Legendary horror director Herschell Gordon Lewis has often compared his 1963 classic Blood Feast, widely considered to be the first so-called “splatter film” for its joyously excessive gore, to the poetry of Walt Whitman: “It was no good, but it was the first of its kind.” At his blog, The Scene Of Scene 13, exploitation historian Raleigh Bronkowski has collected an interesting assortment of vintage newspaper ads and press clippings related to Blood Feast. Taken together, these artifacts show how Lewis’ deliberately offensive and outrageous movie was marketed over the years, usually more as an endurance test than as entertainment. “Can you take it?” screamed the ads. “Come at your own risk!” Lewis was a master of publicity and wrote numerous books on marketing and advertising, including Catalog Copy That Sizzles and Marketing Mayhem. Many of the Blood Feast ads carry official-looking warnings about how “no one under 16 will be admitted” and that screenings of the film will have an “ambulance with two attendants on duty,” not to mention the “special nurse on duty in [the] snack bar.”
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ strategy obviously worked, because Bronkowski’s press clippings prove that Blood Feast had a lengthy run on the drive-in and grindhouse circuit throughout the 1960s and 1970s, by which time such Lewis devotees as Tobe Hooper and John Waters had started making films of their own. Most of all, the Blood Feast ads shine a light on a now-lost era of movie exhibition, a time when horror hosts like New York’s Baron Daemon might show up to personally introduce a horror film and when audiences had the patience for herculean triple and quadruple features. One ad from the late 1970s, for instance, touts a marathon of Grease, Pretty Baby, and American Hot Wax. This was the world before Netflix.