Judge Gordon Sullivan uses red karo syrup for his baths.
The shrieking of mutilated victims caged in a black pit of horror!
In this era of cable TV and streaming video on demand, it can be hard to remember the wild and woolly days when films were cut and reordered according to the whims of broadcast requirements. Television stations would shrink running times, or add whole new scenes to pad the same. Blood Bath is an interesting example of this practice. Originally a 62-minute feature, the film was reordered for television and expanded to 80 minutes by the inclusion of scenes from a whole different movie in a different genre. Sadly, that cut isn't included in this release of Blood Bath, but this DVD is still worth a peek to fans of the absurd.
Antonio Sordi (William Campbell, Dementia 13) is an artist working on "Dead Red Nudes," a popular series of portraits involving women in scenes of death. Sordi also lives in a bell tower, where he's convinced he's haunted by a former inhabitant—another artist who was accused of consorting with the devil. Tensions rise when beautiful young women start disappearing, only to reappear as a Dead Red Nude.
Make no mistake, Blood Bath is an unholy mess of a film. It has two directors (Jack Hill and Stephanie Rothman, a pair of filmmakers who often seemed at loggerheads while working the exploitation circuit), a lot of so-so acting, and no character around which to focus a linear plot. Instead we get a random collection of scenes—some in cafes, others in Sordi's studio—and a collection of beautiful women we know little about parading in front of the camera before ending up rather gruesomely on Sordi's canvas. The fact that the film throws in a bizarre vampire story to this already oversaturated story just shows how off the rails an hour-long film can get.
And yet, Blood Bath has a few things going for it:
• The idea of somehow capturing life or death on canvas is a good one. Sure Oscar Wilde did it with Dorian Gray, and it's been done in other pics as well, but the whole "Dead Red Nudes" concept is a solidly weird one. It's especially worthwhile because William Campbell plays Sordi as a serious artist, not a demented psychopath or naïve dilettante. For Campbell's Sordi, killing women is just a way to make the art he feels inside, but he doesn't feel the need to get overworked about it.
• Many of the random scenes work. I enjoyed the parody of avant-garde artists the most. We're introduced to Sordi through an encounter he has with a number of more pretentious artists in a cafe. Their ring leader is Max, who is trying to apply quantum physics to his painting. It's a rather savage little swipe at beatniks, café denizens, and pretentious artists everywhere. Max and his cronies show up a few times for comic relief. Similarly, the few scenes on the beach offer a nice contrast to the more horror-tinged moments. Fans of old-school bikinis will especially enjoy these seemingly random moments of beach-oriented skin.
• With the multiple directors it's somewhat difficult to determine who is responsible for what, but the overall atmosphere of Blood Bath is impressively creepy. Part of that is down to the actors giving some intense performances, but the lion's share of the credit goes to the nighttime black-and-white photography. It's not quite as stylized as typical noir or horror, but the darker scenes have an interesting edge to them, and even the scenes in daylight have an "off" quality.
Blood Bath is available from the MGM Manufactured on Demand (or MOD) service. That means it's a no-frills release that uses an existing print (without real restoration) and no extras. The 1.78:1 transfer looks pretty good despite the film's age (and lack of restoration work). It's heavy on the grain, but contrast is pretty good and black levels are okay. The mono soundtrack sounds like it's from the Sixties—not a lot of dynamic range or high-end clarity to speak of. In its defense, though, the track does keep the dialogue clear and audible.
However, whoever wrote the specs on the back of the box needs to do a bit of proofreading. The film is certainly in widescreen, but it is not in color, nor is it 80 minutes long. Although I'm sure fans of weird cinema would love to see a dual release with this 62-minute version of the film coupled with its 80-minute TV cut, that's not what' s on offer here.
Blood Bath is a decent little film that shows the diversity of Sixties cinema. It's short on blood and long on atmosphere, but even if it's not a perfect film, it's short. This MOD DVD is a decent, though not spectacular, presentation of a catalog title of this caliber.
It takes some artistic licenses, but Blood Bath is not guilty.
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