Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

I picked up my Troma DVD of Bloodsucking Freaks a number of years ago now, and I still haven’t seen it. I’ve watched pretty much all of Troma’s output – even Tales from the Crapper. Bloodsucking Freaks though? I don’t know what it is about that movie, it just has a general aura of unpleasantness about it. That seems strange coming from a fan of exploitation pictures. I’d say I would happily engage any of the wave of ‘classic’ Grindhouse pictures, and look forward to them too. Bloodsucking Freaks though?

Anyway, when the 88 Films release of Bloodsucking Freaks arrived I spent a few days weighing it up. I pushed it around my coffee table with a biro for a while, then deliberately took ages peeling off the sellophane like a petulant child trying to avoid homework. First though, I figured I’d best read the thoughts of Calum Waddell. I’m glad I did as Calum introduced the opinion early on in his notes that he despises the movie!

He quotes an interview with Lloyd Kaufman that he conducted in 2009 where he states that “today – in the fullness of time – it is something that we would have nothing to do with at Troma”. Why do they? “It makes a lot of money”, Kaufman confesses. Interestingly Calum also shares his experience of meeting the director of Bloodsucking Freaks – Joel Reed, which wasn’t an evening that he wished to remember. He goes on to say how many of the people associated with that era had been educated, liberal and intelligent men – Jack Hill, Don Edmonds and Michael Armstrong for example who displayed personal characteristics contrasting to their celluloid output, even Kaufman was a Yale graduate. Reed however, exhibited none of those qualities which may lead you to believe the tone of the movie wasn’t created in resigned moment of reluctance for what might generate a profit, it was done because he could.

The film itself centres around Master Sardu (O’Brien) who runs a Grand Guignol themed theatre with the help of his devoted assistant Ralphus (de Jesus) – a midget. Sardu regularly puts on shows for paying audiences that are filled with torture and murder, all acted the viewer’s presume. Alas we know different, for indeed the shows are real with the ‘actresses’ that are being tortured on stage being people that have been kidnapped and turned into slaves. The charade continues with the introduction of a snooty theatre critic (Alan Dellay) who swiftly becomes imprisoned, as well as a ballerina called Natasha (Krem) who is snatched in an attempt to give the performances some credibility. Fear not though, Natasha’s boyfriend (McMaster) is out to track her down, along with a crumpled detective with a fantastic weave (Dan Fauci).

After watching Bloodsucking Freaks, I must admit I didn’t find it as shocking as I thought I would. I didn’t enjoy it though, it is a really grim movie, and in fact I just thought it was pretty dull. The notorious scenes of torture (nipple clamps, ass spanking) tended to yield a perfunctory head in hands coupled with a resigned “why?”. The whole affair was simply 90 minutes on the wrong side of sleazy. That said, it WAS historically interesting from a point of view of being a document from a forgotten era. The idea of a line of punters queued up on 42nd Street waiting to buy a ticket for the movie is an insane proposition.

The blu-ray from 88 Films impressively provides us with a 1.78:1 widescreen ratio, and despite the obvious quality of the print it is a notable step up from Troma’s DVD. The sleeve art is gorgeous and includes an option to display your blu-ray with artwork that lists the alternative title, The Incredible Torture Show. As I mentioned before Calum Waddell’s booklet is an essential read and contains well-constructed analysis on the Grindhouse era as well some deconstruction of the film itself. The commentary track from Eli Roth is 16 years old, but fortunately despite its age it remains very VERY funny with Eli mercilessly extracting the urine with regard to the movies ‘influence’!

The only downside to the package is the lack of new visual extras. Obviously 88 Films are working on a miniscule budget, but something simple which perhaps offered some analysis on the misogyny in the film (albeit it was touched on in the booklet) or even just an up to date analysis on the legacy of this feature would have added to the release immeasurably. It’s a lot to ask I know, but considering the expense that has been gone to with regard to the great packaging it is a little bit of a disappointment. Arrow filmed a brilliant Q&A with Lloyd (co-hosted by Liam Regan no less) for their Class of Nuke ‘Em High blu-ray, and I guess that spoilt us somewhat. Nevertheless, while I could never recommend Bloodsucking Freaks I can say that 88 Films release IS worth a purchase. As always though – caveat emptor.

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