Prime in the Dustbin: ‘Blood Freak’ (1972)

In its finest form, religion can provide camaraderie, comfort and charity, a chance to pull one’s head out of one’s own nether regions and be a vital, cogent part of something larger than themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, you get things like the Spanish Inquisition (which no one expected), oppressive theocracies, and a pervasive replacement of spirituality with nationalism. But somewhere in the great wide middle of those two extremes lies the belief that, if you have faith, God will keep you from turning into a murderous drug-addled turkey monster. I can’t really find a scriptural basis for that, but nonetheless, that is the central theme of 1972’s Blood Freak. At least, I think it is.

Blood Freak stars Steve Hawkes. We know this because the phrase, “Starring STEVE HAWKES,” appears in the opening credits twice in giant pink capital letters that drip animated blood down the screen. HAWKES is a muscle-bound anachronism with a face like Elvis, hair like Roy Orbison, and a wardrobe like Bobby Goldsboro. In other words, he looks like this guy, minus the stylized Lone Ranger mask. STEVE HAWKES plays Herschell, just another lonely drifter with a motorcycle winding his way down the Florida Turnpike, looking for adventure and whatever comes his way. That adventure comes in the form of Angel (Heather Hughes), a girl who remembered to wear her short skirt but left her long jacket at home. Herschell finds her pulled over on the side of the road with a flat tire. They end up being interested in each other and Herschell decides to go with Ann to her sister’s place.

There’s a party going on, a mixer of sorts, where Bible-believing Christians are hanging out with hardcore dope fiends. While Angel slinks around the party trying to harsh everyone’s mellow by quoting scripture and condemning their boning, drugs, and harmony, folks who look like contestants on the original iteration of The Newlywed Game sit cross-legged on the floor doing bumps of cocaine and drinking orange juice. Their heartbeats may be racing at three times the normal speed, but they are getting their recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C.

Girls hit on Herschell, but he’s just not into that scene. He even calls one woman a tramp simply for trying to talk to him. He also refuses to partake in any of the chemical recreation going on. The Christians at this party, surely the most boring Seventies drug orgy ever, take a shine to Herschell and his husky morality. An older man named Larry offers Herschell a job at his turkey farm. Herschell gladly accepts, and he is set to start his job after the weekend.

But terrible things await poor Herschell, who decides to stay with Angel’s sister, Ann (Dana Cullivan). She is sexually active and fond of marijuana cigarettes, things Herschell has expended a great deal of energy avoiding, but all it takes is Ann calling him a coward because he won’t hit a joint for him to lose it. “I’m no coward,” he says, rapidly smoking half a skinny doob and sleeping with Ann, who comes to bed wearing a knit bikini. Herschell is on the road to moral ruin now, with that mild high and one night stand. Why, he’s almost late to his first day of work at the turkey farm!

Herschell’s duties at the farm consist of picking up turkeys and throwing them over fences, tapping the birds on the top of the head with his fingertip for no apparent reason, and slapping the dirt and feathers from his palms with a sense of manly accomplishment. He also agrees to a side gig. There are specially trained turkey scientists at this farm working on special turkey drugs to make the turkeys taste better. The lab guys are willing to give Herschell some extra scratch, and a little weed, if he’ll eat their chemical-laced turkey and let them monitor his reactions. Herschell agrees and the next day, eats an entire turkey.

The effects of the turkey additives become obvious immediately. Herschell sweats and staggers around the barnyard, barely making it back to Ann’s house, where he violently demands marijuana. Remember, he had one and a half marijuanas two days prior, and now he is a raging reefer addict who gets furious when there is no THC in his system, because that is exactly how weed works. The turkey performance enhancers have amplified his drug-crazed behavior. He’ll do anything to get that sweet mild euphoria, that craving for Cheetos and brownies, the overwhelming urge to watch Lost in Space because that robot? In that show? It’s the same robot from Forbidden Planet, man. Isn’t that crazy? That’s crazy.

The combination of these dangerous drugs in Herschell’s system turn him into a turkey monster. Just writing it is ridiculous and painful. STEVE HAWKES runs around the neighborhood wearing a non-articulated full-head turkey mask, gobbling. The only thing that will satisfy the creature’s ghoulish hunger is murdering drug addicts and drinking their narcotic-infused blood. Herschell subdues a female heroin addict, hangs her upside down by her ankles, and slashes her throat. He cups his hands under the gouts of blood flowing from her opened veins and smears it all over his beak. This is probably because the mask wouldn’t allow STEVE HAWKES to open his beak, so he splashes the thin fake blood onto his face like an old woman dabbing rose water on her cheeks. He even gets it in his giant white turkey eyes that don’t blink, so the blood just stays there like a shame stain.

All of this bizarre action is punctuated by commentary, cutaway scenes to a chain-smoking man sitting behind a desk in what appears to be the dark wood-paneled office of an insurance salesman. He’s a low-rent version of the Criminologist from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, popping in every once in a while to wax philosophical about the story. The man talks about how Herschell’s path went against God, how his choices set the teeth of the Universe on edge. He wonders why people choose to do drugs, why they put chemicals into their bodies, as he takes a deep drag from his cigarette and is racked by a horrifying bout of smokers’ cough. The best thing about his random appearances is that he is obviously reading the script. He pauses, his eyes dart down and scan the pages, then he looks back up, directly into the camera to continue his litany. There are also a few scenes with Angel, quoting scripture at inopportune times, and not always verses that apply to the situation.

The constant mention of religion was enough to make me wonder, especially at the beginning, if Blood Freak were actually faith-based entertainment. Maybe the title itself was a reference to the blood of Jesus, like some clever Larry Norman song title. But there’s enough foul language, nudity, and bloodshed to plant the movie firmly into the horror genre. If you like your Jesus movies to be peppered with drug use, an acid rock soundtrack, and a mutant turkey man wandering through the subdivisions of Miami, then get ready to see the light.

Saying Blood Freak is a turkey, while accurate, is too easy. This movie is drastically weird, and there’s a certain kind of magic to that. The filmmakers must have had a strong vision for this film. The Judeo-Christian viewpoint is undeniable, as is the pro-environment, anti-drug bent. The moral compass in Blood Freak points true north. But it’s also about a crazed murderer with a turkey head, so maybe that strong vision got muddled and lost somewhere along the way, just like Herschell! Oh, man, there’s a parallel between the structure of the film and the character STEVE HAWKES plays! Isn’t that crazy? That’s crazy.

Praise the Lord and pass the cornbread dressing because Blood Freak is on Prime Video for reasons I have yet to fully comprehend.

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