I DRINK YOUR BLOOD (1971) Blu-ray
Director: David Durston
Grindhouse Releasing

I could make comments like this time and time again, but when DVD first appeared, never could I imagine some of the dream releases that would someday surface on the digital format. Back in 1970, on Cinemation Industries head Jerry Gross' want for a shocking, unconventional horror film, stage actor turned low budget director David E. Durston delivered I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. Originally filmed under the less elaborate title "Phobia," it's simply a fun-filled sleazefest and one of the best examples of everything a drive-in horror film should be. Now over 45 years later, we are getting a most definitive version of the film on Blu-ray, as Grindhouse Releasing has updated their 2003 DVD and produced one of the best two-disc sets of 2016!

Here's the plot, plain and simple. A group of sorted hippie Satanists known as "Sons and Daughters of Satan" ride their van into a small town that has been deserted except for a select few. The group is lead by the longhaired Horace Bones (East Indian dance legend Bhaskar) and take refuge in an old rat-infested abandoned hotel. Two of their members rape a local girl, and her crusty grandfather (Richard Bowler), also the local veterinarian, later shows up at the hotel with a shotgun. The hippies rough up the old man, give him LSD (causing him to go into hysterics) and set him free. The old man's scene-stealing grandson Pete (Riley Mills) decides to carry out his own revenge. Since the cultists have no choice but to call on the town bakery for food, Pete injects their morning meat pies (beef or chicken, your choice) with blood from a rabid dog that he shot dead the night before. The shit hits the fan after breakfast is served, with those hippies who indulged in the tasty treats now foaming and violently mad. Worst of all, one of their group happens to now be a rabies-carrying sexual plaything who takes on an entire group of construction workers... and guess what happens then? All I can say is "Call the Red Cross!!!"

If this doesn't sound enticing to you, then your true appreciation of drive-in thrills should be questioned. I DRINK YOUR BLOOD belongs in a class with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT in terms of notoriety, shock value, and allure that could only be understood if you truly savor these types of films—the colorful actors, authentic locations, decent gore effects, energetic music score, fairly original story and solid "let's just make a twisted drive-in film" attitude of director Durston all contribute greatly to this. Shot on a low budget in Upstate New York as well as New Jersey, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD was one of the earliest movies to be given an "X" rating for its violence factor, but release prints were subsequently chopped up in various ways, depending on which theater it was shown at, and hence given the "R." As you probably know, this played on an infamous double-bill show with I EAT YOUR SKIN, which is a retitling of an older black & white Del Tenney voodoo/zombie flick. The outrageous ad art for this twin program also became frequently embraced by pop culture, and graced everything from monster mags to t-shirt fronts.

In the glory days of VHS, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD never received an "authorized" video release in this country, so in order to view it in the past, we had to rely on specialized dealers and foreign cassette versions—all of varying quality and different running times. Grindhouse gave us the first authorized release of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD in the U.S. on DVD in 2002, and are now presenting it on Blu-ray, with excellent results. Rather than full frame/open matte transfer, the new 1080p HD master has been framed at 1.66:1 and looks terrific with strong colors, distinct detail (night time scenes are now nice and clear) and tight, organic grain structure. The original elements are in pristine condition, and the DTS-HD MA English mono audio also sounds perfect with clear dialogue, and the music and sound effects also fair well (optional English subtitles are included). The film is viewable in its uncut theatrical version (before the MPAA took their scissors to it) or the longer director’s cut with extra scenes that were omitted by Jerry Gross and consist of longer footage of the grandfather's acid trip, some dialog between the young lovers, young Pete trying to turn himself in to a couple of patronizing policemen, and an alternate ending which I won't spoil. I actually think the film works better without the scenes, but their inclusion is a fascinating addition to the disc, and having a choice to watch them as part of the film confirms how much care went into this disc's production (these deleted scenes also contain commentary by Durston, who was very pleased that these bits were reinstated).

Originally found on the 2002 DVD and carried over here is a commentary with Durston and star Bhaskar (both have since passed away). Durston is a joy to listen to and remembers just about everything, so you'll get a lot of worthwhile information. He talks extensively about the cast, the locations, the effects, and you'll be surprised to learn that most of the animals in the film were not harmed and that the "trained" rats on screen went on to star in WILLARD and BEN! Bhaskar (who at the time was confined to a wheelchair after a tragic accident and was concentrating on being an artist) chimes in with some great anecdotes, has a great sense of humor, and is actually content to be associated with the film. Actors Tyde Kierney and Jack Damon (both play “good guys” in the film and remained friends with Durston until the time of his death) are on hand for a second, newly-recorded commentary and this track is full of behind-the-scenes stuff, with both gentlemen discussing how the locations were found, what the rest of the cast was like to work with (and what became of them), acting methods, the film’s theatrical premiere (and the surprise of the retitling), their salaries, the various cuts made to the film when in release and more (Jerry Gross is even touched upon here). A few minutes of outtakes are included; they are basically just some trims and alternate takes from various parts of the film, but it's always fun to watch stoners operating a clapboard (the clapboard actually reads with the falsified title, "State Farm"). Rounding out the extras on the first disc is “Mahoning Drive-In Show” (5:48) a video piece which showcases a recent 35mm screening of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD and I EAT YOUR SKIN at a drive-in theater in Lehighton, PA, and it features interviews with passionate film enthusiasts such as Harry Guerro and Mark Nelson.

Moving on two Disc 2, you’ll find I DRINK YOUR BLOOD’s original co-feature, I EAT YOUR SKIN. Shot in 1964, it concerns hunky playboy and novel writer Tom Harris (William Joyce) who is introduced poolside at a Miami Beach hotel pool, smooching with a beauty while dodging a jealous husband. Tom is called upon by his agent (Dan Stapleton) to accompany him and his bimbo, poodle-toting wife (Betty Hyatt Linton) to an exotic Caribbean island, which will serve as inspiration for a new book. As soon as they get there, they are greeted by hostile natives, voodoo rituals, and a scientist (Robert Stanton) working on a cancer cure using radioactive snake venom; unfortunately this results in a small army of the walking dead. Hero Tom falls for the scientist’s young pretty daughter (Heather Hewitt) whose virginal status makes her fodder for a mumbo jumbo altar sacrifice, overseen by a mad witch doctor in a top hat and sunglasses.

As most of you reading this already know, the film known as ZOMBIE (or sometimes ZOMBIES) was shot as VOODOO BLOOD BATH and was shelved for years, until 1971 when it was picked up by Jerry Gross as second feature for I DRINK YOUR BLOOD. With its shirtless macho here, ghouls with oatmeal complexions and fried egg eyeballs, and a plot right out of a Saturday afternoon serial, the film owes more to the horror films of the 1950s (or even 1940s) than the later NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. The black and white effort was even dated when it played on that early 1970s drive-in program (no clips from it were shown in the promotional trailer), but the theatrical playings, as well frequent late-night TV airings and subsequent VHS and DVD releases have made this one a favorite among bad movie fans.

How bad is it? Well, low budget filmmaker Del Tenney was based in Connecticut, where he had already produced a trio of entertaining horrors (PSYCHOMANIA aka VIOLENT MIDNIGHT, HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, the latter two which he also directed), but I EAT YOUR SKIN is arguably the least of these. It was shot in Florida (William Grefe did second unit work on the film), and perhaps a bit more ambitious (it looks as though it was partly inspired by the recent success of the Sean Connery/James Bond series, as you’ll notice by the score), and does have merit as far a vintage schlock is concerned, but as you also probably know, no skin is eaten! Transferred in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio in 1080p HD, the black and white image looks quite nice with crisp detail and deep blacks, and only some scant lines in a very clean transfer. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio in itself is quite crisp. Note that this is the 81-minute version, with the actual title of I EAT YOUR SKIN on it: some prints with the ZOMBIE title run over 92 minutes, but this shorter version is what played on the double bill so it’s most appropriate here. There’s a featurette entitled “Swamp Man” (18:14), an interview with William Grefe talking about his second unit direction on the film, which he states was called “Caribbean Adventure” at the time of pre-production. He discusses Del Tenney, who shot most of the studio stuff while he shot most of the exterior footage (in six days), which he explores in detail. Also included is a trailer for IT CAME FROM SWAMP, the recent Grefe documentary.

The other feature on Disc 2 is BLUE SEXTET, Durston’s New York-lensed sexploitation drama shot in 1969 and rather obscure until now (it was released in 1971 with an X rating, but never out on home video until now). The underground decadent psychadelia piece is about a swinging starving artist named Jeffrey Amber (Jack Damon of I DRINK YOUR BLOOD) and his apparent suicide at the start of the show. His various friends and acquaintances tell of their experiences with him in flashback, causing for assorted orgy party sequences, an unwelcome seduction by a drag queen, as well as the occasional home nudie movie, some which definitely fit the macabre roughie category. You’ll notice several actors from I DRINK YOUR BLOOD here, namely Bhaskar as an Indian stage dancer wearing a large headpiece (you’ll also see him sans the long hippie wig with his natural, clean-cut hairdo). Not only is the film presented in a nice 1.78:1 1080p HD transfer, but star Damon (who was also the producer and at the time billed as “John”) is on hand for an audio commentary, sharing stories about his role as actor and producer, the distribution and working with Durston.

A carry-over from the DVD is a better than the usual featurette called "The I DRINK YOUR BLOOD Show," which lasts for a concrete 28 minutes. This has Durston interviewing people from the film in his backyard, sitting at a table with celery-stemmed "Bloody Marys" in front of them! First up is Lynn Lowry who made her debut (uncredited!) in the film as the mute hippie girl (and she explains why she asked to be uncredited). Next is advertising man Barney Cohen who appears briefly to tell how he came up with the exploitive title for the film. Next is actor Tyde Kierney, followed by Jack Damon. Doing a "talk show" type special centering on the film in question is an amusing idea, and it's certainly pulled off well here—with a good amount of humor and several awkward moments. “David Durston: Going For the Jugular” (59:52) is a fantastic sit-down career interview with the man, who talks about his childhood, knowing Bela Lugosi, his days on the stage and his television writing period, and his directorial efforts. He discusses I DRINK YOUR BLOOD and its cast at length and touches upon the animal killing controversy (they only killed one chicken), the special effects, the film being cut for its playdates, and how he ended up playing the doctor in the film. Durston is back for an on-stage I DRINK YOUR BLOOD reunion (34:59) hosted by the late Eric Caidin and Johnny Legend, videotaped during a screening of the film. Lowry, TEENAGE MOTHER star Arlene Farber (who plays Sylvia Banner in the film) and Kierney all join him to take questions from the audience. Durston can also be seen making an appearance at Cinema Wasteland with Lowry on October 1, 2004 (17:11) and solo at his table on October 3, 2004 (3:49).

Other extras on Disc 2 include still galleries which shows photos from the film, as well as various publicity materials, video covers and personal pics of the film's stars. You also have the original trailer, a radio spot, and bios and filmographies on Durston, Bhaskar and Jerry Gross (all accompanied by appropriate visual extras). Also found here are two German Super 8 home video digest versions, entirely in German language! There are trailers for a number of other Grindhouse tiles, and look around for some surprise Easter Eggs. The booklet insert contains liner notes by David A. Szulkin as well as tributes to Durston by Kierney and Damon. Lastly is this special edition's extra bonus is the icing on the cake: a plastic I DRINK YOUR BLOOD HORROR HYPO which comes in its own packaging and limited to the first 3000 copies. (George R. Reis)