Cheap Gore

Exploitation Videos 6

published in Video Age, December 1985, Melbourne

Do you remember the Great American Dream? Millions of American families (ranging from average to nuclear to mutant) each believing that, yes, their son has the potential to be "zee plesident" of the United States. The dream has well faded now and ended up being what Mork from Ork called "earth humor." But there is a dream that is a strong part of current American mythology: the great dream that anyone can make his own cheap Horror movie. Forget that president jive! A movie zombie will live forever on celluloid; a real-life zombie costs a fortune in facials and liver operations.

Like fine wine, cheap Horror movies are an acquired taste. There are hundreds of them at your local video store. They're easy to spot, too, because the more outrageous the cover, the cheaper the contents. Sort of like frozen food in the supermarket. They are all generally produced by independent companies — and I mean independent. The company will generally only exist for that one film and all the people involved in the production will probably be related, as the credits will often reel off 30 people with the same surname.

Here in Australia, people make their mark by building brick-veneer Corinthian-style homes, starting up their own Gorilla-Gram business or getting on TV shows by crying (Willesee) or simply by being jerks (Perfect Match). In the good ol' U.S. of A., they mortgage their small hardware store and produce a' cheap Horror movie. If you've never seen any of these American Dream Horror movies, may I suggest an exquisite double: Curse Of The Screaming Dead and the recently-released 1971 film Carnival Of Blood.

These videos are on par with Picasso — your three-year-old child could do better! Curse Of The Screaming Dead features the sound of the projector rolling as they attempted to post-dub the dialogue in parts where the microphone didn't work, so that the dubbing is so bad it makes all those "Mad-a Max-a" movies look in-synch. Carnival Of Blood features many cameo appearances not of the boom mike, but the boom-operator himself. I think he also directed and operated the camera. These films must have been made by atheists — when you see them, you won't believe them.

But let's talk history for a moment. How did this particular American Dream evolve? What are the origins and inspirations of these wonderful visions? Well, if you said Roger Corman, you'd only be close. Cheap gore all started with Herschell Gordon Lewis and a 1963 film called Blood Feast. And, Lord be praised, it's just been released on video in Australia.

Herschell Gordon Lewis is right up there with Roger Corman and Russ Meyer, who together make up the divine trinity of debauched titillation. All three are survivors in the wide world of Exploitation. Corman survived by moving into the broader areas of production, distribution and exhibition, forming New World to service his films in areas outside of the majors' perception and grasp. Meyer survived by wedging his "nudies" into mainstream exhibition by combining keen craftsmanship and humor to appeal to a much wider audience. Lewis, quite simply, survived through blood, guts and gore. He had made around eight "nudies" between 1960 and 1963, but soon realised that the major studios were starting to show more flesh and could do so with higher production values than the independents who, up until then, had been the sole suppliers for the sex theatres across America. After a brain-storming session with his producer, Dave Friedman, Lewis suggested gore. "Gore looks good. No-one has ever shown people dying with their eyes open. Let's really rip 'em up. Show some gristle. Show not just a trickle, but gouts of blood!" That's how he recalled the brain-wave. And that's pretty much the substance of their lavish production shot in Miami, Florida.

Blood Feast totally lives up to its title. The feast in question, as prepared by psycho-caterer Fuad Ramses in his attempt to reincarnate spunky Egyptian goddess Ishtar, consists of (in order of disappearance) two legs; some brains; a heart; a tongue; and a couple of breasts. Most of these limbs and organs are procured in true Lewis style — (i) whilst the victims are fully conscious; (ii) in close-up and full color; and (iii) using only the finest in animal offal. The only offensive thing about Blood Feast is the gratuitous moral at the end of the film, where Fuad Ramses gets squashed into a slice of pork sausage in a garbage-compactor. Otherwise, we're talking gore galore! Check it out and maybe you too will be inspired to make your own cheap Horror movie (I'm available for cameos).

Praise must be given to Wizard Video for managing to get Blood Feast out on video. The only other H. G. Lewis video available is Just For The Hell Of It (reviewed in last month's column). Perhaps the release of Blood Feast will open the door for other American video companies like Cult Video, Video Dimensions and Midnight Video which, between them, have other Lewis classics like 2000 Maniacs, Color Me Blood Red, Something Weird, The Wizard Of Gore, The Gore Gore Girls and The Gruesome Twosome. We wait with bated breath, gore-hounds one and all.

Text © Philip Brophy 1985. Images © respective copyright holders