Bloodsucking Freaks Blu-ray Review (originally published 2014)
Welcome to a bizarre Off-Broadway theatre of the Macabre, operated by a deranged impresario. Inside sadistic entertainments are staged for his audience’s pleasure, including tortures, dismemberments, and other gruesome acts which appear to be faked. When people begin disappearing off the streets of Manhattan, the twisted truth begins to chillingly sink in: these horrifying bloodcurdling acts are not theatrical at all. THEY ARE REAL! (From Troma’s official synopsis)
Sometime around 2005, someone coined the phrase “torture porn” (2019 edit: it was New York Magazine’s David Edelstein). The term coincided with an influx of brutally violent horror films that were surprisingly popular in the angry, frightened post-9/11 filmscape. Seemingly unknown to the finger-wavers, there’s a long history of torture in entertainment, not to mention actual pornographic films that involve torture. Pre-film torture porn entertainment includes dramatic reenactments of Christ’s torture and crucifixion. After centuries of passion plays, the French-based Grand Guignol tradition reigned well into the invention of film and, eventually, the splatter film. Following an entire industry of “roughies” and S&M shorts, lapses in censorship led torture-centric movies to a height of popularity in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
Bloodsucking Freaks (aka: The Incredible Torture Show, 1976) is a particularly bad movie from a particularly bad filmmaker, but it is also a direct descendant of the Grand Guignol tradition. Writer/director Joel M. Reed ‘borrowed’ his basic plot from Roughie and splatter pioneer Hershel Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore and added shades of WIP and Nazisploitaion for sleazy flavor. The story concerns a theatre troupe, led by a degenerate artiste named Master Sardu, who commits graphic acts of murder before bored, unsuspecting Soho audiences in the guise of dramatic reenactments. Reed’s terminally unfunny film has a mean misogynistic streak that doesn’t blend with camp-festival intentions. This led to a heap of controversy, especially when it was picketed by the ever-vigilant Women Against Pornography. In the exploitation world, controversy always breeds popularity and, thus, the film became a consistent money-maker when Troma Studios obtained it and retitled it Bloodsucking Freaks in 1980.
Reed deserves minor credit for some creative on-screen sadism that creates some indelible images, despite his utter lack of cinematic skill. His tortures here include traditional ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (head and thumb vices, electrodes attached to nipples, stretching via St. Andrew's Cross) and Guignol goop (hand removal, eye gouging, cannibalism, beheading), but the real showstopper is an elongated torture that shocks even Sardu and his dwarf assistant. Here, a woman has her teeth removed one by one to prevent her from biting her attacker’s penis during forced fellatio (not shown). When he’s done, he shaves her head, parts her scalp, drills a hole in her head, and drinks her brains through a straw. The S&M/master-and-slave stuff – including nude, feral women kept in cages, then used as tables, chairs, urinals, and dart boards – is actually more distressing and probably put off the WAP more than the chintzy gore effects.
Troma is known for their enthusiasm, but not for their attention to quality standards on their DVD releases, many of which feature recycled VHS transfers. This Bloodsucking Freaks disc is the first Blu-ray I’ve seen from the studio and, despite my very low expectations, I can say I’m happy with the results. The fact of the matter is that Bloodsucking Freaks is an ugly movie. Even if Troma was able to scan the film at 4K and employ the best digital clean-up artists the industry has to offer it would still be an ugly movie. It was shot on 16mm (blown up to 35mm) by people that didn’t really know what they were doing. It’s grainy, dark, and the original materials weren’t in very good shape, but Troma hasn’t over-compressed the footage for this 1080p, 1.78:1 transfer, so these problems aren’t exasperated by digital artifacts. Details are fuzzy, thanks to the smaller film format, but the close-up images are far cleaner than any available DVD version. Colors are about as vibrant as one could expect from the material and a brighter overall contrast helps de-muddy some of the most dimly-lit images (there is discoloration on the edges of the frame throughout). Black levels are strong and assist in elemental separation. Also, note that, while prepping this transfer, the Troma people discovered some footage that had been missing for many years. That footage looks even rougher than the rest of the transfer, but this makes their release the longest and most complete available.
The original mono soundtrack has been cleaned up a bit to remove any obvious wear & tear and is presented in lossy Dolby Digital 2.0. The compression doesn’t really cause too many problems for overall volume levels. Michael Sahl’s goofy, bloopy keyboard soundtrack is much warmer and rounder than it was on DVD.
Introduction from Lloyd Kaufman (2:30, HD)
Two opening title options (including Bloodsucking Freaks and Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins credits)
Commentary with Hostel director Eli Roth, recorded before he released Cabin Fever
Eli Roth interviews actors Arlana Blue & Ernie Pysher and second-unit director Victor Kanefsky (3:50, SD)
Interview with Eli Roth (20:10, HD) – A new interview where Roth discusses the film and the strange fact that he was asked to do a commentary, despite not being a filmmaker yet.
Interview with Chris Jericho (14:30, HD) – Another new and personally-slanted interview with the WWE star.
Tromatic Extras – The usual series of trailers and promotional spots for Troma products.
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