One Great Loss To Us Grue Cruisin' Maniacs
by Terry Blass
Drive-in horror movie poster picture this: Pennsylvania summer's eve getting dusky, me in the back of the station wagon, trying to read the latest Batman comic. Up front my pop's yelling "Deanie, how the *@$#kratzen did you get yer Sugar Daddy stuck in yer little sister's hair?" Naturally said sibling is crying up a storm and tossing punches at oldest sister D. while the younger gals ... sounds like the usual dozen of 'em ... laugh & holler. Passenger front side my younger brother turns to smirk at me. He knows what awaits me with the girls later. While he and Dad check out the races, I'll be watching over these forever fighting females while he and the old man go down to the track. Me? Like usual, my choice, I'll be on the track bleachers, looking across the raceway parking lot to the giant screen of the loco drive-in on the pike, each outfit under the same name and banner.
I hadn't checked before leaving the Saturday paper, so I don't even know what's playing tonight. Why should I care all that much, it ain't like I'll even be hearing what's showing. Then I look up, see it on the marquee: BLOOD FEAST! In big red letters, of corpse. Okay, fear reader, since we're talking BLOOD FEAST when it was new, we better step fright into the ole wayback machine for Sherman. Oh wait, we're talking Dave Friedman here, schlock and shock master, exploitation and horror meister, so we better set it for both "Lay back" and "Slay, hack!"
So: 1963. Thanks to a bookstore known as Books With Hooks and certain other unmentionable newstands, I was gore than familiar already with BLOOD FEAST. All the men's mags seemed to be featuring it in their, ahem, spreads of lay, I mean, late. The drive-in ticket booth, however, at the moment was only showing the, even then, infamous black & white still of the gal on the slab, chest bloodied, open, guy in Egyptian garb squeezing her heart in his hand. I imagine at this scary moment my editor is thinking to himself, "Self, I HAVE that picture. Maybe now aorta run it!"
Scare with me now: I had no choice. I couldn't stay at the drive-in myself, stand & watch the show. Hadda go in the track, I had my widdle wild women to watch, and that was that. Still, I was gonna hackually see BLOOD FEAST. But I wouldn't be hearing a single blood flying drop of it. We pulled onto the racing side of things, got parked, paid up, charge to our places. My brother and dad made car-crazy tracks, me, the girls and Batman & Robin went up to our usual best view of the drive-in screen from the bleachers. I don't think Gotham City's Commissioner was there for reel, but man it wasn't long before there was serious Gordon!
Soon as the kids saw the first gory glimpses of BF the night went awry. The girl refused to leave, watching Friedman's from between fingers spread over their eyes. Rather than going down to Dad & brother, what they did was carry on. Meantime things on screen were reely carrion.
Go ahead, put yerself in my place. Even prepped by Books With Hooks, I couldn't believe what I was seeing, not hearing. Worse, the little ladies were so loud I could, for once, hardly hear the roar of the cars and crowd below us. Would my sissies leave? No. Would they shut up? No way. On screen Mal Arnold as the mad Fuad Ramses was killing anyone in sight for his Egyptian feast. Talk about yer feast scum, feast severed! And boy did he ever bring new meaning to a dining out DIE-it.
From the sounds drifting to us from the d-i lot, lotsa folks screamed to "B" having a ghouled slime. Horns blew through the night, beer cans flew through the lights. I hadn't, dammit, brought my 'nocs, but I'm pretty sure I saw guys and gals like running to the rest rooms, hands over mouths, hence guaranteeing the d-i custodian would soon be cleaning things up with lotsa vomit Comet.
Yup, on screen mad Mal's Fuuad had them Cairo in the Nile's. But offscreen it looked like the whole joint was, one way or another, car rockin' in the aisles!
My sissies? Show ended with them all still squalling when we left early. Bedtime for the youngest, ya know. Soon as the gals near knocked the ole man over when we regrouped he knew something was up. I was in for it. What could I have done? Meaning that as we crawled through the traffic out the track lot toward the d-i, all I heard was the gals crying, my pop yelling at me like it was my fault, and my brother laughing at me getting called names that would make that poor custodian turn red and flush.
We got home. I spent the night downstairs trying to sleep over still-shaken sisters crying upstairs. Screeching, running back and forth between their rooms, maybe sleeping some before waking up and starting all over again. Worse yet, their rooms had, like I've heard Nick Adams' place did up in Nanny Coke, a connecting closet, and they were crawling through it every time one kid needed another warm body for comfort. I only mention this ... and Nick Adams ... because their screams and such onto near dawn were sure Rebel yellious.
Civil war or not, the story of that night at the track slash drive-in is now the stuff of family legend, and not to be taken for Grant dead. Some nights I can still hear the girls crying, and I grin. Why? I didn't tell ya's, but as we were stuck in traffic next to the drive-in, I looked toward the ticket booth. That b&w shot was gone, reekplaced by an insert, 14X36 BF poster. I knew from poster sizes and names thanks to manager Frankie Muldoon over at the indoor Black Diamond Theater, Franky being the brother of Lanky, who ran the Mu-Way Drive-In down at Pummeled Dwarf. Pummeled Dwarf being for us just a short drive.
Poster had been oddly bent to fit on the curve on the booth front, making the thing read "Nothing so appalling in the anals of horror." Gee, a blurb like that you'd think they coulda made it easier for me, placed it on the rear window...
Luckily I can say that my successful snatch of an insert was, as high crimes go, reely about as H. G. Lewis I ever got.
A few months later I caught BF in an indoor engorium. Heard it, too, as BF producer Dave Friedman would learn years of fears later, when we met at a Chiller. Case YOU haunt heard, Chiller is the world's best horror movie Konvention, in or out of in Clement weather. Even Kong would agree fur sure. Oftimes we'd set up table as the Poster Pit, and around the bend would be Dave at Something Weird Video, who'd wander over to us and shoot the "B"s.
Ya gotta love horror to say this, but ghouled slimes were had by all. He'd usually open with a big "Hey, Pit!" and a sideways puff outta his big mold ceegar. Chiller back then was held in Secaucus N. Jay, and one time talking to us he let fly a cloud that reekmained pungent down the hall, out the hotel and over the parking lot, that didn't touch down until it hit the Channel 9 building and descended, having finally WORn out ...
Then there was his dressing. His suits were dapper, sure, but he was so big a showman he knew when to put on a look that said he was born in a Barnum. And boy, did he ever wear them P.T. darn swell. Heck, the man had one suit, it was so loud it left the building, headed north and lit out for Pennsylvania, meaning in Jersey turn left at the cow. Which could explain that mysterious grouping of cows that later that day fell over deaf, in case you hadn't herd.
The man seemed to enjoy over the years poking, as they say over in Coletown, "tru" items at our table. One set-up morning I came into the joint hauling 1-sheet backers, 27X41, on toppa my head. The poster backers and I stuck out a country mile, fright at a level to take off people's heads. Which I may have jest done, now that I think oh pun it, out in the lobb offy.
I got sneaky. Got the posters about a foot behind him, stopped, went "Friedman!" He turned, smiled, went "Pit!" after blowing out smoke that coulda choked a, sad to say now, hearse. I moved closer to him, got the corner of the poster stack an inch from him, then asked "Hey, Dave, wanna see my new magic act?"
Now, Friedman was quick, always. He kept a straight pan, said "Sure. Whatcha got?"
"Wanna see me make a smelly ceegar disappear?"
"No," he said, holding his ground. "But how?"
I made like I was about to knock the cigar outta his hand by using the posters stack. He pulled back, shifted the cigar behind his back and made it reekappear in his other, away-from-me hand, like magic.
Then he said "That'sa no good. What else ya got, Pit?"
Grr. "Fire away," I said. "Unless yer firing that cigar, it might go off."
"Uh huh." He thought a sec. "Hokay, kid," he went, firing a fresh toxic cloud. "Lemme see ya tap dance"
I tried. Least I didn't knock over and kill anybody with the posters doing it. I'd reely hate to have murder by movie poster on my rap, uh, sheet.
He nodded, twirled the cigar, inhaled/exhaled a cloud shoulda alerted Homeland Secuity in its toxicity. "Okay, kid. What I wanna know, is ... " I waited for it, posters getting heavier and heavier, people getting more and more annoyed trying to avoid them and me. Got so quiet, though, I could hear crickets, something I'd never experienced before at Chiller, by Jiminy.
Good thing he didn't ask for a match, too, those posters weren't getting any lighter. Finally he hit me with it, right after I stumb bumbled a bit and about made some poor heading-past-us person drinking coffee an instant decap.
What he said was: "So, how about an act with all those posters on yer head like that?"
"Sooooooo ...." he stretched. "Can you juggle?"
Yeah, he got me on that one. I didn't even bother to try. I hadn't felt so helplessly whupped since my sisters watched the demise of Mal slash Fuad Ramses and then got even MORE scared silly and all dumpstirred up...
Now, one of the biggest things which made the man so enduringly charming at Chillers for me and the luvva my wife was his use of a bit I gave HIM, and he could have it. Ya see, one of the first times we'd met I told him that story you, fear reader, have already seen, how I caught hell over my sisters' reaction to seeing, never hearing, BLOOD FEAST that long aghoul night of fright. Thing is, it wasn't that he told it in the first place, it was how he told it, and also, like any teller of tall, terror-bull tales, it was who he told it, again sad to say, tomb.
And that first time he told it in our presence was...? Hokay, screams to me it was the first Chiller appearance of the man I been calling, since spurtly after that eeek!-vent-full summer night in '63, "Heap Gorey Lewis." Yeah, some lame but cagey H. G. joke, huh? Sorry, but I came up with it way before I ever even thought of someday having possibly WIZARD OF GOREmet him.
Friedman and I had just set up a later Chiller. We were hoodooing the unusual, making like Universal Studios extras exchanging peasantries, when in walked Hershell Gordon Lewis. Soon Friedman and H. G. stood in front of our table, slapping each other on the back, shaking hands, for all I know trading Connie Mason signals. We took care of bizness at table meantime, while the two fear old fiends, I SAID dear old friends slowed some, and Friedman turned to me, said "Hey, Hershell, this is Pit." Hey, why would I object, me being some sordid, if not Pit, poster cellar?
Scare upon Friedman gave me this hoo-ha look, said, "Hey, Pit, why don'tcha tell Hersh here all about the first time you saw BLOOD FEAST?"
So I did. I haunt proud. Finished with my usual "So, the first time I saw BLOOD FEAST, I only SAW it and never HEARD it!" Whereupon Friedman exhaled a vapor cloud worthy of Godzilla after one mighty Tokey "O," slapped me on the shoulders about sending me to the floor, and said, "Yep, first time he sees BLOOD FEAST he can't hear it, and you guys know what?"
We didn't, said so, so Dave sez "Yup, he saw it, didn't hear it, and he was BETTER OFF!"
Next thing I knew, I swear, Friedman and Lewis were almost rolling on the floor. Not that they ever looked like they were about to perform even a few, let alone 2000 manic acts.
Geez, old friends are the best, huh? Thing is, for makers of horror films these guys fright there proved to have no feelings of monsterous Kongceit. They made the movies they made, made some buck$, but they had funhoodooin' it. Who can, in the fields of fear, axe for gore?
So, one of the next and, as it turns out, last times I saw Mr. Friedman was again at a Chiller. So there we are fronta the fanged, I SAID danged table again, Dave, H. G. and yer jumbled narrator, and who enters but newbie guest Mal Arnold? Again with the greetings and handshakes, back thumps this time between three horror movie greats. But did Dave forget me? Nah. Things toned down a bit and Dave said "Hey, Mal, this is Pit." Soon we all shook on Pit. A lull surfaced, and Dave whams me on the back, blows fumes Krakatoa woulda lava'ed, and sez "Hey Pit, tell me & Hershell's old buddy Mal here about the first time you ...." nudge nudge ... "SAW the epic that is BLOOD FEAST."
I did. Dave waited for it. I could see Hershell G. waiting for it. Finally Friedman went, "Yeah, Mal, first time he sees BLOOD FEAST there's no sound, and ya know what?"
Honest, I seem to recall myself and H. G. L. letting the opportunity to finish it pass, like old buds letting the master take his grue cue, which was Mal saying, "No, what?" This time Dave's punch line had a trio of terror titans laughing up a storm all about that ancient history night at a drive-in long gone.
But this time I'll let YOU, fear reader, say the laugh line. There. Now, don't you too feel much BETTER OFF? I do, I feel better now that I've tried to pay tribute to a great man as I saw him in real, not reel life. Friedman was a trip and a "Have fun" guy ev'ry time we ran into him, and how many people can ya say that about. You must feel the same way about the man and his works if you managed to get this far in this piece. Man was loved by many. Especially those of us who, ahem, saw BLOOD FEAST and Mal the rest when they were new, notorious and "Ought not to be allowed!" Almost 50 years after BLOOD FEAST, yer average even network cop show features more gore than BLOOD FEAST, 2000 MANIACS and THE BLIZZARD OF GIZZARDS, I mean, WIZARD OF GORE put together. Odd, though. Despite that, there isn't a one of those t.v. shows I'd ever watch with the sound on, the whole heard of 'em.
Why, just this minute I got word from a worker in another medium, who informed me Friedman's at the gates of horror movie heaven right now, and the big D.'s got plans to open some restaurant catering to Egyptian FEASTivities, plus Anubizness that ...
Wait. Hold on. Where's the party to whom I'd been speaking? WHATTTTTTT? This is who? Okay, that does it. They won't let Friedman through the pearly gates until he's thrown Earthward all those smelly cigars, the Hell! I can't believe it, but the guy's saying if they even suspect Friedman's got a cigar in hand, can ya digit, St. Peter isn't gonna let him through the heavenly humidors!
Well, I got news for ya, bub, the man's got lotsa friends and fans down here. And if that's the way yer gonna act, St. Pete, be a-Fuad, be very, very a-Fuad!