Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Strangeness in Me-An Overview of "Feast of Flesh"

In the Spirit of Halloween, I thought I would post another review from the Vaults. This time around it's a South American treat with a few tricks up its sleeve, all in the form of Emilio Vieyra's exclellent 1967 film "Feast of Flesh." This is one of my earliest reviews ever, dating back to 2003. I still love this film and think it is ripe for rediscovery. It is available on Something Weird's Double Feature DVD with the uber-gory Mexican horror film, "Night of the Bloody Apes." The two were often shown theatrically back-to-back, which must have been a mind blowing combo for any lucky duck that bought a ticket. Moody B&W psychosexual art film paired with a balls out bloodbath, complete with nudity, severed eyeballs, and Mexican wrestlers. (Which I fully endorse all of these elements, by the way.)

Like most writers, it's hard to look at older works and not think about how you would do some things differently, but you have to start somewhere. It's all part of the gig.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy this article and have a hauntingly good night!

There are certain films that have all the traditional elements of an exploitation film yet somehow transcend them and transform into something completely different. Emilio Vieyra’s “Placer Sangriento” aka “Feast of Flesh” is an ideal example of this. It has all the markings of a good exploitation film; nudity, promiscuous teens, drugs, a sleazy police inspector, a man sexing up and then killing beautiful young girls while dressed in a monster mask. Hey, as far as I was concerned, it already sounded like a winner! But as I watched it, I realized that to dismiss it as another wonderfully goony exploitation film would not be fair at all.

For starters, it is a visually gorgeous film to watch. The black and white cinematography is wonderfully, especially the shots of the ocean. (In fact these shots are often so stark, that the sea almost becomes a separate character.) Black shadows are ever present throughout, adding to the weird and fitting mixture of murder and melancholy that permeates every scene of the film. The fact that even the gruesome moments of the film look elegant is a real testament to the talent that was working behind “Feast of Flesh.” Even the sunny scenes at the beach feel less frivolous and more unhealthy, which is perfect for a film like this. There is a killer on the loose and the teenagers (some of whom look like they are already well into their twenties), while aware, react by with their standard brand of airy recklessness as if they already know they are doomed. It’s not the usual immature stupidity that plagues most teen characters in horror films (or real life, for that matter.) Granted, none of them come across mature in the film, but as you soon will realize, reality is a questionable thing in this film.

Which is one of the aspects I loved about this film, is that it contains this slightly unsettling, dreamlike air. When I say “dreamlike” I don’t mean a full blood nightmare or pink-cheeked daydream either. Instead the film lies in this shadowy limbo that keeps you curious till the last frame. The music that is played throughout the film certainly enhances this. The score, composed by Victor Buchino, is lush and quite haunting, which is enhanced by the use of ethereal sounding female vocals. Parts of it reminded me of what would have happened if Martin Denny had composed the Dark Shadows theme song.

Then there is the matter of the man-monster. Naturally, the mask hides his identity until the very end of the film, when both his person and all the red herrings that were littered throughout, are revealed. Now with a film like this, where obviously a lot of hard work was spent to establish this surreal atmosphere, having a mask for the killer could make or break the overall tone. If the murderer has a goofy looking mask, it will efficiently kill any real atmosphere that has been painstakingly created. Luckily, this is not a problem in “Feast of Flesh,” since the mask is perfect. Unlike most cinematic killers-in-masks, which tend to be icy in a mechanically predatory way, both the murderer and especially his mask harbor an air of sadness around them.

This effect is a special combination of both the man and the rubber mask. The former clutches his victims (who are often willing, albeit via mind control through the haunting musical compositions) in a passionate yet desperate way. His mask resembles the long face of a lonely old man with a shock of black hair. In fact, he does not feel like the true villain of the film until the very end. If anything, the real villains of the film are the adults. You have the parents who neglect their teen children while shrugging indifferently about their strange behavior. Then you have adults, like Inspector Lauria who attempt to take advantage of them sexually. Not to mention the sheer incompetence of the Inspector and his coworkers at the police station. These men are so amazingly inept at their jobs that they end up inadvertently killing one young lady while using her as a “guinea pig” for the killer. So what do they do after that tragic event? Use another young lady as a guinea pig for the killer! To me, their ineptitude is far scarier than any sadly seductive madman.

The strange human behavior does not end with the killer and habitually inept police force in. Right from the beginning, we are greeted with some bizarre human reactions. For example, the film opens with a young couple making out on the beach at night. They see the killer drive by, dump a half nude body by the side of the road, and then speed off. Here’s a dialogue sample from that scene; “Oh he brought a chick of his own all right.” “Don’t blow your cool.” You know, if I saw someone dump a half nude body, I would probably not be up for some witty repartee unless the spirit of Oscar Wilde somehow possessed my soul that night. Yet, somehow, this does not affect the film’s power at all, since nothing in it feels like it is rooted in realism. To have realistic characters would have demanded a far grittier film that “Feast of Flesh” is.

One of things I did admire about the group of wild teens in the film is that they are very liberal, since their circle of friends includes a gay couple and a lesbian. These characters, while a wee bit stereotypical, are not used for comic relief and are not used as killer fodder. Sure, this may not seem shocking now, but given the time period of this film, it is very impressive to see (Not that film today has advanced that much in terms of non-biased portrayals of minorities.)

For some of you cult film cineastes, some of the cast and direction will look very familiar to you. There’s a very good reason for this, since Vieyra went on to direct “The Curious Dr. Humpp” and two of the main actors, Gloria Pratt (who plays the sexy and na├»ve “Beba” in this film) and Ricardo Bauleo (who plays the handsome pianist, Silvio), where in both “FoF” and “Curious Dr. Humpp.” Both films even shared the same producer, Orestes Trucco. (Bizarrely enough, Trucco went on to direct the 1982 film “Una Aventura llamada Menudo,” a film about the monstrously huge Puerto Rican boy band, Menudo.)

“Feast of Flesh” is a film that will surprise you with its beauty, darkness, and otherworldly view of reality. If you are up for a strange film that is both arty and a little sleazy, then you must definitely give this film a chance.


This film impressed me so much, that I incorporated clips from it in my very first video collage art piece, entitled "The Eternal Sea." With this video I got to achieve my dream of merging key scenes from the film with Martin Denny's beautiful and haunting song of the same name. Much thanks to my brother from another mother Mark Warren for posting this for me.

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