I Drink Your Blood Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
A Satanic hippie cult comes to the sleepy town of Valley Hills and moves into a condemned house. When the local vet investigates one of their rowdy rituals, he is beaten and dosed with LSD. After witnessing the attack, the vet’s grandson takes it upon himself to dose the cult’s meat pies with rabies-laced dog’s blood, leading to a full-fledged toxic breakout and an orgy of violence.
Writer/director David E. Durston’s I Drink Your Blood (1970) is the unabashed trash bag masterpiece of the politically-charged, post-George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead era. For many years, the impact of Romero’s film’s felt in its anxious social sentiment, rather than its flesh-eating, living-dead concept. A number of early ‘70s horror films were also interested in expanding the director’s idea of contagious psychosis, which they connected to hot-ticket current events. Movies like Bob Clark’s Deathdream (1974), Romero’s own The Crazies (1973), and David Cronenberg’s Shivers (aka: The Parasite Murders and They Came from Within, 1975), posed questions about the terrors of war, the ethics of medical experimentation, and the dangers of bureaucracy, but plenty of others were content to titillate drive-in audiences with old-fashioned exploitation razzle-dazzle. I Drink Your Blood, in particular, owed just as much to low-budget hockster Herschell Gordon Lewis’ opportunistic gore epics as it did to the subtext-laden Night of the Living Dead (though its finale is almost as bleak).
For its part in the greater grindhouse pantheon, Durston’s movie was the first major motion picture (a term I use with some irony) to exploit the Manson Family Murders, which had occurred only a year before its theatrical release. To cash-in on a tragedy that was still a raw part of the public consciousness was a bold – some might say shocking – statement in and of itself. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on one’s tolerance for politically-incorrect, the Helter Skelter parallels do feel like a satire of Manson (though I’m sure 1970 audiences were still plenty shocked). This particular cult family is comically ‘evil,’ content to pull violent pranks, rather than create real mayhem. The majority of their ranks actually defend the old man and kid from the more unhinged members. Their escalating antics are designed to feed ‘straight America’s’ somewhat irrational fear of hippie culture, rebellious youth, and the wacky drugs they took, but they don’t do any truly awful things until after they’re infected with rabies, making the little Beaver Cleaver-looking kid that poisons them the real villain of the piece. He’s the mad scientist that instigates the ‘zombie’ outbreak and the hippies are his victims. If anything, Durston seems a little sympathetic towards his monsters in the same way Romero, Clark, and Cronenberg are, though I’d be remiss to describe I Drink Your Blood as compassionate towards the counter-culture movement or even aware of its bumbling race relations (the only minorities in the movie are rabid cult members).
Despite its occasionally ahead of its time approach to outbreak horror, [i]I Drink Your Blood’s[/i] appeal is mostly found in its relentless lack of common sense. The storytelling is straight-forward enough, but the script is thrives on the kind of logical fallacies and indefensibly stupid characters that exemplify the best ‘so bad it’s good’ entertainment. Not to imply that Durston didn’t know what he was doing, though, because a lot of the camp quality is clearly intended. The affected dialogue is brimming with memorable lines (“There's no one left in Valley Hills, because of your damn dam!”) and the bulk of the cast appears to be in on the joke. Or at least some of them are – specifically Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury (Horace) and George Patterson (Rolo), who absolutely devour the scenery every chance they get*. Durston’s direction is just as beautifully baffling as his screenplay. For every genuinely striking composition, there’s a hilarious continuity error or exaggerated dramatic zoom. Fortunately, this is all part of the stew and even these ‘mistakes’ bolster the sense of expanding madness. Durston fashions a pretty convincing sense of delusion, without resorting to the optical/editing tricks other hallucinogenic exploitation movies, like Roger Corman’s The Trip (1967). Clay Pitts’ aggressively deranged music sells the intensity of the situation as the director starts lifting scenes from Night of the Living Dead wholesale for his action climax.
Unlike the earliest gore movies, which skirted MPAA ratings approval, either because they were released before the official ratings system was instituted (in 1968) or because they simply didn’t care, I Drink Your Blood was submitted and rated X for violent content. Since an X would’ve carried more stigma than even Jerry Gross was willing to deal with, some of the most visceral moments were trimmed for an R-rating. The violence is quite tame by our modern standards – aside from the on-screen death of a living chicken and some dead rats, goats, and rabbits (that weren’t necessarily killed for the production) – but relatively convincing for the era, including stabbings, leg and hand amputations, a hanging, a pitchfork to the throat, self-immolation (an obvious nod to the monk who burned himself before a crowd in Saigon), a beheading, a sword through the throat, a shotgun blast to the face, and, probably most offensive to the original audiences, a stake-through-the-belly self-abortion/suicide.
* The cast also features a young Lynn Lowry in her first film role. She is uncredited and plays a mute character, but she connects I Drink Your Blood to other “alternative zombie” movies of the ‘70s, namely The Crazies and Shivers. It’s an interesting footnote, considering that the three films didn’t share anything else in common (be it filmmakers, distributors, or other actors).
I believe that I Drink Your Blood was officially available on VHS in North America via Media Home Entertainment, but it might have only been released in European markets. Grindhouse Releasing put together the first DVD in 2000. That initial release was distributed exclusively by Fangoria Magazine and then, when it went out of print, they reissued it in 2006 via the Ryko label with different cover art. These mostly identical releases were produced in collaboration with Durston, who helped supply them with a completely uncut version of the film. Now, Grindhouse has remastered this ‘uncensored director’s cut’ version for HD, though the press release doesn’t specify if they rescanned the original material in 2K or 4K or whatever. What’s important is the results and they are, I suspect, the best we will get from this particular movie.
Grindhouse has included two cuts of the film – the Uncensored, X-rated Theatrical Cut (i.e. Jerry Gross’ cut, 1:23:30) and the Original Director’s Cut (1:28:19) – and chosen to frame this 1080p transfer at the slightly wider 1.66:1 theatrical aspect ratio, rather than the open-matte 1.33:1 used for both DVD versions. Details are occasionally marred by the soft qualities of the original materials, but the elemental separation is much tighter than the noisier SD transfers. Glancing at screen-caps from old reviews of the DVDs, it seems that the digital clean-up is very similar between them and that the Blu-ray’s advantages are a general (though not complete) lack of compression artifacts. Durston and cinematographers Jacques Demarecaux & Joseph Mangine’s hard lighting is better represented by the harder contrasts of the HD image, specifically the nice, deep black levels. The super-dark night shots no longer swallow the finer details in black crush. The blown-out whites hues that are seen during daylight sequences can be extreme, but are still in-keeping with what other video versions of I Drink Your Blood. Its color quality is warmer than the earlier releases, sometimes verging on the pink/red quality that often accompanies ‘damaged’ film negatives. I assume that this slight palette change was a conscious choice, though, and meant to pump up the already comically bright stage blood and give the skin tones a more natural orange tint.
The difference between the two cuts boil down to the length of two scenes – Grandpa’s LSD freak-out (about 25:00) and a conversation between the film’s doomed lovers (about 50:00) – and an extended ending. The extended footage exhibits more print damage (mostly spots and vertical lines), ‘bloomier’ whites, heavier grain levels, and edge enhancement.
Both cuts of I Drink Your Blood are presented in their original mono sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. The dialogue was mostly recorded on-set, leading to some consistency problems. Some of the material was apparently unusable, because there are a number of sudden drop-outs and obvious ADR effects. Of course, the exaggerated quality of the sound effects is part of the fun when it comes to this kind of cult movie. Composer Clay Pitts’ aforementioned groovy score sounds great, featuring tight instrumental separation and quite a bit of depth for a single-channel track. The majority of the music is made up of moody synthesizer boops and beeps, but there are also kettle drum tracks and rock ‘n roll chase themes. These produce a nice, thick bass response, despite the lack of a discrete LFE channel.
Commentary with director David Durston and star Bhaskar (Roy Chowdhury) – The first of the commentary tracks was originally recorded for Grindhouse’s DVD special edition. Durston rules the track and loads his time with behind-the-scenes information, from his real-world inspirations, to the casting process and trials of shooting on a tiny script. Bhaskar pipes in every once in awhile, usually when his character is on-screen, but he also helps to move the conversation along by posing questions to the director. This commentary is available for both the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts.
Commentary by stars John Damon (Roger) and Tyde Kierney (Andy) – The first new extra is a commentary with two more actors. This is a sort of confessional chat that remains relatively screen-specific without confining the back & forth dialogue. It’s a bit low-energy, but in a pleasant way, and doesn’t overlap too much with the older track.
Four deleted scenes with optional Durston and Bhaskar commentary (6:04, HD) – All four of these scenes are included with the film if you watch the Director’s Cut.
Outtake reel (3:11, HD)
Mahoning Drive-In Show (5:48, HD) – Footage/fan interviews from a 2015 drive-in theater showing of I Drink Your Blood and its typical double-feature partner, I Eat Your Skin (see below).
Disc 2 Extras:
The I Drink Your Blood Show (28:53, SD) – This interview roundtable was a part of the original DVD. It is ‘hosted’ by Durston who talks to ad-man, Barney Cohen (who came up with the I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin titles), and actors Lynn Lowry, Kierney, and Damon.
David Durston: Going for the Jugular (59:52, HD) – The first new filmmaker interview allows the director to rundown the bulk of his career in advertising, television, and film, without being confined to the ins & outs of I Drink Your Blood. It includes footage and stills from the films/shows discussed and is pretty darn exhaustive.
I Drink Your Blood Reunion: New Beverly Cinema (34:59, SD) – Footage from a Q&A with Durston, and actors Lowry, Arlene Barber, and Mike Gentry for a 2003 screening of the Director’s Cut in L.A.
Cinema Wasteland: Oct. 1, 2004 (17:11, HD) – Footage of Durston and Lowry speaking at the Cleveland-based convention.
Cinema Wasteland: Oct. 3, 2004 (3:49, HD) – Footage of Durston on the signing floor of the same convention.
Still Galleries – Production stills, Cast & Crew, Theatrical U.S., Theatrical Foreign, Video Releases, Blood-Horrors (images from horror zines, modern screenings, and various merchandise)
Bios & filmographies – David Durston, including footage from 2002 Cult Movie Awards (9:33, SD) and a radio spots for Stigma (1972), ]Bhaskar Roy Chowhury, including the actor performing the Evil King Cobra Dance[/i] (6:12, SD). Jerry Gross, including trailers for Africa Blood and Guts (1970) and Zombie (1979).
Haus des Blutigen Schreckens (15:59, SD) – Before VHS/Beta, there were digest versions of movies made for home viewing on 8mm reel-to-reels. This German version combines most of the bloody scenes, minus the context of the rabies.
Die Satansbande (23:45, SD) – This longer 8mm edit is a more complete compendium of the violent moments.
Trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing films
Disc 2 Bonus Movies and Related Extras:
I Eat Your Skin (aka: Zombie Bloodbath, 1964/1971, HD, 1:22:21) – Directed by Del Tenney, I Eat Your Skin is a mid ‘60s voodoo-sploitation movie that accompanied I Drink Your Blood on most drive-in/grindhouse double-bills. Though not particularly gory, Tenney’s film was clearly an inspiration for Lucio Fulci’s Zombie (1979) and other Italian-made jungle/island adventure movies from the era. Grindhouse has managed to get their hands on a surprisingly pristine 1:85:1 print and present it here in 1080p video and DTS-HD Master Audio mono sound.
Blue Sextet (1969, HD, 1:29:26) – Durston directed this comfortably saucy sexploitation movie around the same time as I Drink Your Blood. This is another surprisingly clean 1080p HD transfer (1.78:1), including sharp details and vivid colours. The movie itself is a bit drab, but it carries some dramatic heft, features a decent cast (including some I Drink Your Blood alumni), and the camera work is pretty sophisticated.
Swamp Man (18:14, HD) – Interview with second unit director William Grefe
They Came from the Swamp documentary trailer
Blue Sextet commentary with producer/co-star Jack Damon
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