Tag Archive: Charles Manson

Durston on the set of IDYB, 1969.

Durston on the set of IDYB, 1969.  Source.

We all know Durston, who passed away a couple years back at the age of 88, as the director of I Drink Your Blood.  But what else did he do?  In this post, I want to share a bit of what I found from rooting around to give a fair shake to Durston’s film career.  I’m not sure I’m any closer to feeling like I understand the man, but giving a little more on his body of work he left us is hopefully a step in the right direction.  Limiting to feature films–as opposed to his radio and TV credits (a comprehensive list of these contributions here)–in the thirty years ending in 1994, Durston acted, wrote, directed, produced or edited not quite a dozen films, from exploitation fare as in IDYB, by far his most famous film, to gay hardcore porn.  Not the most prolific career, but an interesting one, to be sure.

Some say of Durston, reflecting on films such as Stigma (1972), Blue Sextet (1970), and Felicia (1964), let alone Manhole (1978) and Boy-Napped (1975), that he, in the words of Classic TV History Blog “seems to have been one of those figures who hovered on the fringes of the movie industry for decades, carving out a marginal career with an energy that surpassed his talent.”  While Stephen Thrower, author of Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents (FAB Press, 2007) remembers Durston in a much more positive light.  Both could well be true.

According to Randall Rutledge‘s problematic book, From Movie City to Music City USA: My Journey through Showbiz and how it Works [sic] (Magic Valley Publishers, 2008), Durston started as journalism major in Missouri, but ended up a contract player in George Cukor’s Winged Victory in 1944.  Durston’s IMDB entry, which contains a lot less work and awards than Rutledge claims he accomplished–Durston did not earn seven Emmys, for example–says he was also in the cast of Winged Victory’s Broadway production.  He worked as a writer and producer on a couple of radio and television shows in the 1950s (Navy Log, Your Hit Parade), presumably learning various jobs behind the camera.

il_570xN.140569380Durston took the helm of several films in the 1960s.  First up was Felicia in 1964, but since it was not released in the US, not much info about it is readily available.  It did have a novelization (see bookcover, right) by the very prolific Michael Avallone (writing as Mark Dane), and probably the first film role by a young–he’d have been about 24 at the time–Raul Julia.  The lead was played by Louise Allbritton.

ab_251430_0_TheLoveStatueLSD was the topic of his next film, The Love Statue, in 1965. This was an early exploitation movie about the drug, and Durston actually dropped acid (under the watch of a physician) to get a better feel for his subject matter.  The name of the film was changed from The Love Drug to The Love Statue when newspapers of the day would not run ads with the former name.  In 1967 Durston directed the English dubbed version of the pathbreaking 1964 Turkish film Susuz yaz (also known as “Dry Summer,” or sometimes as “Reflections”).  However, Durston did not have anything to do with the original making of this one.

This brings us to I Drink Your Blood in 1970, which I won’t dwell on much here since I talked about it at length last time.  This film was inspired by a couple things on Durston’s mind: an article about a rabies outbreak abroad, the then-recent Manson murders, and tales from a friend who’d just emerged from a cult. These fun little vignettes come together in IDYB.  For more information on IDYB’s history, especially on the existence of several different cuts and its cult status, see Horror at the Drive-In: Essays in Popular Americana (McFarland, 2008).

The next year, Durston put out The Blue Sextet, a vampire movie starring two actors from I Drink Your Blood–Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury and John Damon.  The latter was also a producer for The Blue Sextet. Blue Sextet

In 1972, Durston’s other moderately famous film, Stigma  came out, which launched the short career of Phillip Michael Thomas, as a physician suffering horrible racist slurs while treating a super duper virulent STD in a small town:

Another I Drink Your Blood actor makes an appearance in this one: Rhonda Fultz (the pregnant and inexplicably bewigged “Molly” in IDYB)

From here, Durston’s career as a filmmaker goes into its swan song. Durston had “always had a hand in the specialized and insular netherworld of gay hardcore porn,” according to Landis and Clifford’s indispensable book, Sleazoid Express (2002).  Durston wrote and directed these last couple films under the name “Spencer Logan” and/or “David Ransom.”  In 1975 he made Boy-napped! a hardcore gay porn film starring the late Jamie Gillis-who, as it happened, passed away just a few months before Durston in 2010.  In 1978 another gay hardcore film Manhole was made, also with Gillis.  Landis and Clifford say this last film was called Manhold, not Manhole, as IMDB has it, and that it was not released because one of the cast members got a role in Escape from Alcatraz, and the association with gay hardcore would have been bad for this unspecified person’s career, as well as for Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster.  At any rate, I don’t have much elaboration on Durston’s apparent long relationship in this  “insular netherworld” of the cinema world.  Durston seems to have left cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, returning only in 1994 as the editor of Hard Drive, an independently produced softcore flick.

There’s not enough information here to get a sense of Durston as an individual, nor much about his legacy.  So to jump to the conclusion that Durston “seems to have been one of those figures who hovered on the fringes of the movie industry for decades, carving out a marginal career with an energy that surpassed his talent” seems too harsh, especially since most accounts of him dwell on his cult hit I Drink Your Blood, and them list out his other work without saying anything more about Durston or his work.  Hopefully, I’ll find more info to fill in some of the gaps here.

Next time,  I’ll see what I can find about IDYB’s main tour de force, Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, who passed away in 2003.

Long Live “I Drink Your Blood”

PDVD_275This is one of my all-time favorite exploitation movies.  It really has it all–a good sampling of exploitation tropes, quirky casting decisions, and lots of graphic footage.  If the exploitation bug has bitten you only recently, this is a good film to start with.  It was also one of the first films to be rated X for violence, not sex.

The crux of the film is that the van of nihilistic satanist hippies–how likely is that?–breaks down in a small town, our merry bunch make pests out of themselves.  A young kid in the only moment of greatness in his life decides to lace their food with rabies-infected dog blood as revenge for the beatdown–and acid–the hippies gave Grandpa.  The hippies eat the bad food, which has an odd interaction with the copious amounts of acid they’ve already taken onboard, and they emerge as mindless, zombie-like monsters who, despite their mindlessness, have the uncanny ability–bordering on on a superpower–of finding the nearest blade and going after the others of their group or townsfolk.  The only thing to do is to put them down like the mad dogs they are.

This film comes and goes on YouTube.  It was there a couple years back, then removed.  It was posted again in late April 2013, but was removed less than a month afterwards. It has recently (26 April 2013) been again reposted in its entirety.  But it has been reliably available at Daily Motion. The version below appears to be nearer the 86-minute director’s cut, as opposed to the 77-minute version that’s also out there:

The second half of the movie, the hippies as mindless zombies half, is “a blatant a blatant bid to ride Night of the Living Dead’s cult coattails,” in the words of Joe Kane. Being derivative does not make this flick any less enjoyable, thankfully.  But not everyone seems to have thought so. When this film appeared as a double feature with Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left, Craven’s son was teased in school.

Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford say of this film, I Drink Your Blood is the pinnacle of the blood horror movie.  It’s fast, unrelentingly violent, and sexually explicit, dishing out a new shock every few minutes.”  All true, but what I like about this film is that it is a kind of exploitation “sampler.”  Consider all these tropes: the then- (and in some places, still-) current stereotypes of country bumpkins (“hixploitation“), as our small town residents are not at all prepared for the trouble our satanist hippies bring with them.  Then, there are our hippies themselves,  as the film relentless describes them as being a dangerous subculture.  It’s also obviously exploits the recent Charles Manson murders, as pointed out by both Landis and Clifford and Kim Newman.  Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury, playing the hippies’ leader “Horace Bones” plays up the unpredictable nihilism that reminds us very much of a more comprehensible version of Charles Manson.

Jadin Wong getting a blood facial

Jadin Wong getting a blood facial

We also see exploitation of Asians in the presence and behavior of the character of Sue-Lin, a silent, malevolent Asian woman.  Her presence and demise by self-immolation is unnecessary to move the story forward; her death exploits images that were then not too distant memories of the war in Southeast Asia of silent Buddhist monks making the same decision.  The most peculiar casting decision is Jadin Wong as the aforementioned Sue-Lin.  Wong, who would have turned 100 years old this year (she passed away in 2010 at age 96) was already a mainstream star, having gotten her start in show business at a young age, and entertained troops in Europe during World War II.  Wong was a pioneer of Asian-American women in entertainment, but only made ten movies as an actress.  Her real mark was as an agent for younger Asian-American actors and actresses for nearly a half century.  In 2004 the US House of Representatives and President George W. Bush recognized Wong for her 70+ years in show business and her cultural contributions.  All this does not add up to Wong taking a role in a low budget exploitation flick.

By this point, I’m way over-thinking this movie, so it’s probably best I end here.  This is an excellent exploitation flick that has a bit of everything in it, and is worth 83 minutes of your precious time.

This post was modified: removed dead YouTube link and added a line about IDYB coming and going on YouTube. (28 May 2013).