The bloodletting begins even before the opening credits: A wild-eyed, butcher-knife-wielding man hovers menacingly over a full-figure girl immersed in a bubble bath. Suddenly he plunges in for the kill, first gouging out her left eye, next hacking off her left leg, and then carefully packing the viscous body parts into a handy satchel. Cue the title Blood Feast, letters pulsating and dripping red blood. Over some 80 minutes, Fuad Ramses, proprietor of an exotic catering shop, makes mincemeat of several more stacked-to-the-max beauties as part of his nutty scheme to resurrect the spirit of the ancient goddess Ishtar.
Unwittingly director Herschell Gordon Lewis's 1963 Blood Feast, shot in Miami Beach and North Miami Beach, spawned the cinematic gore genre, with the movie's unexpected box-office success engendering a slew of Lewis-made followups -- A Taste of Blood, The Gore-Gore Girls, Two Thousand Maniacs! -- and a spate of imitators.
Blood Feast stemmed from the filmmaker's dissatisfaction with Hollywood's tame depiction of violence. I was watching a gangster movie starring Edward G. Robinson on television, the 71-year-old Lewis explains from his Fort Lauderdale advertising firm, and somebody had shot him full of bullet holes and he died peacefully with his eyes closed and almost no marks on his clothing. I thought, That's not right. The major [movie] companies were not into that marvelous four-letter word: g-o-r-e. Of course I had no indication that what would start as almost an in-joke would wind up as a groundswell. Or as a rationale for my being included as a footnote to motion-picture history.
Or more. Five of Lewis's movies were just released on DVD, and he remains in demand at retrospectives of his films, such as the one Saturday night at the Alliance Cinema. He speculates their enduring popularity can be attributed to the fact that they were groundbreakers and they're whimsical. When Fuad Ramses wiggles his eyebrows and drags one leg, I wanted him to be a caricature, and in my opinion it succeeded so admirably that here we are years and years later, when many multi-multimillion-dollar pictures have come and gone, and these still exist.
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