Wednesday, 18 January 2012

VHS Quest #15. Blood Freak (Brad F. Grinter, Steve Hawkes, 1972)

"It's like Ed Wood imagining Big Bird's tripped-out LSD kill-spree."

"'Blood Freak' is an absolutely insane anti-drug, Christian splatter film...
Narrated by a chain smoker who has a coughing fit, don't miss this film -
You'll wonder if it's you or the cast who are on drugs."

Perhaps the ultimate example of what-were-they-thinking filmmaking, Grinter & Hawkes abysmal poultry slasher Blood Freak is without doubt one of the weirdest horror films I've ever seen. Herschell (played by co-writer/director Hawkes) is a thirty-something 'Nam veteran drifting through the concrete jungle when he comes across a nubile bible-thumper named Angel (Heather Hughes), whose car has just broken down. Being the nice guy that he is, Herschell invites her onto his hog (the opening credits recall Easy Rider, Hopper, 1959, although dipped in blood) and rides her home. Home, as it turns out, has become a none-more-70's opium den for Angel's sister Ann (Dana Cullivan), a free-spirited hippie who quickly develops the horn for our hunky protagonist (a cross between Bill Bixby and Tommy Wiseau). The appropriately-monikered Angel bemoans her sister's lifestyle, delivering the sort of po-faced propaganda speeches that would make even Triumph Of The Will (Riefenstahl, 1935) blush; "You know your body is the temple of the holy spirit, you shouldn't defile it." Herschell is informed by his companion that drugs are, like, way bad man, and he should totally avoid them. Naturally he abstinates, brushing off a floozy blonde siren who attempts to draw him into a one night stand. "You're just a dumb bastard who doesn't know where it's at", she declares. At this point, we're inclined to agree.

Before long Ann has fallen head-over-heels for Herschell, who is recruited into a Bible study group by Angel. One of its members invites him to work on the local turkey plantation, which is currently conducing some possibly illegal and certainly unexplainable experiments on processed meat. After a discussion with the plantation's head boffins (who may be the worst actors I've ever seen onscreen) Herschell takes the job, and heads back home, where he finds Ann waiting for him in a skimpy bikini. This is where the film's anti-drug stance becomes somewhat dubious, and ripe for scrutiny (not that the aforementioned opium den is presented negatively; everyone's having a blast). After carefully instructing Herschell how to properly inhale weed, Ann takes a few puffs and then all too easily lures the beefcake into bed. Amorality is everywhere, the film seems to be suggesting, but giving into it will get you laid. After some discreet rumpy-pumpy (seemingly for not wanting to offend the church, although why they'd be okay with female slaughter is beyond me), Herschell gets back to work and enjoys a turkey eating montage. Seriously. And it's not long before the combination of marijuana and, well... whatever was in the turkey, have disastrous side effects. Our hero collapses in a cold sweat, suffers a seizure and wakes up hours later looking like this...

Credit to Ann here, because she takes the news of her boyfriend's chemical transformation rather well, monologuing about how their children might turn out (presumably this is a statement about not getting high during pregnancy, but I can't be sure). It's almost as if nobody in this film is human, with the religious characters holding conversations which sound more like public service announcements, and the drug users adhering to the cliché of being either A) far-out dudes who just wanna hang out, or B) greedy, scum-sucking rapists. That our half-man/half-turkey protagonist is the most relatable character should tell you everything. Anyhow, we're now experiencing the negative consequences of smoking pot, apparently, although where Grinter & Hawkes take the character next is decidedly non-Christian. Yep, you guessed it. He spies on young women, waits for them to shoot up, kidnaps them, slits their throats and then drinks the blood. The incompetence with which these sequences are carried out is astonishing - it's like Ed Wood imagining Big Bird's tripped-out LSD kill-spree. There's no rhythm to the murders, and more importantly no reason. Is the message here that we could all become psychotic misogynists after a few joints? This would seem to be supported by Grinter, who intermittently turns up as unreliable narrator. The fact that he looks like an out-of-work porn actor does nothing to affect his position as the film's moral compass.

Of course, it turns out that this has all been a bad trip, and Herschell had been hallucinating the whole time. Subtlety is not the film's forte. The screenplay is astonishingly misjudged, the acting extraterrestrial, the sound design ear-numbing, and the unfocused camerawork makes most of today's shaky-cam spectacles look like the work of Béla Tarr. It's an anti-drugs film which shows characters having a great time while high, partying to their hearts content, forging relationships, and the one negative side-effect turns out to be a bad dream. How does it portray its pro-faith stance? By shoving its Christian characters off-screen, and for the brief time that they're on it having them deliver lectures to a mocking crowd of potheads. It's a film so incompetent that it actually becomes brilliant - there's not a single shot in it that works to the intended effect, but there's not a dull one either. Despite it all, Blood Freak comes highly recommended. Gobble Gobble.

The full VHS Quest lineup can be viewed here.

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