I Drink Your Blood (1970)

The two things I dislike & distrust most about 1970s grindhouse genre cheapies are the rampant depictions of sexual assault and the lethargic, stoney-baloney pacing. I Drink Your Blood suffers from both, yet the movie charmed me anyway. For all the exploitative & energetic faults I can find in the film as a supposed shock-a-minute gore fest, it’s just too gleefully & gloriously trashy on a conceptual level for me to disregard its merits. A nasty grindhouse gross-out about rabid, Satanic hippie cannibals chowing down on the God-fearing folks of a town just like yours, I Drink Your Blood is perfectly calibrated midnight fare. Even my complaints about its pacing & careless sexual assault issues are more endemic to the era of its genre than indicative of its strengths as an isolated picture; the rape occurs off-screen, not at all played for titillation, and the slow pace allows breathing room for a rowdy public screening party atmosphere (that I was likely missing out on by watching the film alone on my couch via Kanopy). This is one of those curios that’s commendable for the audacity of its own existence, especially considering its ludicrous premise and the extremity of its apparent politics—a movie that’s most entertaining for the disbelief that your watching it all, that it was ever made or distributed.

Satan-worshipping hippies invade a small town, planning to stage sacrificial rituals in the nearby woods. They brutalize & rape eavesdroppers, laugh in the face of local children & elderly, and tiptoe toward graduating from animal sacrifices to their Dark Lord to human ones. Fed up with the adults around him’s unwillingness to confront these youth culture reprobates, a child plans to rid his town of the hippie scum by feeding them meat pies he injects with rabies-infected dog blood. The plan backfires, as the hippies foam at the mouth and become crazed cannibals, eating everyone they can get their mouths on, spreading rabies to survivors. The result is the mayhem typical to a zombie outbreak, with the red acrylic stage blood of most grindhouse productions bathing the town as lives, limbs, and infected rats are liberally strewn about. The rabies is also spread through the hippies’ shameless sexual exploits (such as banging an entire crew of construction workers at once), recalling early stirrings of Cronenberg freak-outs like Shivers. You could probably also track the film as an influence on other mania-driven horrors like George Romero’s The Crazies, Sion Sono’s Suicide Club, and even the recent Nic Cage pic Mom & Dad, but ultimately it feels very much like a product of its time, just another batshit insane drive-in horror of the grindhouse era.

Nothing demonstrates I Drink Your Blood’s quality of being of its time quite like the film’s connection to the Manson Family murders. Less than a year after the infamous slaughter of Sharon Tate & house guests, this film shamelessly exploited the public’s fear of acid-dropping, Satan worshipping hippies by making the entire Free Love moment look like a cover for the hedonistic violence that was secretly driving the counterculture. It even makes hippies’ perceived egalitarian racial politics out to be something oddly sinister, with widely varied ethnicities represented among the cannibals’ ranks exaggerated as if they were gangs from The Warriors. And just in case you don’t connect the dots between those killer hippie scum and the killer hippies in the newspapers, the cannibals in the film write “PIG” in lipstick on their first human sacrifice’s stomach, one of the more widely-shared lurid details from the Sharon Tate tragedy, I Drink Your Blood attempts to scare audiences with alarmist depictions of youths gone out of control, the same tactic exploited in later cult pictures like Class of 1999. The irony, of course, is that most of the audience for these shock-a-minute genre pictures is the youth of the day, so that they always play as a kind of perverse, tongue-in-cheek parody of that alarmism.

Despite all of I Drink Your Blood’s shoddiness in craft and laughable attacks on the ills of youth culture & peace-loving (read: Satan-worshipping) hippiedom, the film is still grimy enough to be genuinely upsetting. Its characters’ hyperviolent LSD freak-outs are never accompanied by goofball hallucinatory imagery — instead manifesting as frustrated, sweaty intensity & wide-eyed madness. Even before the LSD or rabies kicks in, the hippies are already at least a little terrifying, especially as they maniacally chase rats out of their new squat with early signs of bloodlust. That mood-setter makes the eventual rabid hippie mayhem feel like a plague of rats spreading through small-town America – a grotesquely reductive, Conservative view of the times (hilariously so). There’s an authenticity to that viewpoint too, as even the crew of this production had territorial fights with the residents of the small town where they filmed, uptight folks who did not want their kind around. I could lie & say that this genuinely disturbing grime & historical context are what makes the film worth a watch, but the truth is that those are just lagniappe textures to the movie’s true bread & rabid dog’s blood-injected butter: the absurdity of its premise. Like most grindhouse fare, this is a movie that’s largely entertaining for its over-the-top conceptual indulgences, something you have to tolerate a little moral unease & impatience to fully appreciate.

-Brandon Ledet

Pieces (1982)

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“You don’t have to go to Texas for a chainsaw massacre” declares one of the taglines for 1982’s exploitation horror film Pieces, although you would have had to be in Austin this week to see the screening of the 35mm master print, cobbled together by Grindhouse Releasing from the extant copies of the film (and from which their remastered 2008 DVD was produced). The film’s other tagline, “It’s exactly what you think it is,” is also accurate–Pieces is a solidly hilarious and gratuitously gory flick about a campus killer who murders women with a chainsaw, full of ridiculous and unrealistic dialogue that would give a more modern postmodern horror spoof a run for its money. Shot largely in Spain and set in Boston, Pieces will leave you breathless, but from laughter, not fear. This movie is a camp masterpiece, and has set the bar high as my new standard for horror comedy.

In 1942, a ten year old boy is caught red-handed putting together a jigsaw puzzle featuring a nude pin-up. Furiously, the boy’s mother tells him that she is going to burn this filth, but he returns to the room with an ax and a hacksaw and chops her into, well, pieces. Forty years later, a rash of murders-by-chainsaw are perpetrated against a number of co-eds at an unnamed Boston university, and Detectives Bracken (Christopher George) and Holden (Frank Bana) are sent to investigate. The suspects include surly groundskeeper Willard (Paul L. Smith, best known for playing Bluto opposite Robin Williams’s Popeye a few years earlier), reserved closeted anatomy professor Arthur Brown (Jack Taylor), and the helpful but absent minded Dean (Edmund Purdom). Kendall James (Ian Sera), the boyfriend of one of the victims, is also treated as a suspect initially, but is ultimately enlisted by Bracken as his on-campus liaison, leading to the younger man acting as the primary investigator of the murders despite the fact that he is even less suited to this role than he is to being the campus stud. I mean, Sera’s not an ugly guy, and his awful hair is one thing, but there are no attempts to hide the fact that he’s wearing lifts throughout the movie, and still stands a head shorter than almost everyone on screen. Rounding out the cast is Lynda Day as Mary Riggs, a former tennis player turned undercover policewoman, although she ends up having to be saved by Kendall far more often than she should.

There appears to be some contention among the fanbase as to whether or not the film was intended to be a comic film or a more straightforward example of schlock cinema; it surely features the titillating nudity and gory gross-outs of other films from the latter genre (and equal opportunity nudity at that!), but I can’t imagine anyone involved in the making of the movie could have been under the impression they were making anything other than a humorous exercise in bad taste. Some of the scenes feel like the crew was in such a rush that they couldn’t afford the time to do more than one take. The dialogue syncing is awful, the lines themselves swing wildly from tonally dissonant purple prose to over-the-top shrieks and alien approximations of police procedural patter, and one of the murder victims pisses herself. That’s not even getting into the killer reconstructing his pornographic jigsaw puzzle in the film’s present while also assembling a jigsaw woman from his victims, the running gag of Bracken and his eternally unlit cigar, an extended aerobics class sequence, and even a woman skateboarding into a sheet of glass being carried across the street by two men. This film is comedy gold, and I loved every minute of it. Just try to watch this scene and tell me that Pieces is meant to be taken seriously.

As for the plot, it’s a fairly standard campus murder spree grindhouse-era flick, and there’s gruesomeness to spare here in addition to the comedy. The mystery, such as it is, isn’t resolved until the finale, although a set/location detail we see in the killer’s house is also present in another locale that is frequently seen, meaning that sharp-eyed viewers will figure out who the killer is before the halfway mark, but that makes the film no less fun. Special mention here should go to Day, who was well known at the time of release for her role on TV’s Mission: Impossible; at no point does she break character or the fourth wall, but she’s also obviously delighted to be participating in this production. She’s a very magnetic screen presence, and I was glad to see that she is still alive, even though I wish she hadn’t retired from the screen so long ago.

My viewing experience of the film was somewhat unique, so I can’t say for certain that the 2008 DVD will recapture the same magic; I can say, however, that I intend to find it and purchase it for my personal collection ASAP. I recommend you watch this movie at the earliest opportunity. You won’t regret it.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond