Friday, October 30, 2015

#1,901. Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

Directed By: Joel M. Reed

Starring: Seamus O'Brien, Viju Krem, Niles McMaster

Tag line: "Only Once in a Century Can Such Evil Live..."

Trivia: Troma had the film cut to gain an "R" rating, then shipped the unrated print to theaters telling them it was the R rated version

At first glance, Bloodsucking Freaks seems to have a lot in common with the films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, most notably The Wizard of Gore, with which it shares some thematic similarities (a Grand Guignol-style stage show featuring so-called “fake” tortures that are actually all too real). But Bloodsucking Freaks takes things much further than Lewis ever did. In fact, this 1976 film is so scandalous and misogynistic that it makes The Gore Gore Girls look like Fried Green Tomatoes!

Situated in New York’s SoHo district, The Theater of the Macabre, which is owned and operated by the mystical Sardu (Seamus O’Brein), specializes in ultra-violent entertainment, most of which involves torturing beautiful women. What its patrons don't know, however, is that the violence is 100% real! Even when he';s not on-stage, Sardu, with the help of his dwarf assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus), lures unsuspecting women into his lair, then beats and humiliates them for his own warped pleasure. Yet despite his unique “cravings”, Sardu dreams of becoming a genuine entertainer. To that end, he kidnaps ballerina Natasha de Natalie (Viju Krem), then tries to convince her to dance in his upcoming show. The girlfriend of renowned football player Tom Maverick (Niles McMaster), Natasha naturally refuses But Sardu has ways of getting exactly what he wants.

It’s easy to see why Bloodsucking Freaks was targeted for protest by such organizations as Women Against Pornography; in the opening scene, a naked woman is hung from a chain, then tortured with finger screws. The film then transitions into one of Sardu’s stage shows, during which this unfortunate girl, still fully naked, is tortured to death (side note: not a single female cast member in Bloodsucking Freaks keeps their clothes on. In fact, most never wear so much as a pair of mittens). When the crowd is unimpressed, Sardu ups the ante by having Ralphus cut off the hand of another poor girl with a hacksaw, then orders him to gouge out one of her eyes (which Ralphus then pops into his mouth and eats).

The film’s gore, though clearly fake, is nonetheless stomach-churning, mostly because the majority of it plays out on-screen. Yet even in its most nauseating moments, it’s obvious that Bloodsucking Freaks was intended to be viewed as a dark comedy (I admittedly laughed at the scene where Sardu eats his dinner off the back of a nude girl, the wax from a single candle dripping down her back and onto her buttocks). The problem is that, more often than not, director Joel Reed crosses into such unsettling territory that we can only watch with our jaws agape; Sardu himself is appalled by the actions of “The Doctor” (Ernie Pysher), who’s brought in to tend to his prisoners from time to time (before performing what he calls “neurosurgery” with an electric drill, the doctor fondles the breasts of his “patient”, clearly sexually aroused by her agony). 

The film was distributed by Troma Entertainment, a studio that itself is no stranger to sex and gore. And yet, during his introduction on the 1999 DVD release of Bloodsucking Freaks, Troma’s frontman, Lloyd Kaufman, the man behind such flicks as The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet, warns that this 1976 movie is excessively disturbing, and says that, were he and partner Michael Herz given the choice today, they probably would have passed on it.

Yes… Bloodsucking Freaks is that shocking!

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