Like many cult/horror/exploitation movie enthusiasts who grew up in the ’90s, I had to rely on mail-order companies to feed my growing dependency of strange tastes in film. Through these companies, hundreds of generic videocassettes ‒ the origins of which varied from fuzzy 16mm prints to second-generation LaserDisc transfers ‒ found their way into my home, many of which would stay with me well into the 2000s before the advent of DVD enabled many an obscured cult classic to be released commercially and en masse. One fateful evening, somewhere in the middle of a particularly life-changing year of my adolescence ‒ 1992, to be exact ‒ I had just finished up beholding Lucio Fulci’s Zombie for the first time, courtesy a bootleg dupe from one of the many aforementioned (and now defunct) mail-order groups.
The end credits had rolled. The awesomeness of the movie itself had been embedded into my brain for all time. Much to my delight, the feature film was not all there was to behold on this plainly labeled VHS: a barrage of horror movie trailers started, and an entirely different form of euphoria began, beginning with one of the most incredible, over-the-top, jaw-dropping previews I had ever seen in my life. A montage of wholesale slaughter was laid out afore my disbelieving, captivated orbs. An anonymous narrator, whose entire career in voice acting had surely been leading up to this particular point in his life, promised me “tortures of the damned,” “acts of sadism,” and most importantly, “the biggest, bloodiest, double horror show in history.” I was hooked.
These two “Great Blood-Horrors to Rip Out Your Guts” (as per the original ad campaign), I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin, quickly escalated to the top of my Must See list. Perhaps not coincidentally, the ultra-gory grindhouse double-bill in question was released by the same fellow who had marketed and distributed Fulci’s Zombie in the US, a somewhat infamous exploitation producer with a most appropriate name: Jerry Gross. His magnificent ability to sell his product was well apparent; when I managed to get my hands on a commercial videocassette release of the second film, I Eat Your Skin, Gross’ sick joke was at least revealed to me: it was nothing more than an unreleased, low-budget, black-and-white ’60s adventure/horror movie, nary a frame of which was shown in the trailer!
In a way, this made the need to track down I Drink Your Blood all the more vital, as it was now quite clear all of the gruesome bits and pieces (sometimes literally) featured in the trailer were from it! And while it would take me few more years before I was finally able to check out I Drink Your Blood in its full gory glory, it did not disappoint. Well, here I am, a few years older and not quite as enthusiastic about old horror movies as I used to be, but neither time nor apathy has diminished the value of David E. Durtson’s gritty cult classic, which has received a new High-Definition upgrade from Grindhouse Releasing, along with more special features than you can shake a recently-severed section of somebody’s anatomy at ‒ including the film’s original programming counterpart.
Originally filmed (at the bequest of Jerry Gross) under the title Phobia, Durston’s unsettling 1970 horror masterpiece took several real-life tragedies of the era ‒ Charles Manson’s cult from Southern California, and an epidemic of rabies in Iran ‒ and combined them into one tale of total terror. The story opens with a group of (surprisingly attractive) Satan-worshipping hippies working their way to a tiny town, where they decide to settle, as there are no authorities to stop them from doing whatever it is they are doing (some of the dialogue suggests the Satan angle is little more than a cover; additional lines imply one of the gang may be an undercover FBI man). After they beat (and presumably rape) a local woman who witnesses one of their rituals, her veterinarian grandfather grabs his shotgun and goes-a-callin’.
Alas, gramps is no match for the cult, one of whom drops a tab of LSD in the old codger’s mouth. In retaliation, the elderly avenger’s annoying grandson Pete (a one-hit wonder of a doomed child star named Riley Mills) injects the gang’s meat pies with the blood of a rabid dog. This sets the stage for a great deal of carnage, which promptly ensues once a majority of the invaders consume what is to be their last supper together. Soon after, the few people who inhabit the remote rural community ‒ whether they be good or bad ‒ begin to go mucho loco, murder, and meet untimely demises via a variety of bloody, grisly ways. Needless to say, young Pete’s aspirations of growing up to be a highly successful party planner ‒ to say nothing of the thought process on young Pete himself ‒ may need some adjusting.
Sporting a cast of largely unknown actors (some of whom are quite good, while others are even worse than the subject matter), I Drink Your Blood‘s list of more “distinguished” players include Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, Jadin Wong, George Patterson, Alex Mann, Arlene Farber, and the beautiful (and uncredited) Lynn Lowry, who portrays the cult’s innocent-looking girl, whom writer/director David E. Durston wrote into the picture after succumbing to her irresistible features and ability to steal a scene without saying a word (which she doesn’t: her character is mute!). Ms. Lowry, by and far the most famous performer of the film, would later appear in two similarly-themed films from the ’70s: David Cronenberg’s Shivers (aka They Came from Within) and George A. Romero’s original (good) version of The Crazies.
Previously released to DVD in the mid 2000s by Grindhouse Releasing, I Drink Your Blood gets a new makeover in this two-disc Blu-ray upgrade. The first film to ever fly an X rating for sheer violence alone, the feature was released to theaters under the condition cinema owners could edit it as they saw fit. Thus, many different cuts popped up across the nation. Here, the film is presented in both its original, uncut X-rated theatrical form, as well as a reconstructed director’s cut. Though writer/director David E. Durston and lead actor Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury are no longer with us, their thoughts and words are available to listen to via archival audio commentaries for both cuts of the film, which have been ported over from the previous SD-DVD release. A newly-recorded, informative audio commentary for the X-rated theatrical cut features actors John Damon and Tyde Kierney.
Disc One also features a small piece highlighting a recent public performance of I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin at the Mahoning Drive-In in Pennsylvania. Disc Two (also a Blu-ray) is devoted to nothing but bonus materials, including four deleted scenes (one of which is an ending that was deemed to extreme ‒ which kinda makes you wonder), interviews (retro and new) with cast and crew, a peet at a reunion from the 2003 showing at the New Beverly Cinema (look, kids, it’s Johnny Legend!), and even some footage from a Cinema Wasteland fest. The required selection of promotional goodies from the film ‒ including that trailer which sold me as a teenager ‒ and even two German Super 8mm versions of the movie! Sadly, nobody thought to subtitle these two amazing ditties, though that may only add to the allure of these rarities.
Lastly, we get I Drink Your Blood‘s most infamous marketing ploy itself: the entire 1964 feature I Eat Your Skin ‒ aka Zombies, aka Zombie Bloodbath, aka Voodoo Blood Bath ‒ also newly-restored in HD for this release. Made by low-budget filmmaker Del Tenney (The Horror of Party Beach), this silly little island B&W voodoo adventure flick features a fun soundtrack, crusty-faced zombies, and well, not much else. But for low-budget Florida-made James Bondian flicks, it’s pretty darn fun. In fun, the post-credit opening of the film was even filmed at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach, as was the 007 offering from that same year, Goldfinger. Of course, Goldfinger saw a release: poor Del Tenney’s flick, on the other hand, sat on the shelf unreleased for six whole years instead!
Even the special features get special features here, kids. The great William Grefé, who served as I Eat Your Skin‘s second unit director, and who cranked out a handful of regional horror cult favorites in the ’60s and ’70s, is on-hand here to talk about his work on I Eat Your Skin, and there’s a trailer for the recent documentary They Came from the Swamp: The Films of William Grefé. But that’s still not the end of the rabid assortment of meaty extras: David E. Durston’s next film after I Drink Your Blood, 1971’s Blue Sextet ‒ a crazy swingin’ sexploitation mystery which features some of Blood‘s cast and crew ‒ makes its official home video debut here in High-Definition, complete with audio commentary by actor John Damon (who was one busy man during the making of this release).
The first 3,000 copies of this amazing set even include a special tangible bonus: a prop “I Drink Your Blood Horror Hypo” (translation: order now!). With this fun little toy, you can inject a little red spice into the meat pot pie of your choosing, which you’ll no doubt want to pop into the oven shortly before you sit down to enjoy this classic, one-of-a-kind cult exploitation horror wonder from writer/director David E. Durston and producer Jerry Gross. Highly Recommended.