Color, 1970, 83/88m.
Directed by David Durston
Starring Bhaskar, Jadin Wong, Ronda Fultz, George Patterson, Riley Mills, John Damon, Lynn Lowry, Tyde Kierney, Richard Bowler, Riley Mills, Richard Bowler, Iris Brooks
Grindhouse Releasing (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), (DVD) (US R0 NTSC)
The new freedom granted to horror cinema with the MPAA's late '60s rating system (which we still have today, more or less) meant viewers could head to their favorite local theater to enjoy an escalating parade of gore and nudity. However, one film in the ratings board's early days proved too far and got slapped with an X rating for violence: I Drink Your Blood, produced by exploitation legend Jerry Gross (who went to release I Spit on Your Grave and Zombie) and usually seen on a double bill with a severely lacking black-and-white film Gross had lying around in the vaults, I Eat Your Skin (originally titled Voodoo Blood Bath). Promoted with an R rating as "2 Great Blood-Horrors to Rip Out Your Guts!," the double feature was one of the great moments in '70s ballyhoo as local exhibitors were free to snip down I Drink Your Blood to fit whatever local standards dictated. As a result, few people got to see it in a version even remotely close to its full-strength intentions until Grindhouse Releasing picked up the rights in the '00s and made it into a staple of repertory horror screenings.
The film started life as a dare from Gross to director David Durston (who had done the LSD oddity The Love Statue and went on to helm Stigma) to come up with something more shocking than Night of the Living Dead. Inspired by a Middle Eastern news story about children in a village being kept confined when they were all exposed to rabies, he decided to introduce elements of the recent Manson Family massacre to come up with a script originally entitled Phobia about a rampaging gang of satanic hippies. In this case we first meet the cult chanting naked in the middle of the night around leader Horace (India-born dancer and artist Bhaskar) with participants including deaf-mute Carrie (The Crazies' Lowry), Sue-Lin (Wong), Molly (Fultz), reluctant Andy (Kierney), and Rollo (Patterson). Sylvia (Brooks), a young girl spying on the action, gets pursued by the gang but turns out to have been invited by one of them; however, it's enough to tick off Horace, who decides they should camp out in her nearby town for a while in an abandoned, rat-infested hotel. Soon Sylvia's grandpa (Bowler) shows up ticked off and wielding a shotgun, but he ends up getting dosed with acid instead and left a babbling lunatic. His grandson, Pete (Mills), has been out shooting a rabid dog in the woods that night and comes up with a great idea to get revenge: inject rabies-infected canine blood into the meat pies at the local bakery, the only eatery in town. Sure enough the cultists scarf down the pies and start foaming at the mouth, which sets off a chain reaction in town that can only be fought off by Roger (Damon), the local sheriff.
Fast paced and loads of fun, this film doesn't seem quite as extreme as it might have had it been left uncut back in 1970; however, the outrageous smorgasbord of random elements still packs a punch. A Vietnam-inspired self immolation! Improper use of dead animals as props! Rabid construction workers! Fake severed heads! And so, so much more. It's a great party film for horror fans, and there's a reason this one was such a hot item on the tape trading community back in the '80s. It's a shame Durston didn't direct more after his brief stint in the '70s as he has a good knack for delivering the exploitation goods, and as with most of his other films, his camera tends to linger on the frequently shirtless male cast members instead of the female ones, a pretty rare occurrence in horror films at the time.
After numerous theatrical dates, Grindhouse Releasing brought the film to DVD in 2006 with a solid fullscreen presentation of the film's bloody uncut theatrical version along with a quartet of deleted scenes representing material cut by Gross, who wanted to remove elements he found too "comedic." There isn't anything especially funny about the extra scenes since they feel more like padding, but the additional two scenes at the end radically alter the tone of the film to something much darker and more ironic (while also giving away the Romero influence a lot more clearly). The film can also be played with the deleted scenes reinstated; the quality of those extra bits is obviously much lower, but it's nice to be able to watch the film with them in their correct context. Also included on the DVD are several extras: a"provocative" (i.e., really funny and sometimes denigrating) audio commentary by Durston and Bhaskar; the fun 28-minute "The I Drink Your Blood Show" with Durston chatting out on his porch with Lowry, Kierney, Damon, and ad creator Barney Cohen; the combo trailer and radio spot; a gallery of stills and poster art; a wild 9-minute "King Cobra" dance routine by Bhaskar (sourced from VHS from God knows what broadcast) showing off his abdominal muscle skills; 3 minutes of bloopers and outtakes (lots of bloody handprints here); liner notes by David Szulkin; bios for the director, Lowry, and Bhaskar; and Easter Eggs including Durston singing a song about the task of making a low budget film.. It's all packaged in a pretty outrageous sleeve design that glows under a black light, of course.
In 2016, Grindhouse revisited the film with a pretty stunning new HD transfer of the film that features a slightly better framed 1.66:1 version and a huge increase in detail levels, not to mention much better balanced whites that now look more natural and less prone to blowing out. It's highly unlikely that this scrappy title could look better than this; it's quite an impressive piece of transfer work. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds excellent as well, with optional English subtitles provided. All of the extras have been carried over here, with disc one including the commentary, deleted scenes, the option to view the film in either the X-rated 83-minute cut or the expanded 88-minute director's version, outtakes, and Durston song Easter Egg. A new commentary with Kierney and Damon is chock full of Durston stories and covers finding the shooting location in upstate New York, the fates of most of the cast, the challenges of shooting in cold weather, the heartbreak of being unable to go bowling before a long day's shoot, and much more. Also new on disc one is a 5-minute video of Exhumed Films' Harry Guerro covering the film's screening at the Mahoning Drive-In with I Eat Your Skin in 2015, complete with a great little trip to the projection booth.
Disc two packs in the remaining old extras (trailer, radio spot, "I Drink Your Blood Show," King Cobra dance, a revised and expanded HD gallery with optional Durston commentary about Gross) and some great new ones, but the biggie here is the inclusion of two bonus features, both transferred in loving HD from nice 35mm prints. I Eat Your Skin has surfaced in a pretty decent widescreen DVD version from VCI, but this one does it better with a nicely textured rendering that now ranks as its best presentation on home video to date. The film itself is still a really odd bird, mixing together elements of globe-trotting macho writer Tom Harris (William Joyce) taking time off from his groping of bikini-clad women around the swimming pool to get entangled in some nefarious Caribbean experiments that have turned cancer research into a formula for creating zombies, the subject of his current book. And that's pretty much it. The 1964 film by Del Tenney (The Horror of Party Beach) had proven impossible for Gross to sell by itself, but somehow he managed spin gold out of luring audiences in with Drink and getting them to stick around for what amounts to a tame and amusingly tacky piece of Florida-lensed undead hokum. Extras included with this film are a "Swamp Man" featurette by Ballyhoo Motion Pictures with second unit director William Grefé, plus a trailer for the same company's great doc about him, They Came from the Swamp.
Absolutely not to be overlooked is movie number three, an obscure Durston film called The Blue Sextet made in 1969 (very obviously) but released in 1971. The film was given an R rating in the U.S. and shown in a stronger version in Europe; what's on display here is definitely way beyond what a '71 R rating would allow including a lingering and graphic disembowelment, satanic rituals, copious female and male nudity, and a third act orgy scene that goes about as far as softcore would allow at the time. The Rashomon-style story begins when a swinger named Jeff (Damon again) plummets to his death from a rooftop wearing a white bathrobe, and his equally debauched friends can't seem to agree whether it was suicide, an accident, or murder. Soon they all get together and swap stories to piece it all together, which reveals an increasingly perverse chain of events involving pornography, sex parties, a shockingly great female impersonator, and other diversions including, of course, a twist ending. The film starts off looking like a fairly typical late '60s exploitation film with lots of bright lighting, crazed hairstyles, and mod party scenes, but it gets increasingly psychedelic as it goes along with lots of flashy cutting and hallucinatory Christmas tree lighting. A real discovery to be sure, and easily one of the highlights of this release. Damon (now known as Jack Damon instead of John) is also on hand for a thorough commentary focusing on the technical aspects of the film (pointing out shots he disagrees with), its international incarnations, and the boundaries set by the various female cast members, as well as lots of thoughts about his ongoing friendship with Durston.
Want more? The 59-minute "David Durston: Going for the Jugular" features the late director chatting about pretty much his whole career from his early acting days and theater experience through his work in television and into theatrical films. He also appears in a New Beverly screening Q&A (33 mins.) with the cast and moderators Eric Caiden and Johnny Legend, along with appearances at Cinema Wasteland from October 1 (17 mins. Q&A with Durston and Lowry) and October 3, 2004 (3 mins. at a table, showing off artwork for Inflamed). Or how about two different German Super-8 versions, Die Satansbande and Haus des Blutigen Schreckens? It's pretty surreal to watch that opening in very loud German, to put it mildly. If you dig around you'll also find some of the other older Easter Eggs (spoilers if you'd rather hunt around yourself!) including footage of Durston hanging out with Bhaskar before doing their commentary, chatting about his unwillingness to do a full frontal nude shot ("Here's a sword!") and the challenges of shooting that "buck ass naked" opening ceremony, as well as his oft-repeated story about being inspired by a rabies outbreak in Iraq (or Iran, depending on which version you hear). Then there's Durston's 2002 appearance at the Cult Movie Awards, a 3-minute recollection by him about doing summer stock with Bela Lugosi, an Elvira's Movie Macabre intro for I Eat Your Skin... and also keep your eyes peeled for a 9-minute educational short, "Sanitation," about food and pest control ("the invaders" who "love filth"). Dig around the usual excellent bios and filmographies (modified this time to include Durston, Bhaskar, and Gross) and you'll find some more hidden goodies including 90 seconds of Stigma radio spots and bonus trailers for Zombie and Africa, Blood and Guts. Speaking of which, there's also the usual array of Grindhouse trailers here including Massacre Mafia Style, Scum of the Earth, The Swimmer, The Tough Ones, A Cat in the Brain, Cannibal Holocaust, Corruption, Ice House, Cannibal Ferox, The Big Gundown, The Beyond, and An American Hippie in Israel, while once again you get a nice set of Szulkin liner notes. The edition sold by Diabolik is, as of this writing, a limited 3,000-unit version containing a cute "Horror Hypo" shrinkwrapped with the packaging, so you can "inject your friends with rabies!"
I EAT YOUR SKIN
THE BLUE SEXTET