In the years since its release, the hysterically titled I Drink Your Blood (a bit of a misnomer as not a single drop is imbibed) has built a steady and resolute cult following. This is largely due to the fact that the film was the first to receive an X certificate from the MPAA for violence alone, and also due to the legendary double bill that paired it with Del Tenney’s largely forgettable zombie dross I Eat Your Skin (1964). This inspired double feature was the brainwave of exploitation producer/distributor Jerry Gross. A semi-legendary figure whose skill at creating alluring film titles (it should be noted that David E. Durston the director of I Drink Your Blood wanted the film to be called Phobia), eye catching posters, and outrageous promotional campaigns resulted in numerous commercial successes in the Grindhouses and drive ins. By and large the films Gross produced and distributed are exploitation trash, but the man deserves a place of importance in film history for producing one of the most significant films of the 1970’s – Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971). Another reason for I Drink Your Blood’s cult success is the resulting effect of the X certificate. In a desperate move to reap some kind of financial reward from the film, Gross gave permission for exhibitors to cut the film to their own liking. The resulting multitude of cuts meant that for decades what constituted the complete or director’s cut of the film was a matter for debate and conjecture rather than fact.
Although some have pointed to the obvious influence of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), a more instructive influence would be the colourful gore outings of Herschel Gordon Lewis. But that is not to say that I Drink Your Blood is totally devoid of social commentary as most reviewers seem to suggest. For a start it demonises the use of LSD, and although the film makes a joke of it by saying that Satan is an acid head, the inference is quite clear. The melding of Satanic cults and rituals, enigmatic and inspirational Charles Manson like figures (in this case Horace, played by Bhaskar Roy Chowdury) and the use of mind altering substances as the glue that binds it all together is both great exploitation material and an acknowledgement of ever present fears in society. The ritual that opens the film is pure hokum, but it does quickly introduce the audience to a cult that has a surprising degree of cultural diversity. One member of the party is a weird Tarot card reading Chinese woman, who wields influence with the leader Horace, and ends her part in the proceedings with an act of self immolation. This sequence seems like a clear nod on the director’s part to a number of protest self-immolations in Vietnam and the United States during the 1960’s.
The film creates an atmosphere of youthful disaffection, moral emptiness, and social alienation that feeds into a general Vietnam era cinematic sensibility. But it is not just Horace and his bored acolytes that point to a decaying society. The film was shot in a small New York village called Sharon Springs, it was a village that had been emptied of all inhabitants and was awaiting demolition. In the film the village and its citizens have to make way for a dam, their lives and livelihoods swept away by the unending tide of capitalism. It is interesting to note that the rabies that soon spreads like wildfire (one of the films major weaknesses is the laughable speed at which the virus spreads) affects only outsiders. In this case the outsiders are a hedonistic bunch of self absorbed hippy cum Satanists and the blue collar workers at the dam. These two cults are ideological embodiments of major threats to the fabric of American society. In almost all cases they are presented as mirror images of one another. Both the Satanists and the workers commit rape, they both resort to violence eagerly and willingly, they both treat the remaining citizens of the town with contempt and disrespect. In a further blackly ironic touch the rabies is initially spread through the consumption of meat pies, thus making Durston’s critique of a consumer driven capitalist society explicit. For Durston both the hippy LSD cult and the blue collar cult are equally threatening, and eventually they are united by a contagion that enables them to fully release the violence that has, and continually, threatens to spill out.
In my view I Drink Your Blood is entirely political, and in this sphere it works just as well as Night of the Living Dead; in other areas though Durston’s movie suffers from its crudity and amateurishness. But despite the ultra low budget, and some less than convincing performances (an honourable exception is Richard Bowler as the aged veterinarian Doc Banner) Durston creates some extremely memorable and effective moments. A sequence in which the hippy cult explore a rotten and run down hotel (the hotel itself a metaphor for their moral decay) and take part in a competition to hunt rats is queasy and disquieting. A series of impalements, the cutting off of an arm with an electric knife, and sundry decapitations are mounted with an impressive measure of success. The sight of numerous extras sprinting as they spew out toothpaste from their mouths, their expressions when faced with their fear of water, and the sight of one man clutching a head as a trophy, does develop an undertone which makes one question whether Durston was having a bit of fun with the generic aspects of the narrative. As a horror film I Drink Your Blood works reasonably well, but as a socio-political tract on the perils of capitalism, social disaffection, and Vietnam era alienation, I Drink Your Blood works very well indeed.
© Shaun Anderson 2013