BLOOD FEAST (1963) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Arrow Video USA

Arrow Video splatters the screen with Kaopectate blood with their Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Herschell Gordon Lewis' seminal gore film BLOOD FEAST.

Egyptian caterer Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold, VAMPIRE COP) has taken to serial murder, killing and taking limbs and organs from a string of female victims as offerings to the goddess Ishtar (a gold-painted mannequin with a rather perplexed look on her face). In spite of the messy nature of the crime scenes, detective Pete (Bill Kerwin, billed as Thomas Wood) – who happens to be taking a night class with girlfriend Suzette (Playmate Connie Mason, MADE FOR EACH OTHER) on Ancient Egyptian history – has no leads to tie the victims together. Ramses comes into contact with Pete's and Suzette's world when her mother (Lyn Bolton, SWEET BIRD OF AQUARIUS) engages Ramses to cater "an Egyptian feast" for her daughter who Ramses plans to carve into the main course. Widely considered the first "gore" film – and it is perhaps the first film structured around a series of gore set pieces – BLOOD FEAST is as memorable for the bright Kaopectate stage blood spattered scenes of mutilation (mostly seen in aftermath) as it is for its more hyperbolic aspects like Pete's captain riding him to get answers and newspaper headlines like "LEGS CUT OFF", and for performances ranging from over-the-top (Arnold and the crying boyfriend of one of the victims) and passable (Kerwin) to the downright awful Mason who seems to have been written as a bimbo as she notes that the string of murders "takes all the joy out of everything" (of course, her mother remarks "the guests will have to eat hamburgers tonight" when the police confiscate the Egyptian feast as evidence").

BLOOD FEAST spawned a pair of unofficial sequels in Jackie Kong's BLOOD DINER (recently the second of Lion's Gate's "Vestron Video Collector's Series" Blu-rays) and Dean Tschetter's BLOODSUCKING PHAROAHS FROM PITTSBURGH (which only exists in the MPAA-gutted version originally released on VHS by Paramount), but Lewis himself tried his hand at a sequel in 2002 with BLOOD FEAST 2: ALL U CAN EAT which delivered more technically-proficient gore but annoyingly forced the comedy beyond the unintended absurdity of the original. More recently, German filmmaker Marcel Walz mounted a remake starring VAMP's Robert Rusler and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2's Caroline Williams set in Paris. Lewis and Friedman (hosted on the commentary track by Something Weird Video's Mike Vraney) speak warmly of Kerwin but not so much of Mason (along with some perhaps unintentional swipes at others like "here is what would have been brains had it not been an actress"). They also mention some continuity issues like Kerwin sneaking in cigarettes and money-saving techniques like the manner in which they photographed the blood-spattered titled card and did the fades in-camera (although they had to pay the lab for a freeze frame because an actress could not hold her breath after being killed on camera), and their need to replace the pink-looking blood of LIVING VENUS with a redder alternative that turned out to be made with Kaopectate.

Released to VHS with a gloriously gory big box cover from Continental Video along with Lewis' follow-ups TWO THOUSAND MANIACS and COLOR ME BLOOD RED (their highlights also included on Continental's TERROR ON TAPE compilation) in the early eighties, the film resurfaced on VHS from Something Weird Video with the bonus of lengthy outtakes and then as more a fully-fledged special edition when Image Entertainment released it on DVD, followed by the entire "Blood Trilogy" did make it to Blu-ray courtesy of Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video on a dual-layer BD50 in 1.78:1 transfers with commentaries (see below) and short subjects. Last year, Arrow Video released BLOOD FEAST as part of the mammoth seventeen Blu-ray/DVD combo set SHOCK AND GORE: THE FILMS OF HERSCHELL GORDON LEWIS limited to five-hundred copies and including fourteen films (along with alternate open-matte transfers of five of the films), a 28-page H.G. Lewis annual filled with Lewis-themed activities and archive promotional material, a 92-page art book featuring an overview of the entire career of H.G. Lewis written by Stephen Thrower, a 160-page paperback of the original Blood Feast novelization, written by Lewis, a 7” vinyl single featuring select tracks from the Blood Feast score, 14 postcards featuring original artwork for all the films, an individually handmade “super gory” eyeball, commemorative barf bag, and newly illustrated packaging and books by The Twins of Evil. A scaled-down, more economical boxed set limited to 2,500 copies with the same disc contents but only the reversible covers and twenty-eight page booklet is still available.

This Blu-ray/DVD combo edition of BLOOD FEAST actually reproduces the exact content of the first two discs of both boxed sets with the same encodes and extras, meaning that the disc's co-feature SCUM OF THE EARTH has equal presence on the menu but not on the disc artwork. Although not the earliest Lewis film – and certainly not the earliest collaboration with producer David F. Friedman (SHE FREAK) with whom he had already lensed a series of successful nudist colony and nudie cutie films – the earliest title in the set is SCUM OF THE EARTH (1963) – not to be confused with the later S.F. Brownrigg film – which Lewis labeled in the BLOOD FEAST commentary as the progenitor of the "roughie" genre. Photographer Harmon (PLAYGIRL KILLER's William Kerwin, billed as "Thomas Sweetwood") and model Sandra (Sandra Sinclair, THE DEFILERS) are caught up in the pornography ring of businessman Lang (Lawrence J. Aberwood, LIVING VENUS). When Sandra tires of being roughed up by heavy Ajax (BLOOD FEAST's garbage truck driver Craig Maudslay), she begs for a way out which Lang gives her by recruiting other "fresh talent" in the form of college-bound Kim (DIARY OF A NUDIST's Allison Louise Downe). Prudish Kim is suitably smitten with Harmon to show off her legs for a supposed shoe ad and her bikini bod for a glamour calendar, but soon finds herself the object of blackmail when she takes off her top for lingerie test photographs and Lang's "teenage" cohort Larry (BLOOD FEAST's Mal Arnold) threatens to send prints to her father if she does not continue posing for racier material. Played like a vintage scare film (with moralizing narration left for the ending shot), SCUM OF THE EARTH's dramatic heft – apart from Aberwood's frothing monologue excerpted in the Something Weird Video promo – is carried entirely by Kerwin as the booze-addled photographer who tells Larry that the only person more disgusting is himself. The first half of the film is pretty coy about the prurient goings-on, saving some explicit for the time (outside of a nudist colony film) toplessness in the third act.

Opening with a Manson International logo not seen on the Image DVD, BLOOD FEAST's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC transfer is framed at 1.85:1 apart from the windowboxed 1.33:1 credit sequence (which looks like it could have sustained widescreen matting apart from the title card). Although shot on short ends, the image is crisp and colorful thanks to the flat lighting, often static staging, and the highly saturated blood and set decoration, with the widescreen framing imposing a sense of composition on shots that once seemed indifferently framed. Day-for-night scenes are less murky along with a couple night shots that seem to have been lit with car headlights. The LPCM 1.0 mono track has also been cleaned up, but it is not particularly dynamic apart from a little reverberation from the score's kettle drums. Previously released by Something Weird Video and Image Entertainment on DVD in a double bill with Lee Frost's THE DEFILERS in a full-screen transfer, SCUM OF THE EARTH is given a 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen encode that looks like glossy monochrome at its best with intermittent scratches, dust, and dirt and only a couple instances of more severe damage. The LPCM 1.0 track is fairly clean although damage to the film element that extends to the optical track does result in some noise that has been largely cleaned up. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided for both films.

Lewis provides brand new introductions to both films (1:12 and 1:32, respectively) while the disc carries over the informative and very entertaining commentary track for BLOOD FEAST with Lewis and Friedman (hosted by the late Mike Vraney) discussing the trend-setting endeavor, Wood's acting habits, Mason's lack of talent, and the film's reception, while the new "Herschell’s History" featurette (5:18) has the director covering his move from school teacher to radio to television advertising to the movies, and defining SCUM OF THE EARTH as a transitional film between the nudie cuties and BLOOD FEAST. In "How Herschell Found His Niche" (7:15), Lewis discusses his nudie career and how Walter Bibo's New York censorship board win to show GARDEN OF EDEN lead to the string of nudist colony films during which Lewis and Friedman established their various roles in their filmmaking partnership. A 1987 Interview with Herschell Gordon Lewis and David Friedman (18:28) has the two expanding upon their "Carny Kid and the Professor" partnership, the stages of their filmmaking careers from nudies to gore, and some brief comments on some of their contemporaries like Russ Meyer and Doris Wishman.

"Blood Perceptions" (10:55) finds filmmakers Nicholas McCarthy (THE PACT) and Rodney Ascher (ROOM 237) discussing the ways in which they first became acquainted with Lewis' BLOOD FEAST and the ways in which it offers a time capsule of "otherworldly Florida." The aforementioned outtakes (45:55) for BLOOD FEAST include some more gory angles (some not so convincing) and nudity, as well as some additional shots from the climactic scene. Alternate "Clean" scenes from SCUM OF THE EARTH (4:36) feature the girls in bikinis where they were originally topless. Also included on the first disc is the "Carving Magic" 1959 educational short (20:32) featuring Kerwin and Harvey Korman, as well as the theatrical trailer (2:23), radio spot (1:01), and theater announcement (0:58) for BLOOD FEAST and trailers for THE ADVENTURES OF LUCKY PIERRE, GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BARES, and BELL, BARE, AND BEAUTIFUL. Not supplied for review is the reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Twins of Evil. (Eric Cotenas)