Wednesday, November 23, 2016

B-Movie Review: 'Blood Freak' (1972)

It may very well be the only pro-Christianity, anti-drug propaganda film ever made featuring exposed breasts and a man-turkey chimera slitting people's throats open. 

By: Jimbo X

I've seen a lot of cheesy, no-budget, schlocky exploitation films over the years and I've seen a lot of really clumsy attempts to persuade the masses into believing all sorts of crazy bullshit via audiovisual agitprop. And while there is often quite a bit of overlap between the two genres of film, I don't think I've ever seen a movie that so perfectly straddles the line between ill-conceived evangelical propaganda and pure-D, degenerate cinema B-movie goodness as much as the hyper-obscure, early '70s Floridian flick Blood Freak.

It's hard to put a finger on what it is, exactly, that makes the Brad F. Grinter-helmed production such a marvelous medley of proselytizin' and sensationalizin'. It has a very clear pro-Christian bent, but at the same time, it's also filled to the brim with blood, sex and enough drugs to kill half of the Saturday Night Live cast circa 1979 a dozen or so times over. Granted, the whole point is to make some sort of oblique anti-drug use message, but the way the "moral" is delivered is just so damned weird. I'm not sure if the filmmakers wanted to make an anti-drug, pro-Jesus movie and then built a werewolf-turkey-vampire-murderer movie around it or they had a werewolf-turkey-vampire-murderer movie already in the can and then decided to inject it with an anti-marijuana, pro-Christianity message, but the entire affair just feels like two completely separate movies forced to split rent with each other, Odd Couple style. I've never seen anything quite like it, and I've spent a good 30 years of my life going out of my way to catch the obscurest celluloid rubbish I could get my hands on - so, trust me, that's saying something

So with Thanksgiving time here again, what better way to celebrate the holiday than with a Nixon era sleaze-fest that maybe five or six people in human history remember? Oh, you just know you want to eat you some mashed potatoes and stuffing to this shit right here...

The film begins with a close-up shot of bubbling red stuff - presumably blood, but you never know, it could be cherry Kool-Aid. After the credits, uh, stop frothing, we're thrown to this one dude who is staring at the camera and smoking a cigarette (it's the director, in case you were wondering.) He's clearly reading the script on the desk as he yammers on and on about finding "some fantastic order" to the random people we bump into, who in turn represent catalysts for major changes in our our own life. Why, we can meet them at the drugstore, buying groceries or even cruising down the Florida turnpike...

...and that's our introduction to Herschell, a big, burly Glenn Danzig looking dude who rides a motorcycle while squealing, shitty guitar rock blares in the background. He eyes a broad in a blue convertible and they decide to meet up at a gas station. From there, they hit up a party where everybody is drinking orange juice and snorting cocaine. A woman immediately offers Herschell a drag of her marijuana cigarette, and then this other chick wearing a lot of red hits on him and compliments him on his "strong arms." But then he tells her he doesn't go for girls who act like tramps and she responds by calling him "a dumb bastard" who doesn't know where it's at. Cue several super up-close shots of people's faces while they roll joints.

The early 1970s: back when women were women and men ... well, they looked like that.

So the chick Herschell picked up gives him a quick bible lesson about the Holy Ghost, while her more "worldly" sister tells her she is full of shit. The narrator returns, lights up a cig and puts Herschell's predicament in context - is he going to go with the conservative girl, or her drug-doing ho of a sibling? Per our narrator, such represents "a game of wits and ego" that paves the way for nightmarish experiences even worse than what he went through in Vietnam.  

This one dude offers Herschell a job at his turkey ranch. The ho sister shows up while Herschell works on a pool pump and she calls him a dumbass for not taking her up on her sexaul advances. She sparks up a jay while he talks about how different she is from her sister. He takes a drag after she calls him a coward for not smoking with her.

They pass the doobie back and forth and start laughing like retards. She takes him to bed and even though he is stoned he keeps asking her why can't she be more like her bible-thumping sister. The narrator jumps back in, stating anybody who could turn down what she was offering is definitely "less of a man than Herschell." Which, uh, I guess means "homosexual," in case you needed the clarification. 

Following an up-close shot of a mystery woman's ass, we get another motorcycle riding montage. Herschell arrives at the turkey farm and literally just gobbles at the livestock for a minute. Then he waltzes into the farm's lab(?!?) where two researchers ask him if he would be a guinea pig for an experimental poultry super-growth formula. Of course, he says "sure, why not" and he chases some turkeys down and he goes back to that one broad's place and out of nowhere, he starts wailing and holding his stomach and stumbling all over the place. She calls some dude in flannel, who shows up with some joints. Herschell smokes it like a crack fiend going through withdrawls and then he beats the shit out of the dealer, saying that because he got him hooked, he owes him a steady supply of free super-weed ... or else he's going to break every bone in his body.

Now that's what I call a peeping Tom ... turkey

Alright, so back to the turkey farm we go. Herschell uncovers an aluminum foil wrapped tray and what do you know, it's a full cooked turkey. He chows down on a leg while the soundtrack explodes into a cacophony of gobbling. Then he stumbles outside, passes out on the lawn and starts convulsing like an epileptic having a seizure. The ranch owner learns the scientists gave him the experimental turkey juice and he decides to do the most humane thing he can - he orders his men to dump Herschell's body in a draining ditch. Hey, it's better than having the po-po sniffing all over the place, aint' it?

Night falls, and a the slutty sister gets attacked on a waterbed by ... well, something with a beak. Whatever it is, its visage was so ghoulish she passes out from horror as soon as she sees it. The assailant rubs paper on her face and leaves. She wakes up and deduces the "thing" is actually Herschell. Hey, lookie here, it's a letter from Herschell, explaining how he just woke up looking like ... that

From here, we start treading into Toxic Avenger territory. "Gosh, Herschell, you sure are ugly," his main squeeze remarks. She asks him if the effects wear off and says she feels guilty about turning him into a were-turkey because ... well, she just does, OK? Needless to say, the acting in this one ain't exactly on par with your usual Merchant Ivory production. 

She continues to kvetch. What would their children look like if the father was some kind of chicken beast? Apparently, it's something she gets over pretty quickly - soon, she dims the lights and all we can here are impassioned gobbling noises and the sound of a woman suggestively moaning.

How this film still didn't become immortalized as a shitty grindcore album cover is simply beyond me. 

She calls her sister and tells her something really, really bad has happened to Herschell. That's our cue for the narrator to pop back up on screen. He speaks in broken up dialogue, a'la William Shatner, about how when things get extremely bad, people usually turn to God as a last resort.

Two hippies show up and we get our first look at Herschell in full-on turkey mode - and it's literally just him wearing a big-assed chicken helmet. He stumbles around the countryside some more and spies in on a drug-doing couple. He kidnaps the woman as she heads to her car. We go back to the hippies and they're smoking grass and arranging some kind of deal for someone to hunt the turkey beast down. And then the titular creature abducts yet another woman. This leads to a scene in which the turkey monster slits a female victim's jugular open with what appears to be a knitting pin so he can drink her blood like it was one of those chocolate geysers at Golden Corral.

A couple in a car help each other shoot up. A woman wearing an American flag tank top gets poked and bled dry, too. This gives us our clearest shot of the turkey mask yet ... and yeah, it still looks pretty ghetto. 

A random old dude gets choked, while the soundtrack deteriorates into a mixture of shrieking violins and metal bell clangs. An overweight woman finds a blood-drained corpse and tackles the turkey-man, only to get stabbed for her efforts. A shirtless dude calls up his supplier and asks him if he can score him some more mega-pot. Turkey-man is still running around, gobbling and killing shit. The drug man comes over and he negotiates payment with his client ... which in this case, entails pimping out the dude's girlfriend.

Yeah - I think I'll stick with the faux turkey meals, fellas.

So the drug dealer tries to rape her, and of course, our turkey-beast shows up and scares him off. He goes outside and turkey man begins his pursuit. The man gets choked out, the were-turkey chucks him on a table and then? He proceeds to cut his fucking leg off with a power saw, and they show every gory second of the dismemberment. (According to IMDB, the actor they used for the scene was a dude who actually had just one leg - so at least these folks are doing their part to promote disability rights, I suppose.)

It's early morning, and the turkey-man is being chased around by the hippie hunter. Then the were-turkey has a hallucination of a real turkey having its head lopped off by a machete ... with people eating its remains with the turkey-man's helmet on the table as a centerpiece!

Herschell, back in human form, is awakened by the ranch owner. He talks about doing drugs back in 'Nam and how he's now addicted to that damn super-marijuana. The rancher tells the scientists their experimenting days are over and done with and he's going to leave Herschell in the care of the bible-thumping sister (who fittingly enough, also happens to work at the local rehab center.) She calls up her sister, and she says Herschell has been hallucinating like crazy and fessed up to feeding him super-pot. So, uh, I take it that means he didn't actually turn into a turkey beast and eat half a dozen or so people?

The rancher explains to the preachy sister that Herschell damn near lost his mind because he was mixing experimental turkey drugs with a highly potent strain of reefer. Herschell then breaks down and begs God to forgive him and help him get off drugs. This segues to our final encounter with the narrator, who says scientists believe the only "universal constant" is change while he sucks down another cancer stick. "But the horrors that occur in the minds of those who allow the indiscriminate use of the human body as a mixing bowl for drugs and chemicals, horrors are as real as the real horror," he warns the viewing audience. This leads to the absolute most hilarious scene in movie history, when he starts coughing his fucking lungs up but apparently somebody forgot to edit it out of the final cut. He then chides us for not heeding warnings about the perils of drug use and, ironically, continues to hack and wheeze like a used dog toy, apparently because he never heeded the warnings on all those damn cigarette packs. And to wrap up the whole shindig, we get ourselves a post-credits scene in which Herschell and one of his gal pals (I honestly can't tell which sister it's supposed to be though) make out on a pier while romantic guitar music plays ... with "the end" dripping off the screen in bloody red font, for some reason.

Yeah, there's not really a whole lot more to be said about Blood Freak and its (non) impact on American culture. Narrator/director Brad F. Grinter would go on to helm two more feature films, Never the Twain and Barely Proper, before he decided this whole filmmaking shtick wasn't his bag. He spent the remainder of his days dicking around in Florida, before he kicked the bucket in 1993.

Steve Hawkes, the guy who played Herschell (yes, the character was named after the auteur/autist behind Blood Feast and The Wizard of Gore), also served as the film's co-writer. Shockingly, he never really made it as an actor, and has spent the bulk of his post-Blood Freak career running some kind of low-rent wild animal refuge in the Sunshine State. As for the rest of the cast, well ... to be perfectly honest with you, they didn't do much of shit. I am as surprised as you are.

As hokey and amateurish as it may be, Blood Freak is one of those movies I can't help but enjoy as a guiltiest of guilty pleasures. There's just something so strangely quaint about it - despite the incredible misguidedness of the whole "come to Jesus" subplot, at the same time, you can't help but be just a little charmed that these guys tried to make an impassioned piece of Christian apologia by way of werewolf-turkey-monster exploitation movie. It sure beats handing out flyers and knocking door to door like Jehovah's Witnesses to spread the gospel, that's for damned sure.

You just knew that - at some point in human history - somebody was going to make a movie about a killer turkey. I suppose we should all be thankful that the first out the gate - yes, decades before that one episode of South Park and that godawful piece of shit ThanksKilling -- that movie came in the form of a bloody, titty-filled horror flick that cost about $200 to make that also doubles as a trojan horse for evangelicalism.

And for that alone, dear readers, we should all remain eternally thankful that Blood Freak - for whatever reason - got made in the first place.


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