Okay, let’s get something out of the way right off the bat: this poster is lying to you. Twice. That rotting but animate zombie head? That’s a lie. It has nothing to do with anything. While the second half of this movie could be considered a “zombie movie” by a very loose, modern definition, there are no undead creatures to be seen.
Second lie: no one drinks blood. While a very small amount of blood is accidentally consumed, and several people do get bitten, at no point does anything that can legitimately be called “drinking” of blood happen onscreen.
The poster tries to convince you that you’re about to see a zombie flick, a cannibal flick, or just maybe a vampire flick (the latter is unlikely – vampires are rarely associated with the kind of decay that head is suffering). What you’re actually about to see is a “scary hippy” flick.
It can be hard to imagine today, when “hippy” is scornful shorthand for “annoyingly preachy granola-crunching, pot-smoking, vegetarian environmentalist pacifist”, that anyone was ever afraid of hippies. Certainly, none of those things I just described are particularly scary. What’s more, most of the original hippies are now in their sixties. The few that didn’t sell out and join the mainstream culture just seem a bit silly and dated, clinging to a revolution that’s never going to happen.
To be honest, I’m a bit young to really get it myself. I was born in the late Seventies, and even my earliest memories of hippies are the fortysomething parents of the kid across the street.
Still, it’s important to remember that every youth counterculture is scary to the generation that came before. Don’t forget, songs like “Rock Around The Clock” and “Leader of the Pack” were The Devil’s Music when they came out. In their turn, the hippies of the Sixties would be terrified of the punkers of the Class of 1984.
Another important thing to remember was that in 1970, when this film was made, hippies were young and strong – the oldest Baby Boomers were only 25 – and while the revolution that had seemed inevitable in the mid-Sixties (a revolution that the mainstream culture interpreted as a Communist takeover) had largely dissolved into the decadence and despair of the Seventies, there were still plenty of revolutionaries running around. Most important of all, the Tate-Labianca Murders had taken place only a year before. Mainstream America was convinced that they’d been right all along to be afraid of those crazy weirdo hippies, and this movie – among others – came along to capitalize on that fear.
So. Now that we know where we stand, it’s time to start the actual review. Spoilers beyond this point.
The movie opens with a Black Mass out in the woods. Pretty standard stuff; looks like the filmmakers did at least a little bit of homework. Naked woman as the altar (everyone else is naked, too, and chances are good that at least one of them will make you grateful for it), celebrant waving a sword around. Melodramatic chants. Celebrant claims to be the Son of Satan, then declares that “Satan was an acid-head.” So we’re combining our moral panics here: Satanism and drugs. Very efficient.
One funny detail, here: the celebrant identifies himself as “Horace Bones”. The actor’s real name was “Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury”, and he was simply listed in the credits as “Bhaskar”. It’s not often that you see a villainous cult leader with a name more mundane than the actor who plays him. I wonder why they gave him such a whitebread, Middle America name? Is the idea that it’s scarier if the weirdo hippy cult leader could be anybody, maybe your kid, than if he’s Some Furriner?
One not-so-funny detail: the ceremony includes the sacrifice of a chicken, and they show this onscreen by really killing a chicken. And this is just the first of a number of animals that are really killed over the course of the movie.
I like a good steak as much as anyone, but I don’t like the idea of animals being killed for my entertainment. Even the lives of the rats they kill later deserve more respect.
The killing of the chicken startles a local girl (we later learn her name is Sylvia) who’s watching from the woods. Her cry draws the attention of the cultists, who drag her into their clearing and, despite the protests of a cultist named Andy who invited her to watch, apparently gang-rape her.
This confuses me a bit. If you want to eliminate a witness (to what? Animal cruelty? Drug possession?), that at least makes sense. But what do you gain by capturing the witness, committing a much more serious crime upon her, and then letting her go?
Of course, it would have been almost impossible to track them, whatever their crimes, if they’d kept moving. Unfortunately for everyone involved, their microbus breaks down the very next day.
For the next several scenes, we get to watch the cult in action, and it’s actually disturbingly believable. Horace throws his favor around capriciously, giving some followers “treats” at whim, while playing cruel and even dangerous “pranks” on those who are out of favor. Oddly enough, despite Andy’s screw-up the previous night, Horace focuses his torments on another cultist, a dark-haired fellow who has a name, but whom I shall refer to as The Butt Monkey. It’s never made entirely clear why this is so. Perhaps Horace feels that The Butt Monkey is a threat to his own power.
Incidentally, the rest of the cult have names as well, names that are even used, but like The Butt Monkey, they are more types than people. In addition to Horace, Andy, and The Butt Monkey, there’s The Mysterious Asian Woman (who seems a few years older than the rest of the group), the Mute Girl, The Fat Girl (she’s supposed to be pregnant, but doesn’t really look it), The Blonde Slut, and The Right-Hand Man (who is easy to distinguish from the other male members of the group because he is very, very black).
After rolling the broken-down microbus down a hill with the sleeping Butt Monkey in it, the cult packs up and hikes into the nearest town. This town is soon to be the site of a new dam, so it is largely abandoned and soon to be demolished. Again, unfortunately for everyone involved, Sylvia and her family are among the few remaining inhabitants.
The cult purchase some food at the local bakery, where they catch the attention of the one annoying twelve-year-old left in town, Sylvia’s little brother Petey. Petey tags along as the cult looks for someplace to crash. To be more specific, Horace allows Mysterious Asian Woman to choose any abandoned house she likes (one of his aforementioned “treats”), and she, for some unknown reason, chooses the longest-abandoned, most rat-riddled shack in town. Warned of the rats, Horace declares that the cult member who kills the most rats will be rewarded with cult leadership for one night. We’re then treated to a charming scene of the group chasing and killing a bunch of cute, fluffy rats that were probably bought from a pet store.
At about this time, Sylvia comes out of the fugue that she’s been in since her gang rape, and describes her assailants. Petey recognizes the description of the “rock and roll group” he met earlier, and their grandfather takes up his shotgun and heads out to get revenge.
Back at the makeshift cult compound, Right Hand Man has won the rat-killing contest. Instead of doing what you might expect with a night of unlimited power over his fellows – i.e., demand some mattress time from the members who suit his sexual preference – Right Hand Man chooses to spend the evening torturing Butt Monkey. Not sure why. Is Butt Monkey that unpopular? Is Right Hand Man trying to please Horace, who will, after all, be back in charge tomorrow?
Grandpa arrives in the midst of these shenanigans, waving his shotgun and shouting accusations, but proves completely inadequate to the purpose of avenging his granddaughter’s injuries. Here’s a hint Grandpa: a shotgun is a relatively short-range weapon, but it’s still a ranged weapon. If you get close enough for your target to punch you in the gut, you’ve largely lost the advantage it gives you.
The cultists force-feed Grandpa some LSD, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. The stuff isn’t free, and they’re not rich. I guess that’s just the sort of thing that Scary Hippies were supposed to do – force-feed their poor mainstream victims recreational drugs.
Whatever the explanation, it looks like the cultists are gearing up to kill Grandpa – which seems like a real waste of that LSD – when Petey, having disobeyed Grandpa’s orders not to follow, calls into the house and demand that the cultists release his grandpa.
Blonde Slut tries to seduce Petey into the house, but he stands resolute. Man, you’re off your game when you can’t get a rise out of a 12-13-year-old. Horace and Right Hand Man grab him by force, but it seems that the cult as a whole doesn’t quite have the stomach to kill a child, so they release Grandpa to him instead and send them on their way.
Petey takes Grandpa home, where Sylvia explains to him just why Grandpa is laughing, sobbing, and holding the salt and pepper shakers to his head. Annoying little fucker spends the next five minutes or so minutes referring to the “L-Stuff That Makes You Crazy”. I get the feeling that Petey is supposed to be an All-American Kid, too young to be corrupted by the Counterculture, but come on, “LSD” is not hard to remember.
Petey then decides to take his revenge in the stupidest, most irresponsible way I’ve ever seen in a movie, which is saying a lot. He goes out and shoots a rabid dog, draws some of its blood with a syringe, and injects it into the next morning’s meat pies at the bakery.
The cultists, apparently not recognizing him from last night, fall prey to his high-pressure sales pitch (plus the fact that there’s literally nothing else to eat in town) and buy them.
Well done, kid. Cold-blooded mass murder is one thing, but you damn well knew about the “violent insanity” stage of rabies infection. The rest of the movie, everyone who dies, it’s all your fault. Just so we’re clear.
Back at the compound, Andy spontaneously decides that last night was finally too much for his conscience, and leaves. The rest of the cultists eat the tainted meat pies, giving us the only thing in the movie that even resembles “blood drinking”.
Can rabies really be transmitted like that? By ingestion? I’ve only ever heard of it being transmitted by saliva, through a bite.
Well, maybe this strain of rabies can. After all, it’s clearly some sort of bio-engineered super-rabies, since the cultists start to feel ill within minutes, instead of the months-long incubation period for normal rabies.
From this point on, I Drink Your Blood is essentially a zombie movie, an ancestor to the fast-moving, technically-alive zombies of 28 Days Later and Zombieland. The men of the cult rampage around town, inflicting mindless violence on whoever they can reach, including each other (Butt Monkey is the first to die, chopped to pieces by Right Hand Man while he still lies unconscious from last night’s tortures).
The women act more…idiosyncratically. Mysterious Asian Woman sets herself on fire (of course she does). Fat girl, upon finding out what she’s been exposed to (though perhaps not; she’s showing no symptoms and she ate very little of the tainted pies), stabs herself in the stomach with a wooden stake, killing herself and her now-diseased baby. Mute Girl joins the men in the mindless violence.
Blonde Slut’s reaction is the most interesting. Fleeing from Right Hand Man, she hitches a ride from a few men in the dam-construction crew who’ve been sent into town to roust the cult. Hoping to earn their protection, she promptly has sex with all of them, and is then taken back to the construction barracks for a proper gangbang. We’re not quite sure if this…heightened sexuality…is a symptom or just Blonde Slut’s natural behavior, but it isn’t long before we lose the ambiguity: about halfway through the barracks gangbang, Blonde Slut freaks out, scratches up her current partner, and flees to the showers. Angry, her partner follows into the showers, turns them on to “cool her off” (sending her into a hydrophobic panic), and proceeds to turn the gangbang into a gang rape. By morning, Blonde Slut is dead (they’re kind of vague as to how, and I’m fine with that), and the entire construction crew is infected and on the rampage, because of course this strain of super-rabies can be transmitted sexually.
Why does the construction crew even have all of those machetes?
While all of this is going on, Andy goes to visit Sylvia, who is awfully welcoming to a man who, even if he didn’t actually participate in her gang rape, did nothing to help. The two of them, with Petey in tow, spend the rest of the movie scurrying from one place to another, looking for shelter. Really, the cult’s rampage is much more interesting, and I think the filmmakers knew it.
Oops, that’s a real dead goat there, isn’t it?
Wait, Grandpa’s dead? When did that happen, and why didn’t we get to see it? Yes, the man had the self-defense instincts of a brain-damaged gerbil. And yes, he’d largely served his narrative purpose once he’d finished his tutorial on rabies. But dammit he was a main character! You don’t leave their struggle to survive on the cutting room floor!
My first impression of this movie is that it’s true Seventies drive-in trash – and I say that with the deepest of affection for Seventies drive-in trash. Naked & natural ladies everywhere, a bit of beefcake for those who like it, gory dismemberments, melodrama, a semi-nonsensical plot…at first blush, there could be nothing better for an evening of snacks and MST3K. The scene were uninfected characters chase away pursuing rabid maniacs by splashing water at them is a gold mine in itself (that’s not what they mean by hydrophobia, you idiots!).
But the fact is, this movie comes from the dark side of the Seventies grindhouse. With its rapes, its torture, its real animal killings, even its oddly, creepily effective depiction of a believable cult, this movie joins the company of such movies as The Last House On The Left, I Spit On Your Grave, and Cannibal Holocaust as exhibits of just how nasty the Seventies could be. Horace Bones and his cohorts are very funny, standing naked in the middle of the woods and declaring “Satan was an acidhead”. Then it’s the next morning, and Sylvia is stumbling home with a hand clutched between her legs, and they’re not so funny anymore.
Be advised, and proceed with caution.