BLOOD FREAK (1972) – A REVIEW BY RYAN MARSHALL

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Brad Grinter’s BLOOD FREAK is a consistently bewildering acidheaded cinematic turkey; in theory, it’s a real piece of shit, but in practice, its many moralistic contradictions and aesthetic misjudgments give it a flavor that is somehow anything but dry. A select few films are permitted to get by on their boundless imaginations alone, and this is one of them – a steaming pile of 70’s counterculture and pent up anxieties, to which Grinter’s film is hardly the solution, but you can’t help but commend him for trying.

On a sunny day, Vietnam vet Herschell (Steve Hawkes) spots a pretty young thing named Angel (Heather Hues) whose car has broken down on the highway, and promptly whisks her away on his motorbike. Angel takes him back to her house, which she shares with her promiscuous sister, who offers Hershell some pot upon his arrival. At first, he refuses, but eventually gives into temptation after the sister seduces him one day by the pool. Herschell finds himself with an immediate addiction (!).

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Herschell takes a job at a local turkey farm, where a couple of bumbling scientists are testing experimental chemicals on the livestock. They require a human guinea pig for this operation, and bribe Herschell into participating by promising to replenish his stash little-by-little. However, the effects of devouring the chemically altered meat prove to be nightmarish after Herschell suffers a seizure and enters a violent, hallucinatory state.

Without spoiling too much in regards to this bold new narrative direction, the film’s most memorable sequences reside after this point – any research on the film will surely lead to inspiring images of a horrible life-size papier-Mache turkey head. So that’s where this film goes; that is to say, way off the deep end. The entire last act is a hysterical collage of grotesque regurgitated sound effects and aimless animalism as Herschell carves his way through a series of sexual deviants and junkies.

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This can be most obviously read as an anti-drug PSA disguised as a cheapo psych-out horror picture, which is particularly amusing when one takes note of the director’s frequent appearances throughout the film in which he chain-smokes as he comments on the action. To think that Grinter’s tongue might be planted firmly in his cheek might be giving the director the benefit of the doubt, as the way in which he handles this material is almost characteristically incompetent. For instance, it is heavily implied throughout – and later confirmed – that Herschell suffers from PTSD and is self-medicating as a result. The film ignores the poignancy of the subject and goes straight for shock value; and let’s not even begin to discuss its puerile vision of rampant drug culture.

It’s an outsider view of just about everything it claims to stand for, which proves to be quite problematic – but it is precisely these kinds of seemingly innocent miscalculations that make it so consistently entertaining. The opening scene assumes a strange kind of schizophrenic rhythm that Jess Franco might have admired and then never follows up on it, the writing is a special kind of awful, its treatment of women is even more pedestrian now than it was back in the day – and yet there is so much enjoyment to be derived from the experience, in spite of patches which veer dangerously into Dullsville. The filmmakers can’t even seem to pull focus most of the time and yet they’ve emerged with a work of exceptional amateurism that would put most professionals to shame. Most seasoned viewers won’t appreciate it, but the sleaziest among us will continue to rejoice.

 

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