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An Exercise in Poor Taste - Blood Freak

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I really haven’t got a lot of good or interest to say in this edition’s unrelated opening spiel, so I’ll keep it brief: I haven’t been feeling well lately, since the quarter is drawing to a close I’ve had work in all my classes for once (I realize there are many out there that have a lot more school-work than me, and I don’t mean to trivialize your harder schedules by complaining about mine, but I’m a slacker with “easy classes” and it caught me off guard), and this has been sitting on my harddrive for about a week. Sorry about that.

 

In better (or at least, less whiny) news, Mondo Macabro has recently released Blood of the Virgins, “a potent combination of hot Latin spice, Hammer style horror and topless go-go dancing” from (in)famous Argentinean exploitation director Emilio Vieyra. The cold war classic Invaders from Mars gets a release in a few weeks (3 December to be exact) from Image Entertainment, and Something Weird Video has finally updated the DVD catalogue on their site. It’s still much cheaper to buy from Amazon or a physical store, but Something Weird has, interestingly, started issuing DVD-R’s of their more obscure titles for $15. Since they’re DVD-R’s I doubt there’d be space for more than the film and chapter stops, but I haven’t ordered any yet so I can’t verify that. Hopefully this doesn’t mean their distribution deal for regular DVDs with Image is ending soon, because those are some seriously packed, great cult discs. On a final Something Weird note, this may have been going on for some time, but some Border’s have had sampler DVDs from the label available with purchase; it’s worth checking out to see if your local store has any, and if you’re able to obtain more than one, e-mail me and we could work something out. Hanukkah’s coming soon, ‘tis the season, you know. Just saying.

 

Well, I guess that really wasn’t the final Something Weird note, seeing as this is a review of…

 

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Blood Freak (1972)

Something Weird Video

 

Film (complete with plot spoilers!)

Blood Freak is without a doubt one of the most unique films of all time. Something Weird proudly proclaims this to be “the world’s only turkey-monster-anti-drug-pro-Jesus-gore film!” If you’re not immediately salivating from that description like I was, I suggest you stay far, far away!

 

Bad-ass biker Herschell (Steve Hawkes, who co-directed the film and played Tarzan in two obscure Spanish films) meets bible-bumper Angel (a bit obvious with that name, aren’t we?), who talks religion with him and takes him home to meet her sister Ann. Ann is Angel’s polar opposite; she’s a stoner seductress who’s immediately attracted to Herschell. Herschell totally ignores her advances, which causes her to pout and get him some marijuana. This isn’t just any marijuana, this is some extra-hyper-uber-super-duper-addictive marijuana, and after being called a coward, Herschell takes one puff and, as per the genre, immediately greedily finishes the joint, howls like a hyena, gets in bed with Ann, misses work, and is “hooked”. Herschell eventually arrives to work on a turkey farm where he performs odd jobs and agrees to test some experimental turkey meat. This is a bad move, as the combination of the marijuana and experimental meat causes him to pass out and mutate into a vampire with a grotesque turkey head. But not just any blood will do, since he’s an addict and the film has a warped morality theme, Herschell slaughters fellow junkies and drinks their blood. Yummy!

 

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When she discovers Herschell’s transformation, Ann immediately freaks and calls Angel for help, then two stoner buddies. Meanwhile, Herschell’s addiction, no doubt increased from all the drugs in the junkies’ blood, continues, as does his killing streak. Horror and hilarity ensues. It all comes to a climax when Ann’s stoner buddies use her as a bargaining tool with their dealer; she screams, Herschell avenges her, and… without giving too much away, I’ll just assure you that the decapitation is real. The revelation occurs that “OMG, IT WUZ JUST A KRAZEE DREAM [email protected]”, and in a total copout ending, everyone lives happily ever after. Yay.

 

It’s very easy to laugh at a concept like a “turkey monster”, but its execution isn’t too bad. While I wouldn’t exactly call the mask used scary (especially with all the bumbling shots that leave no suspense or sudden shock to the attacks), it’s very well crafted. Although it doesn’t look that much like an actual turkey, the grotesque distorted bird head alternates between looking bad-ass and laughable. The gore effects have a similar “obvious red paint” vs. “nice hidden ‘gush hose’” duality, and it’s just so entertaining to see this bizarre creature slash, cup his hands, gulp blood, and pray.

 

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That’s right, pray. Religion has a huge role in this film, from the obvious Angel character and her involvement in the resolution to several narrative sequences from co-director Brad Grinter. In between smoking, making no effort to hide that he’s reading off a piece of paper, and coughing (with one particularly bad attack ending the final narration sequence), Grinter is constantly one to praise religion and spout philosophical jargon that really has little to do with the story being told. It’s heavily theorized that this, and the equally heavy anti-drug message, though presented in a totally bizarre context, were included because the film’s initial backing was obtained from a Chuch or religious organization. It’s possible the Church was trying to send a pro-religion, anti-drug message on teens through a medium they’d understand, a cheap drive-in gore film, or it could be that the gore and monster were added much later (the funding ran out mid-production, forcing Hawkes to take over production and co-direct) to salvage the film. Either way, the bizarre dichotomy adds much of the film’s charm.

 

That being said, no matter how much I’m charmed by giant turkeys (I marked for the Gobbledygooker too), I can’t deny that there are many things the film does very horribly. As mentioned above, not only do the narrative sequences serve no purpose in furthering the plot, but Brad Grinter is an incompetent narrator who can’t be bothered to memorize his lines or put down a cigarette. The editing to and from these segments is atrocious; subtle nuances like fading out the music instead of cutting it off mid-note or paying attention so there are less jump cuts would have done wonders. The only piece of original score is a horrendous, shrill orchestral screech that not only isn’t the least bit suspenseful (maybe the first time… maybe), but, being the only piece of original score, is played during EVERY SINGLE DEATH OR TURKEY MONSTER SCENE! It really takes a lot for a little thing like that to get on my nerves, but something being so annoying AND so repetitive totally grates any sense of sanity I once had.

 

Though it’s cliché to discuss the wooden acting in these types of films (which is why I usually don’t), Steve Hawkes is a very interesting “bad actor”. His movement flows naturally, unlike the stiff unconvincing movements of his fellow b-actors. However, his delivery is totally robotic and monotonous; once again, a strange dichotomy. Even stranger is that his performance is the “best” in the film. Honestly, the other characters sound like they’re trying to give as poor a performance as possible; it’s as if someone were picked up off the street and told to “act” and instead of acting naturally or with any sort of motivation “tried to act” and the result is a total lack of any flow or believability. There is only one character who’s made “better” by “bad acting”, and that is Ann, who in the film’s “emotional moment”, upon discovering Herschell’s mutation, makes the scene laughably silly and enjoyable, as opposed to a serious delivery which would have made the speech, sappy and bizarre with “Oh my God”’s every other sentence, drag endlessly.

 

Those steeped in b-cinema will be accustomed to all the faults in the film, and that will make the film’s concept, promise, and delivery of that promise all the sweeter. Many will find this to be their “holy grail of awful cinema”; for those who don’t, skip the first half and watch in joy and wonder (and maybe even fear) as a killer with a mutated turkey head carries an entire cast and film. Ain’t life grand?

 

Body Count (because every good movie has at least one death in it!):

Six humans, one turkey

 

Wrestling Moves/References (because in the end, this IS a wrestling site):

In one scene, Herschell the Turkey Monster has a tussle with a man who saw him kill his father, but it’s more or less straight grappling instead of any actual moves. I guess you could stretch it a bit and call it amateur wrestling or a test of strength?

 

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TWO Redeeming Scenes (SPOILER WARNING!!)

In a very rare case, I’m going to go with a tie for redeeming scenes. The dialogue mentioned earlier between Ann and Herschell when Herschell first reveals his new form to her never ceases to crack me up – with Ann starting with “God Herschell, you suuure are ugly!”, then later questioning what their children would look like if he were to stay like that. Meanwhile, the only response Herschell can offer is the occasional gobble. The second scene wouldn’t be much gore-wise, but just has a very interesting execution that merits inclusion. Herschell enacts his vengeance on a drug dealer who molested Ann by cornering him in a farm/shed and taking off his leg with a jigsaw. Although this has the same flaws as the other death scenes (WAY too much screaming on behalf of the victim, to the point where it becomes comical and then annoying), it’s interesting because, legend has it, the actor used in the scene was a real-life amputee, and the only reason his death scene was set up as such (and why his leg is so obviously plastic) is because he actually let them saw his fake leg in half and put in blood-squirting mechanisms.

 

Presentation:

The film is presented in full-frame and Something Weird’s trademark of excellent transfers pull through again. Some scenes are a bit dark on my equipment, but it seems that was a flaw from the original source, since they probably couldn’t afford more lights or proper lighting when shooting this turkey (there, I made the obvious joke, OK?!). The sound, as usual, is Dolby Digital mono.

 

Special Features:

Since this disc isn’t a double-feature as per most Something Weird DVD releases, there are plenty of bonus short subjects that relate to the themes or makers of the film.

 

The first bonus is a condensed version of Steve Hawkes’ first film, 1968’s The Walls Have Eyes. Though only 28 minutes, it’s a chore to watch, and I can’t imagine the pain of having to sit through the full-length film. In this shortened version, a woman stays at a sleazy motel, does drugs, and has sex (I believe it’s an affair) with Steve Hawkes, all the while being taped by hidden cameras manned by the motel manager. The manager shows the woman the films and attempts to blackmail her, to which she cries “I don’t like these pictures!” (believe me ma’am, you aren’t the only one), the two get in a short scuffle, and Steve Hawkes comes later to kick the manager’s ass and kill him. Besides starring in it, Hawkes also directed, but the excerpt presented has tons of goofy sex scenes with Hawkes and his woman rolling around naked with moans dubbed in later (they don’t even move their mouths) that, like the screams in Blood Freak, go on forever and ever. Unlike Blood Freak, however, there’s no content, funny or otherwise, to back it up. That must have been edited out to fit on the DVD. I’m split on these condensed features (there are many on recent Something Weird discs, but this is one of the few that I know as such while reviewing) – on one hand, it’s pretty much just the ONE redeeming scene, with just enough plot left intact that it almost ties together. On the other hand, there’s absolutely no flow, and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) it compromises the artistic integrity of those involved. Granted, I doubt The Walls Have Eyes had any message or theme other than sex selling enough for Hawkes to earn a break in the business, but it’s the same principle as when Jerry Warren is berated for ruining his Mexican imports or an Allen Smithee credit is requested for films being edited without the director’s control.

 

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Next we have a set of short subjects. The first, “Brad Grinter, Nudist” is a ten-minute excerpt from another film (at least that’s what I assume since there’s no official title-card or credits presented at the beginning or end), which is, well, about Brad Grinter (co-director of Blood Freak) and his nude friends. The “story” is that a man Grinter works with complains about his wife being frigid, and the two go to a nudist party in the hope that she’ll get naked and loosen up. As it is, I guess this teaches that nudists are somewhat out-of-shape, have gross tan lines, and enjoy playing and barbecuing on a sunny day – just like regular people! Right… skip this one, as there are many more sources for more attractive ladies, and Brad Grinter naked is, as you probably assumed, not a pretty sight.

 

The second short subject is a color public domain scare film, “Narcotics, Pit of Despair”. It runs about 22 minutes, and has the once-standard “good kid gets mixed up with marijuana, turns bad, begins to use more dangerous drugs, and turns worse” juvenile delinquency plot. Like many others, this film actually promotes the use of drugs more than anything else – amongst other things, it shows step by step how to cook and shoot up heroin. Now I know what to do next time I get bored and my friends are still in class! There’s an array of distorted “facts”, and an ending that was originally a downer but now just seems like a cop-out. Being public domain, the film is also available on Fantoma’s Educational Archives Vol. 1: Sex & Drugs DVD, with a better print but shorter running time. It’s also available for download here, although I haven’t checked it out to see which print was used.

 

The third short subject is about a half-hour long documentary, “Beggar at the Gates”, about new Christian sects that utilize drugs and hallucinations as part of a way to get closer to God. It’s actually fairly interesting, and the ideas presented by several different groups show that sometimes truth is as strange as fiction. I can’t remember which groups are in it offhand, but it’d be interesting to see if any are still around today, and if they still hold the same pro-drug, pro-God views. I wonder how many sect members interviewed for this segment have seen The Psychedelic Priest

 

The fourth short subject, “Turkeys in the Wild”, runs about five minutes (maybe longer but I know it’s less than ten; it’s another short classroom film) and is about, uh, Turkeys… in the WILD! It isn’t terribly exciting, but it does give information on wild turkey mating habits (thankfully, turkeys bumping uglies is NOT part of the program), researchers trapping and relocating turkeys, and turkeys walking around in the snow. Call me sheltered, but I’ve never seen wild turkeys OR snow, much less both at the same time. I thought that alone was a funny enough sight to warrant viewing. I’m not sure if there are lots of wild turkeys around anymore, so anyone who lives in an area with them probably won’t be as amazed as I was by such a common sight, but if your kids, relatives, or friends ever ask about turkeys – pop in this disc, and prepare to be edutained!

 

Finally, there’s a ‘50s black and white short, “A Day of Thanksgiving”. A poor family (that still manages to look like they came straight out of Pleasantville) finds they just aren’t able to afford a turkey for thanksgiving this year. The mom, dad, three kids, and baby then proceed to make a list of all the things that they are thankful for, to retain the spirit of the holiday and in the end learn that Thanksgiving really isn’t about turkey at all. There’s some dialogue that’s funny if taken out of context, and as per most shorts of the time, it’s very patriotic. It makes me wonder though, are those damn dirty commies thankful for anything? Do they even HAVE something as all-American as a turkey? Thankfully, besides boasting education, food, libraries and Sunday School, America also boasts this film for download.

 

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As if that weren’t enough, there’s still Something Weird’s typical assortment of trailers and comic book art galleries (I guess they’ve finally run our of exploitation/horror posters; here’s hoping they’re lucky enough to find more soon!). To go with the original Blood Freak trailer, the trailers included are of the “blood drenched” variety (type B) - Blood Feast (the classic original gore film and Something Weird standby), Color Me Blood Red (whose use of the phrase “It’s just a movie” actually predates the infamous “It’s only a movie, it’s only a movie” from Last House on the Left’s ads), Bloody Pit of Horror, The Blood Spattered Bride (a whopping 3 minutes for a film whose basis is the Judith Complex), The Dorm that Dripped Blood, I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin, Night of the Bloody Apes and Flesh Feast. Most are, by Something Weird standards, a bit of a let-down; these are fairly ordinary slashers that are too good to be bad but too bad to be good. Then there’s Night of the Bloody Apes, about a transplant gone horribly wrong that turns a mad scientist’s son into an ape-like creature. This trailer rules so much, and with all the nudity and gore, including an eye being forced out of the socket, it did what a trailer is supposed to do but so rarely does these days – sell me on the movie (I bought the Something Weird DVD and yes, it does own, and yes, I do feel like even more of a degenerate after describing the trailer).

 

I highly recommend this title. There are lots of films that are only enjoyable within a certain, comical context (MST3K is the most obvious example), but Blood Freak is easy to enjoy on its own, whether you’re a fan of Reefer Madness-type scare films, goofy creature films, or a nice portion of red paint blood. This has it all, and for those who don’t own/haven’t seen too many b-movies, it’s a great way to gauge your personal opinions on cult films.

 

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Until next time!

Edward Robins

[email protected]

DVDaficionado.com list – You thinking of buying something I own? I’ll review it on request!

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Amazon.com wishlist – ‘Tis better to give than receive; you know if I had money and you had a wishlist I’d buy YOU something. Just saying.

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