Blood Feast


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Robert Rusler and Sadie Katz in Blood Feast
"2016’s Blood Feast rises to the challenge with aplomb."

In 1963, Herschell Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast caused a sensation in cinema. It is widely credited with inventing the modern slasher film and its no-holds-barred brutality certainly outraged the censors, even if, when seen today, it’s as likely to elicit laughter as fear. Lewis never worried much about quality when he could put semi-naked women on screen and make money, but he nevertheless created a cult classic – one destined to be remade someday, though it presented a lot of challenges for anyone taking that on.

2016’s Blood Feast rises to the challenge with aplomb. Using only the bones of the original plot – a caterer driven to slaughter by his desire for the goddess Ishtar, planning to serve up a feast of human flesh in her honour – it reworks the problematic elements, ditches the schlock and introduces its own brand of camp humour to add character to the story. There’s a Cormanesque quality to this, especially in the opening credit sequence, when a deep booming voice issues a warning that no-one with a heart condition or anxiety disorder should see the film. As the story unfolds, this vein of humour actually helps it to maintain its credibility, or at least keeps the audience from worrying too much. It takes us into the heart of the central character’s delusion.

Copy picture

That central character is Fuad (Robert Rusler), an Egyptian restaurant owner who, in this version, is working a second job as a security guard in a museum, providing context for his obsession. The action has been relocated from Florida to Paris, which has the effect of emphasising Fuad and his family’s American-ness, diluting the risk of monstering Middle Easterners. There’s also a scene in which Fuad’s blond daughter Penny (Sophie Monk) explains that their ethnicity has never been a big factor in their lives. This, together with a sub-plot about Fuad failing to take his medication (which is also used to illustrate tensions in his marriage), adds to the sense that something has seriously distorted his thinking but keeps us guessing about what that is. As the goddess, Sadie Katz conjures up a wonderful otherness, casting a spell over Fuad whose power we can believe in whether she’s real or not.

What sold the original to its fans was sex and gore, and director Marcel Walz knows this is an area where he can’t afford to disappoint. Given how much attitudes to sex in film have changed in the interim, he could easily have gone the way of other recent remakes and crammed the film full of nudity and cheesy sex scenes. Instead, by taking a more restrained approach, he increases the eroticism – both sexual desire and sexual peril recover their power. Interestingly, the film also diversifies its objects of desire, with the flesh of men as well as women now important to Fuad’s scheme, and the famous whipping scene is recreated with a young male victim. Just as the reduced emphasis on ethnicity increases the sense that anybody could be a psychotic killer, so this illustrates that anybody could be a victim, something horror fans ought to be aware of as they sit quivering in their seats.

Quiver they well might, at least if they’re squeamish, because Walz doesn’t disappoint in the gore stakes either, layering on the carnage and turning the final feast scene into something quite different and much darker than the original. The film’s break with the narrative structure common to most big budget horror films will leave many viewers lost in a good way. This has more of the structure of a Greek tragedy but is leavened with humour that just keeps getting blacker. Walz absolutely makes it his own.

There are familiar modern elements here – teenage angst, a romantic sub-plot, worries about money – but they never come to dominate. Rather, they provide a way into the story for younger viewers. Although the younger cast members are not particularly strong, there’s a nice turn from Roland Freitag as a shy young police officer who just might uncover Fuad’s scheme before it’s too late. The most impressive performance comes from Caroline Williams, who brings ambiguity to the character of the wife, making us wonder how much she knows or suspects and how far she might go to protect her husband.

Given the very different context of modern cinema, this Blood Feast cannot expect to have the impact of the original, despite the fact that it’s a much better film. What it will do is surprise those who have become jaded by recent remakes, and leave those with an appetite for more intense horror feeling satiated.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2016
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Blood Feast packshot
A museum security guard and restaurateur prepares a cannibal feast in honour of the goddess Ishtar.

Director: Marcel Walz

Writer: Philip Lilienschwarz

Starring: Robert Rusler, Sophie Monk, Caroline Williams, Sadie Katz, Liliana Nova

Year: 2016

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Germany, US


Frightfest 2016

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