A cult of devil-worshiping hippies, infected with rabies, go on a murderous rampage in I Drink Your Blood, a low budget horror flick made infamous as the first movie ever slapped with an X rating by the MPAA for gory violence. The rating subsequently caused many theaters and drive-ins, especially in the South, to cancel bookings of the film. Its distributor, legendary exploitation impresario Jerry Gross, was forced to compromise in order to salvage what he could of the project. He gave permission for various theater chains and venue owners to make whatever cuts they deemed necessary to render the film acceptable to so-called “community standards”. Thus wildly different versions of I Drink Your Blood played all across the country – someone watching it in Memphis didn’t see the same film as theater patrons in Dallas, while an altogether different edit played in Atlanta and a relatively uncut print could be seen in Los Angeles or New York. Since cuts were made on an individual basis rather than a state or regional one, this resulted in so many different versions that after a time no one except writer-director David E. Durston knew what the complete film was actually supposed to look like. It wasn’t until the recent DVD release of the official director’s cut that I Drink Your Blood could be properly evaluated. I just had to see for myself if this notorious exploitation flick lives up to its sordid reputation…
Gross wanted to cash in on the success of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, so he tapped Durston to make something that would surpass that groundbreaking zombie film in terms of stark horror and gore – with the proviso that it not contain any supernatural or sci-fi elements. So instead of flesh-eating zombies we get psychotic hippies driven to madness and murder by rabies. Not that they were your typical flower children of the psychedelic ’60s before being exposed to the disease… Peace and love ain’t their thing. The members of S.A.D.O.S. – the “Sons and Daughters of Satan” – are the meanest, vilest bunch of hippies since the Manson Family (whom they’re clearly patterned on). When their van breaks down in the countryside they wander into a small, nearly deserted town; all but forty of its citizens have left due to the construction of a big dam nearby. Taking up residence in an abandoned hotel, the cult concerns itself with killing rats, dropping acid and torturing one their less enthusiastic members. A local teen is assaulted after she witnesses one of their bizarre nude rituals, but instead of calling the state troopers – they’re not that far out in the sticks! – her grandfather, the town veterinarian, goes to angrily confront them with a shotgun. He’s easily disarmed by the cult’s sadistic leader (Indian dancer/actor Bhaskar), then roughed up and force-fed a tab of LSD. Gramps stumbles home to ride out the acid trip. His 10-year old grandson vows to get back at the hippies for what they’ve done to his sister and the old man.
The boy – definitely a kid with some imagination – draws a syringe full of blood from the carcass of a dead dog infected with rabies. Next morning, at the town’s small bakery (apparently the only business still open), he injects the tainted blood into a tray of meat pies which the hungry hippies come by to purchase. With the coming of night the S.A.D.O.S. gang is feeling rather poorly. Rollo (God Told Me To‘s George Patterson) is the first to go over the edge, wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth. After stabbing to death the “backslidden” cult member he’d earlier tormented, he snatches up an axe and chops off one of the corpse’s legs, maniacally waving the severed limb in the face of one of the female hippies. (This scene can be both shocking and hilarious in equal measure depending on your sensibilities.) Eventually all hell breaks loose as one by one they succumb to the disease and go psycho, turning on each other in addition to anyone who crosses their path. Soon the contagion spreads to a crew of construction workers living at the dam site via their gang-banging one of the hippy chicks. They, too, become infected and turn into a foaming-at-the-mouth mob of murderous berserkers. Much bloody (and silly) mayhem ensues before the film reaches its very Night of the Living Dead-like ending. (By the way: despite the title no one ever really drinks anybody’s blood in the film. Originally called Phobia, the title was changed to pair it with I Eat Your Skin (aka Voodoo) for a gimmicky double bill.)
While it may contain a few moments of surprisingly effective horror, I Drink Your Blood consists primarily of drive-in variety cheese. The plot is absurd, of course, since rabies – though highly virulent – doesn’t act that quickly on humans. Silly dialog and awkward, amateur acting place the film firmly in the strata of z-grade exploitation. But I can understand how 35 years ago the movie could’ve been too much for some communities, at least in it’s complete form. The gore effects, while crude by today’s hi-tech standards, certainly surpasses the norm for their time, more akin to Herschell Gordon Lewis than Night Of The Living Dead. (Especially since they’re in color.) The bloodletting, including some unpleasant moments of real animal violence (a chicken, some rats), lends the film a rather grim, disturbing tone; ditto for a rape scene which, due to the shoestring production values, has all the trappings of grimy ’70s “roughie” porn. Given the unintentional humor of the script, this means I Drink Your Blood makes for a very uneven ride, but one which exploitation fans will probably want to take – even if only for historical purposes.
I Drink Your Blood is available on DVD from MTI/Fangoria using an uncut print in remarkably good condition. The disc is absolutely jam-packed with groovy supplements, including an audio commentary with director Dunston and lead actor Bhaskar (who died shortly after recording it), interviews with cast members, alternate scenes, trailers, a still gallery and a couple of hidden “Easter Eggs”. Briefly issued in 2003 with a limited run of 500 copies, the DVD was re-released in November 2004 for the mass market.