Blood Feast

Gloria’s father, Jimmy, a petty criminal, cultivated a love of movies in her from a very young age. Jimmy had a wide taste in films, from art house to grindhouse—the bloodier the better. Nothing was off limits in Gloria’s cinema education.

Critical Writing

It was so hot you could die.

It was summer vacation 1963 and we were going to the drive-in to see a slice-and-dice called Blood Feast.

We lived in Manchester, the so-called Queen City of New Hampshire. The drive-in was in the boonies, in nowheresville. We had a drive ahead of us.

My father, Jimmy Norris, herded us into his Pontiac Chieftain.

“It’s the hour of reckoning, little girls,” he cackled in his scary, Boris Karloff voice as he took the corner leading out of the projects at a speed fast enough to make the wheels emit a sharp squeal.

“Jim,” protested my mother, Shirley. The word seemed to evaporate the moment it left her shimmery pink lips.

Jimmy crooked his right hand into a claw. There was dark hair growing on the knuckles and mysterious grime under the nails. I had seen that hand rip out the still-warm guts of dead animals 10 times my size. I knew what it was capable of.

Jimmy drove with his left hand and swiped the clawed hand behind him into the backseat. The Hairy Claw was going for any part of us it could get.

Virginia, my 14-year-old half sister, buried her head under her arms as she’d been taught to do in school to ward off a nuclear blast.

I was five years younger, but I took on the Hairy Claw.

As it groped for a fistful of flesh, I grabbed it with both hands. It escaped and clamped down hard on one of my spindly wrists. My fingers with their gnawed-on fingernails wriggled helplessly like earthworms trapped in a Skippy peanut butter jar.

My only hope was a sneak attack. Jimmy had taught me that that was the best way to get the jump on somebody in the schoolyard or on a battlefield. I lunged forward and chomped down hard on the Hairy Claw.

“Get a loada that kid, “ Jimmy laughed. “She’s got a lotta frickin’ moxie for a 9-year-old.”

Shirley nodded, her mouth stuck between a smile and a frown. She quickly lit a Lucky Strike. Her long fingers holding the match shook. She blew some smoke over in Jimmy’s direction.

Bam! Jimmy hit the brakes. His Pontiac had pulled up behind a creamy white Cadillac. An old lady was behind the wheel. I imagined she was on her way to bingo or a baked bean supper. She was not going Jimmy’s speed. He drove an inch from her bumper, trying to get her to go faster.

“Come on, move that jalopy, you old bat.”

He looked over at Shirley. “What’d I tell you? Never get behind a Caddy. You could turn into Rip Van Frickin’ Winkle before you get to where you’re goin’.”

Shirley was already bracing herself against the dashboard.

Jimmy floored it and swerved around the jalopy.

As we passed, I caught a glimpse of the lady’s watery blue eyes. She was scared shitless, I could see that.

“See what I mean about women drivers?” Jimmy said to Shirley, jerking his head back toward the lady in the Cadillac, who was fast becoming a white speck.

The thing was, Jimmy didn’t think women should be behind the wheel. He said their hormones prevented them from making smart decisions. They didn’t have hair-trigger reflexes like men had from firing guns. It was for my mother’s own good and the safety of others that he had put the kibosh on her driving.

“You’d cream us all,” Jimmy had laughed. “You’d cream your own kids. Splat! Sayonara, brats. A car is like a gun. Unless a person knows how to handle it, they better not monkey around with it.”

“But what if I just went to the Temple Market and back?”

Jimmy nearly split a gut. “With your sense of direction, you’d end up in KooKooLand.” KooKooLand was what he called California, his least favorite of the 50 states ’cause all the people out there were surfing ding-dongs.

Shirley’s doe-brown eyes flickered with doubt. “I guess you’re right,” she’d said.

And that was that. Sayonara, driving, for Shirley.

The road was all Jimmy’s now. I watched the needle of the speedometer glide over 90 on its way to 95.

Finally a sign for the drive-in appeared. We took the turnoff and barreled down the winding dirt road toward the ratty-looking white rectangle that had been plopped down in the middle of a paved-over field.

Jimmy swerved into a spot dead center.

On the screen, an animated hot dog and hamburger were doing the twist with a fat bag of popcorn. A worried-looking clock showed there were only three minutes left till showtime. Three minutes till Blood Feast.

I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for.

Blood Feast

One Sunday, a few weeks back, we had come upon a movie theatre in Boston where Blood Feast was playing. The theatre was located in the part of town known as the Combat Zone. The area was crawling with girls in skintight skirts who had eyes like sleepy raccoons and guys hawking “genuine Bulova watches” that were phony as a three-dollar bill. Jimmy told us we were lucky he was showing us around the big, bad city. Other families just got to go camping in the boonies and have their keisters chewed by fire ants. Or maybe to Disneyland, which was for patsies. Well, screw that, Jimmy wanted us to see the watering holes and strip joints he had frequented when he was in the Merchant Marine.

Jimmy’s right fist clenched into a knot. I watched the eagle tattoo on his biceps fill with blood and look like it was about to fly away.

“How else you gonna write the Great American Novel?” he had asked me.

I didn’t answer him.

I’d just laid eyes on a giant poster of a half-naked lady dripping blood. The poster was outside the theatre playing Blood Feast.

Jimmy sauntered up to the ticket booth. The punk in the booth was reading a magazine. I caught a glimpse of a picture of a woman with breasts like pink birthday balloons stuck to her chest by static electricity.

“What’s the lowdown?” asked Jimmy. “Just how rough is this picture?”

“Oh, it’s rough, man. Real bloody. Like nothin’ you ever seen.” The guy suddenly noticed us. His mouth dropped open. “You can’t bring kids in here.”

“Oh no? Who says I can’t? My brats love a good slice-and-dice, the bloodier the better. Don’t you, brats?”

Virginia and I nodded, doing our best to look eager.

The guy wasn’t convinced. “Look, this ain’t like any other horror movie. It’s 18 and over. That’s it, over and out.”

Jimmy’s tanned face grew a shade darker. He tore into the punk. He said he was goin’ in and we were comin’ with him. It was a free country and no little pip-squeak in some rinky-dink booth was gonna tell him where to go. He would tell the pip-squeak where to go first.

The guy hissed at him. “Beat it or I’m callin’ the fuzz. You want your kids to see you get pinched?”

Jimmy’s right fist clenched into a knot. I watched the eagle tattoo on his biceps fill with blood and look like it was about to fly away.

Just then, a big cop lumbered by. He was carrying a large box of pastry from a bakery in the North End where we often stopped for boozy rum cakes and cannoli. The Dago Joint, Jimmy called it, ’cause of it being Italian.

“Daddy, can we go to the Dago Joint?” I pleaded, hoping to distract him from knocking the guy’s block off.

The cop overheard me and chuckled. Jimmy glared at him. He didn’t like cops. Not any cops. They were mostly micks, he said. McMurphys, McMullens, and McMeatheads.

The cop disappeared into a pizza joint.

“Look at that lard-ass go,” Jimmy laughed.

The ticket taker cracked up. Then he leaned forward and gave Jimmy the lowdown.

“Look, save your dough. This picture stinks. Not enough bazookas.”

“I love Bazooka,” I chimed in. “I can fit six in my mouth at once.”

The guy laughed and said, “Hey, kid, me too.”

Jimmy told the guy to quit making fun of his kid or he’d golf him one. Then he said never mind the frickin’ movie, he wouldn’t be caught dead in that fleabag joint anyway.

Then he threw his muscley arms around the three of us.

“I’m taking my dolls to the Dago Joint.”

And off we went. We stuffed ourselves silly on rum cakes. Jimmy gave me the maraschino cherry on his.

Over the next few weeks, Jimmy checked the newspaper to see if Blood Feast was playing in our neck of the woods. Finally, he found out it was.

“It’s coming,” he teased us. “Blood Feast is coming.”

And now, the wait was over. Blood Feast was finally here.

The cartoon clock on the drive-in screen was jumping up and down. Its alarm had just gone off. It ran off the edge of the screen into the darkness.

I peered between my parents’ heads. My heart was bumping against my rib cage like it wanted to follow that cartoon clock wherever it was headed.

It couldn’t be that bad, I told myself. I had made it through Psycho, Homicidal, and The Sadist. Sure, I got scared, but then everything turned out okay. The killers got what was coming to them. The worse they got it, the happier you felt. Happiness was always waiting for you at the end.

That’s what I told myself, anyway.

The movie began with some organ music that sounded like what they played at the ice-skating rink. I relaxed a little. Maybe there’d be some ice-skating in the movie. Maybe it’d be like the Ice Capades with a little blood thrown in.

But there was no ice-skating. No flouncy skirts or bouncy ponytails. Just a blond lady coming home from work to an apartment kinda like ours. The lady took off all her clothes and got into a bathtub. A man appeared out of nowhere and began stabbing the lady over and over. He stabbed her in the eye, pulling the eye right out of its socket and impaling it like a morsel of Greek shish kebab on a stick. Then he sawed off the bottom of her leg and cut out her heart.

The lady’s heart filled the whole screen. It was a huge, drippy hunk cradled in the man’s hands like a kitten.

Virginia started to wail and slid onto the car floor.

Shirley turned away from the screen, making a face like she was sucking on a sour ball. Her left arm flailed into the backseat, trying to locate Virginia.

“Jim, maybe this one’s too much for them.”

“Oh, c’mon, it’s just a movie.”

On the screen, they were showing the dead lady’s face with one empty eye socket the size of a hole you’d dig to play marbles.

“But, hell, they’re doing a pretty good job with the realism,” he said.

He turned back to get my opinion. “What do you think, kiddo?”

I agreed they were doing a pretty good job with the realism and said it was the best slice-and-dice ever.

“See,” Jimmy told Shirley. “Don’t be a killjoy. Some of us have a movie to watch.”

I kept my eyeballs glued to the screen, determined to prove I could take whatever the movie dished out.

It turned out the killer was an Egyptian caterer with a gimpy leg named Fuad Ramses. Fuad was cooking up a big feast and planned to serve humans, not hamburgers.

After slicing and dicing the lady in the bathtub, he went after a girl making out with a guy on the beach. He cut out the girl’s brain but didn’t bother with the guy’s. I figured the guy’s brain must not be as tender and said so.

“That’s right,” Jimmy said. “Men’s brains are tough and women’s are all soft and squishy, and little Greek girls’ brains are the softest of all. They’re the best for eating, like a baby lamb at Greek Easter. So you better hold on to your head from now on or some maniac might try to snatch it.”

“No maniac’s getting my head,” I snapped. “I’ll stab them in the eye first.”

Critical Writing“That’s my girl,” he laughed.

The next lady got her tongue ripped out, roots and all.

After that, the lard-ass cops were onto Fuad and chased him down. Like a numbskull he hid in the back of a garbage truck. The truck ground him up like a giant wad of hamburger meat.

It was the perfect ending.

But something was wrong. I didn’t feel happy at all.

I knew from then on I’d be checking my bedroom closet for psychos every night and sleeping with scissors under my pillow.

I knew every time I played marbles I’d see that lady’s eye socket in the marble hole.

Jimmy winked at me in the rearview mirror.

“That wasn’t really him in the garbage truck, you know. He pushed in one of the coppers instead and got away.”

“He did not. He got all squished up. I saw it.”

“No, he got away. You musta got all scared like a girl and closed your eyes for a second. He’s still out there. And guess who he’s coming for next?”

“You!” I blurted out. “He’s coming for you.”

He grabbed me around the neck. For a second, I couldn’t breathe.

“No, he’s coming for you, little girl. He’s coming for you.” •