Thursday, October 01, 2009

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Book of Blood

It's 1965 and the Godfather of Gore, Herschell Gordon Lewis has had an underground hit with the now classic BLOOD FEAST. Naturally, when certain envelope-pushing genres of movie become financially viable, there are always those who wish to follow in the footsteps of such success. And so to Austin Williams' CRIMSON ORGY, a loving salute to the early heroes of the exploitation movie and splatter genre, and the enduring urban myth: "is it or isn't it" a snuff movie.

Sheldon Meyer and Gene Hoffman are two low-budget filmmakers (director and producer respectively), who decide to leave behind their pretty lucrative nudie cutie genre, for the nascent genre of gore exploitation. Meyer is the pretentious type who wants to create art with his gore fest; while Hoffman is the more practical of the two and thinks more about the bottom line. Setting up base in a podunk town in humid Florida, the team pulls together a barebones outfit consisting of alcoholic, yet handsome would-be actor Vance Cogburn and the reluctant, yet beautiful novice actress Barbara Cheston (subtle names, huh?). Along with a small production crew they set up their low-budget shop in a crappy motel and attempt to make a work of art. Of course, things do not go according to plan; our protagonists must endure in-house arguments, disgruntled and potentially psychotic crewmembers, a local cop named Sonny Platt who decides he can make some money from these Hollywood types (he doesn't realize they are actually from Florida), and of course, a fierce tropical storm – all of which portents the violence to come. I have to say, I was swept along as each chapter counts down the seven day shoot, escalating to a moment of tragedy and a splatter of viscera.

Williams' narrative is beautifully paced. And while there are many darkly comic moments, Williams tempers these with genuine pathos and love for his characters. The author's writing reminds me a little of Christopher Moore (LUST LIZARD OF MELANCHOLY COVE), with his combination of bizarre situations coupled with concrete and nuanced characters. With Williams, all the characters get their moment to shine and (ironically) are imbued with dimension and sympathy.

The novel itself eschews gallons of gore (most of it is confined to onset make-up effects and a few brief moments of the macabre when the filmmakers consider using a real detached human arm as a prop) in favor of a more restrained narrative – especially considering the subject matter. And while I was led to believe that this would be a splatter fest all the way through, this is by no means a fault with the novel. Lovers of the genre will appreciate Williams' story and its affectionate tribute to Lewis and his fellow, golden age exploitation filmmakers.

– Review by Garvan Giltinan

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