March 2001

Blood Sucking Freaks

Blood Sucking FreaksBloodsucking Freaks has a reputation for being a film to be watched only by those with the strongest stomachs and one which, even the most hardened horror movie fan will watch for completeness rather than entertainment. And it is a very nasty film.

It is also one of the most boring pieces of tosh to be committed to celluloid.

A quick disclaimer before I get going: There are two versions of this film, cut and uncut. From the run-time Im assuming that this was the cut version. Im also assuming that most - if not all - of the cuts were made to the more explicit scenes of violence. If this assumption is right, then the cuts have made this film even nastier since, once you are aware of what is going on, what you can conjure up in your minds eye is far worse than anything shown on screen.

And this takes us neatly to the boring remark. There is a lot of violence in this film, both explicit and implicit and it is all so dull. If ever there was a case of confusing quantity and quality, this is it. It feels like watching an exercise in shock film-making by numbers. This can be easily done by anyone who is willing to simply follow the steps below (imagination not required)

1. Pick up a few popular tabloids and draw up a list of films that are causing an outcry this month.
2. Next, count up the specific objections about each of these films (nudity, mysoginistic violence, cannibalism, etc)
3. Then simply insert these scenes into your film, starting with the scenes most objected to, until you run out of screen time.

The setting is Sardus Theatre of the Macabre, an attempt to bring the French Grand-Guignol style of theatre to American audiences with the twist that the performers really are victims and the deaths and mutilations staged for a cynical audience are all being done for real. This is largely played for laughs - badly.

There are jokes aplenty, all of which fall flat because of over-long set-ups followed by punch lines that are either painfully predictable or simply not shocking - The scene in which Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) is shown tasting his cooking is memorable simply because it falls into every one of these categories.

The intention with Sardu (Seamus OBrien) appears to be to create the type of libertine that populated the writings of the Marquis De Sade and then use him to parody the hypocrisy of his audience and, by implication, the audience of the film in their willingness to accept any level of violence as long as there is someone there to reassure us that it really is all make-believe.

Had Reed been willing or able to go ahead and present a truly Sadean character, this approach could have been very effective. Unfortunately, Sardu is not the amoral libertine depicted in De Sades writing and, when he is confronted with someone whose imagination is more depraved than is own he is disgusted rather than excited. This putting a limit on how far Sardu is willing to go means that he has a sense of morality - however perverse - and a line he cant cross. As such the character, and therefore the film, is unable to push any further against the boundaries of what is acceptable and, from this point on, we the audience can all sit back safe in the knowledge that this really is just another badly made shocker - albeit one with pretensions beyond its means.

Black Sabbath

Black Sabbath To start off, there are two versions of this film: the Italian version (I Tre Volti Della Paura) and the American version which was distributed and partly financed by AIP. The film that I saw was the American version - this was edited to match the style of Roger Cormans Poe movies that were popular at the time - right down to the literary inspiration - and Boris Karloff was drafted in to provide some superbly Hitchcockian links to hold together the three tales that make up this film.

Mario Bava was the director who started the gialli style of filmmaking which is much more about style and atmosphere than about the substance such as plot and characterisation. The effectiveness of this approach is demonstrated superbly in A Drop Of Water - the first of the three tales and based on a short story by Chekhov - in which a nurse steals a ring from a corpse (a superbly grotesque wax dummy). The plot is old and well known and the ending inevitable. And these are the elements Bava turns to his advantage, hitting us with an extended sequence of sheer tension - small things such as a dripping tap, each one building on the last, never allowing for any light shocks to relieve the atmosphere. This is an absolutely superb piece of filmmaking and one that held me to the edge of my seat right to the end.

This sort of menacing atmosphere is far easier to build when the story is familiar enough that elements such as plot, characters and dialogue can be ignored in favour of the moodily lit visual ride that Bava is so good at. What dialogue there is never quite rings true but there is so little of it that this hardly matters in this segment. Of course, this film was made in Italian and dubbed into English, so it is possible that there is much that was lost in the translation - although I doubt it. The main reason for mentioning dialogue at this point is that we can then seague nicely into the second - and weakest - of the three stories, The Telephone (based on a story by F.G. Snyder) which revolves around a lone woman being terrorised over the phone. This segment simply didnt work since the both the characterisation and dialogue were so weak as to distract my attention away from the atmosphere and towards the huge and glaring holes in the plot.

However, things get back on track for the final story in the trilogy - The Wurdalak. Karloff plays the central character in this effective twist on the vampire myth brought to you courtesy of Tolstoy. Although not as powerful as A Drop of Water this tale of vampires that only feed on their loved ones does do an excellent job of serving up a darkly brooding atmosphere with an intense and supernatural feel. And what do you do if the horror outside is your father or your son? The whole theme of this segment is a rare and welcome twist on the vampire movie and one that not only adds hugely to the overall atmosphere but also generates some real edge-of-the-seat moments.

The only thing that lets down this segment is its shortness. We have a third of a film in real time and only two nights in story time to develop the relationship between travelling nobleman Vladimir DUrfe (Mark Damon) and the daughter of the segments central character, Gorca (Boris Karloff). This is simply not enough time to realistically develop things to where they need to be and leads to the plot feeling rushed. That said, the final scene is still unnerving.

Black Sabbath is a great film and one of the few genuinely frightening horror films in existence. If you like horror films, you need to see this one. And if you dont like horror films you need to see this one more.

I Drink Your Blood

I Drink Your Blood Now heres an interesting spin on the zombie movie genre in which a gang of satanist hippies invade a town on the verge of becomming a ghost town, get rabies and infect a whole siteful of construction workers.

The satanic hippies, along with the entire cast are terrible, with special mention going to Bhaskhar who plays the leader of the hippies - one Horace Bones. (Who comes up with these names and what was their mental state at the time?) Bhaskar seems to believe that if you cant do menacing, then laughing like an idiot works well enough - it doesnt. That said, Rollo (George Patterson) was pretty good in full zombie mode, turning in a mouth-frothingly berserk perfomance as rabid hippie on drugs. Maybe by the time we got to this point my brain was too numbed to cope with this any more but it did seem that the only thing that let down Pattersons performance was the soundtrack.

And the soundtrack was awful. The composer - one Clay Pitts (I wouldnt put my real name to this rubbish either) - appears to believe that film soundtracks can be composed by stealing a vaguely appropriate catoon signature tune and adding a synthesised woo-woo sound. We had a chase scene during which I found myself waiting for the distinctive bee-beep of the Road Runner and a fight scene which appeared to have been scored by taping an episode of the Batman TV series.

I Drink Your Blood works best when it descends into farce and you alow yourself to appreciate the sheer silliness of the movie - the rabid construction workers, for example, charging out of their dormitory style nissen hut waving machetes - a tool Im sure is often found in plentiful supply on any dam building project. And then there is the sight of an axe-wielding Rollo charging a trio of kids and panicking when he realises hes reached the edge of the stream the kids are walking through.

The hydrophobic zombies idea is a good one and could have been used to take the film somewhere original. Instead, it is used as a convenient way of getting major characters from one scrape and to the next. That said, this was a beter approach than the other major plot device which involved setting up a scene and then pretending it hadnt happened - the escape from a basement through a zombie-filled bakery is a perfect example of this.

The dialogue, of course, is terrible. It is stilted, unbelievable and continues in the great b-movie tradition of characters telling each other things they already know for the benefit of the audience. The characterisation is even worse with people undergoing rapid personality changes in order to progress the plot towards the highlight of the film which involves the uninfected being chased through town and country by a bunch of rabid zombies. And this is pretty funny.

Linked to the characterisation is the behavior of the rabies victims which looks unrealistic - to say the least. The construction crew take their lead from stereotypes of mad dogs - and Im still fascinated in where those machetes came from - which looks very dated. Of course, this film was made in 1971 so maybe I should forgive a bit of pseudoscientific nonsense - I would if Id actually liked this film. And the bizarre behavior of the hippies is explained away by the fact that not only do they have rabies, but theyre also on DRUGS! So, now you know kids - catching rabies while on LSD will turn you into a nymphomaniac.

From this post-AIDS perspective, the idea of an entire community being infected sexually is an interesting one and the whole disease-makes-zombies idea is one that is worth playing around with. Its just a shame that this film does it so badly.