Nineteen sixty-three was a pivotal year for Herschell Gordon Lewis, America’s favorite smut peddler, purveyor of exploitation gems like Scum of the Earth! and BOING-N-G!, whose very titles denote his affinity for the declamatory. Taking advantage of Mack truck-sized loopholes in the purview of regional censorship boards ever-vigilant against the threat of bare bodies and uninhibited lifestyles, but unprepared for an onslaught of mutilation and bloodshed, Lewis more or less singlehandedly unleashed the splatter genre on an unsuspecting public with the release of Blood Feast. One of those rare films that has something for everyone (woodenly inexpressive non-acting, grade-Z special effects, a barely extant plot, and, of course, the red stuff by the garbage truckload), Blood Feast hashes together kitsch and Grand Guignol, a winning formula still being bled to death by anybody with an HD camcorder and a few bucks to spare.
The opening scene sets the standard: A young woman enters a harshly lit, spartanly furnished house, turns on the radio, and then just stands there for nearly a minute while an announcer delivers “tragic news” about a badly mutilated body being discovered, advising listeners to bolt their doors. Our girl instead disrobes for a bubble bath, while, lying nearby, we note a conspicuously unexplained hardcover: Ancient Weird Religious Rites. Moments later, she’s shish-kebab, fallen prey to a wild-eyed, gray-haired loon named Fuad Ramses (Mal Arnold), exotic caterer by trade, devotee of the bloodthirsty Egyptian goddess Ishtar by inclination. The bulk of the narrative, such as it is, concerns young Suzette Fremont (Playboy Bunny Carol Mason), whose mother arranges with Ramses to treat her daughter to an “Egyptian feast,” one that—wouldn’t you know it?—turns out to be a blood-drenched dining experience. Preparations call for a few more young ladies to graciously donate body parts. Meanwhile, Detective Pete Thornton (William Kerwin, billed as the aptly named Thomas Wood) conducts his version of an investigation into the killings, which mostly consists of sitting around and scratching his head. The film’s pace lurches along in time to Ramses’s on-again, off-again limp and, even at a slim 67 minutes, there’s still time for padding, as when Suzette and her gal pals splash around in a pool. Cheesecake, anyone? Detective Thornton’s nick-of-time solution, ping-ponging “Ishtar” and a dying victim’s last word “Ee-tar” back and forth until it clicks, leads to the slowest foot chase ever filmed, Ramses fleeing across a set-dressed dump, then hopping into the back of a conveniently situated garbage truck, which promptly composts his ass. “He died a fitting end for the garbage he was,” opines the police chief.
Bigger-budgeted and sporting its very own banjo-twanging title song, Two Thousand Maniacs!, again starring Mason and Kerwin, plays like a cornpone Brigadoon. To “celebrate” the centennial of their massacre by Union troops, the ghostly denizens of a tiny Southern hamlet detour two carloads of Yankee types, butter them up as “guests of honor” with their distinctive variation on Southern hospitality and then proceed to slaughter most of them in hilariously inventive fashion: There’s dismemberment by axe, drawn-and-quartering, a downhill tumble in a nail-studded barrel, and getting crushed under a giant boulder (“old Teetering Rock!”). Gleeful and perverse, Two Thousand Maniacs! knowingly toys with stereotypes, and not only the jug-swilling, cud-spitting, yee-hawing Beverly Hillbillies kind, as the ever-obtuse Tom White (Kerwin) asks, “Now, this is 1965, and a hundred years ago it was 1865, right? So, what happened in 1865?” That unofficial Marx Brother, Karl, once remarked that history has a habit of repeating itself, “the first time as history, the second as farce,” which nicely sums up Lewis’s approach here, the funniest and canniest of the trilogy.
Color Me Blood Red is essentially a remake of Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood, reconfigured not as a satire on artsy-fartsy beatnik poseurs, but a delivery system for Lewis’s brand of sanguinary humor. More padding and less gore, however, contribute to making this the most lackluster of the trilogy. Petulant artist Adam Sorg (Gordon Oas-Heim) adds a new hue to his palette by putting his lifeblood into his paintings to the point he’s nearly tapped out, then goes out in search of a fresh supply. Bizarre props like a pair of water bikes, nutty artwork, and a climactic S&M-lite dangle from a block-and-tackle add something to the atmosphere, and it manages to land its fair share of laughs, most of them at the expense of Sorg’s childish temper tantrums.
Looking as good as they likely ever will, these films have been upgraded to 1080p HD in their original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Apart from the scratches, blemishes, and frame-drops to be expected from nearly 50-year-old shoestring productions, the picture is full and sharp (though the latter two films appear in somewhat worse condition than Blood Feast), and colors are vibrant, especially the gallons of splattered stage blood. The listenable LPCM mono tracks convey the dialogue and Herschell Gordon Lewis's eccentric scores more than adequately.
The standard-def bonus features have been carried over from the earlier DVD package, except an HD trailer for the recently released documentary Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore. Occasionally rambunctious and often deprecating, the commentary tracks on all three films feature producer David F. Friedman and director H.G. Lewis, moderated by Something Weird Video founder Mike Vraney. Also included are two short films directed by Lewis, Carving Magic, starring William Kerwin and Harvey Korman, and Follow That Skirt!, in addition to well over an hour of outtakes, trailers, and galleries of promotional art.
If you prefer your gore served up with a heaping helping of campy humor, then the Blu-ray release of The Blood Trilogy will be right up your oddball alley.