The Godfather of Gore or the King of Trash Cinema...whatever way you look at it, the impact on the genre scene by Herschell Gordon Lewis is impossible to avoid. Low budget oddball flicks filled with great gruesome gore, his films are both amusing and shocking at the same time and at long last Tartan have not only managed to unleash his work here in the UK for the first time but have given them the attention and care they truly deserve.
Rather than test the water with a solitary release they have committed themselves (some would say they should be!) to bringing us a whole line of the gore grand masters films with their 'Herschell Gordon Lewis Collection'. First up is the groundbreaking classic 'Blood Feast'...
The first in what would become Lewis' (mainly unrelated) 'Blood Trilogy', 'Blood Feast' tells the tale of fanatical Egyptian madman and general caterer (doesn't every neighbourhood have one?) Fuad Ramses, who goes about his fanatical bloody business in 60's B-movie suburbia. Poor big haired all-american (ahem) teen girls are been chopped up all over the small town and the hapless local police don't have a clue (or a brain) to what the hell's going on! Things are soon to come to a head though when local mom Mrs Fremont decides an Egyptian feast is just what her daughter needs for her birthday party, but she and Ramses probably have different ideas as to how this should be!
Trash cinema in the extreme and all the more lovely for it, 'Blood Feast' truly is a wonderful viewing experience and one that any fan of horror wishing to enjoy a bit of the genre's history really should check out!
Sure, it is B movie exploitation at its best (or is that worst?) - There's an endless line of bad actors, of which the Ramses character excels in beautifully with his cheeseball Lugosi meanderings and the rest of the cast play their clean cut roles to their hammiest best. The music throughout is priceless in adding to the atmosphere; you truly can imagine some retired old cinema organist (from the silent movie days) sitting playing along using their entire 'mystery' back catalogue. And let's not forget the gore! Way ahead of its time (by a long shot) and still at times very effective viewing today. Limbs are hacked off and cooked, heads scalped, and of course there's the infamous tongue removal scene too! All in blood red sticky grue living up to it's well chosen publicity material from its drive-in hey day.
All of this is lovingly pieced together by Lewis with some well paced editing and excellent vintage sinister cinema direction (you know the stuff, close shot of maniac's eyes etc). Great stuff and still packs a punch in this the age of the computer-generated effects work (who needs CGI when there's a sheeps tongue to hand or a pile of intestines available from the friendly butchers shop!)
But what about 'Blood Feast's DVD debut on the british market? Well, it's a mixed bag of emotions with this particular release - most of which are good. Rightly, Tartan have to be applauded for taking this plunge with the UK market with such a line as this, more so with the obvious consideration of the censoring scissors of the BBFC ratings board. 'Blood Feast' has long been a contentious with the board who could not see the enjoyable absurdity of the film and frowned upon its graphic nature and it wasn't until last years rethink on their policies that the film would be considered more thoughtfully (and respectfully) by their team. Sadly though,'Blood Feast' hasn't come through unscathed with but a minimal 16 seconds of trims to the scene where Ramses is lashing a chained woman across the back. But this is in no way as bad as it seems (or could have been), the scene in question is not missing and it is only the close shots of the lashing that have been shorn whilst the remaining long shots remain. Sure, 16 seconds of close up lashing may be enough to deter the aficionado but the casual viewer shouldn't be deterred - all the rest of the more contentious gore scenes throughout the rest of the film are all there, fully intact (which does make you scratch your head in wonderment at the decision in the first place?!)
How's the disc? Well, again it's a tricky one as importantly knowing DVD horror fans know there are two widely available versions now for your perusal - this new one from Tartan and Something Weird's disc in the States. First off there's the Tartan disc - the print and audio quality on their disc is lovely and for a film of this age you really couldn't ask for better. Something Weird's disc is of an equally nice standard too (but the missing 16 seconds of lashings are retained).
How about the extras? Well, here's pleasantly frustrating one...Tartan's disc has some very stuff indeed - as well as the film's trailer (which also is on the SW disc), there's some nice bio pages which even mentions 'Buffet of Blood:Blood Feast 2' (as well as fully detailing the BBFC's cuts to the film), a small but nice still/lobby card gallery and a new Lewis Collection trailer reel (as well as trailers for other Tartan titles like Argento's Trauma and the Ring series). But of stand-out interest to Lewis fans will be the inclusion of not only the films soundtrack as a separate 22 track audio extra (and very nice it is too) but there's also a great new audio interview (running around 45 minutes) with the director by Chris Campion (who also supplies some film notes too). My only complaint being that I wish they had stuck some stills behind the audio tracks rather than the blood dripping they did include - a minor complaint in what is a very tasty disc otherwise.
Something Weird's disc doesn't include the new interview nor does it contain the separate audio 22 track soundtrack but it does contain a full audio commentary with Lewis and producer Friedman, 50 minutes of out takes (which to be honest even the most hardened of fans will be less then likely to watch more than once) and a fun 20 minute short film on the right way to carve meat (?!) So, it's a tricky one - both discs have some very nice extras but completists are likely to go for the Something Weird disc for those damn 16 seconds - but the Tartan is both a lovely presentation and a damn nice disc to boot. Both the casual buyer and the Lewis obsessed will be happy with this one. Check it out!
Review by Alan Simpson
|Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis|
|Released by Tartan|
|Region '0' PAL - Rated 18|
|Audio - Original full screen|
|Running time : approx 67 mins|
|Trailer selections, Bios, Film Notes, Audio Interview with Director Lewis, Stills Gallery & Isolated Sountrack|