Brad F. Grinter, 1972
Starring: Steve Hawkes, Dana Cullivan, Heather Hughes
Herschell, a motorcycle-riding Vietnam vet, picks up Angel, a young woman having car trouble. Angel decides he should stay with her until he gets back on his feet and takes him home to her sister and friends. Many of them are pot smokers, while Angel herself is a devout Christian. Angel’s sexy sister Anne develops a crush on Herschell and tries to convince him to smoke some pot. Though he first refuses, it finally works when Anne challenges Herschell’s manhood. Unfortunately, he quickly becomes addicted.
Meanwhile, the sisters get him a job at a nearby turkey farm. It happens that there are scientists working there, experimenting on turkey meat with strange chemicals. They convince Herschell to become part of their experiment and give him free drugs in exchange for eating the tainted meat. Herschell soon passes out and has a seizure, but there is an even more devastating effect: he turns into a mutant were-turkey with a thirst for the blood of drug addicts. Anne tries to help him, but he can’t stop killing people and drinking their blood, so she convinces some of her friends to capture and behead him. But all is not as it seems...
Between the constant turkey gobbling, the awful turkey mask, the ridiculous happy ending, Christian morals, and the alleged horrors of pot smoking, the fun never ends with this turkey of a film. It’s appallingly cheap, but endearingly unique with a sort of Ed Wood-in-the-‘70s flavor. And speaking of one of Ed Wood’s tactics, director Brad Grinter pops up now and again during the film, drinking and chain smoking, to offer some guidance about what is happening with the plot and provide some moral advice.
Everything about this is terrible. The acting is mostly made up of awkward scenes of dialogue from non-professional or very inexperienced actors. Angel, the weirdly devout Christian who seems wildly out of place, is played by Heather Hughes (Flesh Feast), while her sister Anne, the drug-addled temptress, is played by Dana Cullivan in her only role. Gee, I wonder why? Steven Hawkes (Herschell, likely named after the Godfather of Gore himself, Herschell Gordon Lewis) made a career starring in Z-grade Tarzan rip offs made in Florida. In another universe, I think he would have become an early Jim Van Bebber-like figure, but instead he only left us with Blood Freak.
As a somewhat extreme atheist, I couldn’t imagine myself watching, let alone enjoying a film with a Christian message, but the religious subplot here just makes the whole thing more incredible. And hilarious. The lengthy, unedited scenes of dialogue are a bit painful, but anything bad about this film is almost immediately transformed into trash gold by the absurd dialogue and Grinter’s silly, awkwardly timed speeches that interrupt the loose narrative. The script is practically non-existent, but is full of amazingly inept writing, such as a scene where Anne and her friends react to Herschell’s transformation with an astonishing, hilarious level of acceptance.
There’s some nudity and, fortunately, plenty of gore. What makes Blood Freak a lot better than other trash films from the period, such as the earlier Manos: The Hands of Fate, are its death scenes. A mutant were-turkey slices and dices his way through the local addicts, going so far as to graphically cut the leg off of a drug dealer. The scene is basically not edited at all (like much of the rest of the movie) and the man screams for two or three minutes straight before meeting his long overdue end. Turkey-Herschell lets the arterial blood spray plentifully when he’s not running around in the dark “stalking” people.
At points it’s difficult to watch the film because the print is so dark, but it’s really a miracle that it’s survived at all. There’s a great special edition DVD from Something Weird that includes tons of special features. Two of the standouts are a feature about director Brad Grintner, apparently famous for his nudist lifestyle and another funny one, “Narcotics, Pit of Despair!” The film and this DVD release both come highly, highly recommended.