Saturday, February 24, 2018

Blood Frenzy (Hal Freeman, 1987)

Blood Frenzy is a silly but entertaining slasher film that follows the subgenre's basic template but places the action in an unusual location. One of only two non-porn films from porn director Hal Freeman (the other is a documentary about earthquake preparedness hosted by Shelley Duvall!!!), Blood Frenzy puts forth the highly improbable scenario of a psychotherapist taking a group of troubled patients deep into the isolated California desert for a weekend encounter group. Unfortunately, someone else is out there, too, and this unseen stranger starts picking off the group, one by one. Or is the killer one of them?
The group of patients are a ridiculous collection of stereotypes. Rick (Tony Montero) is a troubled Vietnam vet haunted by flashbacks, Cassie (Lisa Savage) is a nymphomaniac who wants to be touched at all times, Dave (Hank Garrett) is a chauvinist alpha male with a hair-trigger temper, Jean (Monica Silveria) is terrified of being touched and scared of life in general, Crawford (John Clark, Lynn Redgrave's ex-husband!) is a raging alcoholic, and Dory (Lisa Loring, who played Wednesday on The Addams Family TV show in the '60s!) has a case of "bitterness," which was apparently a mental illness in 1987. The film ascribes her bitterness and extreme sarcasm to her lesbianism.
Leading this ragtag group of misfits is Dr. Barbara Shelley (Wendy MacDonald), a capable, even-keeled therapist who nevertheless thought it was a good idea to take this group to an isolated hunk of desert with only a mine shaft nearby. Freeman's porn movie roots lead to every woman in the cast wearing short shorts and showing lots of cleavage, even Dr. Shelley, but surprisingly, the film has no nudity. What it does have is lots of arguing and murder.
You might guess that a group with this particular makeup would have trouble getting along, and you would be right, but this conflict is all part of Dr. Shelley's healing plan. With nothing but each other, an RV, and some tents for company, things heat up, desert-style. This conflict leads to two of my favorite exchanges in the movie:
(1) "Hey, a 1959 nickel. I wonder how much this is worth." "Five cents, asshole."
(2) "Do you love me, Rick?" "Lady, you're weird."
The patients get into fights and arguments and have a few breakthroughs, and things start settling down until one of the group is murdered in the night and the radio and the distributor cap are stolen from the RV. The group splits up into three pairs, two pairs looking for help, one pair remaining at the campsite. More murders ensue, more shit goes down. It's a real frenzy ... a blood frenzy.
I'm not really sure what made Hal Freeman take this rare detour from his porn career, but it may have had something to do with his legal problems at the time of filming. Conservative California legislators wanted to crack down on the state's porn industry and decided to use Freeman as an example, arresting him for pandering. Freeman appealed, and the California state supreme court sided with him. Hardcore filmed sex was legal again. Freeman's involvement in Blood Frenzy may have also been a favor for screenwriter Ted Newsom, who started out writing porn movies but moved on to horror films and documentaries about Hollywood, with this film being his second non-porn writing gig.
I'm not a porn film fan, but I do enjoy porn film titles, so I would be remiss if I didn't leave you with some of Hal Freeman's greatest hits. He's most famous for Caught from Behind, a series of anal sex movies that include 23 sequels in addition to the original. Other producing and/or directing credits include Radio K-KUM, Daddy Doesn't Know, The Million Dollar Screw, The Lust Bug, Hershe Highway 2, and Stiff Magnolias. This is a weird planet.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Blood Feast (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1963)

How am I just seeing Blood Feast for the first time? I've read about this movie since I was a kid, I've heard John Waters rave about it in interviews, I love the Blood Feast homage Blood Diner, and I've seen a few other Lewis movies (Two Thousand Maniacs, She-Devils on Wheels). What kept me away from Blood Feast? I think I expected it to be an unpleasant torture-fest when instead it's a campy, silly, entertainingly oddball piece of both accidental and purposeful art. It's a cool-looking movie, and the bad acting is hilariously expressive and weird instead of stiff. I love weird bad acting probably more than I love good acting.
Commonly considered the first ever gore film, Blood Feast takes place in the Miami suburbs. The city is in fear because of a wave of horrible murders of young women, and the police (or at least the two detectives and their chief who seem to be the only cops in the city) have no clues. Meanwhile, Mrs. Dorothy Fremont and her insanely large hat are planning a party for her daughter Suzette, a student of Egyptian culture, and she hires Egyptian caterer Fuad Ramses to prepare a feast for the party. Besides his weirdo catering company, Ramses has a side gig as the author of the fantastically titled book Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Is Ramses connected to the murders? (Of course he is.) Do the murders have something to do with the ancient cult of Ishtar? (Of course they do.) Watch and find out.
This is one of those movies that breaks every conventional rule of filmmaking and gets the job done in less than 70 minutes, and I salute it. There are some crazy images and performances in Blood Feast that would never be found in most other films. Mal Arnold is hysterical as Ramses, and I loved Lewis' closeups of his crazy eyes. William Kerwin as homicide detective Pete Thornton is the only natural actor in the bunch, and the movie would have been a dud if everyone were as competent as him. The movie is clearly the work of amateurs, but every scene has a strong visual punch and real personality. It's not a generic slasher flick.
The world is a slightly better place because of weirdos like Lewis, who died in 2016 at the age of 90, and who had successful careers in advertising, copywriting, and university teaching in English literature and mass communications in addition to his career as a director of bizarre, low-budget movies.  
Blood Feast is rad. Why did I wait so long to see it?