My first encounter with Blood Freak was on some now defunct movie message boards. The thread concerned Yakmala films (although they didn’t use that name), and someone brought up Blood Freak. After hearing the premise, I was hooked as bad as Herschell. What is that premise you ask? A man grows a turkey head and becomes a vampire.
Tagline: A Dracula on Drugs!
More Accurate Tagline: A Dracula on Thanksgiving!
Guilty Parties: Brad F. Grinter and Steve Hawkes. Grinter was a no-budget horror director who started out with Flesh Feast before degenerating into cheap nudies. He co-wrote, co-directed, co-produced and co-starred in Blood Freak, serving as the film’s godlike narrator. Only if god had asthma, a chain smoking problem and no concept of irony. Hawkes, a Croatian slab of beef who got his start in Spanish Tarzan rip-offs, co-wrote, co-directed, co-produced and starred as the title character. His disoriented performance conjures comparisons to Tommy Wiseau or Ozzy Osbourne under heavy anesthesia.
Synopsis: The film opens with the narrator sitting in what looks like his mom’s basement, chain smoking and reading his lines directly from the script, which sits just off frame on a table in front of him. He babbles something about catalysts and change and manages to make less sense than Criswell after a bad fall.
The film cuts to Herschell (Hawkes), apparently an Elvis impersonator who can’t decide between early biker King and late hair-farmer King, cruising down a Florida highway. Angel, an allegedly Christian girl who dresses like a stripper with low self-esteem, seduces him by the side of the road. Angel takes Herschell home, where her sister and her “far out friends” are having a party. Angel’s sister Ann is an attractive young woman who appears to hang out exclusively with middle-aged suburbanites who smoke pot and snort nasal spray.
Displaying the kind of knee jerk judgment that will serve him well in the Christian life, Herschell calls a woman a tramp, then wanders off to have Angel woodenly mumble the word of God at him. It’s impossible to really tell what is being said, since everyone talks with the same volume as an eight-year-old with stage fright who forgot all his lines. To make matters worse, Ann decides to grope Herschell right on the microphone. It ends up like sounding like someone dry humping a mixing board.
Angel gets Herschell a job at a local poultry farm, because the farmer says he could use a “husky man” to help out. This was the first time I had ever heard that word used as a compliment. Usually it’s what you call a fat kid to make them feel better. Personally, I always preferred “elephantine.” It gave me a sense of grandiosity.
Ann seduces Herschell by getting him to smoke pot. The previously high and mighty Herschell, who wouldn’t deign to touch drugs, caves instantly when Ann calls him a coward. This leads to an awkward love scene. And… moving right along.
Herschell shows up at his first day of work at the poultry farm where he is introduced to my favorite characters in the film: the lab techs, Lenny and Gene. I’ll go into more detail about them later, but they offer Herschell extra money and drugs if he’ll agree to eat some kind of tainted turkey meat. They’re testing something. I’ve seen the movie many times and I still don’t know exactly what they’re attempting to make or learn with these turkeys. My guess is some kind of supersoldier, since that’s all scientists research in the movies.
The next day, Herschell sits down to eat some of that tainted turkey. Fortunately, the movie supplies us with a rollicking turkey eatin’ theme. Herschell somehow manages to devour the entire turkey in a single sitting. He’s reckless! He has no idea how sleepy that will make him! As if to prove my point, Herschell staggers off and passes out in the grass. We cut for no real reason and Herschell starts seizing. This might be the first recorded overdose of tryptophan.
This is when the movie fulfills its promise. Herschell grows a turkey head and becomes a vampire. If that sentence does nothing for you, congratulations, you have lost the capacity to feel joy.
Herschell might have partly turned into the world’s most delicious bird, but he’s no dummy. His first stop is Ann’s place for a little turkey lovin’. Somehow this scene manages to be less disturbing than the non-altered sex scene, mostly because we don’t see Hawkes’s copious burn scars. Seriously, it’s like this guy and Tommy Wiseau were separated at birth.
Ann reaches out to Angel and a couple of her pothead friends for help with Herschell. Is that seriously the best she could do? She doesn’t know one doctor? No one with an IQ in the triple digits? Anyway, Herschell now lusts for the blood of drug addicts, but fortunately not the friendly ones like Ann and the two guys she invited over to discuss Herschell and smoke out. Nope, Herschell passes over the easy meals in favor of stalking couples in their cars. He manages to find a lot of victims this way, leading me to believe that this section of Florida is entirely populated by car-living heroin junkies.
Eventually, the criminal population of Florida is tired of taking Herschell’s shit. They ambush him and cut his head off. The film cuts to an actual turkey being beheaded, then a Thanksgiving turkey being torn apart with bare hands. If turkey weren’t so delectable, I’d be off it forever.
Herschell wakes up to find that it was all a dream. What an asshole. Still needing help with his sudden drug addiction, he looks to Angel, who makes him pray. I had nearly forgotten she was in this movie. Everything turns out well for Herschell, who reunites with Ann on a pier.
Life-Changing Subtext: Grinter and Hawkes intended this film as an earnest entreaty to the youth: “Only Jesus can save you from a life of drug-fueled turkey-headed cannibalism.” Grinter tries to accomplish this by reveling in sleazy exploitation, which brings ambiguity to the film (something echoed in Grinter’s baffling ten minute nudism short, also on the Something Weird DVD of Blood Freak). The movie’s ambivalence is helped by the performance of the two sisters: the good one seems trampy and the slut seems wholesome (and with her penciled eyebrows, perpetually surprised). Additionally, Grinter smokes like the chimney of a paper mill through the anti-drug narration, further diluting an already thin metaphor.
Defining Quote: Ann: “But what would the kids look like?” The best part is she says this while trying to psych herself up for the aforementioned turkey lovin’.
Standout Performance: Unfortunately, there is no cast list on the Blood Freak DVD, and the IMDB was no help, so other than Hawkes and Grinter, it’s impossible to know who played who. The best performance in the movie belongs to the lab techs responsible for Herschell’s transformation. Both of them are clearly sex criminals; Lenny has a beard and thick glasses and looks like he spends his time in rest stops with a briefcase full of horse tranquilizers and industrial lubricants, while Gene has the lacquered hair and piggish gaze of a redneck that can’t decide which parts of you to fuck and which to eat. Their acting is priceless: they seem to forget every line about halfway through and think emotions are something that happen to other people.
What’s Wrong: A man. Grows a turkey head. And becomes a vampire.
Flash of Competence: This was the film that originally inspired the Flash of Competence, since despite it being terrible, it managed to be paced extraordinarily well. Every time you think of bitching, something immediately happens. Granted, it’s something extremely stupid, but it is something. It’s just about eighty minutes and doesn’t feel any longer, which is a pretty darn impressive achievement in the field of bad cinema.
Best Scenes: Herschell comes home from his first day at work suffering painful withdrawl from pot. Because that happens. He demands more drugs, all while doing a convincing impression of William Shatner hooked up to a car battery. Ann calls her dealer who looks a lot like John Holmes and has a weird beef with Herschell (don’t ask). Holmes hands a joint to Herschell, who proceeds to suck on it like it’s going to give him acting work.
Just after his transformation, Herschell returns to Ann and explains what’s going on via notes. This surprised me, mostly because I was shocked to learn that Ann can read. She faints a few times in the midst of this, gradually warming up to the idea of spending her life with a turkey-headed man. Wait, wasn’t this the guy her sister found on the side of the interstate two days ago?
Transcendent Moment: The best part of the film is the narration. There’s really nothing in this world quite like a stupid person muttering contradictory platitudes in a tone of great gravitas.
One of the main reasons I love this film so much is that the greatest moment happens at the very end. While Grinter delivers his Ben Stein-on-Valium summation (periodically glancing down at the paper in front of him), he is, of course, smoking. And not just Edward R. Murrow-style, where a cigarette artfully burns next to him, giving him a spiraling halo of gray. No, he’s plowing through these things like he thinks lung cancer comes with a free Millennium Falcon.
The last bit of narration is an earnest entreaty to stay off the drugs. Specifically, not to put chemicals in your body. Then an amazing thing happens. He coughs just a little, but bravely pushes on, finishing the monologue. Then the coughing wins and for a moment, I was terrified that he’d spew a lung all over his desk. The truly wonderful thing is that it doesn’t cut or use another take (which implies, that either they never did any, or even better, that this was the best one). He’s done with the pertinent part, and yet the camera shows the whole coughing fit, which leaves me to assume he wanted it in there. Why?
This is probably my favorite terrible movie, and one I foist upon any connoisseur of trash. It’s so bad it’s not a masochistic ordeal but rather a light comedy that’s totally unaware of how funny it is, much like an old man sleeping peacefully on a lawn chair with one ball hanging out of his bermuda shorts.