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A Taste of Blood

1967's A Taste of Blood is an unusual title in the Lewis lineup for several reasons. First, at nearly two full hours, it is the director's longest film by far. Second, it marks Lewis's one and only use of a "classic" movie monster--in this case, Count Dracula. And finally, the film, while by no means bloodless, is the only Herschell Gordon Lewis horror film to avoid extreme gore (unless one counts the anomaly Something Weird).

Bill Rogers stars as John Stone, a successful American businessman who finds himself the sole heir to the estate of none other than the Count himself. With the news of his inheritance comes a package containing two ancient bottles of brandy--with the instruction that he drink a toast to his ancestor. Stone's wife Helene (Elizabeth Wilkinson) isn't too sure about this, but John, not afraid in the least of the supernatural, honors the centuries-old arrangement. Nothing seems amiss at first, but Stone is never the same again.... His mind and body are slowly taken over by the Count, who thirsts not only for blood, but for vengeance upon the descendants of the people who destroyed him (as recounted in the original Bram Stoker tale). A series of mysterious "business" trips (including a jaunt to London) afford Stone/Dracula the opportunity to slay the surviving members of the Harker and Seward families. Naturally, it falls to another targeted descendant--Dr. Howard Helsing--to stop the vengeful vampire.

When Lewis received Donald Stanford's screenplay, he was more impressed with the story itself than with the outlandish claim that it was intended as a project for Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra (!). Lewis hadn't planned on creating a two-hour film (understandably, they're more costly to print and distribute than a typical ninety-minute offering), but the pace of the story, the production values and the strength of the cast (which includes Blood Feast's William Kerwin in a supporting role) ultimately dissuaded the director from attempting to trim the film down to size. Bill Rogers does, indeed, turn in one of the best performances seen in a Lewis film--subtle as the first signs of vampirism manifest themselves and vicious without going overboard during the overtly horrific moments. Full advantage is taken of the roomy, luxurious homes in which Lewis was allowed to film (though London is only suggested via stock footage), while the film also scores points in the technical department for a combination of special makeup and lighting which enhances the appearance of the vampire to truly eerie effect. (A sequence in an empty swimming pool is particularly memorable.) Bloodletting is effectively included (this is a vampire film, after all), but it doesn't qualify as extreme by today's standards (or, as mentioned, by the standards of Lewis's gore films). A few flaws (most noticeably a poor example of day-for-night photography near the end) keep the film from total perfection--nevertheless, A Taste of Blood sustains its running time quite well and would doubtless appeal to many genre fans who found themselves put off by the director's more excessive offerings.

Something Weird's DVD features what is, for the most part, a bright, colorful, pristine transfer of the film in which the above-average production values shine through at full strength. Sadly, a lesson in film preservation (or lack thereof) appears during the second half: two reels seem faded, scratchy, and deteriorated. Fortunately, the final reel restores luster to the finale; what isn't so fortunate is that when Lewis refers to the poor quality of the damaged reels during the DVD audio commentary, host Mike Vraney is heard to assure Lewis that what they're watching isn't what the home viewer will be seeing--referring to a proposed restoration that apparently never took place. Other highlights of the audio commentary include such anecdotes as the story behind Lewis's own cameo in the film (he plays a British sailor under the name "Seymour Sheldon") and the account of an actress who slowed things down considerably with her inability to play dead in the cold water of a swimming pool! Former Lewis partner David F. Friedman (who had never seen the film being discussed) makes a surprise appearance at the commentary's halfway point, and he's followed shortly by Shocking Video's Jimmy Maslon. The four participants prove as adept as the film itself in engaging the viewer/listener for the requisite two hours. Other DVD features include a theatrical trailer (which does the film a disservice by making it look truly cheap and tacky) and the usual "Gallery of Exploitation Art." The final bonus is a grainy, black-and-white, silent, five-minute "nudie" short known as Nightmare at Elm Manor, in which a buxom starlet flees a Dracula type throughout the titular (ahem) mansion while in a convenient state of undress. It's an amusing bit of nostalgia, but it has much more in common with the very earliest work of such filmmakers as Lewis and Friedman than with the considerably classier item actually showcased here.


Go to:
A Taste of Blood (book review)
Blood Feast
Two Thousand Maniacs
Color Me Blood Red
A Taste of Blood
Something Weird
The Gruesome Twosome
She-Devils on Wheels
The Wizard of Gore
The Gore Gore Girls