Now that Robert Rodriguez has turned his faux Grindhouse trailer for Machete into an effective feature-length film, I’m cautiously optimistic that Eli Roth will be able to do the same with his own “preview” project, the wonderfully over-the-top slasher send-up Thanksgiving (“White meat…dark meat…all will be carved”). And it’s about time, too, because on the horror movie calendar, the fourth Thursday in November has suffered from a distinct lack of attention compared to other holidays. Valentine’s Day (My Bloody Valentine), April Fools’ Day (the punctuation-challenged April Fool’s Day), Halloween (Halloween, natch), Christmas (Silent Night, Deadly Night), New Year’s Eve (New Year’s Evil) and even generic birthdays (Happy Birthday to Me) all have their blood-soaked cinematic takes. Thanksgiving, though, has been sorely lacking in such gory goings-on…or has it? Well, your doctor has found a true Butterball of a bad movie that may not be specifically related to the day, but will definitely have you thinking turkey, in every sense of the word.
Shot in some of Florida’s darker alleys and backyards on a budget that easily approached four figures, Blood Freak is a horror film with an anti-drug message…or maybe it’s a drug film with a pro-Jesus message…or a religious film with a love triangle. Actually, it’s all these things and more, a veritable feast of half-baked elements served up in heapin’ helpin’s by co-writer/director/stars Brad F. Grinter and Steve Hawkes.
There’s barely time after the opening credits to settle in before viewers are introduced to a chain-smoking narrator, complete with poor comb-down hair and polyester shirt, sitting in someone’s wood-paneled den (Did I mention this movie was made in the ’70s?). Our host, who turns out to be none other than the aforementioned Grinter, starts by telling us that “We live in a world subject to constant change. Every second of every minute of every hour, changes take place.” For those of you who haven’t yet validated his theory by changing the channel, Grinter puffs away, looks down at the script he co-wrote but didn’t manage to memorize, and opines on how “we never know how or when we will meet a person who will become a catalyst” in our lives…like, for example, “riding down the Florida Turnpike. A pretty girl with a problem; Who could resist? Certainly not Herschell.”
That’s the cue for motorcycle-riding hero Herschell (played by co-creator Hawkes, whose “STARRING STEVE HAWKES” credit for some reason pops up twice in the first five minutes) to meet hot pants-wearing driver Angel (Heather Hughes) and follow her back to her home, where Angel’s morally casual sister Anne (Dana Cullivan) and her pleasure-seeking pals hang out. “It’s like a madhouse,” she warns him. “A lot of them are heavy into the drug scene.” “You mean they smoke pot?,” he asks. (Yes, Hersch, pot smoking is what most people think of as “heavy” drug use!) Luckily for them, “madhouse” simply means some friends of the filmmakers sitting around smoking and snorting ill-defined substances while making ill-recorded small talk. Anne offers them a hit, only to be rebuffed by both and told by Angel, “You know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You shouldn’t defile it.” She also expresses a desire for the muscular Herschell, but he leaves with Angel for further Bible talk and a more sedate gathering–somewhere else in the same house–where fellow teetotaler Tom says to him, “I could use a husky man like you out on my poultry ranch.” This is a job offer, not a pick-up line, and Herschell accepts. Meanwhile, a spurned Anne vows to get revenge on Herschell
The next day, Herschell is by the girls’ pool when a bikini-clad Anne offers him some extra-potent marijuana from her dealer, calls him a coward for not trying it (peer pressure!), and soon has the big lug hooked on both the pot and her feminine charms. Narrator Grinter makes a return appearance to pontificate, “The paths of life are predictable, and we repeat them again and again,” ending with a non sequitur cry of “RIGHT ON!” It’s a weed-addicted Herschell who starts work at Tom’s turkey ranch (where one soundbite of a gobble is repeated ad nauseum) and is offered a chance to make extra money by the farm’s two-man research staff. “We’re testing the chemical caponization (Curious? See an explanation here.) of poultry, but we need a human to eat the meat to see if there any side effects,” one says. Now, any doctor worth his degree–including Yours Truly–could tell you that a combination of laced reefer and chemically castrated fowl is a bad one, but Herschell willingly downs an entire bird (which he apparently eats in full view of the other turkeys, not the least concerned for their feelings) and almost immediately falls to the ground convulsing. The helpful researchers dump the poor sap in a field somewhere, where he awakens to find that…
That’s right, some grade-schoolers glued a papier-mâché turkey head from their Thanksgiving pageant on him! No, I mean he’s been transformed into a monstrous man-turkey! He goes to seek help from Anne–who sympathetically tells him, “Gosh, Herschell, you sure are ugly!” and wonders, if he can’t be cured, what their kids would look like –before he approaches her on the waterbed (Did I mention this movie was made in the ’70s?). The sounds of orgasmic moaning and turkey calls play over a thankfully dark screen, in a scene that not even Howard the Duck could top 14 years later. Cue the narrator: “Interesting, how when we come to moments of despair, when we can’t seem to solve our problems any other way, then, but only then…we turn to God.” Huh?
Herschell’s not in a praying mood just yet, though. The grotesque gobbler needs to drink the blood of of other drug addicts to assuage his own habit, and trots off in search of victims. Luckily, every other person in this Florida town seems to be hooked on something, and the wattled fiend is soon tying up young women, stabbing their necks with someone’s hatpin, and slurping up the drainage. He also manages to attack a dealer and cut off the man’s foot with a table saw (the reason this scene looks uncharacteristically genuine is because the actor was apparently a real-life amputee). In the midst of all this gore Herschell decides NOW would be a good time for divine intervention, just as two pothead friends of Anne find him, raise their machete (no, not the Rodriguez film), and (SPOILER ALERT!) cut off his Halloween costume head.
Cue the footage of a real turkey getting its head lopped off and flailing around on the ground (yes, at least one animal was harmed in the making of this film) and a bizarre scene where Herchell’s avian noggin is the centerpiece of a turkey dinner, at which point we find that (REAL SPOLIER ALERT!!) a fully human Herschell has been rolling around the lawn hallucinating the whole time! Rancher Tom and Angel take him for a little detox and more Bible reading, and our recovered protagonist is ready for a romantic finale with…Anne? Wait a minute, wasn’t she the one who gave him the tainted pot? Shouldn’t he be with Angel, the good girl who helped save him? Leave it to Grinter to have the final word, soliloquizing about “the horrors that occur in the minds of those who allow the indiscriminate use of the human body as a mixing bowl for drugs and chemicals,” even as he smokes and starts coughing uncontrollably on-camera.
Like a Thanksgiving feast of chop suey, chili con carne, cotton candy and pickles, Blood Freak is a strange cinematic smorgasbord of mixed-up movie genres, inept filmmaking, bad ’70s decor and couture (check out the velvet paintings on the walls and the male characters’ sideburns), and pious messages. While it’s sadly not currently available on home video, here’s hoping that, within the next turkey day or two, we’ll have both Blood Freak and Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving to make those family get-togthers special.
Have you seen the complete Files Of Dr. Strangefilm?