The film that eventually became I Drink Your Blood began with a challenge. David Durston had some moderate success as a writer/director of sexploitation pictures and midcentury mainstream genre television hit Tales Of Tomorrow. When exploitation impresario Jerry Gross approached him for his latest project, it came with a strict directive. Jerry and Cinemation wanted “the most graphic horror film ever produced”, but it must produce its terrors without “vampires, man-made monsters, werewolves, mad doctors, or little people”. Should Durston succeed in that goal, his writing and directing contracts would be rewritten for double his usual fee.
Likely fueled by the prospect of a much more promising payday, the initial script was cranked out in just a few weeks, inspired by real life footage of a rabies outbreak in a remote Iranian village. A partial rewrite added in a timely Manson like cult to the basic contagion plot. The project was greenlit immediately, and Durston assembled a cast of primarily unknown actors to began principle photography in the outbuildings of the upstate New York village Sharon Springs.
Horace Bones (Indian classical dancer Bhaskar) and his multi cultural band of hippies are holding a Satanic ritual in the dark of night on a remote rural route. When local girl Sylvia (Arlene Farber, The French Connection) is spotted watching from the bushes, the group assaults her and leaves her lying on the road into town. A van breakdown the following morning keeps them from fleeing the scene. Lacking other options and unlikely to face consequences from the tiny population of the soon to be demolished village, the group makes themselves at home in the abandoned hotel in town.
Meanwhile, a battered and bloody Sylvia has managed to stumble home, informing her family of what has happened to her. Her grandfather, local veterinarian Dr. Banner (Richard Bowler), goes to confront Horace. The group openly mocks him, and Dr. Banner receives a vicious beating and a forced dosage of LSD for his trouble. Wanting to avenge the abuse of his grandfather and older sister, young Pete (Riley Mills) literally cooks up a revenge plan with some discounted meat pies and the blood of a rabid dog. No attempt at a good deed goes unpunished, and soon the rabies outbreak spreads beyond the cultists and tosses the entire town into murderous, chaotic mayhem.
The film was one of the first to be slapped with an X rating primarily for violence, and Jerry Gross wisely leaned into the controversy. Tossing the working titles of Phobia and State Farm, he christened the film as the delightfully lurid but entirely inaccurate I Drink Your Blood. Dusting off a tepid 1964 Del Tenney snoozefest as I Eat Your Skin, he began a massive promo push for the newly minted “great blood horrors to rip out your guts”. While the original contract had the film slated only for drive ins, Gross also pushed the movie into select grindhouses before its traditional premier. This may account for why modern databases have such wildly different release dates listed, ranging from December of 1970 to May of 1971.
To insure the film actually played its booked dates, Gross also gave projectionists free rein to cut the prints as they saw fit to evade the censors in their specific locations. This added to the film’s word of mouth reputation as difference audiences saw different versions of the print with varying levels of violence splattered across their local screens.
With a hyper savvy ad campaign and an all timer of a trailer, I Drink Your Blood would’ve been a drive in hit on just about any possible timeline, regardless of the contents of the actual film. What makes it a stone cold classic of the form is that it delivers on the all of the promo’s promise, and then just keeps on going. Nude Satanic rituals! Hippie babes! Rat hunts! Geriatrics on a bad trip! Fountains of gore with a murderer’s row laundry list of implements!
The film understands better than most that movies must move, and never leaves us long without some new display of blood, boobs or bad taste to gaze at, Scooby Doo style groovy chase music turned up loud on the soundtrack. When the film does finally take a breath for air, it’s to deliver a hilarious classroom film ready lecture about both rabies and the perils of exposure to LSD.
Granted, the abundant gore is of the very era specific red paint variety, there is an utter vacuum of sense in how the disease spreads, and the performances are wildly uneven. Despite all of that, I Drink Your Blood has what so many legendary entries of extreme cinema lack, a sense of fun. The movie’s goal is clearly to shock, but it lacks the dour, cynical tone that characterizes so many other controversial gore films. The cast and crew recognize the inherent goofiness of the material, and set about doing the best they can with their limited resources, tongue firmly in cheek.
Bhaskar capably anchors the film, with his dancer’s physicality and somewhat fey tinge to his line readings bringing a welcome dose of seducer along with the sociopath. Charisma was a key component of Charles Manson’s ability to attract followers, and it’s believable that this pack of somewhat aimless souls would follow Horace Bones’ Manson stand in here. Richard Bowler’s Doc Banner adds a welcome shot of professionalism to the proceedings, and some needed emotional weight to the few key scenes he has. Future genre queen Lynn Lowry has an uncredited role as a mute cultist, and the camera loves her face in every frame. Legendary dancer/actress/theatrical agent Jadin Wong is fine in a thankless role as the cult’s exoticized spiritual guru.
Grading on the time period, lack of experience, and budget appropriate curve, only Riley Mills as Pete really stinks up the joint. His strident line delivery is straight out of a 60s commercial stumping for a healthy breakfast cereal or the finest new innovations in toothpaste. The annoyingly straight laced little kid is as much of a stock type as a scream queen, and it’s not a role even a talented young actor is ever terribly likable in. Plus, in a film that is so hopelessly devoted to its ten in one carnival geek show of grisly horrors, the individual supporting performances’ imperfections are part of the shaggy, schlocky charm.
As anyone familiar with my online presence already knows, in all of my countless hours watching and writing about obscure cinema, this is still my all time favorite exploitation film, an acid trip time capsule that flies by in a lightning fast 90-ish minutes that keeps all of this foaming at the mouth, free form weirdness from wearing out its welcome. It’s also a crowd pleaser for a surprisingly wide ranging set of audiences.
For those looking for a unique spin on a familiar Night Of The Living Dead adjacent framework, there’s enough attention paid to the epidemic that it still packs enough punch to work as an actual narrative horror film (outside of its value as a curio of a very specific era of cinema).
For those inclined to highbrow analysis of lowbrow cultural artifacts, the Romero-esque zombies as class commentary and implications of social upheaval brought by the end of the Age Of Aquarius are front and center.
For those first wandering their way into exploitation and extreme cinema without wanting to jump right into the rougher waters of rape revenge flicks, cannibal films or the more gonzo side of gore, this is a less harrowing litmus test of your personal taste for the form.
If you couldn’t give a shit less about any of that and want to have some Mystery Science Theater style fun with some friends, it’s a movie about rabid hippie zombies. Fire away.
With its recent restoration making the uncensored cut available for a whole new generation of viewers I Drink Your Blood‘s hippie hangover lives up to its opening monolog, roughly 50 years after its initial release. Satan was an acidhead. Drink from his cup……and together we’ll all freak out.