In addition to the usual reviews and comments you would find on a horror movie blog, this is also a document of the wonderfully vast horror movie section of the video store I worked at in my youth.

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Horror Movie Guide: Bloodsucking Freaks

The next title in the Guide was the infamous 1976 movie Bloodsucking Freaks aka The Incredible Torture Show. Despite its colorful title, I’d never seen this one until now and strangely knew what to expect, and yet also didn’t expect what I saw if that makes any sense.

A sadistic showman named Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) disguises his white slavery operation as an off-Broadway production that performs shocking theatre shows in the vein of the old Grand Guignol, except unbeknownst to his audience; his public torture displays are real.

A thing I kept coming back to while watching this was, “this came out in 1976"? People actually went to a theatre and sat through the whole thing? I mean, I don't want to act like I was pearl clutching throughout this movie, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for the quantity of depravity. It just. Never. Lets. Up.

Sure, it’s over the top and clearly not supposed to be taken seriously, but how many times can you see a naked woman tortured before it becomes legitimately macabre? Reading that sentence back is so odd, but then again - so is this movie.

On the surface, it feels like a natural successor to H.G. LewisBlood Trilogy, but I feel Bloodsucking Freaks would have made even him blush. Lewis’ oeuvre felt like a logical extension of his earlier “nudie-cuties", but adding gore as a gimmick. He was a businessman. Director Joel M. Reed seems to be getting off on all this. Either that or he just white-boarded every terrible thing he could think of to do the female body and put it onscreen.

And speaking of which, where did he find all these actresses? I can understand finding a handful of game ladies to be in your Z-grade torture film, but there's like two-dozen who show up over its eighty-plus minute run time. It’s a literal parade of full frontal trauma. I don’t know, maybe they all wear that Imdb credit like a badge of honour now.

I can see the influence of Bloodsucking Freaks though. I recalled Eli Roth’s Hostel in the reverie of the torture scenes, and headless blowjobs and teeth extractions for said sex act were shocking when they appeared in High Tension and A Serbian Film decades later so I can't imagine the reaction they got in the late seventies. Again, this played in public in ’76?

Based on its subject matter alone, a cult following seemed inevitable and would have definitely peaked the interest of Lloyd Kaufman at Troma - who ended up releasing it on home video, even without the blessing of the MPAA, which is such a Lloyd thing to do.

Luis De Jesus & Seamus O'Brien as Ralphus and Sardu in Bloodsucking Freaks.

Bloodsucking Freaks was the first film in the Guide that they saw fit to award No Stars. Objectively, I can’t disagree. It has very little merit, and though there are scenes that you can’t help but chuckle at their absurdity – like the lobotomy sundae for instance – it’s the sheer collective despair that broke the sex slave's back. Wikipedia lists all of its grievous acts and it literally takes up an entire paragraph.

On the other hand, if you’re going to be labeled "one of the most controversial pictures of all time” and actually own it, that’s gotta mean something too, right?

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