In 1970, low-budget film director David E. Durston was screening the first rushes of his rabid Satanist hippie gorefest I Drink Your Blood for producer Jerry Gross. He was hoping that Gross wouldn't notice a slight addition to the film. The script called for a gang of six hippies, and there were seven on the screen, including a young woman whose angelic looks and long straight hair were impossible to miss. Gross yelled out in the middle of the screening, "Who's that girl? She's incredible!"
He wouldn't be the last cinema watcher to ask that question and make that conclusion. While Lynn Lowry's initial career in movies was limited to only eight feature films released between 1970 and 1982, her striking looks and her ability to project charming innocence in depraved surroundings made her a cult movie legend. Nashvillians will be able to meet that legend in person this weekend as Lowry makes special appearances at Logue's Black Raven Emporium and at the Nashville Comic and Horror Festival.
Lowry's surprise appearance in I Drink Your Blood — her first released feature film role after starring in Troma co-founder Lloyd Kaufman's early feature Battle of Love's Return — was the result of her appearing late for the audition. "They were actually packing everything up getting ready to leave" Lowry told the Scene in a telephone interview. "I walked in and [director Durston] said 'Oh my God. I've just cast all the parts in this film, but you're absolutely gorgeous. I have to have you in this movie. He said he'd call me in two days. I never expected to hear from him."
Loosely inspired by the Manson murders and rushed into production while that trial was still taking place in 1970, I Drink Your Blood tells the story of a pack of would-be hippie Satanists who terrorize the inhabitants of a small town. Their carousing comes to a halt when an enterprising young boy feeds them meat pies laced with the blood of a rabid dog. Alas, the hippies spread the contagion to a nearby crew of construction workers, resulting in a violent zombie-like foaming-at-the-mouth mob and an apocalyptic spew of viscera.
I Drink Your Blood gained particular notoriety as the first film to receive an "X" rating for violence from the newly established MPAA ratings board. For release, it was paired with a retitled 6-year-old horror film for what may be the best-named double feature in the history of American cinema — I Drink Your Blood & I Eat Your Skin.
With all the roles cast, Durston snuck Lowry into the cast as a mute character so no additional lines would have to be written. But producer Gross' first impression led to more screen time for her. "That's how the electric knife scene came about," Lowry says. "It was added at the last minute."
She refers to the one genuine creepy scene in an otherwise over-the-top campfest of a movie, in which she calmly slices off a woman's hand with an electric carving knife. "I didn't play to the horror at all," Lowry says. "She's so vacant and innocent, that's how I played it — 'What is the knife? And what will it do?' It's that in comparison to the blood and horror that makes that scene so uncomfortable."
Lowry continued to appear in low-budget features throughout the '70s, building a resume that reads like a who's who of classic cult movie directors. Her credits include George Romero's The Crazies (1973), Radley Metzger's Score (1974), David Cronenberg's Shivers (1975), and Jonathan Demme's Fighting Mad (1976), as well as a small but memorable part in Paul Schrader's 1982 remake of Cat People.
"I never thought anyone would see these movies," Lowry says. "I thought they were just low-budget films that might give me some camera time and lead to something more substantial and mainstream. For instance, I had no idea how unique David Cronenberg's film was at the time. I can see now that he was headed for bigger things, but at the time I didn't know that."
After leaving film behind in the early 1980s, Lowry continued to work in theater and built a successful career as a jazz singer in L.A. She also founded a massage therapy business that she continues to run. Her rediscovery by exploitation film fans revived her film career, and since 2005, she's appeared in more than a dozen horror films (including a cameo role in the 2010 remake of The Crazies) and has become a regular on the horror film convention circuit. "It's a lot of fun to have a second go-around," Lowry says.
Lynn Lowry will appear at the Cult Fiction Underground at Logue's Black Raven Emporium, 2913 Gallatin Road on Friday, Oct. 5 to sign autographs and introduce two showings of I Drink Your Blood at 8 and 10 p.m. Tickets are $10 and available from Logue's in advance. She will also appear at the Nashville Comic and Horror Festival Oct. 6-7 at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.