Thursday, 9 December 2010
I Drink Your Blood
(David Durston, 1970)
“Let it be known, sons and daughters, that Satan was an acidhead. Drink from his cup! Pledge yourselves! And together we’ll all freak out!”
You said it, Horace Bones! What a great way to start a movie.
“I Drink your Blood” began life when appropriately-named producer Jerry Gross hired David Durston, a veteran TV/sexploitation director with notable counter-cultural sympathies, to come up with some ideas for a bloody, modern horror movie – something new that would bypass gothic/supernatural hokum and capitalise on the recent success of “Night of the Living Dead”, in terms of both graphic violence and, hopefully, box office.
Durston had some ideas alright, and idea number one was RABIES. Idea number two was on the front of Time magazine and his name was Charles Manson. Idea three was BLOOD and BLOOD and LSD and SATAN and MORE BLOOD and…. well anyway, Durston wrote a script, Gross flipped out and reached for his chequebook, Durston was given a free hand to cast and direct the film himself, and the rest is history (or crazy person exploitation movie history, at least).
The story Durston came up with for the film has been reiterated thousands of times, in plot synopses, capsule reviews etc, but such is its fiendish, crack-brained singularity, I think it bears repeating:
Horace Bones, played by charismatic Indian dancer Bhaskar, is the leader of a Satanic hippie cult, The Sons and Daughters of Sados, who have decided to pitch up in a remote town in Upstate New York. The town is practically deserted thanks to a big new dam project which has claimed the land, with the few remaining inhabitants staying on to cater for the attendant construction workers. But such isolation naturally doesn’t stop Horace and the gang finding people to give a hard time to, and after they assault a local girl and dose her granddad with LSD, a chubby, sour-faced youngster named Pete decides enough is enough and concocts his own unique form of revenge: drawing infected blood from a rabid dog he shot dead in the woods, he injects it into a batch of meat pies and sells them to the hippies for their dinner.
Hilariously, the film assumes that people infected with rabies would instantly transform into psychotic, wild-eyed killers who flee in terror at the sight of water, and so obviously one thing leads to another, and before you know it, berserk, bloodthirsty Satanists are staggering across the countryside leaving a trail of mayhem and dismemberment in their wake, mixing it up with an army of foam-gargling, machete-wielding rabid construction workers as an increasingly small number of uninfected characters scatter in panic, trying to get the hell toward the end credits of this f-ed up movie as fast as their square little feet can carry them.
Seemingly unaware or uncaring of the ‘sizzle not the steak’ maxim of exploitation film-making, Durston’s film barely lets up for a minute, delivering mad, unforgettable characters, stomach-churning bad taste yukks and random, inexplicable weirdness on an almost conveyer belt-like basis, spiralling off the deep end into a tornado of ever-increasing craziness, until it feels as if the film itself has been infected with rabies. As David Szulkin puts it in the liner notes accompanying my DVD copy: “just when you think Durston can’t push the delirium any further, somebody drags a dead goat across the screen… or an old man in long underwear pukes up his dentures while being strangled… or an electric carving knife strays from a side of ham with disasterous results… or… well, you get the picture.”
For its era, the violence in “I Drink Your Blood” is pretty extreme. I’m not usually at all squeamish about on-screen violence, but there is one moment here that has me covering my eyes and whispering “ah, no, please don’t go there..” every time I watch it. But they do go there, time and time again. Instead of the squalid, torturous viewing experience you might reasonably expect from a film like this though, “I Drink Your Blood”s masterstroke is that it manages to convey such an irrepressible sense of good-natured joie de vivre even in its grimmest moments, drawing us into a spirit of gleeful, blood-soaked abandon, reminiscent of a twelve year old boy in art class, happily scribbling sprawling vistas of carnage as his teacher looks on appalled. Rarely has the liberating, anarchic power of wanton violence been so purely evoked. As Jadine Wong’s Sue-Lin says at one point, as if pre-empting the movie’s critics; “fear and blood are signs of life, not death!”
It helps of course that the film is extremely well made: bright and energetic and fast-moving, imaginatively shot and tightly edited, full of lively, intense performances – a world away from the amateur hour HG Lewis gorefests that were its only real precursors – and executed with a sense of dry wit and intelligence throughout, despite some clunking dialogue and soap opera acting from the non-hippie characters (“rape is a little outside the field of an engineer, dontha think?”). It is not without a sense of wonder that one can look back after a viewing of “I Drink Your Blood” and realise that, despite the abject lunatic stupidity of the storyline, the film actually manages to NOT be at all misogynistic or reactionary, or even all that sleazy – quite an achievement for a 70s drive-in flick full of sex-crazed psychotic Satanists!
Animals may arguably get a rougher deal, but that’s probably an issue best left for another day (in short, Durston sez: no freakin’ way, I didn’t hurt any animals in my film, audience sez: yeah, sure, so all those dead rats and that freshly slaughtered goat were just conveniently lying around, were they? - Chances are, if you’re the kind of person who’s already watching a movie like this you won’t be too put out, but hey, a warning never goes amiss.)
Many commentators have tried to read a deeper social significance into “I Drink Your Blood”, based on its occasional vague stabs in the direction of race and gender issues, anti-Vietnam protest and freaks-vs-squares rhetoric, but to quote Szulkin again, “any resemblance to a master’s thesis is purely coincidental”. Better just to enjoy the movie as exactly what it is: one of the most deliriously entertaining, unashamedly nasty, purely whacked out b-movies ever made – no message, no meaning, no apologies. As the ad-libbing sheriff whose men arrive to clean up the mess concludes: “Well, what can ya say… at least it’s OVER.” Roll credits.