To the horror hounds, the strong-of-stomach, the gore junkies, and to the sick, bloodthirsty cinematic weirdos out there in the dark, I bid you welcome. Welcome to the first article in a new Nerdist series devoted to some of the most extreme horror and gore flicks available out there in the grimy trash bins of the cinematic firmament. This will be the first week in a series devoted entirely to the Video Nasties.
What is a Video Nasty? The phrase is a slang term coined by England’s National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (a media watchdog group) that refers specifically to a list of 72 horror movies that once came under fire from the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). Back in the early 1980s, when home video was first starting to proliferate in England, many particularly extreme horror films began making their way into video stores, bypassing the scrutiny of the BBFC; Home video formats were not yet beholden to the same censorship laws as theatrical releases. As such, a special sting took place in 1983, which targeted 72 movies in particular for redacting and outright banning.
The bulk of the Video Nasties are notably hyperbolic. Most of them contain huge amounts of gore (however low-fi its presentation), twisted stories, darkened Euroschlock tones, and, in some cases, heaps of nudity. The Video Nasties contain some familiar faces (The Evil Dead and Tobe Hooper’s Funhouse made it on to the list), a few pieces of famed European trash (Jess Franco’s, Dario Argento’s, and Mario Bava’s movies are all notably included, natch), some videos that are still notorious to this day (Cannibal Holocaust and Faces of Death), and some that are just plain obscure (I’ve never heard of 1976’s SS Experiment Camp, for instance).
As a critic with a foolhardy mind, a strong stomach, and a twisted intellect, I have taken it upon myself to watch all of the Video Nasties in chronological order of release, and report my findings. It’s time, kiddos for some extreme sh*t. First up: Herschell Gordon Lewis’ immortal low-budget classic Blood Feast from 1963. Yes, you can watch the entire 67-minute film, uncensored, on YouTube.
If you consider yourself a horror fan, and you don’t know the name of Herschell Gordon Lewis, then, sir, you need to learn. Lewis is the mad anti-auteur behind such classics as Two Thousand Maniacs!, Color Me Blood Red, and The Wizard of Gore. Lewis’ filmmaking ethos sprung from his low budgets. In order to stand out from the scads of other low-budget horror films that were populating the grindhouses and drive-in theaters around him, Lewis opted to increase the gore to new highs. He could afford the blood. As such, his movies all feature extreme acts of horrid (and decidedly cheap-looking) violence that is often not even matched by modern films.
Blood Feast is not even his goriest film (I’d say The Wizard of Gore holds that title), but it is the only Lewis film to qualify as a Video Nasty. Blood Feast is about a swarthy Egyptian man sporting painted-on eyebrows named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold). Ramses runs an Egyptian deli in Miami during the day, and moonlights as a serial killer at night. He kills young women, steals a single body part (a leg here, a brain there), and brews them together in a cauldron, orchestrating an ancient Egyptian rite called the Blood Feast of Ishtar. His ultimate goal is to resurrect Ishtar by offering a blood sacrifice.
A common trope of Lewis films (and, thinking about it for a moment, a lot of trashy exploitation films of this caliber) is incompetent and bumbling cops who can’t seem to foil the bad guys’ plans. The cops in Blood Feast are represented by Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin, credited as Thomas Wood) who spends too much of the film’s maddeningly brief running time romancing a young lady. Indeed, if the gore is too much for you, Lewis is sure to throw in plenty of pretty girls and some bikinis to leaven the violence.
Part of the trashy appeal of a film like Blood Feast is its pure, unadulterated moral irresponsibility. Horror film fans can revel in the cheesy, filthy, zero-budget carnival that Lewis creates, although you tend to get the itchy-skin feeling that someone somewhere is perhaps getting off to the sight of watching pretty blonde women getting their brains scooped out or their eyes punctured. If you can – like so many horror fans – attain a small amount of glee from that itchy feeling, then you’ll be in a good place with Blood Feast. Indeed, I would recommend the film to any horror fans looking to stretch a little bit. It’s clunky and gross, yes, but it’s not repellant or disgusting. Indeed, by many standards, a cheapie like Blood Feast can feel quaint; there was a halcyon time in exploitation movie history when all it took to make a movie was eyebrow makeup, buckets of blood-like substance, and a sick determined gumption.
I admire Blood Feast, although it’s not my favorite Lewis film (1964’s Two Thousand Maniacs! is). I will say that it’s a good appetizer for the following 71 weeks of blood and nastiness. Frankly, I can’t wait.
Join me next week for 1968’s Blood Rites, also known as The Ghastly Ones in America. You couldn’t possibly regret it.