I Drink Your Blood (1970) is as old as I am. Unlike me, however, it shows very little wear and tear; a loud and proud exploitation horror diorama from an age when all boundaries of good taste and reason were pushed to the breaking point. If you only have room in your life for one rabies-infested satanic hippies movie, make it I Drink Your Blood.
This film is the blueprint for creating your very own grimy, crude, offensive B classic. First, you need a backer. Enter producer Jerry Gross, known at the time as a king of grindhouse hype, modeled after William Castle. For example, when he rereleased two of the ‘60s Mondo films (real rituals and customs from exotic locales, documentary style), Mondo Cane and Mondo Pazzo on a double bill, he paraded around actors in tribesmen costumes to sell the authenticity of the films. He offered director David Durston (Stigma), whose writing he admired on the early ‘50s Sci-fi TV show Tales of Tomorrow, a chance to write and direct if he came up with a horror premise out of the norm; no vampires, no monsters, etc. Well, indeed he did. He found a newspaper article about a group of people in Iran that contracted rabies, and had to be kept in cages to keep them from harming anyone. Next, he injected the all too current Charlie Manson brouhaha into the mix, for some topicality. And how did this psychedelic stew manifest itself on screen? Read on…
Our film opens in a wooded area, where a United Colors of Benetton group of hippies are being led in a satanic ritual by their Native American cult leader, Horace Bones (played, naturally, by Indian actor Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury). LSD is ingested as Horace proclaims, “Let it be known, sons and daughters, that Satan was an acid head.” (Was? I guess everyone outgrows it.) Local girl Sylvia (Iris Brooks – Up the Sandbox) witnesses the ritual from the woods, is chased down by several of the hippies, and raped.
She makes her way back to town the next day, and her grandpa, Doc Banner (Richard Bowler – The Defenders) seeks out the hippy cult, who are found hiding out in the abandoned hotel in town. They beat and drug Doc, then send him home after his grandson Pete (Riley Mills – Family Affair) comes looking for him. Pete decides to take revenge by injecting blood from a deceased pooch infected with rabies into meat pies from Molly (Rhonda Fultz – In Cold Blood)’s bakery, which he serves to our delinquent devil groupies. Before we even have time to use the bathroom, the rabid reprobates cut a swath (and I mean cut) through the town, infectin’ and killin’, as one will do. Do not expect a Partridge Family ending.
1970 was a varied year on the big screen; there were plenty of vampires (Count Yorga, Vampire and Scars of Dracula) and monsters (Equinox and Trog), not to mention many other miscreants for our horror viewing pleasure. I admire, then, Gross wanting Durston to come up with something original; I’m just not sure if he knew he would get something as far left of the crowd as I Drink Your Blood. The film takes up where Herschell Gordon Lewis left off; decapitations, dismemberments, hangings, pitchforkery and other crimes against humanity (unfortunately, a live chicken is sacrificed on camera; possibly Gross’ influence, trying to hit that Mondo crowd). The biggest difference between this film and the output of the late, great HGL is in the pacing – this sucker moves with a feral power and swiftness that The Godfather of Gore’s oeuvre just doesn’t possess (save your @’s – I’m as much a fan as anyone!).
The reason I even bring up HGL is because Drink feels like a passing of the torch (Mr. Lewis took off for a very successful career in direct marketing around this time) and plays like a distant cousin of his Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) albeit reversed; here the townsfolk are terrorized by outsiders, and then the townsfolk fight back. Durston’s resolve to carry on into the ‘70s with HGL’s successful grindhouse template is admirable, and the obvious disdain for the hippy culture (let’s make ‘em Satanists!) is hilarious. Everyone portrayed in the town are hard working regular Joes and Joans, whereas the hippies are content to screw, steal, and sacrifice. There’s no grey area in Durston’s script, nor is there in grindhouse cinema, period; a singular vision splattered across the screen, a couple of reels and time to load up the next one. But that’s what makes this one sing; the hippies are such caricatures (yet well developed) that they’re fascinating to watch, more so than our heroes. And it’s not that you’re rooting for the hippies, but it is completely engrossing to watch them get their comeuppance and then attack, foaming mouths and all.
Step two to building your own grindhouse: A lurid title. Drink was originally called Phobia; I’m assuming because rabies is sometimes referred to as Hydrophobia (rabid folk apparently have a reluctance to drink water). This didn’t cut it with Gross, and he changed the title to pair it up with an unreleased film he bought, Voodoo Blood Bath (1964) AKA Zombie Bloodbath, which he retitled I Eat Your Skin. Hence, he had a double feature to trot out; I Drink Your Blood/I Eat Your Skin. Brilliant marketing for sure, but Gross had one more roadblock: the MPAA. When submitted, Drink was returned with the dreaded ‘X’, ensuring very few would be able to see it. (It was one of the first films to be given that rating for violence.) Instead of cutting and resubmitting, he let each exhibitor cut the film as they saw fit, to their own standards. This only added to the film’s mystique; many people witnessed incoherent prints across the nation, sometimes excising up to 10 minutes of the intended, unrated 83 minute running time. But don’t worry; the unedited version is not incoherent. Insane? Yes. Incoherent? No.
Step three on your journey to the drive-in: Follow through on your premise. So many B’s (and below) of the era use 50 Watts of execution on a 1000 Watt idea (like the bottom end of this double feature, for example). Thanks to sharp editing by Lyman Hallowell (a long time assistant editor on such films as The Seven Year Itch and The King and I), Durston delivers on his concept, wasting no time in spilling the red stuff (sadly some of it real; RIP little clucker) and getting down to business; bringing us to step four: Hire a cast to match your material. This gem is loaded with memorable turns, especially from the hippies; Bhaskar, Jadin Wong (China Girl) as his right hand woman, Sue-Lin, and George Patterson (God Told Me To) as unhinged Rollo shift into true grindhouse gear whenever they’re in frame.
And most importantly, step five on the road to making your bed in the grindhouse: Know, and have faith, in your product. Sure there are unintentional guffaws in Drink (some of the performers fall on their face, and the dialogue can be quite ripe), but I’ll bet Durston knew people would laugh at the rabid villains recoiling from a threatening water hose (because they have Hydrophobia! I love it) while chasing down the few remaining untainted townies. He aims to scare and repulse, sure; but he does it in such a Grand Guignol way that the film plays lighter on its feet today than it did when ‘over the top’ was less accepted on its own terms.
If you’re lucky, your film may end up influencing others down the line; George Romero’s The Crazies (1973) and David Cronenberg’s Rabid (1977) certainly owe a tip of the hat towards our infected hippie horror (one could argue it’s just a twist on Romero’s zombie stomp Night of the Living Dead, but tomato tomah-to, I say). But first, you’ll need to craft a slab of celluloid as bizarre, unique, crazy and inspired as I Drink Your Blood. And I sincerely hope you do.
I Drink Your Blood is available as a special 2 disc Blu-ray from Grindhouse Releasing.