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Filmed Locally -I Drink Your Blood

Written By The Mountain Eagle on 2/23/24 | 2/23/24

By Bradley Towle
SHARON SPRINGS — “I Drink Your Blood” is a 1971 exploitation horror film shot in Sharon Springs over eight days in 1970. The film is about a small, nearly abandoned town where only a few residents remain during a dam construction project. The boredom of the townspeople is soon upended by the arrival of a satanic hippie cult that decides to occupy an abandoned, rat-infested hotel (the old Roosevelt Hotel). A young woman is assaulted by the cultists, which leads her veterinarian grandfather to confront the troublemakers. The unwelcome guests drug the grandfather with LSD, which infuriates his young grandson. The boy then takes it upon himself to shoot a rabid dog, withdraw the infected blood, and inject the rabid blood into the hippie cult’s food, which unleashes the rather fun and unhinged chaos that the cult favorite has become known for. 
When I first considered writing about “I Drink Your Blood,” I assumed it wouldn’t take me too long. I sat down to watch what I presumed would be nothing more than a novelty, low-budget horror film while keeping an eye out for identifiable Sharon Springs locations. The film caught me off guard for several reasons. First, it was a lot of fun. At no point was I bored during this over-the-top, fast-paced production. I also could not help but notice the diversity of the satanic hippie cult. It’s worth examining that the “unwelcome invaders” were of various ethnicities, and that’s where part of the surprise arrived: there is a high level of social commentary in the low-brow entertainment. This set-up was no accident on the part of filmmaker David Durston. Of course, a small rural town would look suspiciously at the arrival of a group of ethnically diverse hippies, especially in 1971. Durston took inspiration from the horrifying details of the Manson murders from two years earlier and played on those fears for effect in his horror film (hence the “exploitation”). In the movie, one of the women writes “pig” in blood on a victim, a direct reference to messages left behind at one of the real-life crime scenes. Durston also reportedly took inspiration from an outbreak of rabies in a small Iranian village after a wolf attacked an elementary school, infecting the children. With these elements, Durston had a recipe for his horror film. 
Researching the film led to even more surprises. The MPAA rating system we’ve become familiar with (G, PG, PG-13, R) had only officially begun in 1968. With the end of the restrictive Hays Code (which had been enforced since 1934), Hollywood created the ratings system to preempt any potential government censorship by taking matters into its own hands. The new ratings system intersected with cultural upheaval and a new era of filmmaking that challenged morays and traditions, unlike anything since the pre-code era of the 1920s and left many studio heads flummoxed, which meant allowing some filmmakers to experiment in radical ways. There had been one point, an” M” rating, which indicated it was suggested for mature audiences with parental discretion (it would likely be akin to PG-13 nowadays), but parents were confused by it, and it was changed to GP and then PG. The death knell for many films could be an “X,” which at that point meant no one under 16.
“I Drink Your Blood” arrived squarely amid a controversial reconsideration of the ratings system. The film holds the distinction of being the first to receive an X rating due solely to violence (essayist Karola suspects it is the only film to receive the X solely for violence). While that may have been enough to draw some audiences, it also meant some movie houses may not screen it, limiting its profit potential. The filmmakers appealed the rating. Many films had won such appeals, so they were confident enough to ship 360 copies of the film around the country for release. What followed is the stuff of legend. The appeal was denied. Durston made a quick edit that received an R for New York and Los Angeles, but the other reels had already gone out. An agreement was made that the individual theaters could edit and censor the film themselves by determining what would be best for their respective communities to secure localized R ratings. Producer Jerry Gross made frantic phone calls while the reels were out for delivery to inform the theaters (all 360 in only two days) of this bizarre situation. This meant that in 1971, at least 360 versions of the film were screened around the country. The projectionists suddenly found their roles now included editor and censor of a movie they had no part in making, and it’s possible some simply screened the film as it was with no edits. During a 2007 screening of Durston’s director’s cut, one audience member said they had seen at least eight versions of the film in 1971. During the Hays Code era (and a bit beyond in some cases), each state had its own censorship boards. A film would have to meet the standards of each respective board, and the filmmakers would have to make the required edits to receive a stamp of approval. Theatres could be fined for screening a film without the official stamp (for more on this, watch the entertaining 2018 documentary “Sickies Making Films”). Theoretically, 50 separate versions of one film could have existed; the possibility of 360 versions appears to be unique to the case of “I Drink Your Blood.”
Finally, there is the setting. In the early 1970s, with its successful spa era behind it, Sharon Springs had become desolate, offering Durston and his film crew a perfect setting for their movie by utilizing abandoned buildings. In a rather on-the-nose meta-story of reality mirroring art, the residents of Sharon Springs were reportedly not thrilled with the presence of the cast and crew in their village (it seems even just portraying a satanic hippie cult was enough to trouble the locals). It was director David Durston, in particular, that Sharon Springs was wary of. They accused the director of abusive behavior and reported him to the police, demanding that he be arrested and replaced. In a twist, Babe Farro, the police officer residents hoped would arrest Durston, instead defended the filmmakers and earned himself a role in the film’s final scenes. According to the Sharon Historical Society, notable locations in the movie include Briggs Lumber, the dugway, and the old Roosevelt Hotel on Washington Street, which was eventually torn down in 1976. The filmmakers rented out the soon-to-be-demolished building for $300, which Durston quipped they practically tore down themselves during the shoot. Low-budget films that cannot afford to build elaborate sets must often rely on existing structures and scenery, meaning, in a sense, they can operate as an extension of historic preservation by documenting their locations. By including the old Roosevelt Hotel as one of the film’s “stars,” the film joins a collection of photographs and documentation that tell the story of the long-lost Sharon Springs structure.
In her 2007 essay on “I Drink Your Blood,” Karola admits she assumed an essay about the film would be “straightforward enough” but soon found herself immersed in a complex and unique history that belied an easy analysis; I found myself in a similar position with an article that I assumed wouldn’t take more than a week. After a month of research, there is more to examine in the odd history and cultural themes of “I Drink Your Blood,” both quirky and complex. Did I neglect to mention the extended career of the film’s rats, who went on to star in “Willard” and “Ben”? Did I leave out my thoughts on how the rabid construction workers chasing down the hippies may have been referencing the 1970 “Hard-Hat Riots” in a nation divided over Vietnam? Should I have discussed the opportunity offered to low-budget films outside the Hollywood system to examine themes the industry would avoid or sanitize? For the curious, “I Drink Your Blood” is currently streaming on Kanopy, a free, ad-free streaming service requiring only a library card. 

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