Follow Kelly’s exploration into the darkest recesses of horror. Once a month she takes a twisted turn and dissects the most graphic, disturbing, controversial, and obscure films the horror genre has to offer. These are immoral, indecent and offensive; the ugly films that few people talk about and even fewer dare to watch. The films that will stay with you long after the credits roll and infest your nightmares.
Disclaimer: Movies that depict real animal harm for the sake of film making will NOT be watched or discussed (ie: Cannibal Holocaust)
Viewers Discretion is Advised.
Horror movies in the 1960s are defined by the influx of the usage of color; the very first horror film to be shot in color was Curse of Frankenstein in 1957. Many prominent horror films of the 1960s were still shot in black and white, like Psycho (1960), Black Sunday (1960), and Night of the Living Dead (1968), with classics such as Rosemary’s Baby (1668) and Masque of the Red Death (1964) and Blood Feast (1963) all newly shot in color. The subject of this month’s dissection will be on the film Blood Feast (1963), along with a modern extreme film, American Guinea Pig: Sacrifice (2017).
Blood Feast was composed, shot and directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis (the original “Father of Gore”) and stars Mal Arnold, William Kerwin, Connie Mason, and Lyn Bolton. In the film, a psychopathic, murderous caterer named Fuad Ramses (Arnold) kills women so that he can perform sacrifices to the "Egyptian goddess" Ishtar so that she can once again have human form. Blood Feast is coined as the very first “splatter” film (films that showcase graphic violence, blood and guts), and is acknowledged for its unique, pioneering usage of blood and gore. It is also a part of the HG Lewis “Blood Trilogy” along with Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) and Color Me Blood Red (1965).
Ishtar is not an Egyptian goddess, but Mesopotamian in origin. She is considered the goddess of love, war, and fertility (among other things). Some sources say that worshipers of Ishtar would annually perform blood sacrifices of animals, while others say that babies were sacrificed and their blood consumed. But I wasn’t able to find a resource that stated specifically that women were explicitly sacrificed to Ishtar, which begs the question as to why the murderer in Blood Feast only killed women.
The 1950s were chock full of monster movies (The Blob 1958, The Fly 1958), sci-fi horror (Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, It Came from Outer Space 1953), or larger than life creatures (Them 1954). Women appeared in many supporting roles and were often our “damsels in distress”, with male directors displaying a reverence for the female form. But with Blood Feast, this was the first time we saw such bloody carnage of the feminine body in brilliant colors, on film. In one scene, the killer Fuad Ramses breaks into a woman’s home, forces her onto the bed, and rips her tongue out with his bare hands. These women are young and beautiful and this could be seen as the beginnings of the splatterific exploitation of female death in horror.
Blood Feast takes a very sadistic turn that includes the voyeuristic intent of Peeping Tom and Psycho but brings it to a next level - evisceration, mutilation, limb severing - all in the name of worship. Though Ramses idolizes the goddess Ishtar, he will viciously murder in her name, which is perhaps why the goal is never achieved; Ramses was too short sighted.
Which brings me to another film that I watched recently that also included a sacrifice to the goddess Ishtar, and that is American Guinea Pig: Sacrifice (AGP: Sacrifice) from 2017. Written by Samuel Marolla, and directed by Poison Rouge, this Italian extreme horror film is narrated by a troubled young man named Daniel, plagued by depression and trauma due to the deaths of his parents. He spirals into a hole of self mutilation, from cutting his hand, to drilling a hole into his skull, to castration. Daniel is sacrificing himself to the goddess Ishtar in hopes that he will move on to a better place and she will become flesh.
At the end of AGP: Sacrifice there is a title card that states that “the goddess of uruk makes eunuchs”, which is in reference to Ishtar. There is a Mesopotamian poem entitled Erra that more explicitly says that the goddess “changed them from men into women to show people piety”, and the process “could have been castration”. This is a more accurate tale compared to Blood Feast as Gary Taylor states in Castration: An Abbreviated History of Western Manhood, that Ishtar (or Inanna as she is also called), held a temple in Uruk, and that that she wasn’t necessarily a goddess of fertility, but a goddess of many things, including the liberated female body and female sexuality. Ishtar was a goddess of sexual transformations as it is true that “she (turns) a man into a woman, she (turns) a woman into a man” and “at the very least, the conjunction of gender transformation, ritual self-mutilation….and by circa 1800 B.C.E a text explicitly declares that the goddess of Uruk “makes eunuchs”.”
There is significant symbolism in the act of Daniel castrating himself as “castration adds to the variety of human forms and sexualities, and Inanna celebrates variety: indeed a deity who stands for both cunt and combat herself ambiguous mixes male and female traits. So it makes perfect sense that her priests would “change their masculinity into femininity to make the people of Ishtar revere her” (Taylor).
Ishtar is about *true* sacrifice and transformations, something that Blood Feast did absolutely nothing with, and AGP: Sacrifice, paid authentic tribute to. Ramses didn’t transform, yet performed; the masculinity that was portrayed in Blood Feast was basic, trivial, and uninspired. Daniel’s reduction to mere meat had nothing to do with his masculinity per se, yet his acceptance of his underlying femininity and strength to remove his symbol of manhood to allow for a powerful Goddess to emerge.
Daniel is successful in his sacrifice, whereas Ramses ran from the police out of fear of retribution and accidentally kills himself in the garbage compactor. This shows the audience that if you don't understand the construct of gender and represent only one side of it, you are weak willed/minded and will be blinded and fall prey to a shameful death.
Blood Feast was hugely influential for the horror genre, paving the way for the more transgressive films of the 70s and 80s. And although it was entertaining to watch, it falls flat on substance (not to mention that half assed handling of the incorrect “Egyptian” goddess Ishtar), which is okay when it stands on it’s own two bloody feet, but if you want to blow me away, give me intense, complex human emotion, true sacrifice, and historical accuracy.
Blood Feast, though blood soaked for its time, can’t compare to the desecration of the human body found in AGP: Sacrifice. AGP: Sacrifice will make you cringe, turn away, and cry out loud. It will move you and disgust you. Not to mention the underlying empowering elements of the film, when you see the goddess Ishtar emerge; bloodied and unwavering.
I would give Blood Feast a ⅕ on the Nightmare Scale due to misogyny and animal entrails, and AGP: Sacrifice a ⅘ due to penile mutilation, ejaculating blood, toe nail removal and suicide.
PS: I am so obsessed with how beautifully brilliant AGP: Sacrifice was that you might see me revisit it in the future. It’s streaming on Tubi TV now!