Review Date: July 3, 2011
Released by: MGM
Release date: May 16, 2011
Widescreen 1.85| 16x9: Yes
There are few films that can claim a more circuitous route to the silver screen than American International Picturesí Blood Bath
. Cobbled together over the span of three years from the footage of at least three different directors making three entirely different films - a spy thriller, a madman on the loose story and a vampire movie Ė Blood Bath
is certainly one of the strangest films in horror history. Strange doesnít necessarily equate to good, however. No matter how fascinating a path the production of a film takes, itís what ends up on the screen that is the final decider of a filmís merit.
In a coffee shop thatís a hub for Venice, Californiaís avant-garde art scene, Max (Karl Schanzer
) is making a name for himself experimenting with ďquantum painting,Ē which is really just a pretentious way of saying he paints nudes and then shoots them with a paintball gun. When he shoots a portrait of his girlfriend, Daisy (Melissa Mathes
), in the face making her unrecognizable to the observer, she gets more than a little bit pissed. He doesnít seem to care when she storms off, happy to revel in the admiration of his sycophantic friends and smug in his feeling of superiority over rival painter Antonio Sordi (William Campbell
). Sordi accepts commissions which make him a sell-out hack in the eyes of Max and his friends.
Alone on the deserted night streets of Venice, Daisy meets Sordi while admiring some of his paintings in a gallery window. He convinces her to return with him to his bell tower art studio and be a subject for him. While preparing to paint her nude portrait, he drifts into a trance where he experiences events from a past life. When he emerges from the trance heís transformed into a vampire (played by another, uncredited actor) who, despite having what looks like perfectly functional fangs, proceeds to hack Daisy up with a cleaver. Then, in a move that would make Vincent Price proud, he dips the corpse into a vat of boiling wax. It seems Sordiís been making a habit of killing nubile young women and using them as subjects for his grim paintings, his ďDead Red NudesĒ (now thereís
a videogame Iíd like to see from Rockstar).
A couple of days later at the coffee shop, Max notices that the subject of Sordiís latest painting bears an uncanny resemblance to the missing Daisy. He approaches her sister Donna (Sandra Knight
) and asks to make inquiries with Sordi as to her whereabouts, their rivalry and his pride preventing him from doing so himself. When Donna questions Sordi, he denies even knowing who Daisy was and brusquely shrugs her off. Later that night, in vampire form, he tracks Donna down, chases her through the streets and murders her on a carousel.
Sordi is romantically involved with Dorian (Lori Saunders
) whom he meets on the beach for secretive, but chaste, romantic trysts. Sordiís fear of his dual, vampiric nature has kept him from getting truly intimate with Dorian, much to her dismay. She wants to be the object of his amorous attentions as both his lover and as the subject of one of his nudes. Aware of just what that would truly entail, Sordi warns her away from coming to his studio. Heís unable to suppress his desire to kill Dorian and, that night, he transforms into the vampire and chases her. Max and his crew are able to stop him killing her, but he disappears before they can finish the job. Perhaps sensing the connection, Dorian immediately heads to Sordiís studio, showing up unannounced and learns the hard way about Sordiís dark secret.
If the plot summary sounds disjointed and confusing, thatís because Blood Bath
is disjointed and confusing. As I mentioned in the introduction it was culled together from three disparate sources. From what I can glean, it was originally intended to be a European spy thriller. When producer Roger Corman (who wisely remains uncredited on every version of the film finally released) was unhappy with it, he hired a new director to re-write and re-shoot the movie. The movie, titled Blood Bath
, still didnít meet with Cormanís approval and a third director was brought in to shoot additional scenes, adding the vampire and other supernatural elements. It really makes me curious: how disastrous were the other versions that even Roger Corman thought they were unreleasable? How bad does a movie have to be that this was preferable?
The lack of consistent purpose is apparent in every frame of Blood Bath
. Thereís not much plot and what little story remains is muddled and hard to follow. Individual shots or isolated scenes have atmosphere or are strikingly staged, but it winds up not making any difference since those scenes donít connect with any others and the film never builds tension or establishes a rhythm. Even an appearance by genre luminary Sid Haig as Abdul the Arab, a member of the pretentious art hipsters, canít relieve the tedium. Iím not exactly sure what scenes were filmed by which director for which version of the film, but watching the Blood Bath
and seeing the abrupt shifts in tone, itís not hard to make educated guesses. If you were so inclined to salvage the experience of watching Blood Bath
you could turn it into a drinking game; every time a new directorís footage starts or a character is played by a new actor, take a shot.
ís obvious life from House of Wax
is not surprising given Cormanís penchant for recycling ideas from other movies. Whatís more surprising is that Corman rips off one of his own films. Blood Bath
is set in the same beatnik, coffee house milieu that Corman mined seven years prior in A Bucket of Blood
. The earlier film may have been a clumsy social commentary but at least it had a point and some ambition. Blood Bath
, despite what the title implies, is a slow, turgid affair, with very little in the way of suspense or bloodletting.
Throughout, thereís a man in a dark hat and trench coat that I surmise is supposed to be a character out of the spy thriller. Heís used in this version as Sordiís vampire form. There are no rules laid down, however, about how and when he can transform. The character appears in day and night, seemingly at will. Thereís not even really any in-film cues about whatís going on besides a cheesy ripple effect that precedes Antonioís transformation into a vampire. Thereís no rhyme or reason other than they had footage that they wanted to use. It seems nobody behind the scenes was concerned that any of the footage matches. I would write it off as pure laziness on the part of the film makers but the fact that Corman spent nearly three years hiring new directors and reshooting scenes trying to salvage the movie torpedoes that criticism. Thereís no laziness here, just really, really poor judgment.
Even though is makes no sense in the context of the movie which proceeded it the finale, with Sordiís supposedly dead, paraffin-coated victims returning to life and pushing him into the vat of molten wax, is a moment of genuine creepiness. Unfortunately the effectiveness of this scene is under cut almost immediately: itís not given a chance to linger before the end title card pops up. Not that I wasnít glad the movie was over, mind you, I was just kind of shocked that it was in as much of a hurry to be done with itself as I was.
If one were so inclined to give Blood Bath
the benefit of the doubt thereís a none too subtle gay subtext reminiscent of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2
. There are certainly enough parallels between the two films to make the connection- the dark force inside of the protagonist, his inability (or fear) of intimacy with a woman despite her very obvious advances at him. Both films even contain a scene where the tormented man is making out with his girl only to abruptly leave when the evil threatens to be unleashed. Was Nightmare 2
scribe David Chaskin partly inspired by Blood Bath
? No way to tell for certain but the similarity between the scenes is a little too strong to quickly dismiss as pure coincidence.
I like watching low budget pictures from decades Iím not intimately familiar with; they can often be better representations of their time than their bigger budgeted studio cousins. Without the benefit of a well-stocked wardrobe department, the films lack postured artifice and usual evoke an unforced sense of time and place, even when the acting is hammy or postured. So, while itís not really because of the film itself, there were times when I did mildly enjoy watching Blood Bath
. Thereís just something about women from the 60ís I find really appealing. It might be the bouffant, beehive or flip hairdos, or maybe itís the catís eye glasses and thick, dark eyeliner. What the case, itís not surprising that styles cultivated in the 60ís have influenced fashion in every subsequent decade. Though sheís not in the movie much, Marissa Mathes embodies that 60ís mod fashion aesthetic that I like so much. So, to a lesser extent, does Linda Saunders. Iím certainly not going to complain about the amount of screen time eaten up by scenes of Saunders frolicking on the beach in a bikini.
The packaging states the running time is 80 minutes but the feature actually runs a scant 62 minutes. Apparently, there are a lot of versions of Blood Bath
floating around but, if the information I looked up is accurate, this represents the shortest one. The official version running reportedly runs seven minutes longer. Thereís the temptation to feel a bit ripped off but if you take the time to watch even this truncated version of Blood Bath
, youíll be glad for every minute youíre spared.
Compared to Burn, Witch, Burn
, Blood Bath
is definitely the lesser of the two in terms of video quality, as well as the film itself. Detail is quite strong, as is contrast, but the source material exhibits a lot more wear and tear than Burn, Witch, Burn
did. Scratches, nicks, film splices and all manner of source damage are present. The picture is a lot noisier, too, with some scenes murky with distracting artifacts. There are several instances of very obvious artificial edge enhancement. The daytime scenes on the beach are by far the best but still suffer from ghosting in pans and zoom shots, as well as moiring. There were one or two practically flawless shots that just provide contrast for how rough the rest of the film looks. I was probably spoiled by watching Burn, Witch, Burn
first but I found myself constantly distracted while watching Blood Bath
; the video is pretty much a checklist of video defects.
The Dolby Digital 2-channel mono track is, like the video, serviceable enough. Dialogue is always intelligible but sounds soft and muffled. Sound effects, when present at all, are barely noticeable. Thereís also an omnipresent audio tape hiss. It wouldnít be terribly surprising of this were a release from a fly-by Ėnight public domain company, but coming from a major studio, and after the superlative quality of Burn, Witch, Burn, Blood Bathís audio can be considered nothing less than a complete disappointment.
There are no supplements included.
Despite its weirdness and convoluted production history, thereís little to recommend in Blood Bath
. Itís nice that MGM is making the film available for those who want it. Iíll always support even the worst films being rescued from cinematic limbo. In this case, however, the film is lame and the audio and video are not up to scratch. If your interest in Blood Bath
is only casual, give it as pass. Itís worth neither your money, nor the 62 minutes it would take to watch the entire feature.
Movie - D-
Image Quality - C-
Sound - C-
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour and 2 minutes
- Rated Not Rated, PG
- 1 Disc (DVD-R)
- Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono