'The Blood Trilogy' is not a trilogy in the traditional sense of the word, but viewed as such by fans of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman, leading figures in the world of Exploitation Cinema. What these movies are, in fact, is simply the three film collaborations of the two men within the horror genre, which inadvertently paved the way for future low-budget B-features. Although largely ignored by wider audiences, the movies have actually left an indelible mark which continues to be seen today. Granted, they are enjoyed by contemporary viewers mostly as kitsch and out of fascination, but for many others, they are great movies marking the beginning of a bygone era.
In many ways, the clichéd stereotypes we evoke today when joking about shoddy, low-budget movies can all be traced back to the productions of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman. This isn't to say the duo were the first, because they weren't. What they did was make a business out of producing motion pictures specifically for the drive-in crowd (later, the "Grindhouse" theaters) and sensationalizing the subject matter of their movies. In effect and in no way deliberate, they opened the door for what later came to be known as the Exploitation film genre. (Kroger Babb, who came before these two, is another important name in this discussion.) We could even go so far as to say these men made a significant contribution to film history but receive very little recognition.
After a small string of "nudie-cutie" movies, Lewis and Friedman wanted to expand their fanbase, like any normal business. Wanting to take advantage of the declining popularity of drive-in theaters, the two men decided to exploit explicit on-screen gore and violence as the perfect angle for drawing audiences. Even in this, they weren't exactly the first either. That honor goes to the works of D.W. Griffith. But what makes 'Blood Feast' special is the level of blood and gore taking precedence over the story — and in color no less! Meaning, plot and characterization are intentionally formulaic in order to have special effects be the movie's main attraction, if not equal. 'Blood Feast' essentially paved the way for splatter films and pretty much every other kind of schlock imaginable.
The movie features a demented Egyptian convenience store owner on a murder spree, offering female body parts as ritual sacrifice to Ishtar, which is actually the Babylonian goddess of fertility and war. The character is played with exaggerated frenzied by Mal Arnold, who ultimately makes the movie worth watching — next to the silly on-screen gore, of course. He's joined by the hilariously terrible acting of William Kerwin and Connie Mason, the Playboy Playmate who also starred in the next movie. The special effects are understandably cheap, looking more like visual gags (literally pieces of meat drenched in red paint), but it somehow works. We can easily imagine the shock of audiences at the time. And even more surprisingly, they still hold up and manage to produce some great laughs.
Two Thousand Maniacs!
With 'Blood Feast' already leaving an indelible mark in movie history — although it would be years before anyone could actually appreciate that fact — Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman followed-up the depravity with another equally gory production. The silliness and humor, however, are made more apparent in a story about a backwoods community with a hankering for Yankee blood. The fine folks of Pleasant Valley are making final preparations for a centennial celebration that marks an important event at the end of the Civil War. Six tourists from the northern states are mysteriously lured into the quaint southern town, told they're the guests of honor and made to participate in bizarre rituals that always end in a gruesome death.
Like its predecessor, 'Two Thousands Maniacs!' made a lasting impression in the world of cinema. Since Lewis and Friedman made these pictures purely for drive-in profits and not with any desire to make a name for themselves, the tiny, seemingly-insignificant ripples caused can be seen as unintentional flukes. But again, none it would be truly felt until several years later when the new style of filmmaking genre they inadvertently opened finally took hold of a niche market. If 'Blood Feast' eventually paved the way for splatter/gore films, then this tasteless venture, which carried more overtly comedic elements, introduced audiences to hicksploitation. With these two B-grade, independent features, Lewis and Friedman were breaking new ground and pretty much way ahead of their time.
'Two Thousand Maniacs!' even brings with it an unexpected element reaching beyond its low-budget roots. The movie makes for an interesting view of the Southern American culture, particularly at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. During this period, much of that region and its residents were viewed as inherently violent and hateful, almost as if continuing to carry a bitter resentment for past atrocities. This isn't to suggest Lewis and Friedman purposely took aim at the political climate of the time, but they indirectly hint at it by using such stereotypes in formulating the caricatures of the movie. Unconsciously perhaps, they make it okay for audiences to laugh at the viciously hostile attitude the South often aimed at anyone they deemed different from themselves. If for nothing else, it makes for an interesting watch from a cultural perspective.
Color Me Blood Red
The third collaboration of Lewis and Friedman is also possibly the more interesting one — and arguably the better of the bunch. We actually see Lewis's growth as a filmmaker in 'Color Me Blood Red,' showing a much improved control of the camera than his previous efforts. The production remains far from excellent, looking just as shoddy and second-rate as the rest, but the framing comes with intent and an eye for capturing the action. Even the editing of Robert L. Sinise, father of Gary Sinise, shows more polish and experience than the first two movies. Basically, the entire movie as a whole comes with a better sense of pace as the narrative moves logically and smoothly from one scene to the next.
To top it all off, Lewis wrote a screenplay with minimal gore but something we can easily construe as a wry, reactionary sense of humor. It starts with an artist named Adam Sorg (Gordon Oas-Heim) struggling to create his next painting, but takes his frustration out on his live-in girlfriend, whose run-on gag is to say, "If we ever get married." At a gallery exhibit showing his work, Sorg reveals he's incredibly touchy and explodes with rage at the local art critic who scorns his poor use of color. By accident, he discovers human blood gives his otherwise mediocre paintings a very dramatic edge. This is then praised not only by the same critic but also admired by a wealthy art collector, which in turn makes an unhinged Sorg go on the prowl to collect more fresh blood.
Although Lewis's intentions of Southern stereotypes in 'Two Thousand Maniacs!' are pretty unclear, there's little denying that the director didn't have something on his mind with 'Color Me Blood Red.' The obvious connection made is between the artist/creator and a public backlash, the latter pushing the former to experiment with extremes to shock spectators. The movie may not be a direct lambast of anything specific, but there is a sense throughout that Lewis might be commenting on something he saw around him or personally experienced. Sorg is a painter frustrated with an unappreciative audience and negative criticism demanding for more blood. Is Lewis trying to say something through this? Who knows, but it makes for a fun watch of an amusing B-movie schlock.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Something Weird Video and Image Entertainment release 'The Blood Trilogy' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken to a still image with the usual main menu selection, but each title highlighted brings up a different set of supplements.
Considering the age and production history of all three films, we shouldn't be surprised with the terrible condition in which they are presented. Yet, for anyone familiar with these movies and past home video releases, this is really the best they've ever looked, which sadly still doesn't say much.
Of the three 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encodes, 'Blood Feast' definitely looks best with fairly good fine object detailing. We can really make out the fake, white-powdered hair on Fuad Ramses and see every product for sale on his store shelves. 'Color Me Blood Red' comes in at very close second, also with strong definition and clarity for most of its runtime. 'Two Thousand Maniacs,' unfortunately, looks pretty blurry and quite hazy in several scenes. But compared to its standard def counterparts, the movie still shows a clear improvement with better resolution.
Presented in their original 1.85:1 aspect ratios, each movie comes with below average contrast, which can make the video look somewhat foggy and generally flat, but whites remain clean and crisp throughout. Black levels are also a bit unsatisfying, especially in the shadows, but not a complete loss as certain articles of clothing are accurate. There are even a few moments in 'Blood Feast' when the video has excellent depth of field and great blacks. Colors receive the greatest benefit with bold, bright primaries, yet secondary hues are disappointing.
'Two Thousand Maniacs!' displays the worst picture quality, but all of it is age related and due to improper care. All three come with scratches and blue vertical lines, but 'Maniacs!' actually includes tears, "cigarette burns" and visible shifts in the frame caused by bad editing. Had more money been put into providing these movies with a more extensive remastering of the original negatives, they could very likely look better. But as is, they're average.
All three movies arrive in uncompressed PCM 2.0 audio, and like the video of each, they are somewhat disappointing because little effort was put into remastering them.
No matter which movie we're watching, the soundtracks are full of crackling, noise and come off mostly flat throughout. Although clear and intelligible, vocals are pretty distracting as nearly every syllable uttered by actors is accompanied by an annoying hiss. Distortion isn't exactly a notable issue since it understandably comes from a low-budget, laughably-amateurish production, where echoes are almost as audible as the voices themselves. However, the screams of female characters are not by any degree handled very well as the hissing only worsens and there's an evident loss in detail. All three lack low bass, so music and action sequences feel shallow and fairly lifeless. Audio dropouts are also common in each lossless mix, and 'Two Thousand Maniacs!' comes with a weird moment (at the 51-minute mark) where vocals play in slow-motion.
None of this, of course, is the result of the codec used, but very likely accurate copies of the original recordings. By some measure, fans of the movies and of this particular subgenre will be content with the high-rez tracks. They at least carry that stereotypical quality expected of Exploitation films, like actually being at a drive-in or a shoddy, rundown theater.
Supplements are ported over from previous DVD releases of each movie.
Though not a true trilogy in the traditional sense of the word, 'The Blood Trilogy' is the three-film collaboration of Herschell Gordon Lewis and David F. Friedman. These back-to-back movies were made purely for profit by exploiting explicit on-screen gore in full color, not only paving the future of "splatter" films but also leading the way and influencing the world of low-budget, B-quality Exploitation Cinema. The Blu-ray from Something Weird Video and Image Entertainment features a surprisingly good audio and video presentation of each movie, considering their production and history. Bonus material is decently large and worth watching for fans of the genre and the two filmmakers, making the overall package a great purchase or at least an oddball rental for neophytes.