I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Let’s Talk Turkey: Bad Taste and Blood Freak

by Caryn Coleman
Nov. 27, 2011

To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about…but one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste…To understand bad taste one must have very good taste. Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating but must, at the same time, appeal to the especially twisted sense of humor, which is anything but universal. – John Waters, Shock Value

Based on John Waters’ definition of “good” versus “bad” bad taste, it would be fair to say that the 1972 ludicrous quasi-morality tale on consumption (drugs, the bible, turkey, women) Blood Freak (Brad F. Grinter and Steve Hawks) falls into the latter category of bad, really bad, taste. Not that it’s exceptionally gory or gratuitous or offensive but just that it is horribly produced, horrendously acted, and has appalling dialogue. Yet still (!), Blood Freak is damn entertaining. Most likely this is because it fulfills a nostalgic desire to watch one of the worst movies ever made and to gleefully relish in its kitsch factor. Or perhaps the classic tale of a muscle-man-turned-drug-addicted-killer-turkey-man is a story for the ages.

To be completely honest, Blood Freak is a nearly indescribable film that truly must be watched to believe. But before you do, here’s a little breakdown…

Vietnam vet / motorcycle rider Herschell meets bible-loving Angel on the side of the Florida turnpike. With no place to go, he follows her to the druggie-filled “far out” home of her sister, Anne, who immediately falls for the Elvis look alike. After a brief resistance, Herschell succumbs to Anne’s peer pressure and starts smoking some drugs. Unfortunately for him, these drugs are the least of his problems. On the second day of his new job at the turkey farm, he eats some experimental turkey meet, goes into convulsing fits, and turns into a turkey-headed killer who must feed on the blood of junkies. There’s a twist towards the end but I wouldn’t want to ruin all the fun.

Reefer madness

Don’t do drugs, kids. Whether it’s marijuana or the harder stuff, drugs lead to loose morals and, when mixed improperly with other substances, could quite possibly turn fowl. When Blood Freak pits religious beliefs against the swinging hippy lifestyle, the lines between propaganda and horror in this film become a little blurry.

Peta would be proud

Animal rights groups should be all over Blood Freak’s cautionary tale about animal experimentation, right? Herschell’s consumption of the chemically enhanced turkey flesh and his subsequent freak out that turns him into a man-turkey is quite the visceral evocation of the brutality of eating meat and vivisection.

Historical trauma

Sure, many films in the 1970s dealt with the horror of the Vietnam War and the affected soldier’s difficult return to “normal” life in the United States. Blood Freak isn’t one of them.

The Sunshine State

Being a South Florida native I can attest Blood Freak is the epitome of the sunshine state. The gritty people, the neighborhood of one-story houses, the widespread highway, and the lingering atmospheric haze is still, forty years later, undeniably the quintessential trashy Florida.

Greek Chorus

The most entertaining part of Blood Freak isn’t the killer turkey or his laughable murdering rampage. It’s actually the interspersed commentary by co-director Brad F. Grinter in which he breaks the fourth wall by speaking, or rather reading, directly to the audience. Chain smoking all the while, he acts as our Greek Chorus by verbalizing the actions of the main character and expressing what the audience is seeing unfold. While in Greek plays, this person (or persons) is traditionally objective, Grinter offers up a pseudo-philosophical context in which we are to view Blood Freak. Ironically his last commentary ends in a smoke induced coughing fit while he lectures on the perils of being unaware of what we consume into our bodies.

Blood Feast somehow manages to invert its bad bad taste into something that appeals to our “twisted sense of humor” though perhaps not in the way in which it was intended. It has become a singing siren to those of us who love to revel in the bad, the weird, and the marginal. Knowing that stand out directors (think Mario Bava, Roger Corman, and Edgar J. Ulmer) made tremendous films out of very little resources and that, when in talented hands, constraints incite creativity and originality, it’s fairly obvious that those behind Blood Freak only had the skills to make a real turkey. Still, it’s comforting to know that movies like Blood Freak exist in the cannon of film history to be enjoyed, laughed at, and perhaps to even learn something from (I mean, will you eat experimental turkey meat now?). It may not be the definition of good bad taste but the after-taste sisn’t completely unsavory. Enjoy and be safe this Thanksgiving.  

Caryn Coleman is an independent curator and writer living in Brooklyn whose curatorial practice explores the intersection of film and visual art with an obsessive focus on horror cinema’s influence on contemporary artists. This is the basis for her online writing project The Girl Who Knew Too Much and upcoming exhibition programming Contagious Allegories: horror cinema and contemporary art at the Vincent Price Art Museum in Los Angeles (2013) and The Art of Fear artist film screening at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. She is currently the Curator for the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts ‘Art & Law’ Residency program and previously owned the gallery sixspace in Los Angeles (2002-2008) and Chicago (1998-2000). She has written for LUX, Rue Morgue, The Modernist, Art Review online, Beautiful Decay, L.A. Weekly, and art.blogging.la. Coleman received her MFA in Curating with distinction from Goldsmiths College in London.