Pete Walker's first dabbling in genre filmmaking, Die Screaming Marianne starring Susan George, did well enough for him that he followed it up two years later with a more straight ahead horror movie called The Flesh & Blood Show that used some William Castle style marketing ploys to land people into theater sets and which made no attempt to hide the fact that it was a straight ahead horror picture.
The premise behind the film is very simple – a group of attractive young actors are assembled to perform for the mysterious theater group known as 'Theater Group 40' in an old warehouse in a small English town on the coast. Their assignment? The titular Flesh & Blood Show, to be directed by Mike (Ray Brooks), a play in which the killings might just be a little more real than the audience is ready for as it seems someone is slaughtering the cast for reasons unknown. Who is behind it all? Is it the producer? The director? One of the cast members? If so, why would they go to all this trouble and what could their motive possibly be? It all ties in to the history of the theater, and something that happened years ago.
Containing far more flesh than blood (there's a lot of female nudity in here, a throwback to Walker's sexploitation days perhaps, proving that old habits do die hard), the movie has its high points and its low points. The good comes in the form of the aforementioned nudity and a couple of creative and well executed kill scenes. The bad? There are long stretches of dialogue that seem to be there only to pad out the running time and which add very little to the plot or the movie in general.
What makes The Flesh & Blood show interesting is how, like Mario Bava's Bay Of Blood, it manages to include a lot of the staples of the slasher genre in its running time before the slasher genre really existed. There are a few interesting stalk and kill sequences in the movie that would not at all feel out of place in a Friday The 13th movie, even if the actual plot of the film itself owes more to Ten Little Indians than anything else. Also interesting to note is how in this earlier horror effort we see the seeds of the anti-social stabs on the establishment that Walker's later efforts, The Confessional specifically, would become famous and rather controversial for. As such, it's an interesting starting point in his career as a horror movie director, much more so than the thriller than came before it.
While the performances are really nothing to write home about, the movie does succeed on atmosphere and eerie location work. The small town that it all plays out in looks and feels creepy enough on its own even without the aid of the maniac who happens to be on the loose. While the score hasn't aged well (at times it almost seems to be playing things for laughs and it sounds like something out of a cartoon) the killings, while not particularly gory, are suspenseful enough to work. It's unrealistic to go into this one expecting something on par with The Confessional or Frightmare but as a lesser Walker film that sets the stage for the great films to come, The Flesh & Blood Show, which is presented here uncut, is a pretty decent movie.
The Flesh & Blood Show is presented in a decent 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. There are some scenes where the colors are flat and in a few darker spots the image is murky but for the most part the picture is pretty good. There is some mild print damage present in a few scenes in the form of the odd scratch or two as well as some grain but that's to be expected to an extent. The movie is always watchable and the compositions look dead on in terms of framing. Not a perfect transfer, but a perfectly acceptable one none the less.
While other releases in Shriek Show's Pete Walker Collection have had mono tracks and newly created 5.1 tracks, this time around it's mono only. Quality on the track is fine, though if you listen for it you might pick up on some mild hiss in one or two scenes. Levels are properly balanced, the score sounds good and there aren't any issues in terms of understanding the performers or hearing the dialogue as the movie plays out.
No commentary track this time around, unfortunately, but Shriek Show has managed to dig up a twelve minute video interview with Pete Walker entitled Pete Walker: A Man Of Flesh & Blood in which he covers the climate of the time that the film was made in and some of the censorship issues that he ran into during his career in filmmaking. He covers some of the cast members and where he got the idea for the movie from and as seems to be the norm with the man he comes across as a likeable and jovial sort, with a good sense of humor and a refreshingly realistic take on his own work.
Rounding out the supplements are the film's original trailer, trailers for other Pete Walker releases available from Shriek Show, and a decent still. Animated menus and chapter stops are also included.
While The Flesh & Blood Show has definitely got its fair share of obvious flaws, it's nevertheless a fun and enjoyable horror movie with enough mildly sleazy thrills and odd characters to provide for some solid entertainment. The film isn't a classic and Walker would definitely go on to make better and more interesting films but for an early genre effort, this is a decent offering and Shriek Show's disc comes recommended even if it isn't exactly setting new standards in quality.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.