By Ryan Marshall
At first glance, David Durston hardly appears to be the most likely candidate to have directed one of the most genuinely transgressive and memorable horror films of the 1970s, and yet this is the well-mannered man behind legendary psychedelic freak-out “I Drink Your Blood,” among others. If not every one of Durston’s handful of efforts struck honest gold, he at the very least found his niche and ran with it.
Born September 10, 1921, in New Castle, Pa. to a family already somewhat immersed in the hustle and bustle of showbiz, Durston made his feature directorial debut in 1965 with “The Love Statue,” essentially an anti-drug PSA disguised as a scathing critique of the Greenwich Village art scene. Five years down the road, the director would make his claim to fame: the aforementioned “I Drink Your Blood,” which takes the artist’s intuitive moralism and sense of innocence and applied it to a Charles Manson-inspired horror-comedy about a gang of wayward Satanist hippies who foam at the mouth after ingesting meat pies injected with rabid dog blood.
As hilarious as it is horrific, the film remains unique when put up against its thematic kin, striking just the right balance between repulsion and self-aware humility. Unfortunately, Durston’s follow up, 1972’s “Blue Sextet,” would not be nearly as exciting; an utterly underwhelming riff on “Rashomon,” it was all but lost until recently, and one can see why. The same year brought the director’s final theatrical feature, the racially charged VD scare flick “Stigma,” and thankfully Durston allowed himself to go out with a bang; it’s (almost) as enthralling as his 1970 masterpiece.
Viewing interviews with the director, provided on Grindhouse Releasing’s wonderful new Blu-ray release of “I Drink Your Blood,” it’s easy to see where the personality inherent in his best work comes from. He was a deeply funny man, and one who dabbled in the horror genre as a means of keeping up with the times rather than because of a genuine interest in such macabre territory. Though this quality is both a blessing and a curse, it gives his filmography — in all its highs and lows — a distinctive and exceedingly entertaining perspective, and one that can’t be easily shaken.