When is a supposed slasher film nothing more than an excuse to see some early '70s skin? According to Judge Bill Gibron, when it's this middling macabre movie from the noted British cult filmmaker.
Our review of The Flesh and Blood Show (1972) (Blu-ray), published March 14th, 2014, is also available.
An appalling amalgam of carnage and carnality.
A group of unemployed actors journey to an abandoned theater where they are picked off one by one by an unseen assailant. The end…
Wait—not good enough? Okay.
A couple of bodacious British birds get awoken one night by some dipstick with a fake knife jutting from his gut. Turns out he's a little loopy, but knows the girls from their occasional theatrical efforts together. All three are out-of-work thespians and, over a cup of coffee, they discuss a recent job opportunity. Seems they've been contacted by an experimental repertory company to help create an improvised performance piece. Finding their way down to the derelict amphitheater at the end of a forgotten seaside pier, they meet up with the rest of the cast—a couple of stodgy studs, a slightly Sappho gal, and an overly uptight director who finds all of this a bit fishy. They immediately learn that the theater has a history—it was the sight of a grisly double murder during World War II. Seems a famous actor killed his adulterous wife and her co-star lover after a performance of Othello. When they decide to sleep on the stage in order to save money, things get spooky almost immediately. A superstar in the making arrives during the night, completing the troupe, but suddenly, players start disappearing and turning up dead. One is decapitated. Another is stabbed and then sent into the water. As more and more of their membership go missing, the others grow anxious. When they signed of for this unusual gig, they didn't think it would be a real Flesh and Blood Show, but it appears one resident of the haunted locale is making sure that history repeats itself—in all its crimson-colored facets.
As a title, The Flesh and Blood Show sounds promising, right? Lots of nudity, with just enough gratifying gore to seal the deal. Well, unfortunately (or luckily, depending on your proclivities), the movie's moniker is a tad misleading. This is really The FLESH Show, with a guest cameo appearance by the titular viscous red liquid. If you're into bouncy British boobies and lots of them, if you want to witness early '70s knockers in all their pert, pristine glory, then by all means, enjoy director Pete Walker's celebration of the female chest. However, if you want some spooks with your sexiness, you better move along down the forgotten fright film checklist. Walker, well known for his celebrated cult favorites Frightmare, Die Screaming Marianne, and Schizo, admits that this was a first attempt at bringing bloodletting to his relatively relaxed canon and, indeed, this movie is definitely light on the claret. Yet every single female lead in this otherwise minor macabre movie gives her nips a chance to breathe free and Walker's wicked lens is always there to capture their comeliness. Therefore, you have to make a conscious choice. If all you care about is Me Decade mammaries in all their unaltered desirability, then forget this motion picture has a frightening subtext and enjoy the myriad of mommy bags. On the other hand, if you're hoping for a Hammer-style scarefest, or a "veddy British" bit of boo, keep away from this far-too-calm creepshow. Instead of being horrified, you'll be hampered by all the skin.
Don't get the wrong impression, however. The Flesh and Blood Show is not really an eerie exploitation flick where nudity takes the place of narrative. As a matter of fact, the only reason the rare moments of toplessness stay with you so long is that there isn't much else in the film to hang onto. There is very little suspense, almost no surprise as to the identity of the killer, and the storytelling is so slow and subtle that only the corporeality stands out. Walker tends to employ an "anything for a flash" ideal to the bare bodkin, meaning that his actresses will change, in full view of the camera, for almost any reason—they're cold, they're hot, they're Presbyterian. Naturally, he then wastes inordinate amounts of time in capturing each unclothed moment. Even the theatrical setting is kind of lame. We never see the "experimental piece" being produced, aside from a short glimpse that looks like Oh! Calcutta! accented with even more psycho-social-sexual claptrap and a monologue by one of two obvious red herrings. As a matter of fact, The Flesh and Blood Show spends more time on the semi-interesting backstory than it does in establishing the present. What we end up with is a disappointing, directionless mess that is only saved by some of the performances and the overindulgence in lady lungs. Even more unfortunate, the finale's 3-D designs (revealed in a title card before the picture begins) have been left out. So not only do we miss any of the macabre, but the gimmicky goofiness of old-fashioned two-color perception is removed as well.
Media Blasters, through its subsidiary Shriek Show, should be ashamed of remastering this movie as less than its red-and-green glasses ideal. It would have given fans something to look forward to other than numerous helpings of hooter. Still, the rest of the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image looks good, not that the British seaside in February is anything special. Colorless, cloudy, and filled with fog, several of the exterior shots look enveloped in cotton, especially when compared to the crystal-clear interiors. Still, all stock elements aside, the transfer is terrific, especially for those who enjoy Walker's solemn showboating. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital Mono is polished and professional, while the elemental extras (gallery, trailer) are accented by a 12-minute interview with Walker himself. Living in California and looking tanned and relaxed as he sits by the ocean, the filmmaker admits to some of The Flesh and Blood Show's faults, discusses some of the casting concerns, and points out how cold it was during production. Though not as good as a commentary track, he still delivers enough details to satisfy even the most discerning British fear fan.
It's too bad his movie can't do the same. The Flesh and Blood Show sounds like a rip-roaring time through everything that makes a horror movie fun—gore, gals, and lots of groundless gratuity. Instead, it's a variation on the old Agatha Christie corker And Then There Was None. Sadly, the ending here is telegraphed instead of twisty. This film could use all the inventive help it can get. Otherwise, it's as stiff as a British businessman's long-lamented upper lip.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
• Interview with Director Pete Walker
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