Subversive Cinema is an interesting DVD distributor, a company concentrating on unknown genre titles that always appear to have a crazier than cult following. While occasionally dipping into recent releases -- the English scare spoof Funny Man, the Japanese horror comedy Battlefield Baseball – they usually excel in uncovering old British/American entries in the movie macabre category. Some of their better discs have been The Freakmaker, The Candy Snatchers and the Aussie oddity Metal Skin. Now they are presenting a real rarity -- one of only six films made by Bloodsucking Freaks director Joel M. Reed. While Troma has treated us to two Reed epics (Freaks, and the eccentric actioner GI Executioner) and Something Weird has released his entries in exploitation (Career Bed and Sex by Advertisement), two of his efforts have been considered lost -- until now. Blood Bath is a midpoint movie for the filmmaker, a drive-in quickie to tie him over while he prepared his sadistic sleazoid masterwork. Frankly, it should have stayed MIA.
A famous producer of horror films invites several of his society friends over to the set of his latest Satanic epic. After witnessing a rather gratuitous Black Mass, the party settles down to dinner. Over the meal, they begin discussing the macabre. The fright filmmaker, Peter Brown, doesn't believe in such supernatural nonsense, but his guests seem convinced that where fate and destiny intertwine, the realm of the paranormal can be found. As they continue the discussion, each one offers up their own example of creepy coincidences:
A hitman whose never muffed a mission finds himself unable to escape an omnipresent suitcase bomb.
A harried husband finds himself transported back to the French Revolution, thanks to a magical coin.
A miserly loan shark meets the ghost of a dearly departed black man he once dispossessed.
A martial arts master is confronted by a limbless sensei and is challenged to a duel for selling the secrets of self-defense.
If you only know writer/director/actor Joel M. Reed from his seminal sickfest, Bloodsucking Freaks, you really don't know Joel M. Reed. Starting off as a novice exploitationeer, and slowly working his way up to more meaningful fare, this well connected member of the Manhattan moviemaking scene has a limited canon of cinematic offerings. In fact, there are only six: the aforementioned skin flicks Career Bed and Sex by Advertisement, along with GI Executioner, Night of the Zombies, the above-referenced Freaks, and the newly unearthed Blood Bath. For someone whose genre output makes up only 50% of his cinematic persona, it's odd to see Reed remembered for his gory geekfest only. Yet Blood Bath proves, along with the rest of his below-average oeuvre, that this filmmaker had very little to offer to the world of low budget movies other than deranged midgets and scatological slaughter. In fact, it's clear from the perspective of time that Reed was a one hit wonder. Nothing he did before or after his misogynistic magnum opus even comes close in comparison.
It's not that Blood Bath is bad, it's just a problematic piece of PG trash. Wanting to be an Amicus like omnibus production, but failing to deliver the standard anthology shivers, each separate storyline here is horrible. We never see the irony, fail to laugh at the lame humor and wonder, when all the horror will actually begin. The very first vignette proves to us that Reed just doesn't get the compilation film format. The tale of a faultless hired killer and a suitcase bomb that won't stop showing up is pure plot contrivance driven by coincidence and happenstance. The opening murders, with their standard slice and dice bloodletting are OK, but the minute we see the hippy singing rockabilly as he drives along a wooded roadway, we no longer care about the conclusion. Reed has made the twist abundantly clear, delivering a dorky deus ex machine miscalculation. Something similar happens to our fantasizing hubby in the second story. We see why he would want to escape his horrid harpy of a wife, but what makes him think that the French Revolution will provide the marital bed relief he seeks. Then once he's back in all the Gallic gadding about, the narrative just fizzles. Reed doesn't know how to end these irritating installments. His twists, when he actually tries, are incredibly tame, and tend toward obvious extensions of the storyline, instead of altering or complicating our plot perceptions.
It doesn't get any better in the final two installments. The haunting of the loan shark has potential, basically because race could easily have been incorporated into the mix (our specter is a hip-talking black man). But Reed is too interested in working on a greed-based comeuppance to even acknowledge the possible prejudice and bigotry. The final payoff is pathetic, an attempt at paradox that simply falls flat. The last segment in Blood Bath's boredom is a mockery of the martial arts, an attempt to mesh Reed's love of all things chopsocky with a Twilight Zone/Night Gallery moral. The problem is, we are unprepared for the sudden shock of the ending. How we went from a basic story about selling Shaolin secrets to a bungled bionic man message makes literally no sense. It's a twist without context, a cinematic lesson without a concern to complement. Indeed, this is how Blood Bath plays most of the time. Instead of using the Tales from the Crypt style of jocular juxtaposition, or The Vault of Horror variation of risible revenge, we get very little humor, and even less scares here. Even at 83 plodding minutes, the movie feels incredibly overlong and Reed shows very little spark as a director. His scenes are static, with the lack of any establishing shots rendering his compositions confusing. We often wonder who is speaking to whom within a specific moment.
Thankfully, the acting is thoroughly professional, which isn't all that surprising when you consider that many of the players here were true working New York performers. Among the casualties are Jerry Lacy, Doris Roberts, Harve Presnell, Norman Bush and a blink and you'll miss it turn by P.J. Soles. The future Halloween scream queen is part of the epilogue material, an attempt to illustrate why the Peter Brown character is so connected, and callous, when it comes to horror. Yet like the rest of Blood Bath, it's all set-up and very little follow through. In fact, the simplest thing that can be said of this awful anthology is that it's really not a whole lot of fun. For some reason, the Amicus/Hammer variations on this entertainment theme find the proper balance of comedy and cruelty. We giggle at the stiff upper crust Brit as the victim from beyond the grave seeks out its payback. We get some vicarious glee out of watching the villain get vivisected and celebrate fate as it comes in to flummox yet another dimwitted dullard. But Blood Bath offers none of this. In the realm of cheapie productions, this is a bottom dollar disaster. Don't let Joel M. Reed's ballyhooed Bloodsucking Freaks fool you. It's the definitive rarity in his otherwise subpar cinematic career.
Digitally remastered from a near pristine print, Blood Bath looks very good in this 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. There is some grain, and a few faded scenes, but that's to be expected from such a film find.
Sadly, Subversive can do very little with dull Dolby Digital Mono. Try as they might, the new Stereo mix is rather mundane. Hearing the same sounds coming out of two speakers is nothing special, and without a true spatial separation or directional dynamic, the 2.0 is tepid at best. At least the dialogue is easily discernible and the soundtrack is modulated to complement, not compete with, the conversation.
Something Weird couldn't do it. Troma apparently couldn't swing it. So Subversive Cinema deserves a great deal of credit for getting Joel M. Reed -- that's right, the man himself -- to sit down and discuss his career (in a wonderful making-of featurette) and to talk about his film Blood Bath (in a full length audio commentary). Genial and very open, Reed loves dropping names, and along the way we hear him mention Joe Sarno, Oliver Stone and Sylvester Stallone. Even more interesting than the behind the scenes gossip is the picture he paints of New York in the '60s and '70s. With the grindhouse gods pumping out the product, and filmmakers like Reed looking for avenues into the industry, the anecdotes he offers are spellbinding. We learn how Blood Bath came about, discover what went into the casting, and learn the logistics of Bloodsucking Freaks infamous torture scenes. Along for the conversation are actors Jerry Lacy and Sonny Landham and art director (and noted porn auteur) Ron Sullivan, a.k.a. Henri Pachard. All discuss their entire careers, as well as their involvement in Blood Bath. Along with some decent cast/crew biographies, a collection of trailers, some Blood Bath postcards and a reproduction of the theatrical poster, this is a sensational set of added content. It's just too bad the movie it supports is so shoddy.
As with most of the entries in the Subversive Cinema catalog, Blood Bath is a confusing call for this critic. Personally, he'd never want to experience this awful anthology ever again. Still, the bonus features offer so much insight into Reed's career and personality that to avoid this disc would cause a generous gap in one's schlock knowledge. Therefore, instead of an outright dismissal, Blood Bath will earn an easy Rent It. After viewing the movie, and its collection of added content, you can make a much better wallet-oriented decision. In the Reed resume, Blood Bath falls far below offerings such as Bloodsucking Freaks, Career Bed, Sex by Advertisement, and even GI Executioner. It's low rent and cut rate. Anyone hoping for the discovery of a minor masterpiece will just have to keep looking elsewhere. Maybe his final film, 1981's Night of the Zombies is the missing marvel that will elevate this director above the level of considered crap. One thing is for certain, Blood Bath definitely does its creator no great service.
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