Monday, December 11, 2006

I Review This Movie

I Drink Your Blood was the first film to take after Night of the Living Dead in many ways, but was the opposite in tone, style & content (for the two of you in AP English, this will make perfect sense). The movie had bright colors, college humour, scheming child actors, dying animals, painful stereotypes, blurring of scientific fact, small-town romance & of course rabies (and oh, the rabies it has).

I Drink Your Blood
by David E. Durston

The plot specifics you can find anywhere, in fact DVD Drive-In and DVD Maniacs have particularly good ones, but here’s the outline. The ugliest Satanist hippies you’re likely to meet experience some car trouble in a small town. They quickly wear out their welcome: holding nude worship/acid dropping sessions, destroying a house for no reason, killing at least a baker’s dozen of rats for barbecuing, molesting a young girl, and finally drugging the town’s oldest resident. When his Grandpa comes home tripping face, and with his sister still recovering from the sexual assault she seems to not be all that bothered by, a miffed little boy kills a rabid dog, drains it’s blood and injects it into some meat pies he sells to the hippies. That night the unwashed lot go a little crazy two of them acquire stabbing objects and start foaming at the mouth, one of them winds up dead and the remaining gaggle take to the woods. Then the film’s rising action kicks off with some unmotivated sex with some construction workers (they're building the ‘damn dam’.) When the sheriff calls in a doctor for whatever reason, they spy the crazed construction zombies who give chase with tools and machetes soon after spotting them. He explains that they all have hydrophobia (rabies) and Durston liberally expands the symptoms of the disease to include a crippling fear of water, instead of the general uneasiness one feels when confronted with liquids. Anyway, soon the non-infected get whittled down to a few survivors before the police show up and cheat us out of our much deserved squib-fest ending, instead just showing us a lot of gunfire and then pile of dead bodies, and expect us to connect the dots. Montage editing sucks.

The restoration is beautiful, especially the audio, which works for me because my favorite things about this film are two lines of dialogue. When they spy the construction workers the doctor cries out with dry urgency “Jesus Christ” and when the nice hippie witnesses the first killing he turns to the hippie leader and says “You’re mad, you bastard!” Priceless...

And now the history. The film was written and directed by David E. Durston, who made seven films before retiring to obscurity until, like many horror directors, someone finds some value in their disastrous career and some posthumous adoration kicks them back into gear. Before directing I Drink Your Blood, his first film in 1964 was co-directed in Turkey with native filmmaker Metin Erksan. The film, Susuz Yaz, is apparently well regarded in Turkey as the characters are still talked about by the Turkish people. He made four more films before landing himself in the middle of this project, one gave Tubbs from Miami Vice his first role in the blaxploitation film Stigma, one was bought and destroyed to save someone’s reputation (didn’t end up needing it) and one is unknown the world over (as evidenced by its entry on IMDB). It's little tidbits like this that make you think that the 80 year old Durston had to do some serious rearranging of his schedule when he got the DVD reissue phone call.

I Drink Your Blood or Phobia as it was originally called was made in the sweltering heat in a small ‘ghost’ town in New York that had been all but abandoned by a small group of Jewish men who were about ready to leave town as well. When the unorthodox Durston and his mangy crew showed up, they gave the Hasidic Jews the creeps and they got out of town, but not before OKing their free use of all the buildings. As soon as the old men said ‘go crazy’ they did, in a really fucked up sort of way. I don’t like swearing, but it’s called for here because this was the first american film to be rated X for violence (Durston was such an uncompromising artist). This was the first American film to feature onscreen brutalization of animals in purely obscene terms (they aren't going to feed anyone). A Chicken, a dog and many, many rats are killed in the film. Durston tries to defend this a number of ways on one of the DVD’s interviews ('the rats were already dead after cosmetic testing killed them" "Chickens are killed everyday"), but, I’ll never forgive him for softening Americans up for the likes of Cannibal Holocaust. Though it was Georges Franju’s Le Sang des Bêtes in 1949 that first presented us with heedless, overseas animal cruelty (bizarrely spliced with views of scenic France, perhaps for some sort of jarring contrast.) and then Mondo Cane in 1963 which gave us another collection of cruelty and killings which was more likely the culprit for the cannibal films (as 1000 Misspent Hours tell us), I still retain a bit of leftover contempt for the smirking, eccentric Durston as he tries to back away from his DIY exploitation techniques in one interview. And I sort of like this movie. Filmmakers shouldn’t back away from their careers; it makes it easier to cringe at the thought of them. Look at Ruggero Deodato; he went through years of litigation and constant defense of his films and right now he’s prepping Cannibal Holocaust 2.

While making the film, Durston shot under the name State Farm because he didn’t want anyone stealing any of his ideas or his title, which wound up being the first thing cut from the finished product. Upon completion producer Jerry Gross took it to distributors and Ad men to see what could be done with it. they decided to dig out a Del Tenney picture called Zombies and make them a double bill to make money for a studio, which was common practice at the time. They ran it past one exec Barney Cohen who reveals in an interview with the director that when he learned of the films’ premises he cheerfully dubbed the bill: I Drink Your Blood, I Eat Your Skin. And here we are. Movies were to be treated as commodities, and sold at all costs. Want to sell one thing, slap it on another. This happened so often in the 70s, it was rare to find a film was seen alone and with its original title if you were at a drive-thru.

Now, as this is kind of a zombie movie we’re talking about, it is essential we discuss who got ripped off and who would rip it off. The first and most important is Night of the Living Dead, the centerpiece of this course. The film centers on a few people with an ever increasing number of people-who-eat-people who go around spreading infection through direct contact (bites, screwing, etc.) They also use tools to kill, give chase to their live quarries and the real kicker comes at the end when the only survivors board themselves up in a house. Sound familiar? Anyway, despite many similarities the originality exposes itself in a very silly sort of way, through its shortcomings. The soundtrack, instead of the understated dirge-like industrial stuff used in Night is a flamboyant cartoonish score. And as for cartoons, look at the colors. The brightness of the clothes alone, ignoring the overacting and uncalled for sex/romance is enough to pass this off as Italian, but the Giallo pictures Italy cranked out by the dozens weren’t quite this violent until after this gem made it’s way to American’s drive-thrus and beyond. The yellow shirt that the main hippie wears and the redness of the blood is nearly blinding. And as for the blood, this wasn't the first real gore film, but aside from Herschell Gordon Lewis' films, this film didn't have a lot of precedent. Look at the intestines, in beautiful faux Technicolor. I made that up, but look! Hands cut off, guts stabbed out, heads removed and carried around.
The other similarity is the downer ending both original and new. The original ending called for everyone except the little boy to meet a ghastly end, but they settled for killing just about everyone. This film can be seen as a take on the American culture war at the time (construction workers vs. hippies? It’s like a Springsteen song, for god’s sakes), but, let's not get hung up on the political message of the zombie man. There is exactly one person who's gotten this right: George A. Romero. This theme is elaborated upon in such subtle ways as killing all of the hippies, even the one we’re supposed to sympathize with, and having one of the hippies not tell anyone about her new infection and decides to line-up the construction workers for some of the least attractive film sex you could ever imagine (picture Jerry Blank from Strangers with Candy and take away the makeup. You there yet? Good, now sandwich her between a dozen Jersey construction workers). I suppose it’s extreme left vs. extreme right, except Durston wasn't quite competent enough to say anything other than ‘look, stereotypes'

Yeah, it’s big, silly and gross (the gore effects are bright, but not exactly realistic, despite the cost of the human head they carry around for a good 15 minutes) but I liked it, don’t ask me why.

1 comment:

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