Rabid, drug-infested hippies on a blood-crazed killing spree!
The hippie movement of the late 1960s in America had such a significant impact on the culture (or the counterculture, as it were) that it’s surprising there haven’t been more hippie-themed horror movies. There are a handful, sure, but few that are well-remembered or that broke through and entered the public consciousness. I suspect that the Manson murders have something to do with this; when real life is more horrifying than any movie, there’s no real need to exorcise these fears through horror films. One killer hippie movie that has survived — in part thanks to the restoration efforts of Grindhouse Releasing, who have now given the film the deluxe special edition treatment on Blu-ray — is I Drink Your Blood, the X-rated drive-in cult classic from 1970. Don’t let the title mislead you. No one really drinks blood here.
The setup for I Drink Your Blood is actually rather involved for a movie that ends up being a disease-fueled siege movie in the vein of The Crazies and Rabid. A Satanic cult, led by the charismatic and totally crazy Horace Bones (played by Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, billed on screen as just “Bhaskar”), gets stranded in a small rural town when their van breaks down. They wreak havoc on those they encounter, raping a local woman and forcing an elderly man to take acid when he confronts them about the rape. The man’s adolescent grandson, seeking revenge, kills a rabid dog and draws some of the blood from its corpse, then injects the diseased blood into some meat pies that he sells to the hippies. They all contract rabies and go crazy, attacking one another and the rest of the town until the disease has spread to many of the residents, leading to blood-soaked anarchy.
Written and directed by cult filmmaker David E. Durston, I Drink Your Blood takes a while to get going. Like Bob Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things, it spends an inordinate amount of time observing the hippies in all of their insufferable glory. As a historical document it has a certain cache, and it’s easy to understand why it was a hit on the drive-in circuit, but it’s not really until the cult is fed the tainted meat pies (again, this is the plot of an actual movie) that Durston finally lets it rip. Once he does, the movie is quite effective. Those with a low tolerance for exploitation films may find it funny or stupid to see a bunch of actors running around, foaming at the mouth and being afraid of water, but Durston knows how to build the tension of the film’s second half until it really does feel like there will be no escape. As with many of the titles put out by Grindhouse Releasing, it has moments of transgressive violence that go too far; while shorter on animal cruelty than the cannibal films of the same period, it’s not completely innocent in that arena. The most disturbing scene comes late in the film, and while I won’t spoil what it is I will say that I suspect it played a large role in the movie initially receiving an “X” rating (it was later cut to get an R, but Grindhouse helped to restore the original X-rated cut a few years back and now presents it in HD for the first time). There’s a willingness on the part of the movie to go completely crazy, and it’s a freedom that’s missing from so many films released today.
While they only have a handful of titles to their credit, Grindhouse Releasing continues to give Criterion-level treatment to the grimiest of ‘70s and ‘80s exploitation films. Their disc of I Drink Your Blood is definitive in every way. The 1.67:1 widescreen image has been fully restored in HD, and while it’s never going to look sparkling and new, the transfer is very good. Detail is strong, skin tones are natural and print damage is kept to a minimum, which is never easy with titles like this that spent years touring the country and running through countless drive-in and grindhouse projectors. The original monaural audio track has been preserved and presented as a lossless DTS-HD track.
The bonus features are where this two-disc special edition release truly shines. There are two different cuts of the film to be found on the first disc: the 83 minute theatrical cut and an 88-minute “director’s cut.” There are no fewer than three commentary tracks, one with director Durston and star Bhaskar Chowdhury, a new track with actors Jack Damon and Tyde Kierney and an extended commentary with Durston and Bhaskar over the director’s cut. The scenes excised from the director’s cut are offered as a standalone selection, playable with optional commentary. Also on the first disc is a short reel of outtakes and a brief piece about fans coming out to a drive-in for a special double feature screening of I Drink Your Blood and I Eat Your Skin.
Speaking of I Eat Your Skin (aka Zombie Bloodbath), the 1971 film that was originally presented on a double bill with I Drink Your Blood when both movies were first released, it’s presented in its entirety in HD on the second disc. A third feature, David Durston’s X-rated psychedelic thriller Blue Sextet from 1969, is also presented in full HD. There’s a 30-minute featurette in which Durston interviews several of his cast members (“The Drink Your Blood Show”), an hour-long and very candid interview with Durston, who still expresses anger and bitterness over the way I Drink Your Blood was re-titled and mis-marketed by producer Jerry Gross (who also allegedly screwed Durston out of profits for the film). A featurette shows footage from the 2004 reunion screening held at L.A.’s New Beverly Theater, while Durston and 2nd Unit director William Grefe both sit down for separate interviews to talk about the movie. Some footage of Bhaskar dancing is presented (“The Evil King Cobra Dance”), as are text bios for Durston, Bhaskar and Larry Gross. Rounding out the exhaustive bonus features on the second disc is another still gallery, a radio spot, a trailer and some bonus trailers for other Grindhouse Releasing titles.
The initial run of the disc also comes packaged with a toy hypodermic needle that can look like it’s either drawing or injecting blood so that you can play your own home version of I Drink Your Blood.
I Drink Your Blood is such a product of its time that terms like “good” or “bad” hardly matter, but for what it is the movie is really effective. It exploits the hippie movement and post-Manson Satanic cults before turning into a solid outbreak exercise. Grindhouse has done their usual first-rate work on a film I don’t think any of us could ever have expected would look this good or get this deluxe a package. Sure, no one does much blood drinking, but I Eat Your Rabies-Infected Meat Pie is just too wordy a title.