based on that immature philosophy.” He may have seen it like that, but he gave a unique vision and style to his films that is often copied but rarely replicated, partly because he was the godfather of gore and not a third-rate imitator. Anyone who likes horror or independent cinema (it was one of the first independent horror films to become a massive hit) needs to see Blood Feast, and hopefully you will appreciate it as a touchstone of horror cinema and of independent film as we know it.
The disc includes an additional film, the brilliantly titled Scum of the Earth, which is about the perils of being a female model and the creepy men who exploit you. The rest of the disc includes interviews with Lewis, an appreciation by Nicholas McCarthy and Rodney Ascher, a short, 45 minutes of outtakes, alternative versions of scenes from Scum of the Earth, and a commentary from Lewis and others.