Do the Freaky Turkey
A drifter enters a surreal world of horror as a ‘guinea pig’ at a turkey farm. Addiction and adverse reactions overtake him as he assumes the form of a barnyard bird humanoid and terrorizes other addicts, quenching his thirst with their blood. His friends discover his secret and set out to end the carnage with a machete and a prayer.
From the bottom of the Grade ‘Z’ bucket comes a feather-filled frightener that’s so bad it’s… well, bad. 1972’s ‘Blood Freak’ was not a drive-in movie. On the contrary, people drove out. Those with stalled engines and dead batteries were treated to one unique mix of grotesque horror and social commentary with a statement on drug use and spiritual redemption.
It stars Steve Hawkes! We know this since he’s given a lead billing twice in the same opening credits sequence. One identical title card oddly appears following that of the supporting cast. In addition, the music is strangely “directed” rather than “produced”. The audience is baffled and the movie hasn’t even begun. Once the editor marks the first of several instances where he’ll fade out just as the camera seems to show us something, a rambling narrator holding a cigarette (Brad F. Grinter, the film’s co-director) launches an innocuous analysis with a spontaneity as genuine as the wood paneling behind him. His eyelids make featured appearances throughout these frequently recurring interruptions as he constantly looks down at the lines he’s forgetting. He babbles incoherently about the “fantastic order of things”. He’s obviously referring to someone else’s movie.
Along comes Herschell, our hero, a marble-mouthed biker dude who rides into town looking for work. Mysterious and nervous, Herschell is clearly running from something. Perhaps the law is on his trail for stealing Elvis’s head. After helping a young woman named Angel (Heather Hughes) on the highway, he is brought to her house where her sister, Anne (Dana Cullivan) is hosting a swinging drug party. Some of the guests are high, although only the production crew appears to be in a genuinely altered state. Herschell just says ‘no’, but is soon coaxed by Anne into smoking some pot. Seeing that Angel is interested in Herschell’s well-being, she begins a game of tug-of-war and loses the match. The sisters are clearly opposites as well as rivals. Angel is a moralistic bible-thumper while Anne is a temptress doper (were the scenario played out today, I guess the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ roles would be reversed). Their father soon enters the picture, offering Herschell work while he stays in town. “I could use a husky man like you out at my poultry ranch.” Don’t you wish you had a dollar for every time you heard that line?
He shows up at the ranch and meets some lab workers who tell him he can taste-test special turkeys treated with chemicals not yet approved for public consumption. He takes the job with only the slightest reluctance. Who wouldn’t want to ingest mass quantities of medicated meat produced by two shady, dim-witted technicians working out of a shed? He sits down before a roast turkey and starts to gobble, gobble, gobble it down (yeah, I know). Before the camera mercifully cuts, a fear almost sets in that you will actually watch him slowly eat the entire meal on screen. Later, he trips on more drugs at the house and reports to work the next day where he collapses and suffers seizures. No one knows he’s prone to addiction because he has been badly burned in Vietnam. Now his mind and body are freaking out from the combination of substances. A nightmarish transformation occurs and in a hyperbolic case of ‘you are what you eat’, his Elvis head is replaced with that of a turkey. He roams the town, murdering young heroin-addicted girls, hanging them upside-down and drinking their blood (and you were afraid something might go wrong).
Angel and Anne send some stoners out to go ‘Boar’s Head’ on this beast run a-fowl and end the terror (footage of an actual turkey slaughter is intercut; sensitive viewers may want to look away). Soon all is back to normal in this peaceful, sleepy neighborhood where everyone happens to shoot up heroin.
One might ask, with good cause, ‘Is this all for real?’ and for the most part, it does tend to take itself seriously. Once Anne meets Turkeyman, that does change, though. In a variation on the ‘Phantom Of The Opera’ ‘unmasking’ scene, she is faced with her lover’s new grotesque visage and begins to bemoan their unborn children’s future with such a monstrous legacy. Though it is naturally to ‘Blood Freak’s credit that it begins playing for laughs, it sadly takes away from the unintentional humor that gives the rest of the film its only amusing merits. Once the scene plays, it could be surmised that the whole thing is one big gag, but that really has to be done one way or the other. It seems plausible that after one glance at the dailies, Mr. Grinter realized he really had a turkey on his hands. To insist something was always a parody has been the convenient defense of many a humiliated director and producer retaliating in the face of public ridicule. Why not make that point valid by writing in some farce?
Technically, the production itself is the real horrifying monster. Microphones stay fixed in range of one actor at a time, resulting in the awkward and disturbing effect of muffled banter mixed in with random shouting. It’s bad enough that the cast already adopts the strangest of pitches, tones and inflections in their normal speech. They mumble and pause in mid-sentence, taper off as if falling asleep, step on each other’s cues and crack grins at inopportune moments. Yes, this ‘dream team’ cast can do it all! Finally, there is Grinter’s ridiculous narration. Though chain-smoking while expounding on the dangers of addiction seems more ironic today than when it first screened, try wrapping your head around this one: “The horrors that occur in the minds of those who allow the indiscriminate use of the human body as a mixing bowl for drugs and chemicals are as real as the real horror.” You figure it out.
A bad flick like this can certainly prove worthy of a feast for the right crowd. For most, however, it can never warrant any merit. Benjamin Franklin reportedly wished the turkey to be America’s national bird. Had he foreseen ‘Blood Freak’, he would have thought twice about ever discovering electricity.
Trailer on YouTube.