As is the tradition with cult film fans, and as is the expectation of cult film directors, it seems to be an assumed given that each of their films - no matter the year or period of their career – will become an underground gem. That’s unfortunately not always the result, however. Case in point: Joel Reed’s low-grade “horror” anthology – BLOOD BATH. The reason for the quotation marks you wonder? Well, to be truthful, the film just isn’t all that horror. With Reed being a true, blue “NewYawker”, BLOOD BATH certainly has an unmistakable New York feel. A gritty, seedy, and adventurous time when film makers showed you the rougher sides of life in the Big Apple. The fetish driven attractions lurking in certain areas from street corner to street corner weren’t hard to locate, and even in scant location shots, this has the feel of the city and the time. This anthology kicks off with a marriage from hell – literally – as horror movie director Peter Brown (music man Harve Presnell) has agreed to marry the daughter of Satan in exchange for success in film. This really isn’t an actual part of the anthology, however, as it basically serves as an opening for Peter to let his posh friends (including long time cast member of American soap, ‘Guiding Light’ – German actor, Stefan Schnabel) in on the little secret – it wasn’t real! Please…as if these suave oddballs hanging about Peter’s fashionably empty “New York horror film studio” couldn’t have caught on to it being staged. “Peter you bastard! Are you trying to frighten us with your cheap tricks?”, snaps Schnabel.
REVIEW BY- Devin Kelly
CAST: Harve Presnell, Jack Somack, Curt Dawson, Jerry Lacy, Sharron Shayne, Doris Roberts, Norman Bush, Deborah Loomis, Stefan Schnabel, Sonny Landham, William Chen, Richard Niles, PJ Soles, Neil Flanagan, Dale Whitman, Tom Tammi, Lee Moore, Illa Howe, Patricia Lee, Tony Crupi, René Enriquez, Stanley Brock, Alexander Orfaly, Sydney A. Blake, Jean Palmerton
DIRECTOR: Joel M. Reed
PRODUCER: Anthony FingletonTrans Orient Entertainment Corporation
RUNNING TIME: 83 min. 22 seconds
DVD SOURCE: Subversive Cinema
Anyway, the director and his Warholian band of film freaks proceed to sit down to dinner and tell several stories of a variety of poor unfortunate souls all surrounding supposed supernatural events. Really though, I’ve got to admit – some of these are lame ass attempts at injecting fear into the viewer. In fact, I would only call the opening sequence and one or two of the stories, or even scenes, horror. Our first is one of a hitman who’s murdering ways catch up with him. We watch him complete a politically inspired killing, carving up a man and his wife in serial killer fashion, dressed in surgical gear. Ok…looks good. His next assigned murder is a scheduled explosion, but a goofy hippie car thief twists fate around on the assassin. This wasn’t a bad story – probably one of the top two of the four. Our next was interesting, but it’s been done before, and better (see TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (’73) for a similar and more well done example). Bored husband, Don Savage (Jerry lacy), tired of his wife’s ongoing bitching and moaning, decides that escaping in a good book is just no longer the antidote. He winds up in some sort of medicinal pawn shop run by a wacky gypsy woman who sells him a coin that will grant any desired wish. Not only that, but on as many occasions as he chooses, too. Our pal Don could go anywhere. A gorgeous tropical island…back in time to the rockin’ and rollin’ fifties…into Marilyn Monroe’s bedroom. Where does he end up? As a decorated, wounded French soldier in Napolean’s army! HUH? What the fuck is wrong with this guy and while we’re at it, what kind of shit was Joel Reed puffing on back then (well, and throughout his glorious career for that matter)?
Needless to say, it’s not a wonderful trip back in time for ol’ Don and his stay is extended. His arm is another story… The third, and director Reed’s favorite of a film he generally dislikes, is the story of a wealthy SOB (Jack Somack) who cares for little except the almighty dollar. In fact, so much so that this racist prick wouldn’t even hesitate as the head of a collection agency, to toss an entire family out into the cold street. He loves his cash so much as well, that he’d rather spend his time with it over the people around him. “I think I’ll relax in the safe”, he says. Well, you get what you ask for and it’s soon to be until death do you part for this millionaire and his millions. His cute little secretary (Sharron Shayne) is about to leave for a couple of weeks on vacation, but whoops, she forgot to lock the safe. She’ll get right on that, and leave her scrooge of a boss to suffocate over the holiday. Even worse for him – while in the safe he’s got a ghost to contend with, as the groovy, wise-crackin’ spirit of a brotha he once repossessed everything from comes around to collect his car. Yeah, you heard it right. This ghost’s so hard up, he’s even borrowing clothes, pointing out about his outfit, “I rented these from a pimp whose old lady slit his throat”. The conclusion of this segment is so bloody ridiculous that it felt like something out of the old Canadian sketch comedy show, ‘Bizarre’. Let’s just say, a resounding groan will no doubt exit most who see this particular finale, although a seemingly delusional at times Reed mentions in the commentary that this was the most popular of the stories and some folks were even interested in buying it to air separately. Look for ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ star Doris Roberts in this segment.
The last of these is by far the most entertaining and for sure the most absurd. The late Curt Dawson (CRYPT OF DARK SECRETS (’76), MARDI GRAS MASSACRE (’78)) plays a greedy martial arts master and dojo instructor, duping his pupils out of thousands for the tell-all of the sacred “9 Secrets of Shao-Lin”. When the real masters get word of this however, they spring into vengeance-minded action – although not all of them on their feet (or even legs!). That’s right, now our karate kicking creep must learn at the hands (pardon the pun) of the limbless kung-fu high king. Our American wannabe balks at the sight though. Pity for him he’s not aware that a tenth secret exists…one that’ll burn his balls to kingdom come! Oh how warped this little capper is. The ending though, yet again, is another preposterous “shocker” (or is it schlocker on this occasion?). This fourth part is at least bigger camp fun than the rest. You want to go with just plain off-the-wall and waaaaaaay the fuck out in left field though, then keep eyes peeled on the ugly bow that ties this thing together. We now have director Peter’s friends all gone home for the night, with the exception of one admiring darling (HERCULES IN NEW YORK’s Deborah Loomis). With some after dinner mint frolicking going on, Peter ignores the fact that something is trying to break it’s way out of a chained, wooden crate. Before you know it, the air is filled with a scream, and the director Dad, gun in hand, storms into a young girl’s bedroom down the street (PJ Soles in her first ever appearance on camera) and comes face to horns with his hideous devil son, Conrad (Richard Niles).
The sympathetic creature, just looking for a piece of action, will make you feel strangely awkward, as he screeches out, "D-a-a-a-a-a-a-d-d-d-d", in a goat-like warble. Apparently life does sometimes imitate art…or even irresistible B trash. If those familiar with Joel Reed, no doubt at the very least through the notorious reputation of his cult seekers delight – BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1978) – are picking this up with thoughts of a nasty night in store coming to mind…don’t bother. This film is not for gorehounds, but I won’t say it’s not for ghetto 70’s horror film fans, those yearning for an obscure screening, or Joel M. Reed completists alike. It’s just that, nothing a really jumps out at you and rips your brain out. A few things catch you off guard – but nothing truly succeeds in making this a must (although, curious horror fans most surely will want it – especially with it being such a great DVD package). The odd top casting choice of musical act Harve Presnell, who had at this stage long carved out his niche as a singer, makes it all the more a strange experience. He’d later resurface in film again, with roles in pictures such as FARGO (1996) and MR. DEEDS (2002). A lot of New York area actors, many of them long gone, appear in this thing too, and a few now long familiar faces got larger breaks, starting with BLOOD BATH (PJ Soles, 48 HRS. and PREDATOR’s Sonny Landham).
The DVD from Subversive Cinema is really the thing to talk about here though. Jam-packed with goodies from top to bottom, the disc not only sports a kick ass transfer for such a dusty old relic, but contains great extras in the form of a special making of short about the film and bargain basement film making in New York, a commentary track for the length of the picture with Joel Reed, an assortment of very different trailers for flicks released by Subversive, and even a hidden Easter Egg to find where actor Jerry Lacy discusses his time in the series, 'Dark Shadows'. All of this, PLUS, a few lobby card reproductions and a very cool BLOOD BATH poster. Subversive deliver huge! I’ll be grabbing more of their titles, without question. Director Reed is very nonchalant about BLOOD BATH while talking about it, making it known he thinks it’s a bad picture, but almost seeming to pass off the blame at times. He certainly has many stories to tell about others using his ideas. Which of these are true is up to you however. Even if this isn’t the prime early Joel diamond in the rough, I say go for it anyway. Anyone interested in this fascinating underground director won’t be sorry, as the entire combination does for sure scream out, REED!
STORY/FILM: 2.5/5 BITCH SLAPS
PICTURE: 4/5 BITCH SLAPS
AUDIO: 3.5/5 BITCH SLAPS
EXTRAS: 5/5 BITCH SLAPS
OVERALL DVD: 4.5/5 BITCH SLAPS
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