Bloodsucking Freaks Review
Bloodsucking Freaks, released in 1976 and written and directed by Joel M Reed, tells the story of Sardu, a sadistic showman, who under the pretence of running a Grand Guignol style basement horror show called "Sardu’s Theatre of the Macabre", dupes the audience members into believing that the gruesome scenes they witness are fake, only for it to be revealed to the movie audience that they are all too real. This show also acts as a front for Sardu’s slave trade business, shipping naked women in cardboard boxes to the Middle East. Assisted by an equally deranged pipe-smoking dwarf called Ralphus, Sardu takes offence at a New York theatre critic’s refusal to accept his show as art and plots to kidnap the critic, along with the ballerina girlfriend of an American footballer and force them both to take part in a snuff ballet production. Only the ballet star’s boyfriend and the world’s sleaziest, bribe-taking cop can stop Sardu’s theatrical triumph and save the girl…
It’s difficult to review Bloodsucking Freaks (originally released under the no less eye-catching title of ‘The Incredible Torture Show’) as you would review a ‘normal’ film, as it exists purely to repel. What story there is, is there to facilitate and justify the continual depiction of the stripping, torturing, maiming and killing of young women. The fouler and more sadistic the violence, the greater the film’s chance of offending and at the end of the day, that’s its sole purpose. It’s a throwback (as if to call a 38 year old film a ‘throwback’ isn’t ridiculous enough) to the films of schlockmeisters like Ted V. Mikels and Herschell Gordon Lewis, where the quality of the film was not important – what was important was getting noticed, getting talked about and getting bums on seats. Simple as that. I’m not sitting in judgement on the film makers, nor am I suggesting there’s not an audience for this kind of material. A HD re-release after 38 years clearly shows otherwise. It’s just that it’s hard to judge a film on its merits when it deliberately aims so low. The script is awful, the staging minimal, the performances wooden and although a small amount of pleasure can be derived from Seamus O’Brien’s campy turn as Sardu, even at a spritely 88 minutes, the film drags after a while. Nipple clamps, an improvised dart board, brains sucked through a straw, fellatio by a decapitated head and a salad roll garnished with a severed penis all roll by over the course of the film, yet none of it is executed with a real sense of fun and the ridiculously fake looking gore ensures that for all its wild excess, the film falls flat in generating the kind of outrage it’s aiming for. I appreciate that I’m looking at this nearly 40 years after it was first released and time is never going to be kind to this sort of movie, but rather like a circus freak show, Bloodsucking Freaks has primarily remained of interest for its attention seeking and as a talking point, rather than for what it achieved and I’m afraid that this isn’t enough for me to recommend it.
88 Films bring us Bloodsucking Freaks in all its widescreen, 1080p glory. Unfortunately, the original elements haven't aged well and the picture is very scratchy, particularly at the start of the film. This creates the sort of ‘Grindhouse’ look that Rodriguez and Tarantino artificially applied to their 2007 effort and in a way, feels entirely appropriate for a film of this type. The 16mm low budget origins mean the film is never going to look pin sharp, but colours are strong even if the overall image is a little soft and flat. Aside from a commentary track, the audio is limited to a LPCM stereo mix and although a bit up and down in places, never causes any great issues. There are no subtitles available.
Extras are numerous, though slight. The main bonus (or not, depending on your particular feelings towards the man) is an audio commentary from Eli Roth. He clearly loves the film and offers a knowledgeable and informative track for fans. Unfortunately, he is also aware of the ridiculous nature of the film and is quite tongue-in-cheek at times and his dry delivery makes it difficult for non-obsessives to decide what’s fact or fiction. It would also be interesting to know what made Troma (the film’s distributor) ask him to provide the commentary, as it was recorded for the film’s 1998 DVD release, three years before he released his debut movie ‘Cabin Fever’. Roth pops up again in the only extra specific to Bloodsucking Freaks, a 4 minute chat with three members of the cast and crew.
Apart from a brief introduction to the film by Mr. Troma himself, Lloyd Kaufman, and a 2 minute trailer, the remaining extras are all generic stuff. There’s a 9 minute tour of Troma’s office, which consists of a few staged skits and some bare breasts, a 2 minute show reel of clips from Troma films, a 2 minute promo for Kaufman’s autobiography, a 1 minute piece of choreography involving children in some kind of anti-nuclear statement, two 3 minute mock public service announcements dealing with the thorny subjects of global warming and hotel room pornography and 25 minutes of trailers for ten other Troma films. All the extras are carried over from the US 1998 DVD release and it’s a shame that for its first release in HD, some new material wasn’t prepared. The only original stuff comes in the form of a reversible sleeve incorporating original artwork and booklet notes by Calum Waddell, both sadly unavailable with the preview disc.
As I said earlier, criticising Bloodsucking Freaks for its poor execution is missing the point. It’s a deliberately trashy, low rent movie, designed to shock and disgust and this reputation has served it well for nearly four decades. 88 Films have given it a decent Blu-ray release and although its appeal may be niche, it’s good to see labels still attracted to serving niche customers. Coming to the film fresh in 2014 is perhaps not the best introduction to its lurid charms and I’m sure it devotees will be over the moon with this disc, but all the salaciousness in the world can’t prevent the yawns creeping in towards the end. Never before has such a vast array of frontal female nudity left me so unmoved…
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