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Blood Bath
cast: Harve Presnell, Jack Somack, Sonny Landham, Boris Roberts, and P.J. Soles

director: Joel M. Reed

86 minutes (unrated) 1976
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Subversive DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Lucinda Ireson
1976 saw the release of two horror films by low-budget filmmaker Joel Reed. One of these was, of course, notorious splatter fest Bloodsucking Freaks, yet it was also in this year that Reed directed the lesser-known Blood Bath - a quartet of horror stories inspired by the anthology movies (most notably, those produced by British studio Amicus) that were particularly popular at that time.

Films within this subgenre typically feature a wraparound story and Blood Bath is no exception, with the setting being a dinner party held by the director of a low-budget horror film and attended by his cast and crew. Anyone who's seen an anthology horror will be familiar with such a set-up but that's part of the fun, and the idea of a film within a film (a theme that wasn't hackneyed in the 1970s as it is now) is handled particularly well. Indeed, the wraparound story establishes the tongue-in-cheek tone that's prevalent throughout, with the banter about low-budget horror movies giving the film a knowing vibe that predates Scream by 20 years.

As with most anthologies, the stories are of varying levels of quality, with the weakest being the first entry - a forgettable story about a hitman who, despite his methodical nature, finds himself the victim of one of his own traps. Still, the film picks up with its second story, in which a man uses a magic coin in order to escape his mundane life and loveless marriage, and go back in time to experience life as a noble wartime general. It soon transpires, however, that the reality is a far cry from the fantasy, and the film effectively highlights the contrast between romanticism and squalid reality, as well as playing up humorousness of humdrum domestic life.

While the second story is a fun yarn, it's the third tale that's the strongest. The focus here is on a greedy loan shark who finds himself haunted by the ghost of a man whose car he repossessed. We soon learn that the loan shark's actions triggered off a chain of events that resulted in the man's death and, when the pair are inadvertently locked inside his giant safe, the stage is set for an engaging battle of wits and a particularly amusing role reversal: as the loan shark boasts of his business acumen to his weary, grimacing 'tormentor', it seems that it's the ghost who is being haunted. However, being locked in a barren environment for a long period of time proves far more serious for the human than for the ghost, which results in the former learning the true meaning of the term 'money-hungry'.

The film's final tale isn't of quite the same standard of the second and third stories, but it's fairly entertaining and boasts some decent combat scenes. Here, the central character is a man who has undergone strict training in the martial arts but squandered his teaching by indulging in a life of laziness and vice. When an armless, legless opponent challenges him to combat it seems a foregone conclusion as to who will emerge triumphant, yet there's one martial arts secret that the student never learnt. This leads to him getting his comeuppance in a bizarre and innovative manner that fits in well with the film's carnival-esque feel, though the fact that the character pays for his wrongdoings should come as no surprise as anthology horror is often associated with morality tales.

One surprising aspect of the film is its tameness: there's no gore or nudity, and barely any bloodletting. This is likely to prove a letdown for anyone hoping for another Bloodsucking Freaks, yet it actually works in the film's favour: restrictions on gore and bloodshed demand some creative substitution on the part of the filmmaker, and Blood Bath features a variety of surreal and innovate moments that are more funhouse than grindhouse. Likewise, the decision to focus on humour pays off, with cast seeming to have fun with their roles and the director clearly in tune with what sort of movie he is making. It's true that the low budget is sometimes evident, yet the film makes the most of what it's got, with some scenes boasting a vivid quality that recalls Roger Corman's adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe's tales. In addition, the film's ending, which returns to the wraparound story, may not come as that much of a shock, but it provides a surprisingly poignant moment and brings the film full circle.

The varying quality of the stories is typical of most anthology films but Blood Bath succeeds more often than it fails. Fans of Reed (and, indeed, low-budget horror fans in general) may be disappointed that the film doesn't live up to its title, but Blood Bath remains a solid addition to the subgenre and has a ramshackle charm that makes it hard to dislike.

The main DVD extra is a director's commentary that mostly takes a question and answer format, with the DVD's producer prompting Reed to discuss a variety of relevant topics. Some of Reed's reminisences aren't explained in great clarity, and this means that the commentary can sometimes come across as a bit hazy and confusing. Still, it provides a good overview of the filmmaking process and should prove an interesting listen for fans. There's also a trailer and a featurette, which is slightly let down by desultory editing but remains watchable and informative nonetheless. Lastly, there's an extremely easy to find Easter egg, which features actor Jerry Lacy talking about his role in cult 1960s and 1970s gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows.
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