By: Jenn Coulter
I like horror movies and I like seasonal movies. Christmas has plenty of slashers – Silent Night Deadly Night, Black Christmas, Santa’s Slay – but Thanksgiving is woefully lacking in the horror department. You might have heard about Thankskilling, which is…fine, but it’s a horror-comedy that leans more into comedy. I want a REAL, TRUE HORROR MOVIE that involves a turkey, not some hamfisted mockery of turkey murder! My craving for killer poultry led me to seek out the cult classic, Blood Freak – a 1972 movie about a man who eats tainted meat and becomes a turkey-headed mutant who craves the blood of drug addicts. THAT is the Thanksgiving cinema I want to see!
The story goes like this: Herschell (Steve Hawkes) is driving along the Florida Turnpike when he comes across a hot girl with a flat tire. He helps her out, and then inexplicably follows her along to a party that he was definitely not invited to. They arrive at the party and she reveals that her name is Angel and that she’s super into the Bible. Her sister, Anna, is also at the party. She hates the Bible but really loves drugs. Anna decides she likes Herschell and tries to seduce him, but he refuses and goes off with Angel instead.
Anna, betrayed by his rejection, then conspires to get Herschell hooked on drugs. You know, a perfectly normal reaction to getting turned down. She gets laced marijuana from her drug dealer and bullies Herschell into smoking it the next day. For some reason, this actually makes him want to bang her, and the two have sex. Then, he becomes addicted to weed. Yes, addicted to marijuana – he seizes uncontrollably when he can’t get it. Supposedly it was laced, but then later they say there was nothing in it, so I don’t know what the truth is. Either way, this reefer madness is ridiculous.
Admittedly, this movie is relatively light on horror for the first hour. The beginning is mostly Anna reciting bible verses and Herschell becoming a pothead. It’s this bizarre mix of B-movie and anti-drug PSA that eventually dips into Vietnam war commentary. On one hand, I am impressed that this 1972 low-budget flick attempted to bring up the very real issue of U.S. veterans becoming lost and addicted to drugs. On the other hand, the message is largely lost amongst the…you know…giant turkey slasher narrative.
After Herschell hooks up with Anna and becomes a drug addict, he heads to work at a nearby poultry farm. Inexplicably, there are mad scientists doing experiments on turkey meat there. They tell Herschell that they’ll give him some extra money and a little bit of dope if he agrees to eat some of the turkey they’ve experimented on. Herschell agrees, and this is when the “horror” begins – he eats the tainted meat, and then grows a turkey head and becomes addicted to blood!
Once the slasher gear kicks in, it’s pretty dang hilarious. Naturally, the movie is not very scary. I mean, look at this guy. The turkey head is awful and hideous, sure, but not in a way that would actually SCARE anyone.
On top of that, the director Brad F. Grinter either couldn’t afford lighting or just didn’t know how to use it. The scene where Herschell reveals himself to Anna is completely dark. Like, you can’t even see Anna. At all. In fact, it’s difficult to tell what’s going on when Turkey Herschell writes her up a letter trying to communicate with her. The dialogue in the scene is pretty dang amusing, though.
“Gosh, Herschell, you sure are ugly!”
“Honey, I’m sorry…”
Anna gets over the whole Turkey Man thing really fast. She skips over the “why” and jumps straight into wondering what their children will look like and whether or not they would be okay with their father being a turkey. Later, she invites her stoner friends over and shows them Herschell, describing him as “something out of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone or something.” Her stoner friends nod sagely when they see him and that’s about all the reaction they give. Typical stoners.
Meanwhile, Herschel is out and about murdering people and drinking their blood. It’s pretty hilarious, because that papier-mâché beak doesn’t actually open. Instead, the audience watches as Herschell desperately shovels bright red blood into the general mouth area. The music cues during these scenes are absolutely insane. They have one scary song composed – just one – and they use it for every “scary” sequence. And let me tell you, it’s no John Carpenter’s Halloween theme. The sting is ridiculous and unintentionally hilarious. The crew also apparently only ever recorded one female scream, too, so when Herschell attacks, the same yell loops over…and over…and over.
After Herschell murders a few people, it turns out that it *~was all a dream~* and all that ingested tainted turkey meat actually caused him to hallucinate. “After I ate that turkey, I went through hell!” The movie then dives back into the anti-drug PSA hardcore and explains that Herschell became addicted to opioids shortly after his release from Vietnam. Somehow, the poultry experiments and weed triggered something within him and made him have vivid turkey murder dreams.
The plot here is absolutely bonkers. Even trying to explain it here has caused me to lose brain cells. As if that wasn’t wild enough, the whole thing is bookended by this bizarre narration from Brad Ginter himself as he ominously smokes a cigarette. Think the Bela Lugosi narration in Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda, if you’re familiar with that cult classic. During the closing narration, Ginter starts coughing up cigarette smoke and hacking. I can’t tell if this was done on purpose, to drive home the final message of putting foreign materials into your body, or if they just didn’t feel like doing another take.
Over all, this is a one-star movie but a five-star experience. I can’t think of anything I’ve seen recently that’s caused this much of a mind-melting sensation. Blood Freak has such a mind-boggling premise and an equally baffling execution, and I’m genuinely glad that this movie has been preserved for all us freaks over on the Internet Archive.
Resident film freak Jenn Coulter can be found on Twitter. Drop her a line before her inevitable reefer madness sets in!