Blu-ray Review: BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (1976)

PrintE-mail Written by Julian White

REVIEW: BLOODSUCKING FREAKS / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: JOEL M. REED / SCREENPLAY: JOEL M. REED / STARRING: SEAMUS O'BRIEN, VIJU KREM, LUIS DE JESUS / RELEASE DATE: APRIL 21ST

What's the old saying – don't put your daughter on the stage? You definitely wouldn't want her to have anything to do with Sardu's Theatre of the Macabre, the subject of Bloodsucking Freaks. Not if you wanted to get her back in one piece, that is.

That's because this unusual Off-Off-Broadway venue puts on a show with a decided edge – spectacles of torture which purport to be fake but are, gasp, only too real. And because there's not much money in that kind of thing, it supports itself financially with a sideline in human trafficking (couldn't they have gotten an Arts Council grant?). The guy running it, a languid, Eric Idle-like character named Sardu (O'Brien), has his heart set on achieving immortality with a theatrical masterpiece that “will combine two art forms, sadism and dance”. To this end, he dispatches his henchman, a grinning, sadistic dwarf (De Jesus), to kidnap a supercilious critic who is a vocal opponent, and he brainwashes a famous ballerina (Krem) into being his star turn.

Plot-wise, that's about it, leaving bags of time for the film's raison d'etre, which consists of showing naked girls squirming in agony as various nasty things (thumbscrews, electric shocks, decapitations) happen to them. Direction, acting and script are all blunderingly amateurish – although if it were a technically better film it would probably make an even worse impression, simply because you'd be inclined to take it more seriously. As it is, despite the nudity and scenes of torture, it mostly seems like a harmless piece of S&M dress-up, an anarchic, shabbily psychedelic, countercultural skit dreamed up by a bunch of out of work actors with an axe to grind against New York's arty-farty circles.

Still, it's certainly crazy enough to get your attention, it has the occasional barbed line and memorable absurdity, and if ever there was a film that embodies the spirit of grindhouse, this is it. A brief glance at IMDb adds a further layer of the lurid to this walk on the wild side. Leading man Seamus O'Brien was stabbed to death by a burglar shortly after making the film, love interest Viju Krem was accidentally shot and killed on a hunting trip less than a decade later, and Luis De Jesus, the evil dwarf, achieved notoriety in a stag movie and went on to play an Ewok.

The HD transfer is scratchy, with muted, pastel colours and a soft, gauzy picture, but again this is all very much in tune with the grindhouse aesthetic, and the print seems all too nauseatingly free of the censor's scissors. Apart from a welcome audio commentary by none other than Eli Roth, the extras are short, jokey snippets, quite old, about the film and about Troma studios.

Extras: Audio commentary by Eli Roth / Introduction by Lloyd Kaufman / Tour of Troma / Aroma Da Troma / Radiation March / Autobiography promotional video / Trailers


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