Bloodsucking Freaks

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It was probably inevitable that BLOODSUCKING FREAKS would become a staple of drive-in cinema. This is a movie so low-rent, so sleazy, so filled with sex and violence, that the entire running time tries to answer the question, "How far can a film go?" ad nauseum.

Oh sure, BLOODSUCKING FREAKS is being forgotten more and more each year. It came a bit too late to be grouped with the original gore films like BLOOD FEAST. Likewise, it is often overshadowed by notorious Italian counterparts like CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST. But this neglect is hardly unfair. Despite being outrageous and actually trying for some satire, the film is so ridiculous, it can't be taken seriously for a second.

We open up in New York City. Not the Disney-fied, happy, take-your-grandma-to-town New York. This is the sleazy, dirty, grimey New York that even Charles Bronson didn't go in, back in the day. In this film, even the camera lens looks like it could use a bath.

We open with a nasty bit of experimental theatre emceed by Sardu (Seamus O'Brien looking an awful lot like the Master from MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE) and his dwarf sidekick, Ralphus (Luis De Jesus - LET MY PUPPETS COME). Dwarves always get added in cases like this, because I guess they're supposed to be freakish ( Did I mention this isn't a very politically correct movie? ).

Anyway, Sardu and Ralphus basically bait the audience with the promises of ghoulish show-stopping delights and then delivers by torturing young naked girls to death on stage. All the while, he insists that the show is not faked, which the audience doesn't buy for a second. After all, why would anyone be so brazen about such horrible crimes?

One person who doesn't like what Sardu has to offer is a snotty critic (Alan Dellay), who then gets abducted and tortured as Sardu reveals his master plan - to abduct the immensely popular ballerina Natasha D'Natalie (Viju Krem - also from LET MY PUPPETS COME) and put her in his sick ballet. It's always a danger when they proclaim a characters talent in films like this. Not surprisingly, when he finally see her at work, her dancing is laughably awful.

Natasha is abducted and her football player boyfriend, Tom Maverick (Niles McMaster - ALICE SWEET ALICE) tries to save her with the help of a crooked cop (Dan Fauci) who happily demands money to grease the wheels on the case.

Believe it or not, director Joel M. Reed tries for some satire here. First off, we have the torture and more importantly, the humiliation of Dellay, which seems like a real vicarious joy. It's the most extreme scenes of THEATRE OF BLOOD thrown into this grimey little basement. The taunting is important in these scenes. Dellay insists that he will never be able to pull off his ridiculous production. Perhaps the greatest joy the filmmakers extract from the sequence is proving Dellay fatally wrong.

Another section is what should have been the core of the film. Sardu's crimes are largely tolerated. No matter how many people he abducts and murders, it seems ignored in the Big Apple. His biggest crime and his biggest undoing is in aspiring to be accepted by the mainstream. Sardu wants to be a celebrity. He wants to eat at the posh restaurants, hob knob with the toast of the town and just excel higher and higher on the quest for fame and fortune. "First Broadway and then maybe Hollywood!" he exclaims at one point. Celebrities are seen as something altogether greater in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. When Maverick can't get results in his missing persons case, he brings up that Natasha is a celebrity and is more important than the "standard high school girl."

In one of the film's best throwaway scenes, dwarf assistant Ralphus asks about his billing. Sardu chides him, "I thought you gave that all up when you left the William Morris Agency." A hilarious jab at the infamous talent agency, whose employees are notoriously short in stature but high in demand. It's one of the only peaceful moments in the film.

Virtually every scene in BLOODSUCKING FREAKS contains the abuse, humiliation, torture and murder of young naked women. Rarely have I seen anything that tried so hard to disgust without apology. And not until the GUINEA PIG films or the recent fake shot on video snuff flicks, would we see anyone make it such a pointless excercise.

What makes the film almost bearable to watch (for the most part anyway) is that it's always shown to be in good, if not clean, fun. The film has the vibe of the films of Herschel Gordon Lewis. The film is not a great success unfortunately, because Joel M. Reed is truly no Herschel Gordon Lewis. And trust me, that's even more of an insult than you think.

Even the humor wears thin after a while. I don't care if Groucho Marx himself is serving as the Grand Inquisitor, there are only so many tortures, so many brain-suckings, so many acts of necrophilia and random acts of violence against genitalia before the whole thing gets tiresome. Ralphus is the first to become a nuisance. By the halfway point, he is no longer funny or shocking.

Reed is a very amateurish director, which at times suits the film's grindhouse mentality. Other times, it's downright irresponsible. It was a mistake to include the subplot about the sadistic doctor and even worse to give him a tired mother complex. The white slavery subplot was also unwelcome. According to this film, white slavery is not only common in New York, it's accepted. Judges and law enforcement are on the take daily and no one cares. Sardu gets regular payoffs of a million bucks and his place still looks like a shithole.

At another point in the film, Sardu is said to have three outstanding murder charges against him. You'd think they'd lock him up for something like that. It's quite a feat when even a film called BLOODSUCKING FREAKS strains your suspension of disbelief past the breaking point. The film becomes a bit monotonous and dull, an ordeal to sit through to the finish.

No one in front of or behind the camera was ever this big again. Reed was unable to re-capture the shock value of his magnum opus. De Jesus was thrown into an Ewok suit for RETURN OF THE JEDI. O'Brien was stabbed to death one year after this film came out. These factoids re-enforce the atmosphere of BLOODSUCKING FREAKS. It's a grimey, amateurish film that is a living testament to the sleazy grindhouses of New York in the seventies. It earns it's place along films like SNUFF and ILSA SHE WOLF OF THE S.S. But just like those movies, it's much more fun to wax nostalgic about them, than to actually sit through them.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis