Thursday, June 9, 2016

I Drink Your Blood

I Drink Your Blood (1970)
Dir and written by David E. Durston
Starring Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, George Patterson, Riley Mills,

I DRINK YOUR BLOOD is one of those long-unavailable 70’s exploitation movies which are legendarily infamous until the exact moment they actually get released and inevitably turn out to be much ado about nothing once people can take a look at them. Ostensibly an even-lower-budget NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD-meets-Herschel Gordon Lewis hippie satanist gorefest, it’s actually a mostly dull, middling affair, notable more for its dead certainty that hippies are a satanic, lawless menace who deserve to die than for its boundary-pushing sleaze. In fairness, it’s pretty perverse for a 1970 film --especially an American one-- but that doesn’t necessarily translate into entertainment, mostly. OK, maybe a little.

It is a pretty interesting time capsule, though. As usual for the period, the hippies are everything Richard Nixon feared: interracial, somewhat fey and effete, free-lovin’ (one is pregnant & unmarried!) LSD-taking, Satan-worshipping, thieving, violent thugs, and while they don’t listen to any rock n’ roll, that’s only because they’re homeless squatters and they don’t have a sound system which is sufficiently hi-def. They’re led by Horace Bones (Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, an Indian-born NYC dancer by trade, though he appeared in a handful of movies, including apparently Satyajit Ray’s THE ADVERSARY) who decides after a hippie van mishap that the gang will crash in a mostly-abandoned small town and, I dunno, just sort of squat in an empty hotel and do drugs and have weird ceremonies and stuff, I guess. It’s hard to say what his long term plan is, but that seems to work well enough for the time being.

Unfortunately, while they’re conducting a naked Satanic ceremony, they catch a local virginal white girl watching them from very poor cover behind a tree, and attack her. Turns out the incongruously clean-cut white guy “hippy” actually invited her to surreptitiously watch them from the woods (Surprise surprise, White Boy Hippy eventually turns out to be a nice guy and even romantically makes out with this girl later on, once the horror has started and his interracial cohorts are menacing innocent white society). Of course it makes perfect sense that she would take this weirdo up on his offer to sneak out in the dead of night and stand alone in the woods watching a bunch of drugged-up indigent drifters get naked and worship the devil. Obviously there aren’t a lot of entertainment options in this town. But things quickly get out of hand, and so when she stumbles back into town the next morning, her crotchety grandpa puts his foot down and heads out to blow the newcomers away with a shotgun, followed by the movie’s true villain, her infuriatingly precocious little brother Pete (Riley Mills, one 1967 episode of Family Affair, nothing else).  

Gramps seems pretty dangerous and unhinged waving his shotgun around, but the hippies quickly overpower him. You assume they’re gonna rape him and sacrifice his heart on a pagan altar or something, but instead their response to his threats of violent death is just to punch him once and dose him with LSD and send him on his way. I guess they really are hippies, they don’t seem to believe in violence. Huh. Young Pete, seeing his grandpa taking an unexpected trip deep into his subconscious, then attacks the hippies himself. Ah! Here we go, they’re gonna sacrifice a child on their pagan altar, now we’re back in business! But they just let him go, and bring grandpa back home. Huh.

So up til this point, this hippies have been guilty of three things. 1) Attacking a strange girl who was spying on them naked from the woods* 2) giving her grandpa a memorable night and 3) squatting in an abandoned hotel. They’re definitely assholes, but they haven’t killed anyone, and their victims are more or less unharmed, even the incredibly annoying kid who should have been killed on general principle. And then it turns out they’re not even real satanists, they mention they just get a kick out of doing the kinky rituals, they don’t even believe in Satan or practice dark magic or anything. But young Pete is furious. Not because they assaulted his sister, he could deal with that. But sending gramps on a journey of self-discovery is a bridge too far. The punishment is death.

So what does the kid do? He turns to chemical warfare, that’s fucking what. He shoots a rabid dog, and then injects the hippies’ food with the blood -- with the express intention of killing them! (side note: this can only mean that the “your” in the title I DRINK YOUR BLOOD must refer to the dog which appears briefly in one scene before he shoots it. Seems kinda weird to title your movie from the perspective of a hippie addressing the rabid dog whose blood he's unknowingly ingesting, but maybe that was more normal in 1970). Anyway, the movie seems to treat this war crime as a pretty zany hijink, but what even this little sociopath doesn’t seem to expect is that this will turn the hippies into rabid NIGHTMARE-CITY-esque zombie killers, an oversight which results in about a hundred violent deaths from the look of it, all of which are entirely this little fucking bastard’s fault. Even if he didn’t know they’d turn all THE CRAZIES, let’s not forget that his original plan was to commit mass murder. This kid is a fuckin’ monster, but nobody in the movie seems to think so, and he even survives at the end. What the fuck, 1970?

Once the hippies turn into mindless, drooling killers, things pick up a little. It’s pretty low budget so mostly they just stumble around the woods menacing people, but there’s a little excitement towards the end when one of the rabid hippies has sex with dozens of construction workers and turns them into a small army of machete-wielding maniacs (say, where did they even get all those machetes? They should do a special edition where it’s established they work at a machete factory or something). Even so, there’s not a lot of action or a ton of blood, though towards the very end we do see a leg, arm, and head get cut off. That was pretty wild in 1970, when the movie was given the first-ever X-rating exclusively for violence, resulting in the distributed version being cut to ribbons in most markets in order to squeak by with an R. (Of course, director David E. Durston should have thanked those censors, because the lack of an “uncut” version of this movie for decades unquestionably helped this minor exploitation cheapie solidify an infamous reputation, which we can now see was mostly unwarranted. It’s certainly sleazy and violent, but there’s nothing here Italy hadn’t already been doing for a few years.)

Chowdhury, as lead hippie Horus, is a pretty intense actor, and it’s a shame he didn’t do too many other movies (a fall during a dance performance in 1977 left him paralyzed, bummer). But while he’s pretty compulsively watchable, the end of the movie reduces him to a dead-eyed shambling ghoul, which is actually less interesting than his turn as a Mason-esque hippie cult leader. And speaking of dead-eyed ghouls, everyone else in the cast is total deadwood from the start. Not that horror movies live and die on great casts, but there’s way too much setup here for these characters to be so dull. And it doesn’t help that the movie is obviously much more sympathetic to the white hippies than the interracial ones, especially the black guy who gets trotted out as a rabid, predatory beast in a pretty uncomfortable way. Also uncomfortable: the Asian lady sets herself on fire in a way which is obviously meant to evoke the famous 1963 photograph of the self-immolation of Thích Quảng Đức.** Too soon! I guess the uncomfortable 70’s racial and social politics --i.e., the vanishing small white town threatened by the incoming non-white, non-christian, sexually liberated hippies, who unleash a wave of mindless violence against the innocent “real Americans”-- make it, --if, sadly, not unique-- at least distinct. But it still leaves kind of a bad taste in my mouth, especially given this election year. I think there was probably a time in my life when I would have found this gleefully distasteful instead of just depressing, but it hits a little too close to home these days.

Nevertheless, it’s not explicitly hateful, and there’s still some fun to be had here. It’s not short on hilarious dialogue like "There's no one in the town because of the damn dam!" or ‘Let it be known, sons and daughters, that Satan was an acid head. Drink from his cup; pledge yourselves. And together, we'll all freak out.” It’s still a little slow for my taste, but there’s plenty of late 60’s camp value if you’re in the right mindset for it, with a nice chaser of machete violence for a finale. But really, it’s most interesting as a window into the changing tenor of horror movies which was taking place in the late 60’s. It premiered in 1970 as a double feature with I EAT YOUR SKIN, a 1964 Caribbean-zombie film which sat unreleased for six years until it found a partner in I DRINK YOUR BLOOD --then titled Phobia-- and the two were released together. Despite being produced a scant few years apart, the difference between them is stark enough they might just have easily been 60 years apart.

I EAT YOUR SKIN is a pre-Romero Voodoo Zombie sleeper which is, save for the color photography and the jazzy score, barely distinguishable from predecessors like REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES thirty years prior. It’s stodgy, chatty, offhandedly racist, and barely more shocking --or interested in being shocking-- than GIDGET. 5 years later, I DRINK YOUR BLOOD seems set in a completely different reality. Gone is the smarmy womanizing and casual colonialist racism of EAT YOUR SKIN, and in its place is a paranoid sense of embattled persecution by the “others,” --the counterculture, sexually liberated women, assertive African-Americans, drug-takers, non-Christians-- which the movie is both fearful and angry at, and perversely fascinated by. The violence is gritty and explicit (perhaps a result of the increasingly dismaying images of the violence in Vietnam). The music is a strange collection of irritating lasers and keyboard tones, (and the theme from PETER GUNN for some reason), atonal and unconventional (though still deeply, deeply shitty). There’s a prevailing sense of nihilism and apocalyptic chaos -- there’s not really a moral lesson to be learned here, just random violence which begets random violence. Jarringly, the one thing which is still quintessentially corny 60's hokum is the depiction of the innocent small-town American family with the gee-whiz Beaver Cleaver-esque little towheaded kid... and, even though the movie doesn't seem to acknowledge it, all the horror here is completely his fault! Maybe I DRINK YOUR BLOOD is more self-aware than I realized.

Obviously, this is not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly a clear harbinger of the direction 70’s exploitation horror would take, and a nearly total break from the corny throwback horror which dominated 1960’s cinema. Even more than stylistically different, though, it’s also symptomatic oft the deep cultural malaise which was gripping America at the time, and the reactionary tendencies which we’re still trying to overcome today, fucking 46 years later. It’s campy and silly in the details, but I think I’d find it a lot funnier if the underlying paranoia about the “others” didn’t feel so current. But oh well. It’s still pretty funny, and, you know, some chick gets impaled on a trident and stuff, so it’s not all bad news.
Anyway, the point is, don’t drug Grandpa or little Petey will fucking end you.

*I’ve seen some reviews claim they rape her, but there’s no direct evidence of this and she seems pretty OK the next day.

**OK OK, if you insist, “that picture from the cover of the first Rage Against The Machine album.” Sigh.


Play it Again, Samhain

  • TAGLINE: Rabid, Drug-infested Hippies on a Blood-Crazed KILLING RAMPAGE!
  • SEQUEL: None
  • REMAKE: Amazingly, no
  • SLUMMING A-LISTER: Oh God, no.
  • BELOVED HORROR ICON: Lynn Lowery (SHIVERS, THE CRAZIES) makes her first appearance here.
  • BOOBIES: Lots
  • MULLETS: Nah, more long hair than mullets
  • DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: Head, arm, and leg chopped off
  • MONSTER: No, unless you want to count that little Petey.
  • POSSESSION: No, just rabies.
  • PSYCHO KILLERS (Non-slasher variety): Yes
  • EVIL CULT: The hippies have all kinds of Satanic ceremonies, but I guess they were just kidding about it.
  • TRANSMOGRIFICATION: Hippie cultist to rabid machete-wielding zombie
  • VOYEURISM: Yeah, that stupid white girl spies on them from the woods, a weird reversal of the usual leering voyeurism you'd expect in a movie like this.
  • OBSCURITY LEVEL: High, but something of a cult classic.
  • MORAL OF THE STORY: Kids do the darndest things.
  • TITLE ACCURACY: Accurate, I guess, if you're assuming it comes from one of the hippies addressing the dead dog whose blood they unknowingly consumed.

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