Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Blood Sucking Freaks (aka The Incredible Torture Show) (1976)


Sardu (Seamus O'Brien) runs a grand guignol torture show in New York along with his diminutive assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus) to enthusiastic crowds. What these folks don't know, however, is that the tortures and murders they are witnessing are real, and that Sardu is dealing in white slavery to get his victims. Football player Tom Maverick (Niles McMaster) starts to get suspicious after his ballerina girlfriend vanished, and buys the help of a corrupt cop to track her down. It turns out she's joined Sardu's sickening S&M show (after being kidnapped by Ralphus), but Tom starts to believe there's something funny going on. Along the way there is brain sucking, cannibal women, an ass dartboard, necrophilia, and a climactic cock sandwich(/w lettuce).


It seems appropriate that director Eli Roth is so involved with the special features on the Troma DVD of Joel M. Reed's Blood Sucking Freaks, as his name has become synonymous with torture and sadism in film for the past few years. Films like Hostel, Saw and Wolf Creek have carried the (rather reprehensible) label of "torture porn", and the public has devoured many of these (and similar) films with fervor. Critics have pointed to the political landscape, particularly the interrogation tactics of current international conflict, as having an influence on the growing genre, and it's interesting to go back to what many consider the simultaneous peak and nadir of 70s exploitation to see what distance (if any) cinema has traveled in regards to it's portrayal of torture.

It should be noted that Blood Sucking Freaks is, at its heart, a fairly broad black comedy. It pokes fun at its audience's love of violence, the corruption and filth of 70s New York, and the theatrical scene in general (particularly in Sardu's wish to be taken seriously as an artist). When Quarterback Tom Maverick calls 911 to help with the search for his girlfriend, he gets a recording and is asked to leave a message, and Sardu's kidnapping and torture of the critic who refuses to take him seriously smacks of satire. Even particularly vile lines (such as the classic "Her mouth will make an interesting urinal.") carry with them an exaggerated sense of outrageousness. The essence of the film isn't far away from John Water's classics.

Certainly the film is not afraid to push the boundaries of good taste. The most famous scene likely being the one where a doctor (Ernie Pysher) pulls out the teeth of a poor victim, before shaving her head bald and inserting an electrical drill into her brain. He proceeds to slide a clear straw into her wound, sucking out blood and brain matter (actually oatmeal), while a clearly disgusted Sardu and Ralphus watch on. It's as if even the film realizes it has gone too far, confirmed by Ralphus then feeding the doctor to his cage of starving cannibal women.

It's difficult to take the film very seriously, which is helped by a terrifically campy lead performance from Seamus O'Brien as Sardu. He can be appropriately menacing, but also sniveling when threatened and even occasionally comedic. Luis De Jesus as Ralphus is, well, awful. But, he brings a surreal flair to the proceedings, and he went on to be both a porn star and an Ewok, and that has to count for something. The rest of the cast is passable, though Viju Krem is often grating as the ballerina love interest.

This is seriously low budget stuff, though director Joel M. Reed wrings the most out of his few sets. The often darkened backgrounds enhance the theatrical staging of the tortures, though the camera remains mostly static throughout with a few shaky zooms being the only memorable cinematic touches. The FX are very rough, often just rising above early H.G. Lewis levels, though this tends to help soften the often unpleasant proceedings.

Troma's DVD release is, as if often the case with their releases, a mixed bag. The film presented in full-screen in a dark, though very watchable print. Sound can be slightly muffled, though it's all very audible and at the levels of most low-budget 70s releases.

The extras are diverse, though familiar to those with Troma DVD experience. You get the usual Tour Of Troma, the Troma Intelligence Test, a few groan inducing PSAs, The Radiation March short film, and ads for Lloyd Kaufman's biography and Troma's website. You also get Eli Roth's interviews with cannibal girl Arlana Blue, Ernie Pysher, and co-editor Victor Kaefsky.

The film also has a screen specific commentary with Eli Roth that is both informative and irritating. He displays a strong knowledge for the film and its stars, but often makes intentionally outrageous statements about the film's influence that makes it a bit of a chore to sit through. Still worthwhile, but a straight commentary would have been preferred.

Finally, there's also a stills gallery, as well as trailers for Blood Sucking Freaks, G.I. Executioner (also from Joel M. Reed), Cannibal: The Musical, The Toxic Avenger, Def By Temptation, Class Of Nuke'Em High, The Toxic Avenger II, Surf Nazis Must Die, Tromeo And Juliet, and Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D.

One could make the case that Blood Sucking Freaks is the ultimate 70s exploitation film. It's sleazy, packed with nudity, contains sadistic (though comical) amounts of violence, and features just enough satire to redeem itself. This is a film more about S&M than modern torture methods, and it's better for it.

Certainly not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle the modern variations with less humor and state of the art special FX, then this one might be up your alley. Watch it with friends, and marvel.

1 comment:

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This looks very gruesome!