Sunday, October 30, 2016

My Favorite Halloween-themed VHS Tapes!

It’s been many years since I have done anything Dumpster Diving for Gold related, but that doesn’t mean I’m not always out looking for a good deal. Be it on the internet or in the dreaded real world, I am still hunting hard for deals on VHS tapes, Blu-rays and the occasional DVD. Seeing as it is indeed the season of scary, on top of the fact that I have a sizable VHS collection of Halloween-set films and television specials, I thought it would be fun to share with all two, maybe three of you some of my very favorite Halloween-themed VHS tapes!   

The Midnight Hour (1985)

VHS The Midnight Hour VHS releases

Originally airing on ABC in 1985, The Midnight Hour is one of the very best Halloween movies and certainly a favorite of mine. I’m lucky enough to own three VHS copies of The Midnight Hour: the Anchor Bay clam, a German release and a sealed Vidmark screener. If you haven’t seen this one, and are even remotely into Halloween, then you need to get on that joint ASAP!


 Hack-O-Lantern AKA Halloween Night (1988)

VHS Hack o Lantern Halloween Night VHS releases

Two names, two releases, one film, Hack-O-Lantern was released by Legacy Entertainment under the Hack-O-Lantern title in 1988. In 1990, the film was released by Atlas Entertainment Corps under the title Halloween Night. Both releases are quite hard to come by, especially Halloween Night, so owning these two tapes makes me want to throw up a set of awkward grandpa devil horns.


HauntedWeen (1991)

VHS Hauntedweek VHS release

While I adore all of the tapes featured in this post, I would have to say my favorites have to be these two copies of HauntedWeen. Self-distributed under the one-and-done label Consumer Video Distributors, HauntedWeen was a long-time holy grail tape for me, so to own not only one copy, but TWO copies is pretty rad. Furthermore, as you can see from the image, one of my copies was signed by director Doug Robertson, while the other copy is factory sealed, making things all the more rad.



 Hollow Gate (1988)

VHS Hollow Gate VHS release

Both of these copies of the supremely silly and equally entertaining Halloween-set Slasher flick, Hollow Gate, were released by City Lights Home Video in 1988. As expressed in my review from a few Chucktobers ago (link below!), I have a HUGE soft spot for this movie, and owning both of these VHS releases makes me so happy that I would almost consider not drinking alone in the kitchen while my pussy son embarrasses me with his lack of apple bobbing skills.



Halloween (1978)

VHS Halloween Original Media Meda VHS release rare

Seeing as Halloween is my all time favorite horror film, this final Halloween-related VHS tape holds a very special place in my heart. It’s also a bit of a conflicting one, as the slipcover of my copy is the 1979 MEDIA release – which is the second ever official VHS release of John Carpenter’s masterpiece – whereas the actual tape itself is the original (also 1979) MEDA VHS release.

Both releases are hard to come by, but the MEDA VHS is definitely the rarer of the two. Both the MEDIA and MEDA releases are longtime holy grail tapes for me, so sort of having both is pretty cool, but it’ll be a lot cooler when I actually own the MEDIA tape and MEDA slip to complete the Halloween package. Who knows when that’ll ever happen, but the hunt for such things is always a huge part of the fun!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

SlashDance: Nightmare City (1980)

Banner SlashDance final

There was a time in the ‘80s where aerobics was so popular that the fashion and rhythmic aerobic moves integrated itself into anything and everything one could imagine. Naturally, this would eventually lead to aerobics making its way to film, specifically the horror genre. While there are plenty of examples of aerobics in horror (Death Spa, Aerobicide, Murder Rock, Slash Dance, etc), one of the most memorable comes from a small but incredible dance scene in Umberto Lenzi’s pseudo-zombie opus Nightmare City.

Nightmare-City-1980 city of the walking deadThis scene in question takes place in a television studio, where a number of beautiful women adorned in powder blue leotards erotically erratically dance in a fashion that, despite their best efforts, lacks any sort of synchronization. I would assume the standards would be higher for TV, but then again, the fact that people actually watch a show where women wearing blue spandex perform aerobic inspired dance moves on a set designed by Milton Bradley only proves that people will watch anything. Considering that shows like MTV’s The Grind actually existed, I probably should have never even questioned it.

In any event, the song used for this moment is titled Sustain, and is provided by legendary Italian composer Stelvio Cipriani. The tune is gleefully upbeat in a fashion that makes one want to put on a pair of roller skates and glide through the streets of 1980’s New York while eating an ice cream cone. Of course, a bunch of nice looking ladies in blue onesies is innocent enough, therefore the song is quite fitting; however, things take a frightening turn when the dead body of one of the aerobiciders (that’s a fake word… feel free to use it) is discovered. At this point all hell breaks loose, as a gang of radioactively infected zombies come bursting into the studio, violently attacking everyone in sight and in a variety of grisly ways.

This scene works for a number of reasons, the main one being the fact that it’s so completely ridiculous. Regardless, it has a way of tapping into a fear; a fear of being overwhelmed by madness without any warning; a fear of being suddenly vulnerable in a place that should be safe, which in this case is at work. Sure, the “infected” are wearing bad suits and their makeup looks like puked up breakfast cereal smeared on their faces, but the dance sequence and subsequent attack scene are a highlight of a film that, despite my enjoyment, is a little uneventful.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Bad Trick or Treat Ideas: Leaving Your Lights on and Not Answering the Door

bad trick or treat candy ideas
Of all the many egregiously awful things one can do to a child on Halloween night, none is worse than leaving your front porch light on and not actually answering the door. Like, at what point in your day did you think to yourself, “hey, fuck Halloween and making kids happy with delicious treats, let’s skip it this year. In fact, let’s not only skip it, we’ll go ahead and leave the lights on so those little bastards think we are actually passing out candy!”

Listen, every single second of Halloween night is precious, and the fact that you are wasting a solid 3 minutes of a child’s time by tricking them into coming to your house, for no reason at all, when they could be at the “cool” house, makes you a turd of the worst kind. For your sins, I hope you suffer the worst that Halloween has to offer, including but not limited to: your house being toilet papered, egged, peed on, and burned down to the ground. With you in it.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Salute Your Shorts: The Closet (2014)

the closet halloween short film

After spending yet another Halloween night all alone, a young girl (Marlena-Marie Grubl) begins having vivid nightmares. When she awakens and hears noises coming from her closet, she fears that something may be out to get her.

Written and directed by Michael Winiecki, The Closet is quite short – coming in at about 4 minutes minus credits – and simple, focused on little more than a girl hanging out in her bedroom on Halloween night. While being simplistic in terms of narrative, the film succeeds through solid execution, conveying a level of professionalism that is always welcome with these types of short movies.

A notable element of The Closet comes from the ‘80s gothic punk tone it gives off. This comes through most obviously with the music choices and both the costume and set design. With her slightly pale makeup and penchant for striped clothing, the lead character, who is credited as “Goth Girl,” has a look that would indicate she's into Siouxsie and the Banshees, Bauhaus and other bands of that nature. Plus the fact that her bedroom is adorned with punk band posters certainly cements the style of character the filmmakers were going for.

The gothic overtones – which vibe in a fashion similar to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – adds a lot to the success of the short on a personal level. It makes the short feel as if it defies a specific time period. And that, mixed with strong camerawork, editing and sound design, make The Closet an enjoyable, albeit brief, Halloween treat that is more than worthy of your evening.

Salute Your Shorts 4


Sunday, October 16, 2016

The 2016 Halloween Party Music UBER MEGA-MIX!

halloween party music playlist

The darkest clouds are up ahead, as the season of sorrow hangs overhead.

The spookiest sounds pulsate oh so light, but grow they will throughout the night.

The skeletons dance with little care, as witches cackle and let loose their hair.

Listen closely my little dear, as the sounds of THE 2016 HALLOWEEN PARTY MUSIC UBER MEGA-MIX IS HERE!!!

It simply wouldn't be Halloween without my yearly hand-curated Halloween party music playlist. Well, I guess it would be Halloween, but it would be a whole lot less uber, and that's really just not, uh, uber.

Anyway, as I do every Halloween season, I've made some minor tweaks to the playlist, adding a few new tunes, changed the order, etc. Basically doing whatever it takes to make this the only Halloween party playlist you, your friends and your family will ever need. You're welcome.

Jump on in, kiddies, because the water is warm! With pee.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Scary Movie (1991): House of Bore-ors

scary movie 1991 halloween horror 2

When a paranoid young man attempts to enjoy an evening of fun and frights at a local haunted attraction, he soon comes to believe that an escaped lunatic has found his way into the house of horrors and is now killing off the patrons.  

Written and directed by Daniel Erickson, 1991’s Scary Movie is a lesser-known Halloween set horror film that has an interesting concept but struggles to execute it in a satisfying fashion. Much of the film takes place outside of the haunted house, where seemingly every single person living in the small town is in attendance, patiently waiting for the attraction to open. This includes Warren (John Hawkes, in his very first role), a skittish and socially awkward young man trying his best to keep up with the cool kids and, more so, the girls. Specifically one girl who carries a salt shaker, a cucumber and toilet paper in her purse (don't ask).

scary movie 1991 halloween horror 1

Meanwhile, a mental patient escapes while being transported from one hospital to another. The local police begin their search and become quite concerned that the escaped lunatic might be making his way to the haunted house to wreck havoc on unsuspecting patrons. Simultaneously, Warren catches wind that mental patient has escaped and, much like the police, comes to believe he has actually made his way into the haunted house. This causes Warren’s level of paranoia to skyrocket, and when he finally finds himself inside the haunted house, he has to do whatever it takes to try to make it through with his life and, more importantly, his sanity.

What is most notable about Scary Movie is in fact the character of Warren, as he is the major focus of the film. However, despite a solid performance by Hawkes, Warren is, to say the least, an extremely tedious character, and this is just simply due to how annoyingly skittish he is. This is compounded by the fact that much of the first act focuses almost solely on him being both awkward and paranoid in his social surroundings. As a result, throughout the course of Scary Movie, it becomes increasingly difficult to feel any sort of sympathy for Warren. Worse yet, it’s hard to not outright hate him.

scary movie 1991 halloween horror

One undeniably successful element of Scary Movie, however, is the atmosphere, specially all the scenes outside of the haunted house. With the party like ambience, the fog, the chilly fall night, and the haunted house as the backdrop, it brings about memories of going to haunted hayrides and other such Halloween attractions growing up. Sometimes the wait and build up to an attraction is just as enjoyable as the actual attraction itself, and that is fairly well represented in this film.

With Warren being the one weak spot in the film, albeit a major one, I can't help but think Scary Movie may have worked better if it were simply focused on the usual group of stupid teens getting hacked and slashed, as opposed to resting on the shoulders of such a repulsively obnoxious character. I appreciate the attempt at doing something a little different character wise, but in this case, it ends up hurting the film more than it helps, regardless of its atmospheric Halloween setting and clever ending.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Salute Your Shorts: Trick and Treat (2013)

trick and treat halloween horror short film

A man spends Halloween evening waiting for trick or treaters to show up to his secluded farmhouse. Things take a strange turn, however, when all the Halloween candy begins to mysteriously disappear.

Written, directed and starring Cameron Chaney, Trick and Treat is a no-budget, Halloween-set short film that, as most shorts of its ilk, features a simple but fun premise. The short is primarily set on the front porch of the man’s home, which is clearly far from any sort of neighborhood where kids would normally be trick or treating. As the day grows into night, and with still no trick or treaters in sight, the man begins eating the candy out of boredom.

Shortly thereafter, and with a belly-full of sweets, the man runs into the house to “relieve” himself. When he returns, however, he discovers that the candy bowl is completely empty. As he begins looking around to see who may have taken the candy, he notices that there are a handful of empty candy wrappers right near the mouth of a jack-o-lantern. Is the jack-o-lantern somehow actually eating all the candy, or is the man’s mind playing tricks on him?

Trick and Treat succeeds because Chaney delivers on the basic story in a way that is, quite simply, fun. The short is genuinely earnest, and that comes with being made by a young filmmaker who clearly enjoys making movies. Granted, there's certainly nothing about Trick and Treat that stands out beyond your typical 5-10 minute Halloween-set short, but the fact that it is so earnest and, more so, fairly entertaining makes it worth 7 minutes of your time.

Salute Your Shorts 3.5

Thursday, October 6, 2016

SlashDance: Night of the Demons (1988)

Banner SlashDance final

Stashed within the confines of Kevin Tenney’s Night of the Demons is a moment where time almost seems to stop, making way for a dance sequence so memorable that it was an easy choice when deciding on the inaugural entry of SlashDance. The setting is Hull House, where a bewildered Sal (Billy Gallo) watches as a demon possessed Angela (Amelia Kinkade) goes into a dance so decadent that even the devil himself cannot help but blush.

night_of_the_demons 1988Despite being strange in the eyes of the straight-laced Sal, the dance seems innocent enough at first, as Angela erotically tosses her body about to the beat of her own demonic drum. Things become a little more interesting, however, when a boombox mysteriously kicks on, and the screeching sounds of Bauhaus’ Stigmata Martyr come hurtling from the speakers. The sequence grows progressively intense and hypnotic in a way that is in tune with the music blaring from the sticker-laden boombox, as Angela spins herself and the viewer alike into a seductive trance of sexual chaos.

What makes this dance scene work so well is simply in the way it’s brought to life. Not only is Amelia Kinkade an incredible dancer and Stigmata Martyr the perfect song, the sequence is impressively constructed. This is most notable when the strobe light kicks on, something that adds a pulsating level of drama to Angela’s movements. It’s obvious that there are a few randomly cut frames that make it look as if Angela is quickly disappearing and reappearing in different places, something that makes the dance even more hypnotically confusing for both Sal and the audience alike.

While Night of the Demons is a fairly hokey, albeit entertaining ‘80s horror romp, the Stigmata Martyr dance scene stands out as an interesting achievement that elevates past the film itself, leaving an iconic imprint on the genre. It’s a moment that transcends the film as a whole, and that’s saying a lot considering we are talking about a movie where Linnea Quigley partakes in a memorable lipstick nipple breach.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

‘There's Something Following Me’ Delivers Big Halloween Scares with Little-to-No Budget

there's something following me halloween VHS short film

After missing her bus, Cody Richards (Amanda Wells) finds herself having to walk home alone from school. Despite reports that a local youth has gone missing, and numerous warnings from one of her teachers, Cody isn’t too worried, as she has walked home from school a number of times without any incident. However, today is different than others, as it’s Halloween, and unbeknownst to Cody, an unknown force has sinister plans for the free-spirited young girl.  

Coming in at a brisk 40 minutes and made with little to no budget, There’s Something Following Me is a Halloween-set short film that not only harkens back to the more family friendly horror films of the 70s and 80s, it’s a throwback to the VHS era, which is shown both in its visual aesthetic and the fashion in which it was released.

there's something following me halloween VHS short film 1

Extremely low grade in every sense, the short gives off an authentic retro vibe that succeeds because the filmmakers clearly have a great understanding of how to achieve such a vibe without ever feeling insincere. In terms of picture quality, There's Something Following Me purposely has a low-definition look about it, as edges are blurry and the picture slightly washed out. As a result, the film has a wonderful aesthetic, which is only compounded and complemented by the fact that it was released exclusively on VHS.

To go along with the visual aesthetic, the film captures a specific time period through its locations and set design. What immediately stood out for me, unsurprisingly, is the vintage Halloween d├ęcor strewn throughout both Cody’s school and in her neighborhood, which is very much appealing to someone of my sensibilities. Accompanying the locations and set design, the simplistic yet well executed story is marginally creepy, as it is focused more on building atmosphere and tension than spilling blood. As a result, There's Something Following Me works quite perfectly as a mostly kid-safe horror film that, most importantly, never panders or plays it too safe.

there's something following me halloween VHS short film 3

Something else worth noting are the scenes of Cody walking home from school, which is very reminiscent of Laurie Strode walking home in Halloween. This comes through in the location, the way these scenes are shot and pieced together, and of course the score, which consists of a simple yet effective piano piece. And really, all of it works quite well as a nod to John Carpenter’s classic as well as on its own merits.

While There’s Something Following Me will live on with a small handful of people who have been lucky enough to discover it – due to its low budget nature and the format it's released on – it's a little unfortunate that many will miss out on this one, as it certainly deserves a place in the hearts of anyone who has love for independent horror and, more so, Halloween as a holiday. Thankfully, however, the filmmakers have uploaded the film to YouTube in 4 parts. Furthermore, if you’re still rocking a VCR, you can pick up the VHS, which has some cool special features and a handful of other shorts, for a relatively fair price via Briarwood Entertainment.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Chucktober 8: Resurrection!!


Welp, despite coming fairly close to completely skipping the festivities this year – you know, due to life (petting cats) getting in the way and all – I somehow managed to pull up my bootstraps and am here to present to you the 8th annual Halloween extravaganza event of the season in the world of all time ever, Chucktober!!

It's absolutely insane for me to think that this is the 8th Chucktober. It seems like it was only yesterday when I starting this whole thing. Though, that's likely due to alcohol-induced memory loss. Anyway, there really was a point when I made the decision to go ahead and skip Chucktober this year. With having a young demon child of my own (who is literally carved out of Halloween, as I've learned… not that I have had any influence) and a fairly busy work schedule, I simply wasn't able to make the time to do all the normal prep that goes into one of these things.


Hallowbaby doing Hallowthings

Buuuuuuut, a few weeks back I felt a slight sadness at the thought of not doing ANYTHING for Chucktober – especially seeing as it's been a part of my life for 7 years now – so I took as much time as I could spare and was able to put a few things together. Granted, this will be a light Chucktober, but as my grams always used to say, a little Chucktober is better than no Chucktober. Grams was a Saint. Also, there ARE 7 years worth of Chuktober for you to dig into, so if you find that you are extremely bored one evening, feel take a trip to Chucktober past. Just don’t come back crying if you pick up any venereal diseases along the way.

With all that nonsense being said, here's to yet another season of sickness, and without any further ado…


Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dolemite (1975): Boom Goes the Dolemite


My first introduction to Rudy Ray Moore and his 1975 Blaxploitation classic, Dolemite, came in the form of the Xenon VHS release. My memory is a little fuzzy about the first time I watched Dolemite on my own, but I do distinctly recall putting the film on one night when a group of friends were over at my place. The results were as expected: lots and lots of uncontrollable laughter. Of course, being in our early 20s, we were consuming beverages of the alcoholic variety, which did nothing but make us even more susceptible to the hilarity that was unfolding on screen. It was a true party movie experience, and if my memory serves correct, the first time I had been in a larger group of people all together laughing and enjoying a film for being unintentionally silly.

Flash forward some 15-20 years, and once again Dolemite is back, and this time he’s being given his due in the form of a Blu-ray release by Vinegar Syndrome. The reason why I say given his due is because not only does Dolemite and the films of Rudy Ray Moore deserve the high-quality love that a company like Vin Syn can give, this is the first time Dolemite will be seen as intended, in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Now, the reason why this is important is because every previous home video release of Dolemite, my VHS copy included, is in the wrong aspect ratio (full frame), which led to an unbelievable amount of shots where the boom mic is visible.

Naturally, the presence of a boom mic would make the film seem even more incompetent than it already is, so seeing it in the correct aspect ratio helps give the film a little more technical validity. With that said, even without the inordinate amount of sneaky boom mics, Dolemite remains one of the silliest and down right insane B-Movies ever made, and there’s really no aspect ratio that can change that.

Directed by D'Urville Martin, who is best known as an actor having starred in a number of significant Blaxploitation movies (Dolemite included), Dolemite is the simple tale of a pimp who looks to take out the people who had him sent to prison. This includes a handful of corrupt cops as well as Dolemite’s arch nemesis, Willie Greene (D’Urville Martin), all of whom will do whatever it takes to make sure Dolemite is sent back to prison, or worse yet, dead.

While the basic plotline is simple, Dolemite is far from a simple film. In fact, Dolemite is so sporadic and wild that it’s almost impossible to comprehend what anyone could have been thinking while making it. Dolemite feels more like a series of over-the-top vignettes poised to position Dolemite and performer Rudy Ray Moore as a sort of renaissance man with street cred than it does an actual film.

Much like the more well known Blaxploitation lead characters that came before him, Dolemite is a sort of ghetto superhero; a man who has risen above through sheer force of personality and presence, only to get what he wants, how he wants, when he wants, and all while sticking it to the man and anyone else who dares to cross his path. What you have here in Dolemite is a character who has nice cars, nice clothes, owns a nightclub, and even commands a small army of karate-trained prostitutes ready to do battle on his behalf. Dude has got it made, and he’s got it made because he made it for himself, by himself and shares it with those who stand by his side.

Throughout the course of Dolemite, there are numerous moments that feed into what is seemingly just a vanity project for Rudy Ray Moore. Moore, who attained minor recognition as a raunchy standup comedian, takes more than one opportunity to spew his creative and often hysterical rhymes. This is most significant during the third act of the film, where there is an uncomfortable amount of time dedicated to a stage show in Dolemite’s club. This includes everything from a musical performance, a tribal dance number and, naturally, a spoken word set via the man of the hour himself, Dolemite. All in all, the sequence is interesting because it’s a nice window into black culture of the time, and the performances are all genuinely great. However, it comes at the expense of pacing, as having an extended 15 minute stage show brings the film to a complete halt. Thankfully, this sequence leads to the film’s finale, which is a no holds barred action fest of silly inept karate moves and other various action atrocities.

The new Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome is stellar and very much on par with what I have come to expect from the niche distribution label (their releases of Madman and Christmas Evil come HIGHLY recommended). The transfer – which was scanned and restored in 2k from a recently discovered 35mm negative – is impressive, with a good amount of detail and colors that pop right off the screen. It's very fitting for such a colorful movie (and such a colorful character at that). The special features are also noteworthy, with a solid 24 min documentary about the making of Dolemite, a full-frame “Boom Mic” version of the film and a 23 minute interview with Dolemite co-star and long-time collaborator, Lady Reed. The cream of the born insecure crop, however, comes from the commentary provided by Rudy Ray Moore biographer, Mark Jason Murray, which is insightful, and extremely informative about both the film and Moore himself.

Dolemite the film, and character alike, is funny (albeit unintentionally), it’s violent, vibrant, ridiculous, and sexy (well, it tries to be). It's exploitation at its finest, and never has there been a better time to jump on the Rudy Ray Moore train than now.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Alternative Movie Posters II: More Film Art from the Underground

Reminiscing about the seemingly long lost art of movie posters is common among film lovers, and certainly a topic of discussion on this blog in the form of VHS/home video art. Over the years, the beautiful artistry of hand painted posters made way for a mixture of uninspired floating heads and photoshopped designs that look like they were thrown together 10 minutes before hitting the press.

Who’s to blame for the lack of creativity and artistry in modern film posters? Well, I’d say it’s a mixture of marketing departments and studio heads, though a portion of the blame can certainly be placed on the general public, as it is they who are the targeted demographic. Studios are selling what people respond to as well as what they think people will respond to. Keep it simple, keep it safe, and the people will come.

While it’s common to call the art form long lost (I already did in the first paragraph), the art form has started to make a mainstream comeback, which I think can be attributed to both the numerous artists of the world and the film lovers who actually appreciate their work. This is best illustrated in Matthew Chojnacki’s new book, Alternative Movie Posters II: More Film Art from the Underground.

A sequel to Chojnacki’s 2013 book, Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground, Alternative Movie Posters II features poster art from nearly 100 artists, and covers all genres and films ranging from the fringe to big budget blockbusters. The book showcases two posters for each featured artist, as well as a few paragraphs dedicated to what went into the posters, the artist's influences, favorite film/genre, and so on and so forth. Needless to say, Alternative Movie Posters II is more than a book of gorgeous, film inspired artwork, it’s a gorgeous, film inspired book of art that allows the reader to get to know the artists behind the work as well as opens a window and shines a light on what inspires them.

While flipping through the book for this review, I had begun to take notes on some of my favorite artists, a list that would quickly grow. At one point, I realized the list would be too long, which is a testament to just how many fantastic artists and posters are featured in this 208 page book. And to be fair, while I certainly had my favorites, every featured poster is spectacular in one way or the other.

To enjoy Alternate Movie Posters II, one does not need to be a film fan (though, it certainly helps), as anyone who enjoys and appreciates art will surely love this book. The diversity on display and creativity that flows throughout is sure to win over anyone who is even remotely interested in such a subject, and Matthew Chojnacki should be commended for the work he put into curating such a wonderful book of poster art, not just once, but twice.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Anatomy of A Murder Scene: Blood Feast (1963)

Blood Feast opens in what is either an homage to Psycho or a complete rebellion against it. The setting is virtually identical, taking place in a bathroom where a familiarly beautiful blond woman (Sandra Sinclair) is taking a bath. As the woman settles in for a nice long soak, a knife-wielding madman attacks the woman as she screams in agony and fear as her life quickly escapes her body. Immediately after his victim’s final breath, the man takes a brief moment to take in what he has just done, at which point a sadistic grin forms on his face in a fashion that could either come from pride for a job well done, or the happiness knowing what bloodshed was still to come.

The camera then takes a few moments to pan across the carnage, revealing the woman’s lifeless body, strategically covered in soap suds in a way that allows just enough of her breasts to peak through and possibly titillate certain viewers. More importantly, though, this is where it is revealed that the killer, Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), has removed the woman’s left eyeball, showing what would have only been imagined by the audience up until this point in genre cinema.

With so much grotesquery and carnage, this might have been a perfectly suitable way to end an opening murder scene, especially in 1963. However, this is only the start of what Ramses has planned for his victim, as he then goes on to hack away at her left leg until it is completely dismembered. Ramses then places his new possession into a black duffle bag, carefully cleans off his weapon and leaves the viewer to linger on the woman’s bloodied hand, no longer having the life force necessary to resist gravity, as it slowly slides down the side of the bathtub, leaving behind a streak of viscera.

Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast did what no other film had done before, in that it showed on-screen violence and the gore that came with it, albeit in the crudest of ways in comparison to today’s standards of filmmaking. I find it utterly fascinating how Lewis opens Blood Feast with a scene that is, in essence, a dirtier reflection of Psycho, which had come only 3 years earlier. Hitchcock made us believe we were seeing Janet Leigh as Marion Crane be murdered on screen with expert editing, brutal sound design and an ear piercing soundtrack, though never was there any penetration shown, let alone much actual bloodshed.

Psycho’s shower scene is one of the greatest and most respected on screen deaths in cinema history, and that is due to the audience's’ imagination being allowed to work overtime, filling in the gaps of of what Hitch showed them. By the time we would get to 1963, and Herschell Gordon Lewis was looking to get people’s butts in theater seats, he had to do something that no one had done before. And that’s exactly what he did with Blood Feast, and never is it more apparent than in the film’s opening ‘bloodbath sequence’.

This opening death makes a statement by taking the familiar setting of Psycho and pushing the envelope much further, almost mocking what audiences had seen in that famous shower scene. It was an opportunity for a ballsy filmmaker to say to the audience: you think what you saw in Psycho was horrific? Wait until you see what WE have in store for you! As Blood Feast’s antagonist murdered, hacked and mutilated his victim - all things that were certainly not present in Hitchcock’s film, let alone any before it - this opening threw down the gauntlet.

Blood Feast is an otherwise forgettable and completely inept horror flick that became the jumping off point for a different type of horror picture. It changed the landscape of horror cinema, birthing an audience that now had an insatiable hunger for gore and violence, and for films that pushed the envelope of good taste. The opening bloodbath sequence sets the tone for the movie, but more importantly, it set the tone for horror to come. Blood Feast, and its opening scene alike, is a statement; it’s two fists slamming down on a desk with the declaration that horror will never be the same. And quite frankly, it wasn’t, regardless of whether or not that was Lewis’ intentions.

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