Monday, June 29, 2020

"I Could Use a Husky Man Like You out at My Poultry Ranch" - Blood Freak (1972) - Film #181

I assume everyone is aware of Brad Grinter and Steve Hawkes's Florida-set Blood Freak (1972), famous as perhaps the only anti-drug film in which a man turns into a turkey. No matter how great its fame, however, this film deserves an appreciation as a fine example of early 1970s regional horror.

Shockingly, some of your universe's critics are have "fowl" opinions of Blood Freak. For example, reviewer raymondnyc writes, "Bad acting is a staple of movies of this type, but when it's THIS bad it's just distracting." Review dfranzen70 writes (under the review title "Not So Bad It's Good," a title whose multiple negatives I must confess I cannot process), "The shoddy costume manages to distract the viewer from the purely amateurish acting and bottom-of-the-barrel script." And reviewer preppy-3 writes, "The script is terrible and (with the sole exception of Hawkes) all the acting is dreadful."

Clearly, these reviewers would benefit from the message of Blood Freak (i.e., drugs will turn you into a turkey-headed monster addicted to blood). Read on to see the true beauty and horror of Blood Freak...

The film opens with a hip, middle-aged, cigarette-holding narrator (co-director Brad Grinter) explaining the meaning of the film. “We live in a world subject to constant change...every second of every minute, every hour, changes take place. These changes are perhaps invisible to us because our level of awareness is limited. Take for example how the things we do and say to the people we meet. All these things affect our lives, influence our destiny...and yet there seems to be some kind of fantastic order to the whole thing. We never know how or when we will meet a person who will become a catalyst, or who will lead us to one. What is a catalyst? Well, in this case a catalyst is a person that will bring about change. They could be good or bad but there will be changes. You can meet one of them most anywhere, in your everyday life, in the supermarket, drug store...anywhere. Even riding down the Florida Turnpike. A pretty girl with a problem. Who could resist? Certainly not Herschell.”

The film cuts away from the narrator to a motorcyclist, presumably Herschell, who is indeed riding down the Florida Turnpike. And he does indeed come across a woman having car trouble, though the only thing he does to help her is look at her face and then lead her down the road and through a toll booth while the camera watches shakily.

For unknown reasons, the woman, Angel, takes Herschell back to her house, where her sister and her friends (many of them middle-aged) are partying. “This place is like a madhouse,” she explains. “Some of my sister’s friends are pretty far out.” She adds, “A lot of them are heavy into the drug scene.”

“You mean,” Herschell the biker says incredulously, “they smoke pot?”

“That too,” Angel replies. “But I was referring to things worse than pot.”

“I’ve never tried,” Herschell says before she introduces him to her sister Ann, who immediately offers him drugs.

He declines. Her sister scolds Ann: “You know your body’s the temple of the Holy Spirit.”

“I hope you’re not gonna be a drag and quote scripture on me,” Ann says dismissively.

When another young woman propositions Herschell, he replies, “I just don’t go for a girl that acts like a tramp. Even if she’s very beautiful.”

Angrily, she says, “Well, thanks a lot. You’re nothing but a dumb bastard who doesn’t know where it’s at anyway.” She sits next to a middle-aged man with a mustache and tells him she’s been insulted. “He called me a tramp.”

“Well, why should that insult you?” Her friend says. He says he knows. of a way to get back at Herschell—to teach him a lesson.

When Angel goes to her room with Herschell, the narrator interrupts (on-camera) again. “You ever think about this fantastic...order of things? And how far does it go? You know, most people go through life completely oblivious to the obvious things that predictably influence their destiny. Herschell’ s met two beautiful girls. One is conservative, responsible, concerned with and contributes her time and efforts to the benefit of her fellow man. The other is the opposite. Or is she? Who are we to judge? Strange how many people will...argue interpretations of the Bible. Herschell has much to be grateful for. He’s strong, he’s handsome, and he enjoys being attractive to the opposite sex. And he feels that when he comments that his words deserve the consideration of these Bible students, these seekers of the truth. And as he plays his game of wits and ego, his comments could be what caused the chain of events and the moments of horror and agony that were far greater than his experiences in the hell of Vietnam.”

Seconds later, Angel and Herschell meet an elderly man. When Herschell says he needs a job, the man says, “I could use a husky man like you out at my poultry ranch, if you can wait until next week.”

The poultry farm work begins with Herschell working on a swimming pool while being tempted by Ann, who for some reason likes to sunbathe by leaning back on the pool’s ladder, her head over the water.

Of course, Herschell’s head is not turned by the woman in the bikini. “Boy, what a dumb-ass you are,” she says.

“How is it possible that a girl like you—young and beautiful—can be so far out?” he asks, which apparently is quite an insult.

After she offers him some marijuana and he refuses, she asks, “How can such a big hunk of man be such a damn coward?”

“I’m not a coward,” he says, so he smokes the pot (during which scene we hear someone offscreen say, “Action.”) After we watch him smoke for an inordinately long period of time, Herschell begins laughing maniacally and the scene dissolves away from the pool to the inside of the house, where Ann seduces him. 

As they begin to make love, the narrator returns onscreen to tell us “the paths of life are predictable, and we repeat them again and again and again. Right on!”

Herschell rides his motorcycle to the Midway Turkey Farm and Hatchery (which also sells poultry manure) and spends roughly ten minutes looking at (and petting) turkeys.

The elderly man introduces him to Lenny and Gene, two poultry scientists who wear lab coats and perform experiments in their poultry lab. “We’re testing the chemical caponization of poultry but we need a human to eat the meat to see if there are any side effects.”

“You want me to be a guinea pig? How dangerous is it?”

“Not dangerous at all. It’s just a government regulation that the meat must be tested...just for the records.”

As one would expect from poultry scientists, they also offer Herschell some leftover drugs from time to time, “just for kicks...think of it as a bonus.”

There follows the obligatory montage of Herschell working on the turkey farm, which involves carrying turkeys from place to place.

Almost immediately, Herschell goes through intense withdrawal pains, apparently because he hasn’t smoked any pot for a few hours. Ann calls Guy the drug dealer, the man who vaguely threatened to get even with Herschell earlier. Guy supplies him with pot and Herschell relaxes. “I got a feeling I’m hooked,” he says, so Guy tells him he’ll keep Herschell supplied.

Later, Herschell eats a whole turkey from a pan propped up on a fence. There follows a montage of Herschell eating various turkeys as part of his poultry job.

Unsurprisingly, the combination of marijuana (possibly laced with harder drugs meant as revenge for Herschell’s rejection of a random woman at a drug party) and roasted turkey (possibly laced with experimental drugs designed by the poultry scientists) causes Herschell to collapse in the grass, only to be found by one of the poultry scientists, who tugs at his own beard thoughtfully.

Cut to the elderly man reprimanding his poultry scientist employees. “But why did you take him out and dump him? Don’t we have enough trouble in these experiments without taking a chance on a murder charge?”

At night, Herschell, whose twitching body has been dumped on a lawn somewhere near a barn, convulses, then gets up and starts walking. We only see his legs. He approaches Ann’s waterbed. She sees what appears to be a turkey face hovering in the darkness, screams, and faints. Gene, now more turkey than man, shows her a piece of paper when she revives. “Herschell?” she says.

After reading several pages of notes Herschell was able to write, Ann says, “Gosh, Herschell, you sure are ugly.”

He gobbles like a turkey.

She adds, with unexpected clarity, “I guess the pretty girl will stick with the monster she created. But what would it be like if you stayed like this? If we got married, what kind of life would we have together...if you stayed that way? What would the children think of their father looking that? My God, what would the children look like?”

They make love.

The narrator chooses to interrupt again: “Interesting how when we come to moments of despair, when we can’t seem to solve our problems any other way, then, and not until then, we turn to God. It’s a basic instinct in mankind. In moments of great trouble, this appeal for help from a source we play games with, scoff at when things are going well. A word of caution: Remember to be careful what you pay for.”

When Ann’s druggie friends arrive looking for Herschell (for no apparent reason), Ann tells them, “It’s weird. It’s like out of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone.”

“You scored any opium lately or something? You’re the one that’s in The Twilight Zone.”

Of course, she shows her friends what happened to Herschell.

In addition to turning Herschell into a turkey-headed monster, the drugs have turned him into a voyeur. He watches two people inside a house, then grabs the woman and carries her into the Florida forest kicking and screaming. We hear her scream but, in a touch of subtlety, we don’t see what Herschell does to the woman.

Ann and the druggies have a strategy session in their house. We find out they have been supplying Herschell’s pot habit, but he is dangerous and might hurt someone. The druggies want to cut him loose, but Ann says they need to stick together to protect him. “I still love him.”

Meanwhile, Herschell stalks the night, kidnapping and murdering a variety of young women for their blood. (Almost all of them are doing drugs, which I understand is an accurate reflection of the citizens of Florida in the early 1970s.) He ties the women upside down and slits their throats, as if they’re farm animals (which I understand are slaughtered by individually stringing them upside down and slitting their throats).

During Herschell’s night of terror, a large person of indeterminate gender attacks him, poking what appears to be a screwdriver in Herschell’s eye.

Herschell screams, pulls the screwdriver out, and stabs the unfortunate person of indeterminate gender.

Back at Ann’s house, one of the druggies tries to pay off his dealer by allowing him to rape a sleeping Ann. “It’s a deal,” the dealer says, while the druggie leaves the house.

Fortunately for all concerned, Herschell is nearby and he hears Ann screaming. When he sees Herschell’s turkey head (either through a window or psychically; it’s not clear), the dealer runs out of the house, then strolls casually around the neighborhood. Eventually, Herschell catches up to him and strangles him.

Then, in a fairly satisfying moment, Herschell sets the dealer’s body on a table saw and, metaphorically castrating him, saws off his foot. 

Grotesquely, the filmmakers include footage of a real turkey being beheaded.

Herschell then has a vision of people eating a roasted turkey next to his own head—an image I confess I do not understand, but one that is quite disturbing.

Then Herschell wakes up normal. It was all a drug-fueled dream [spoiler]. He explains to the elderly man that he was previously addicted to painkillers due to an experience in Vietnam.

Angel picks Herschell up from a drug addiction clinic and tells him he needs to get his faith back. He looks up at the sky. “Oh Lord my God,” he says, “help me once more...get out of this hell.”

The narrator interrupts again. “There’s much to warn us all of the trends our destinies take us. Our scientists agree that the one immutable law of life is change. There’s much talk, protests, about everything...about pollution, about drugs and their abilities, and this has been a story based partly on fact, partly on probability. But 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 are as real as the real horror. So when you eat or take into your body any chemical or drug, you take a chance on reactions that are untested. Unpredictable. There are government agencies, many responsible groups fighting the use of chemicals in the food we eat, the water we drink, and yet there are...” (here he coughs) “...there are far too many of us who go right on taking the good way of life for granted, ignoring the warnings. So, let’s give a little thought to making our own story...” (he coughs again) “...have a happy ending.” He breaks down in a coughing fit that punctuates his warning about putting drugs into our bodies.

In the finale, Herschell meets a bikinied Ann on a boardwalk, where they start their own happy ending.

Sometimes dismissed as a film that has its cake and eats it too (whatever that means), Blood Freak truly is a movie that has its cake (turkey) and eats it too. Its clear message is that faith (of the Christian variety) is the only cure for the scourge of drugs, which are all horrendously addictive. Its equally clear message is that drugs are fun and doing drugs will make you attractive to young women in yellow bikinis and strapping young men who ride motorcycles.

I fail to see how these messages are contradictory.

In any case, the film ends happily on a boardwalk, so all the characters (except the would-be rapist whose foot is cut off) must be doing something right.

Now, about that poultry manure...that is something I've never heard of in my universe. If anyone knows what it is used for, and why it would be superior to other types of manure, please let me know as soon as possible. I find myself in the market for this valuable material, whatever it might be used for. I believe I will be calling 235-3543 before too long...