begin with some ominous music serenading a pool of red-tinted liquid as
it roils and churns. And when the main title presents itself, the film
proceeds to bleed, or leak, or something, all over the rest of the
credits. Crash-cut to a chain-smoking middle-aged man, decked out like
some ersatz new-age guru, sitting behind a desk in front of some spiffy
wood paneling. Now, this man will be serving as our narrator for this
upcoming tale of lunacy -- think Bela Lugosi as the voice of (un)reason in Glen or Glenda (1953) and you’ll sorta be in the same ballpark.
Thus, in between long drags off his butt, the narrator (Grinter) goes on a rambling preamble about change and catalysts, and how they come about, which rivals anything Criswell ever pulled out of his ass for Ed Wood. Seriously. Sounding like one of those self-help nuts you used to hear around 4am broadcasting all kinds of psycho-babble from some 2-watt AM radio station, each sentence is saturated with a pregnant pause -- not for dramatic effect, mind you. No. He’s just forgotten his lines again and has to -- as nonchalantly as he can, check the script sitting on the desk to get back on track.
And after stumbling through this monologue that has suddenly careened into notions of fate and destiny, our narrator reveals he has a morality play in store for us as the soundtrack turns from ominous to obnoxious as we crash-cut again to the Florida turnpike, where we meet our protagonist, Herschell (Hawkes); a muscle-bound, motorcycle-riding Vietnam vet, who doesn’t have a care in the world -- until fate reveals it has something else in store for him:
All he had to do was keep on driving but, nope, Herschell decides to stop and help a lady motorist in distress. Now, I use the term “distress” very loosely because all she did was stop the car, get out, and looked at the hood -- not under the hood, just at the hood. It’s all irrelevant as the car appears to have magically healed itself by the time our hero stops and offers to help. This mystery woman then invites Herschell to follow her home. He agrees and -- waitaminute? Was this some kind of a trap? That’s me shrugging because even though there appears to be dialogue going on between these two there is no sound, leaving the audience to kinda fend for themselves as far as the narrative goes.
Anyhoo, these two drive on until the soundtrack piles-up and crashes to an abrupt halt as we cut to the interior of some swinging pad, where a group of no-goodniks are submerged in an orgy of drug-taking -- smoking reefer, huffing glue, and popping the bennies, goofballs, and who knows what else. Enter Herschell and that distressed motorist, who finally introduces herself as Angel (Hughes). And as her name would imply, Angel is a God-fearing, dyed in the wool Bible enthusiast, who warns Herschell to stay away from her little sister, Ann (Cullivan), and all of her hippy friends.
But it’s already too late as the offending sister finds them and offers Herschell a little reefer. Relieved to hear drugs aren’t his thing, Angel then begs Ann to finally give up her evil ways and turn at long last to God. But little sis has heard this speech before and stopped listening to that broken record a long time ago. When Angel leaves for a change of clothes, several other ladies try to woo the beefy Herschell and get him to partake in their decadence, but he rebuffs them all. Watching all of this, and thinking this guy is way too much of a man to be wasted on her holier-than-thou sister, Ann conspires with the greasy Guy (Wright) to get Herschell hooked on the reefer so she can have a better shot at getting in his pants.
Given some potent stuff that Guy guarantees will do the trick, Ann watches as Angel and Herschell debate theological issues over in the corner -- like using sticks and stones to commit adultery. (Can you cite your source on that, please?) But as the wanton debauchery surrounding them gets out of hand, their Bible study class is suspended until they can find someplace quieter. Here, Angel tries to redeem her sister one last time, only to have her pleas and verse thrown back in her face and gets scolded for judging lest ye be judged and all of that before Ann kicks them both out -- though she still has a heavily mascaraed eye on our dope, Herschell.
Chiming in again, our narrator takes another drag, checks the script, and then proceeds to blather about the fantastic order of things, oblivion, and the choices we make that shape our destiny. I mean, Who are we to judge, man? For on one hand you have the good sister. On the other, the bad. So which path should Herschell take? (Man, Robert Frost so ripped this movie off.) He then concludes this interlude by warning our hero that seekers of the truth must choose a path; and to be wary; for the results may be worse than the hell he saw in Vietnam. Amen, brother.
Our story then resumes with Angel taking Herschell to meet her father, Tom, who likes her new beau and his life's philosophy so much he offers him a job at his turkey ranch. Desperately needing the work, Herschell is definitely interested but has no place to stay. No problem, says Angel, who offers he can just stay with them. Thus and so, it's all set and Herschell will start work first thing Monday morning. But! Monday is still a few days away, giving the conniving Ann ample time to get her hooks into the big lug.
Thus and lo, The Last Temptation of Herschell commences the following morning, when Ann finds him cleaning the pool. Donning a skimpy bikini, she tries to put the vamp on him; but not only does he refuse to fall for any of her feminine wiles, he chastises the girl for her drug use and wants to know why she can't be more like Angel? Switching tactics, Ann digs some of that good stuff Guy gave her and torches up.
Offering Herschell a hit, he refuses until his manhood is called into question. His honor offended, he grabs the roach and takes a nice long drag off of it. Then another. And another. And as they both take several more hits, these two are soon in full-blown dementia mode and giggling like idiots. With that, now that he’s good and stoned, Ann leads Herschell into her bedroom, promising once they get going in the sheets he’ll be thankful she’s not like her sister at all.
Luckily, our narrator takes this opportunity to chime in, saving us all from having to poke our eyes out, as he raves on and on about who could ever resist such temptation? (And is everyone else raising their hands, too? Everyone? Everyone. Good.) He then debates if this action is actually bad, in a moral sense, and then bemoans the fate of those who like to lather, rinse, and repeat their mistakes. Then, after taking another drag and having another quick peek at the script, he ends this interlude by losing his train of thought and tries to cover by shouting out, "Right on!"
When Monday morning finally rolls around, Herschell emerges from the billowing green haze of Ann's bedroom. He’s late for work, and while the guy on the soundtrack mercilessly stomps on his wah-wah pedal, Herschell rolls his hog into the Midway Turkey Farm and Hatchery, and then heads toward the holding pens on foot, where the captive turkeys gobble ominously. (And if you listen real close, here, you can actually hear someone cawing and cooing, trying to get these recalcitrant turkeys to make some noise.)
Now, everyone knows that every Turkey Farm has its own super-secret research lab where dubious experiments with chemical additives go on -- and Midway is no different. Tom then introduces Herschell to his lead researchers, Lenny and Gene, and tells them to put his new hire to work.
Now, just so we can tell them apart, Lenny is the guy with the beard, while Gene is the one who can never remember his lines and keeps looking right at the camera when he knows he’s not supposed to. Anyway, curious about what kind of work he’s supposed to be doing, well, aside from some general labor, Lenny says they’ve been experimenting with certain illicit drugs on the livestock and now need someone to test it to see if there are any detrimental side-effects. At first, Herschell isn't so sure about eating the tainted meat, but Gene assures him it's safe -- it's just something they have to do for the government; and then he finally agrees when they sweeten the deal by offering some of their extra drugs as a bonus. (Wait. Wait. Wait. What? They're feeding the turkeys pot?!)
With that, the first round of tests will begin the next morning. Told to work up a good appetite, Herschell spends the rest of the day proving he was born to be a poultry wrangler. But as the hours drag on, he starts to go through withdrawal. (From pot?) And by the time he returns home, our boy is hurting for a fix real bad.
Ann tries to comfort him but that’s not what Herschell is craving right now. And so, she calls Guy, who brings more drugs over. But when he demands payment, Herschell assaults the little weasel, saying since he’s the one who got him hooked, Guy will provide all of their drugs for free from now on. Fearing for his life, the drug dealer agrees.
Cut to the next day, where Lenny presents Herschell with his first plate full of chemically-altered turkey -- that’s apparently been basted in heroin and stuffed with the finest hallucinogenic mushrooms and peyote, and then served with a delicious poppy seed gravy. Or something. And after giving it a quick sniff for safety, Herschell shrugs and digs in.
The other turkeys then watch in horror as this man gorges himself on their former comrade; but when he finishes up (-- and I can't believe he ate the whole thing), the meat doesn't sit well. In fact; it's starting to revolt. Quickly moving away from the table, Herschell runs off into the bushes, where he roams around in a tryptophan and drug-induced delirium until he stumbles, falls down, and starts twitching, which rapidly degenerates into full blown convulsions!
Eventually, Lenny finds Herschell in this agitated state, panics, and moves to call for help. But he stops, considers the consequences, and then gathers up Herschell and drags him off the property. Later, Lenny and Gene both try to explain to Tom why they didn't call an ambulance and just dumped the body down the road. (Gene! Stop looking at the camera!)
Then, after their boss rips these two "dumb bastards" a new asshole for exacerbating the situation, since all they did was feed him some turkey, which makes one wonder if Tom was aware of these experiments as he leaves to clean up their mess. For once he’s gone, Gene and Lenny realize if they stick around there's going to be a lot of questions from the police, and so, both agree to skip town.
Meanwhile, Ann is worried because Herschell hasn't come home yet -- who is still lying in that ditch, twitching away. Suddenly, the convulsions stop, and where once a big dope strung-out on dope fell, a new monster arises to stalk the Earth. A creature so wretched, so horrible, that it defies all laws of nature -- and credulity. That’s right, Boils and Ghouls. Herschell isn’t really Herschell anymore. No, he’s become something else. Something that is half man and half poultry -- and it’s hungry...
Back in the summer of 2004, another one of those “Florida Man” stories broke nationally, where a privately owned tiger named Bobo escaped from a compound in Loxahatchee and was shot dead when it lunged at animal control officers trying to recapture it. At first, I was ready to just write this tragedy off as another lunatic with a glamour pet until further details revealed this particular “lunatic” was a retired actor, who had appeared in a couple of foreign-filmed Tarzan knock-offs. This, in turn, stirred up a few latent memory cells but, nah, it couldn’t be him. Could it?
Intrigued, I poked around the interwebs and found a more detailed local story and an unfamiliar name: Steve Sipek. Apparently, this Sipek also had another tiger, a panther, a cougar, and several lions housed in his compound for rescued big cats, whose welcoming sign warned, “Trespassers will be eaten.” And according to the article, Sipek had developed a passion for these animals while filming those jungle movies, who was very distraught over the fatal conclusion of this event. “Murder is the word,” said Sipek in the article. “They murdered a poor helpless animal that only looked ferocious, as any tiger would. But Bobo had a heart of gold."
Omigod, I thought. I think it really could be him. Then, a video link with an interview with the owner confirmed everything. Sipek and Steve Hawkes were the same guy.
So who the hell is Steve Hawkes, you ask? Well, the Sipek / Hawkes story is a strange one, and filled with biblical overtones that includes tales of floods and fire and lions. Born Stjepan Šipek in the little village of Igrišće, Croatia, Hawkes managed an end-run around the Iron Curtain and migrated to the United States by way of Canada, where his beefy frame and chiseled features landed him the lead role in a couple of American financed and Spanish-crewed Tarzan movies. Well, technically, unofficial Tarzan movies because the producers couldn't afford the licensing fees, and so they changed the character's name to Zan in the American release.
The first film, Tarzan en la grata del oro -- Tarzan in the Golden Grotto (1969), also released as King of the Jungle, and Tarzan's Greatest Challenge, was a plagued production. It was produced by Lou Tillman, directed by Manuel Caño, and written by Umberto Lenzi of all people, whose tale includes the Lord of the Jungle defending the Queen of a tribe of Amazonian maidens from a group of no-goodniks out to steal their treasure. But while shooting in South America, a massive flood destroyed most of the equipment and a lot of the completed footage. To salvage things, the scrambling production moved north for re-shoots and finished filming in the swamps and natural springs of the Florida Everglades.
Things got even screwier in the second film, Tarzan y el arco iris (1972), also released as Tarzan and the Rainbow or Tarzan and the Brown Prince, and a helluva lot more dangerous. Also shot in Florida near Rainbow Springs, this film experience wound up scarring Hawkes for life. You see, in a scene that called for him and his co-star, Kitty Swan (Kitty Svanholn), to be tied to stakes and tormented by savages, a pyrotechnic special-effect went awry, engulfing the set in flames. Being tied up, of course, the actors couldn't escape. And as the rest of the cast and crew panicked and fled to safety, leaving the actors to burn, as the legend goes, a lion named Sampson braved the flames, freed the actors by chewing through the ropes, and drug them to safety.
Sounds far fetched, I know, but apparently, according to the script, the lion was supposed to free them in the exact same fashion and was trained to do so (-- without the inferno, obviously). And after this selfless act, owing the animal his life, Hawkes decided, then and there, to spend the rest of his life caring for abused and disowned big cats. However, despite Sampson's heroic efforts, both actors were burned badly.
Hawkes sustained burns on over 90-percent of his body. As for Swan, alas, there isn't a lot of info on her; but this accident effectively ended her film career, so one can sadly extrapolate from there. Not wanting to deal with the authorities, the Spanish crew skipped the country, leaving its stars behind to recuperate. And with mounting medical bills, and desperate for money, Hawkes soon found himself in the hands of Brad Grinter.
Now, Grinter was a part-time filmmaker and a full-time nudist. Part of Florida's burgeoning exploitation scene in the late 1960s and early ‘70s that thrived on Nudie-Cuties and horror films with explicit scenes of gore and bodily dismemberment -- pioneered by the likes of Herschell Gordon Lewis, Dave Friedman, and Richard Flink, Grinter made his screen debut in Bill Graefe’s Death Curse of Tartu (1966). And he had just finished his first feature, producing, writing, and directing Flesh Feast (1970), which contained the last screen appearance of Veronica Lake, a cloned Hitler, and some mutant maggots.
He then followed that up with a biker flick, Devil Rider (1970), also produced by Tillman, where a detective goes undercover to try and track down a missing daughter who got hooked up with the wrong crowd. But it was his next feature, when Grinter teamed up with Hawkes, that resulted in the most gonzo classic of all time: Blood Freak (1972), which included the following:
A chain-smoking narrator, with a nasty hacking cough, who waxes philosophically about stuff that's basically irrelevant to the film; a big dopey leading man, who's half Arnold Schwarzenegger and half Elvis Presley, who is seduced into a life of sin and drugs, eats some tainted turkey meat, and becomes the big screen's first drug-induced Were-Turkey monster; meanwhile, there’s also a Bible-thumping, verse-misquoting vixen clad in a mod mini-skirt and her dope-smoking sister with a thing for thick mascara, who isn't so sure she can marry a guy who is half human / half turkey -- but is more than willing to have sex with it.
Yeah, Blood Freak is just so incredibly audacious, yet taken so seriously that the mind can only boggle at the sheer magnitude of it. Watch as the actors keep flubbing and butchering their dialogue while they desperately try not to look at the camera, or crack a smile, and fail 90-percent of the time. Marvel at how cameraman Ron Sill can't seem to keep the action in frame -- or in focus. Plug your ears as editor Gil Ward uses the same scream, laugh (or gobble), and then loops it in over and over and over again as the Were-Turkey goes on its first rampage -- the monster being Hawkes with nothing more than a less than reasonable facsimile of a giant turkey head made out of papier-mâché pulled over his massive noggin and concrete pompadour.
And when the Were-Turkey returns home and seeks out Ann in her bedroom, with one look at that crooked beak and feathered head the girl screams and promptly passes out. Scribbling a quick note, the monster awakens her to read it. Realizing this thing is really Herschell, Ann is able to talk to him as long as she doesn’t have to look at his face but all he can do is gobble in response (-- with actual dubbed in turkey noises!). Another note reveals he needs more drugs for … reasons, but Ann is more concerned about their future together now than his well being. I mean, What if this new look never wears off? Then, for a brief second, Ann starts to feel guilty, realizing all of this is probably her fault, and promises to help in anyway she can.
But this guilt-attack is extremely short-lived, and Ann is soon whining again because if Herschell stays like this, it will ruin all of her plans. Seems she wanted to get married but now isn’t so sure and quickly lists the pros and cons of marrying a Were-Turkey: What would their kids think about their father having a turkey head? In fact, What would their kids look like? (Lady, HOW HIGH ARE YOU RIGHT NOW?!?) Not to worry, as Herschell's answer to all her worries is to cut the lights, plunging the room into complete darkness.
And then, somewhere in the murk, Ann calls his name anxiously. No answer. She calls his name again. Still no answer. One more time and we finally get a gobble-gobble in reply. She then cries, "Oh, Herschell!", in sheer orgasmic pleasure. (Well, that answers that question.) Welp, after making screen history as the first person to ever have sex with a Were-Turkey monster, Ann calls Angel, sobbing into the phone, looking for help, and confesses to not only getting Herschell addicted to drugs but how this all led to something much worse -- a lot worse, and Angel must come over to see it if she wants to believe where all of this led.
Here, our narrator interrupts again, who finds this latest development quite interesting -- in a biblical sense. No. Not THAT way. The other way. For only when things get really and truly and direly bad do we turn to God. And while he rambles on, Ann shows Angel Herschell's new look. Unlike her sister, Angel takes this pretty well (-- and I mean “well” in that she doesn't sleep with it). Will of God and all that, I guess. The narrator then ends this particular diatribe by warning us all to be careful what you pray for.
Time passes, and Ann calls in a couple of her stoner friends -- who I've dubbed Tanner and Ogilvie due to their striking resemblance to a couple of The Bad News Bears (1976), because she needs their help in keeping a steady supply of drugs for her pet Were-Turkey. Of course, they don't believe her stories until she calls Herschell out to meet them.
Now, I'm gonna assume those three were so baked, or some drug-residue from the film has come out of the TV, causing us not to notice how the Were-Turkey suddenly teleported outside to prowl around the windows of somebody else's house. Spying a man shooting a woman up with heroin, Turkey-Herschell tip-toes around to the front, ambushes the woman as she leaves, and drags her off into the bushes.
Back at Ann's place, as she, Tanner, and Ogilvie sit in a circle of green fog, the two potheads agree to help; but It won't be easy because Herschell scared Guy off, making any drugs harder to come by. Then, when the drugs finally kick-in for Ogilvie, he points out the Were-Turkey really isn't Herschell anymore and fears he might hurt somebody. (Hey! Somebody's finally making sense.) But Ann still loves her turkey-man and believes he will eventually get better. Eventually.
Meanwhile, Turkey-Herschell has found another woman strung out on heroin and attacks her. Stringing her up by the ankles, he then slits her throat and feasts on the cascading torrent of blood as it drains out. But as the monster cups the blood in his hands and smears it all over his pressed-pulp beak, another woman witnesses this attack and screams once (-- just once, but then the sound man loops that exact same scream in ELEVEN FRIGGIN' TIMES! It's true! I counted).
Back at the house, Ann is still blubbering about what a demented hosebag she is for ruining Herschell's life, but also finally agrees that maybe he is a monster now. Told not to worry, Tanner and Ogilvie promise they'll take care of everything. And they'd better hurry, too, as Turkey-Herschell's hunt finds yet another woman strung out on heroin. (Yes: he'll only drink the blood of drug-addicts, and apparently, only female drug addicts at that.)
Stringing this one up in the exact same fashion, he starts draining and drinking her blood, too. And after we hear that same damnable looped scream five more times, this finally alerts the neighbors, who come out to investigate.
Moving quickly, the monster throttles the first man who comes out, who says something like "Wogga-wagga" while being throttled. (They looped that, too.) This brings out the man's husky son next -- or it might be his wife. I don't know, it’s hard to tell. Let's just call ‘em Pat, who swoons over the dead body, and then throws his/her doughy frame into the fray.
Tackling the killer, Pat takes a handy ice-pick and stabs the monster right in the eye. But as Turkey-Herschell gobbles in agony (-- that’s also looped to infinity and beyond), he wrestles the ice pick away and returns the favor, several times. Clutching at his gored eye, Turkey-Herschell then stumbles off into the night.
Now, somewhat inexplicably, even for this movie, at this point Ann decides to get over Herschell by shacking back up with Guy. And while Ann takes a nap, Guy calls his supplier for more drugs. But this supplier, who looks like Michael Moriarity, so we'll call him Mike, tells Guy to get lost because he failed to pay for the last batch of drugs. When Guy swears he has money this time, Mike warns he’d better -- or else.
And on that note, as Turkey-Herschell continues to stumble around, I'd like to take this opportunity to once again implore the cameraman to at least try and keep the damn actor in frame or to at the least keep him in focus. Won't you? Thank you.
Meantime, Mike shows up with the drugs but Guy is $75 short. No sale. Gathering the drugs up, and ready to leave, Greasy Guy makes the drug dealer an offer he can't refuse, saying he's got a beautiful chick who will sleep with just about anything if it will square all accounts. Mike, of course, wants to see this chick first; and after he gets an eyeful of Ann, he agrees to the offer and promptly kicks Guy out of the house to *ahem* collect on his debt in private.
As he approaches the sleeping girl and starts to fondle her breasts, thinking it's Herschell, Ann starts to wake up. (Honey, you came here to see Guy, remember? No. Wait. You probably don't. Never mind.) Not recognizing the man molesting her, Ann tries to scream but Mike quickly muffles her. And since she won't stop struggling, he starts to strangle her until he sees an enraged Turkey-Herschell spying on them through a window. Here, Mike panics and quickly walks away. (Why isn't he running? You'll find out in a second.)
Retreating to a nearby machine shop, with the clucking Turkey-Herschell right behind him, Mike makes a wrong turn, is caught, and gets thoroughly beaten. And then this one-sided brawl ends with the monster throwing him onto a table saw, which Turkey-Herschell fires up and promptly chops Mike's leg off! While grasping at his bloody stump, as is the film's modus operandi, Mike's screams are looped in ad nauseum until he finally stops and dies. (What? Did the tape break? Honestly, this was a particularly effective scene as the actor playing Mike was really missing part of his leg, adding a realistic touch to the otherwise low-rent gore FX.)
Retreating outside, his bloodlust at last satiated, Turkey-Herschell finds a clearing, falls to his knees, and clasps his hands together in prayer as he looks to the heavens for Divine help. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize that Tanner and Ogilvie have been following him all night. Approaching from behind, Ogilvy quietly raises a machete, and then brings the blade down to deliver a lethal blow. But before it impacts, we cut to an actual turkey getting its head lopped off! (*snaps fingers* That's what this movie was missing! Genuine animal snuff. Good, and grief.)
We are then privileged to watch the headless body flop around for a bit in slow motion until we cut again to a dinner party, where the main course is served: a platter of turkey meat and Turkey-Herschell's dismembered head. And as the meat is torn to pieces and consumed by some unknown feasters, the film fades to black.
When we fade back in, we’re back in the ditch with Herschell, who’s still twitching away when Tom finally finds him. Seems this was all just some horrible, narcotic-induced nightmare. (Boo!) Here, Herschell reveals how he was badly injured while serving in Vietnam and got addicted to painkillers during his recovery and has supplemented this with other drugs ever since until he recently decided to try and kick it before this catastrophic relapse. Not to worry, says Tom, who calls in Angel because she's had experience working with addicts at the local rehab clinic.
And as Herschell starts the long, hard road to sobriety, feeling guilty, Ann confesses to Angel how she was the one who gave him some bad drugs, swearing if she knew he was already a recovering addict she would’ve never done that. (Raise your hand if you don’t believe her. Everyone? Everyone. Good.) Seems Ann still loves the side of beef that walks like a man, but can’t face him after what she's done. Assuring her not to worry, Angel feels if Herschell truly loves her, too, he will forgive her -- the Lord works in mysterious ways and all that, making this one of the greatest parables ever told! Forgive me, but, *pfffffffffffffft*
Then, our beloved narrator chimes in for one last time, where he rambles some more about change and probability, and then warns everyone how the abuse of your body is a quick road to ruin. However, these chemicals are everywhere. In the food we eat. In the water we drink. And in the air we breathe. And almost on cue, he takes another huge drag off his cigarette and starts hacking up some lung butter. He then announces, between hacks, that he will give us one more look at the players in our story as we spy Ann, wandering down a pier, in a melancholy mood.
But her mood picks up when she spots Herschell. They embrace and share a kiss. And since they've both kicked their drug habits (-- forgive me --) cold turkey, the couple will face the future together drug free and in the service of the Lord. Amen.
Now I know what you’re all thinking but, nope, I did not make any of that up. It all happened, and it was all committed to film. In fact, I fear I’m kinda selling it short. For you see, Blood Freak stakes a claim as being the world’s one and only giant turkey monster, anti-drug, pro-religion gore film ever made. And I'm here to tell you it is all that and a whole lot more.
Some call it the missing link between the gorenagraphic films of Hershell Gordon Lewis -- Blood Feast (1963), 2000 Maniacs (1964), and the fundamentalist whackadoodle films of Ron Ormond -- If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? (1971), The Burning Hell (1974), and Donald Thompson -- A Thief in the Night (1972), A Distant Thunder (1978). Some call it blasphemous; some call it ludicrous; others call it awful. But I like to call this 86-minutes of sheer-wrongness as, quite possibly, the greatest movie ever made.
As to how all of this came about, well, the genesis of it started before Hawkes had his accident, starring in a couple of Joe Sarno’s erotic tales of sin in the suburbs, Odd Triangle (1968) and Desire Under the Palms (1969). Hawkes then used that experience to write, direct and produce his own sleazy short, The Walls Have Eyes (1969), where a scuzzy hotel owner peeps on his customers having sex.
And after crossing paths with Grinter, who was teaching an acting class at the time, which, according to one source Hawkes was participating in, they decided to collaborate on another outlandish exploitation picture, sharing co-writing, co-directing, and co-producing credits under the banner of the Sampson Motion Picture Production Company -- named after the lion who had saved his life.
With a crew made up of friends and cast culled from Grinter’s students, filming commenced on this unbridled lunacy. But at some point, their financier got cold feet, backed out, and disappeared, leaving Hawkes and Grinter with an unfinished film and no money to continue. And at this point, Grinter kinda gave up on the film, too, but Hawkes pressed on, shooting all the additional scenes in 8mm and spliced it together as best he could. Upon completion, unable to secure a distributor, Hawkes managed a limited regional theatrical release with Tillman's help, credited as a presenter, but got slapped with an X-Rating by the newly installed MPAA over its graphic violence as it was sent out with J.G. Patterson Jr.'s The Body Shop (1972) -- a/k/a Dr. Gore, among other titles as it made its way through the southern drive-in circuit.
Still, the film managed to reap in $170,000 during its limited run at the box office, which was pretty good when you consider about 98-percent of that is profit as the film’s production budget was basically non-existent.
Now, after Blood Freak did it’s theatrical belly-flop, Grinter and Hawkes’ masterpiece of whacked-out cinema disappeared and wallowed in obscurity for nearly three decades, like some old Urban Legend, whose reputation only grew with each sketchy recollection or nigh unbelievable capsules written up in several psychotronic film compendiums of yore. I’d personally been trying to see it ever since reading about it in The Phantom's Ultimate Video Guide back in the early 1990s.
A film with a plot that insane simply could not exist. And as its notorious reputation grew, fueled by a limited VHS release through Regal Video Inc. and Video Treasures, it’s scarcity made it a must see for those passionate about such things.
And then, finally, the late, great Mike Vraney and the fine folks at Something Weird Video unearthed the film and got Blood Freak out on DVD and readily available in 2002, where we all found out everything we’d heard about a movie that defied all logic was true. Hell, beyond true. This Special Edition DVD was also packed with all kinds of demented extras, too, including The Walls Have Eyes, one of Grinter’s nudist shorts, cut down from Harry Kerwin’s feature film, Sweet Bird of Aquarius (1970), and four more short-subjects ranging from the horrors of narcotics to the joys of Thanksgiving, along with over a dozen trailers of similarly themed gore films.
Expectations can be a harsh mistress seldom satisfied; and believe me, after all I'd read and heard about this one, these expectations were astronomically high; but Blood Freak delivered the goods most righteously. So warped. So wonderful. And it's been deliriously detonating viewers' minds ever since. Now go and get yours detonated, too, won’t you? Thank you!
Well, if you don't know what Hubrisween is by now, Boils and Ghouls, I don't think I can help you. Anyhoo, that's TWO films down with 24 yet to go. Up next, What almost didn't happen in this one will haunt you forever once you realize that, omigod, you're right, that almost didn't happen. Trust me.
Blood Freak (1972) Sampson Motion Picture Production Company :: Clamil Productions / P: Steve Hawkes, Brad Grinter / D: Steve Hawkes, Brad Grinter / C: Ron N. Sill / E: Gil Ward / M: Gil Ward / S: Steve Hawkes, Dana Cullivan, Heather Hughes, Larry Wright, Randy Grinter, Brad Grinter