1/5/12

A Taste of Blood (1967): Drinking Causes a Different Thirst

When it comes to films with the word 'Blood' in the title, you couldn't go wrong picking one from the catalog of Herschell Gordon Lewis, the one and true Godfather of Gore. After directing a number of nudist films in the early 60s, Lewis splattered his way onto the horror scene with the revolutionary film Blood Feast. The tale of a caterer cannibalizing teenage girls for an Egyptian feast was the bloodiest film to ever grace the silver screen, and, single-handedly, Lewis changed the the landscape of modern horror. He also made people think that when H.G. Lewis says blood, he means it. He once again went for the hemoglobin in 1965 with Color Me Blood Red, an entertaining film about an artist collecting human samples for his special red paint. His most massive undertaking in the bloody realm is 1967's A Taste of Blood. It's Lewis, as the modern pulp filmmaker, making his attempt at bringing the Dracula legend into the 60s.

Bill Rogers stars as Miami businessman John Stone. He receives a mysterious package declaring him the sole heir to a European fortune that includes Carfax Abby. To celebrate his new-found fortune, he toasts his ancestors with the two bottles of Brandy included with the declaration of his inheritance. Little does he know that the alcohol contains the essence of his real antecedent Dracula. By drinking the liquor, it mixed with John's blood and turned him into vampire, sleeping by day and shying from crosses. John feels compelled to avenge his progenitor, and he begins to track down and kill off the descendants of the group that killed Dracula. Meanwhile, Dr. Howard Helsing, a descendant of Van Helsing (Otto Schlessinger) is on John's trail, and he intends to put an end to Dracula's legacy once and for all. Along the way, there's plenty of stabbings, bloodletting, and a ripping good throat ripping that will please any classic gorehound.

It's been said that H.G. Lewis  considered A Taste of Blood his masterpiece, and it's easy to see why. Taking from the classic horror movies, Lewis moved the character of Dracula into the 20th century without bringing the  cape and bat trapping with him. However, what screenwriter Donald Stanford also didn't bring along for the ride is continuity from  either the Dracula film or novel. Take for example one of John Stone's victims, Sherri Morris. Supposedly the descendants of Quincy Morris, the Texan died at the end of the novel (and the few movie versions which include him) a single man. This is just one such example, but the film is chock full of mistakes for the Dracula nerd like myself to tear apart. Taken on its own value, A Taste of Blood is easily the most expansive movie that Lewis ever made, both in its running time, nearly two hours, and its scope. Lewis is perhaps the most tranformative figure in bringing horror out of the age of black & white and into the era where blood runs red, and this marriage of old and cutting edge points to how horror would progress, a genre always looking to push the barriers but aware of its past.

The acting in A Taste of Blood is exactly what fans of H.G. Lewis' films have come to expect. Generally, it's pretty bad. Bill Rogers, who had previously appeared in films such as Love Goddess of Blood Island and Shanty Tramp, sometimes has his character John Stone described as mild-mannered. However, even before Stone gets turned into Dracula's avenger, he seems totally smarmy and sleazy. With his patronizing tone toward his ditsy wife Helene (first time actress Elizabeth Wilkinson) and overtones toward his assistant Vivian (Gail Janis), Stone seemed to be characterized as an opportunistic businessman with scant scruples. So it seems natural he wouldn't question his surprise inheritance or the instruction to drink the bottles of brandy. William Kerwin, a Lewis regular from Two Thousand Maniacs and Blood Feast, appears here as Stone's suspicious friend, and Lewis also appears himself as a British sailor. The majority of the film belongs to Rogers alone, and while I felt like his performance was solid, the entire picture could have been elevated by some measure of pathos coming from John Stone. He doesn't battle his vampirism or seem regretful of the murders he's caused. I suppose he is supposed to be overwhelmed with his ancestor's spirit, but it allows the film to march forward without conflict until Howard Helsing shows up in the films last act.

While A Taste of Blood succeeds in bringing an original idea to modern Dracula lore, but the execution could have used a little help. If the film had been tightened up by 15 or 20 minutes, the script gone over to ensure that everything made sense, and some more emotion put into the John Stone character, A Taste of Blood could have been a truly great example of how to modernize the vampire myth. As it stands, like 1958's The Return of Dracula and Hammer film's misguided Dracula 1972 A.D., A Taste of Blood missed the mark and left ol' Drac steel feeling peckish. While Lewis might have felt this was his masterwork, an honor I would bestow on Two Thousand Maniacs or Blood Feast, it lacked a cohesive enough story to impress. What it did have was plenty of trademark H.G. Lewis gore. The price of admission is worth it to marvel in the prehistoric practical effects, and if you've never seen an H.G. Lewis film, this would be a fine place to start. It might not deliver on all fronts, but it definitely gives you enough of a taste to whet your appetite for more of the Godfather of Gore.

Bugg Rating 

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