It seems to happen without fail: whenever a 'classic' horror film is brought up in conversation, someone always says, “I'm sure it was probably something back in the day, but it's pretty tame by modern standards”. Well, I'm here to tell you that Blood Feast, directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis and released in 1963, is the exception; even now, it's multiple scenes of blood and gore pack a pretty strong wallop.
Widely considered the first true “gore” film, Blood Feast wastes no time in getting down to business; before the opening titles even make an appearance, we witness the murder of a blonde beauty who, while lying in the bathtub, is first stabbed in the eye, then has her leg hacked off. Another poor girl named Trudy (Christy Foushee), whose only crime was making out with her boyfriend on the beach, doesn't fare any better: her head is sliced open, and her brains spilled onto the sand. The graphic depiction of these and other murders that occur throughout Blood Feast is shocking. It was undoubtedly shocking in 1963, and it's still shocking today.
And how was the film received? How did people react to all that blood and gore on the big screen in 1963? In the book The Sleaze Merchants: Adventures in Exploitation Filmmaking (published by St. Martin's Griffin in 1996), the author, John McCarty, conducts an in-depth interview with Herschell Gordon Lewis, covering his many years as a filmmaker. At one point, Lewis discusses the premiere of Blood Feast:
“We opened the film at a drive-in in Peoria, feeling that if we dropped dead in Peoria no one would ever know. The film opened on a Friday. Saturday we couldn't stand it any longer, and we drove down to Peoria. Even though there was a major fair in town, theater traffic was backed up so far the state police were directing it. We were still about a quarter-mile from the theater when I turned to Dave (Friendman, the producer), held out my hand and said, “Well, I guess we started something”.
A lot has changed since the 1960's, horror movies included. One thing that apparently hasn't changed all that much is their audience; even back then, people liked their blood and gore!
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