As the 1970’s began, Charles Manson took his throne as the great countercultural boogey man of American society.  His ability to terrify the public was immediately exploited by virtually every form of media.

idrinkyb-posThis was doubly true for the filmmaking world, which was concurrently benefiting from the ability to explore adult content with the new ratings system.  A rush of Manson-inspired films followed, including such titles as The Manson Massacre and Sweet Savior.

The best of the bunch was I Drink Your Blood.  Its notoriety was instantly sealed when it earned an X rating for violence, making it the first film to earn such a designation, but there’s more going on here than cheap thrills.  I Drink Your Blood remains the best of the Manson-oid movies because it’s inspired, ambitious and full of surprises in  that way that distinguishes the best exploitation films.

I Drink Your Blood begins by establishing a sinister devil-worshipping cult of freaky hippies led by Horace Bones (Bhaskar) settling into a small town and making trouble.  Local kid Pete (Riley Evans) retaliates when they hurt his sister and uncle by injecting the blood of a rabid dog into some meat pies (!) and giving them to the hungry hippies.

The fractious hippie group goes insane from the rabies virus, spreading both death and infection as they act out of the death of the hippie dream in an oversexed and blood-drenched exploitation film style.  The only hope for stopping it lies in Riley in his family, local bakery owner Mildred (Elizabeth Marner-Brooks) and her construction foreman boyfriend (Jack Damon).

I Drink Your Blood began as an assignment to writer/director David Durston, a challenge from producer/distributor Jerry Gross to make a horror film wilder than Night Of The Living Dead.  Durston’s resulting fusion of then-current scare topics (Satanism, the Manson family) with the real life horror of rabies went above and beyond the call of duty.

Durston’s surprisingly intricate script constantly moves and delivers plenty of sex, violence and shock value while incorporating an entire ensemble of characters and giving them all interesting arcs to play.  Its use of rabies also adds a forward-thinking element of body horror: though obviously designed to emulate Night Of The Living Dead, the way it is used plays out like David Cronenberg’s early films.

It’s also smartly directed by Durston, who puts an accent on pace and exhibits a colorful visual sense with the help of cinematographer Jacques Demarecaux.  The film’s technical polish is impressive for a regional quickie, with surprisingly stylish lighting in the night scenes and snappy editing that keeps the multiple plot threads coherent as they speed along.

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The second half is full of effective setpieces, with standouts being a scene where the rabies contagion is explained while we see it being spread in a diabolical way and a tense standoff where the survivors are caught between two groups of rabid attackers.  Those who have never seen the film should also look for memorable scenes that use an electric carving knife and a self-immolation designed to reference a certain Vietnam War protest.

Finally, I Drink Your Blood also surprises with above-average acting for a grindhouse quickie.  Bhaskar is a standout, a dancer who uses his physicality to create menace along with  a theatrical, almost Yul Brynner-esque style of line delivery.  The ranks of the hippies also include an early role for Lynn Lowry as well as memorable bits by Iris Brooks as the nympho of the group, Tyde Kierney as the most sympathetic cultist and Ronda Fultz as a pregnant cultist who has a devastating scene near the end.  Kudos must be given to George Patterson as a cultist who gets really intense when the rabies takes hold.

In short, I Drink Your Blood delivers the goods in a way guaranteed to satisfy grindhouse devotees – but it does so in a skillful, unexpectedly smart way that will win over those who don’t answer the grindhouse calling.  If you’re fascinated by the topic of Manson-inspired films, this should be at the top of your list.