Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

Oh boy, do we have a LOT to talk about in this new B-Movie Enema. article.  Oddly, the movie itself, Joel M. Reed’s controversial Bloodsucking Freaks from 1976, doesn’t really have a lot to discuss in terms of what is seen on the screen (don’t worry, I will be calling play-by-play nonetheless).  No, there are two topics in particular to discuss in much greater detail.

I’m not entirely sure where to start with this, so let’s start with the director, Joel M. Reed.  He unfortunately passed away in a care facility in New York City just earlier this year.  He’s one of the many unfortunate casualties due to the global pandemic that is COVID-19.  He’s likely known best for making this movie, which drew the ire of many, many people when it was released.  The release of the movie also had a couple alternate titles like The Incredible Torture Show and Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins.  However, almost everyone knows this movie by the title Bloodsucking Freaks.  That’s the name applied to it by Lloyd Kaufman when Troma came along to take over the distribution of the movie.

That began a long relationship with Kaufman that lasted up until Reed’s passing.

Reed directed a handful of movies.  Most of them were 42nd Street types of films with this being his crown jewel.  Say what you will about quality, if your movie causes people to protest and therefore the protesters are something that will be covered by the news, you’re doing a good job.  Before his death, he returned from semi-retirement to work on several little indie films, and some, most notably, were Kaufman pictures.

Interestingly enough, Reed wrote a novel in 1990 called Trump: the Man, the Myth, the Scandal.  The book sold very poorly.  I’m a little curious what he had to say about that guy.  I also admit that I read the title to myself, simply shrugged, and said, “Which singular scandal to which you are referring?”

I think we need to address the elephant in the room that is currently destroying your furniture by simply existing.  This movie deals with the torture, beating, mutilation, and rape of women.  That’s what was mostly picketed.

However, there’s another element to this that is worthy of exploration.  If the brutal nature of the movie is the elephant in the room smashing up the place, this other piece to explore is kind of like the monkey riding on the back of the elephant.  It’s not necessarily smashing up the room.  It’s not all that noticeable.  It may even attempt to calm down the rampaging elephant.  Whatever it is, you see that monkey and you turn out to be far more curious about that than you are anything else that’s happening.

I mean, the elephant in the room is obvious thing to call out, but what the fuck is with that monkey?

This movie delves into BDSM.  I would certainly hope that my readers know what the fuck BDSM is, but for the few of you who do not, it is bondage with the usual trope of dominance and submission as well as possibly including sadomasochism.  In other words, it’s a kink many people have to tie someone up, or being tied up, and possibly being humiliated or teased or give an a little pain, etc.  It’s some kinky sex that often involves whips, chains, and various other articles of happy happy funtime stuff between two consenting adults.

Now, there is something even deeper and more sinister in the movie that mixes the sexual element of the movie too.  In fact, it’s maybe simultaneously less and more popular of a kink than many of the things done in BDSM at the same time.  It’s maybe a little bit of a cousin to that more overarching fetish stuff.  That’s the kink of controlling someone’s mind.

Whether it is hypnosis or brainwashing, there’s a fascinating love affair most of the world has with the act.  You could argue that what happens here in this movie is really more Stockholm Syndrome, but I kind of disagree.  Stockholm Syndrome does not usually include intense sensory overload – at least to my knowledge.  This becomes something far more cultish and deeper brand of brainwashing and conditioning.  Sardu doesn’t just want the girls to do something for him in his show under duress or fear of being harmed.  He wants them to want to do things for him.  It’s a terrifying thought.

Whether or not this movie succeeds in this terror is up for debate.

For the better part of the last, oh, 150 years or so, whole swaths of civilization has been enamored with the idea of hypnosis.  Pretty much from its introduction, it began showing up in stories.  How else would a vampire be able to lure its prey to it if it looks like a straight up monster?  Well, he/she would have to glamour (make themselves appear attractive to the victim) the person they want to either turn or feed from.

So right out of the gate, this new concept of being able to open up someone’s inner mind, their last true refuge they have carved out for themselves, started seeping into media everywhere.  It started in horror stories about vampires, or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, or, maybe one of the more early examples of someone that I think Sardu aspires to be in this film, Svengali.  The last being an ubiquitous descriptor for anyone who is seemingly holding sway over another’s decisions despite better judgment.

That’s the most real-world application of the idea of mind control.  Most of the time the stuff that most people think of when they think of hypnosis, mesmerism, or just straight out controlling someone’s thoughts and actions fall into what stage hypnotists do on a smaller scale.  On the other hand of that smaller one-on-one level, you have your cult leaders peddling ideas to people who just want to feel like they fit in somewhere and easily gets wrapped up into the leader’s charisma.

The most common thing, and probably most people from the ages of 30-50 know best, would be what I call the sci-fi or cartoony mind control.  Remember all those TV shows we’d watch in the 80s and 90s?  How many of those shows that you watched had some sort of scheme by the villain to take control of the minds of someone or a group of people?  Yeah, ALL of them.

However, it wasn’t just that Cobra was operating a secret base with a facade of it being a business management course some of the G.I. Joe guys have to go to where suddenly they all start to think that the ideas of the speaker are pretty good and they start losing faith in the Joe organization.  It’s usually done in some over the top way.  It’s often represented by the bad guy(s) using some sort of technobabble device that will immediately turn whoever it’s used on into a obedient little lapdog or zombie just there to follow orders.

Many of us were raised on comics and cartoons and were given these images of the heroes turning bad or the fear of seeing those we trust be made into something we cannot trust or would betray us.  That’s how you create a fetish for some people.  There’s a movie I’ll be covering later in February that goes into this more sci-fi feel, but Bloodsucking Freaks is doing something more with that kink.  It’s weaponizing it.  It’s making it revolted by the viewers, but also maybe seeing an uncomfortable turn on in some of the implications of having a beautiful woman willing to kill our enemies for us.

The amount of nudity doesn’t hurt this either.

However, I think I touched upon something already – revulsion, but it tying to something that ends up maybe turning us on.  That’s the thing about this movie.  It wants to do both.  We have a guy literally slurping out a woman’s brains from her skull with a straw, but there’s a naked babe being turned into a little ballerina for Master Sardu and she’s really hot!  But there’s a group of zombie like women grunting in a cage downstairs.  But they are all naked!

It’s a movie that will challenge you.  First, can you even make it through the movie with all the depravity going on and what have you?  Second, can you survive the torture?  Third, can you still appreciate some of the visuals (particularly on lead actress and object of Sardu’s attention – Viju Krem)?  Fourth, can you live with yourself when you realize some of this stuff kind of comes off as hot?

Well, challenge accepted, motherfuckers!  Let’s dig deep into the bowels of Sardu’s little Theatre of the Macabre!

The movie begins with a couple unseemly guys driving a van.  Considering this is shitty 70s New York City (the best New York City, by the way), these guys look like a couple shitty lowlife New Yorkers, and they are driving a shitty van.  I have to assume they are up to no good.  Sure enough, they have a crate that is part of “the new shipment” that’s being delivered to Sardu.

So this is Sardu.  He’s played by Seamus O’Brien who sadly passed away in 1977.  He was a British guy who really seemed to have a knack in this role of playing this larger than life villain.  He’s part Church of Satan priest, part college professor, part jazz musician in that look.  O’Brien was actually killed when a burglary attempt occurred at his apartment.  He tried to keep the burglar contained so the cops could arrive and take the guy away, but he got the jump on O’Brien.  He was stabbed to death by the burglar.

Along with Sardu, another colorful character hangs out in this macabre theatre – Ralphus.  He also helps out with stage “performances” as we see him use a vice to completely smash a woman’s finger.  He’s the one who unpacked the girl from the crate and helps Sardu torture the girls on and off stage.

He also dresses as a minion from whatever their cartoon is.

He is played by Luis De Jesus and died from a heart attack at the age of 36.  Interestingly, he was constantly confused with Herve Villechaize despite looking quite a bit different.  His last known acting role was as an Ewok in Return of the Jedi.

So, generally, here’s what we have.  Tattoo here helps do some of Sardu’s depraved will by being part of the whole reconditioning of the girls.  On stage, he will do some of the torture that is meant to get the girls to swear their allegiance to Sardu so he can begin to mold them.  He also likes to sit around and fuck and drink beer.  I feel like there’s a little him in all of us.

During the performance, famous football quarterback Tom Maverick (because of course his name is Maverick) speaks up saying he thinks everything is fake.  Sardu is like, “So you want to come up here and test this shit out for yourself?  Get yo’ ass out of here with your crazy talk, you mark ass buster!”  That said, he would like Tom’s girlfriend, Natasha di Natalie, to join him on stage.  Natasha is a prima ballerina and Sardu… well, Sardu likes pretty girls.

After the interruption from Tom, Sardu and Ralphus go on with the next thing they were going to do the poor girl on stage who just had her finger smashed.  This next bit is basically just Ralphus tightening a vice around the girl and tighten it until her brains turn to goo and goop and stuff.

At this point, hoity toity entertainment critic Creasy Silo interjects by saying he thinks this show is shit.  Sardu verbally spars with Silo when Silo says he isn’t there to comment on the show under the guise of being a critic because he would not be interested in writing dignified reviews for a two-bit stage magician.

Sardu is, like, “Oh, so you think you got all my shit figured out yeah?  How’s about dismemberment.  You gonna say that fuck isn’t real either?”  So in crawls another girl who I think might be Harley Quinn.

She’s chained to a table and Ralphus excitedly comes in with a saw and cuts her hand off.  Sardu is pleased that people are acting like this is a real thing to be upset by, but still applauding.  The audience laughs as Ralphus pulls the girl’s right eye out and eats it.  Silo still believes this is all fake and garbage.  He continues to refuse to write a review believing that it would only cause his readers to come out of pure curiosity and it would help keep Sardu open.

There’s a really smart thing this movie does in its first 12 minutes or so.  It establishes that Sardu hires guys to grab girls.  Sardu seems to have control over them while his little buddy Ralphus takes pleasure in hurting them.  We then see his show, which is not an exaggeration for it being macabre, is treated as art by those who are “with it” and always looking for the next thing in fashionable entertainment (i.e. snobs and pretentious people), but one person refuses to give it any credence – Silo.  Additionally, during the show, Sardu gets a hankerin’ for Natasha to perform for him.  After the show, Silo continues to belittle Sardu while it seems as though the performer has two fans in Tom and Natasha.

Everything we need to know has been set for us.  Even how to furnish your living space!

Sardu is now obsessed with Creasy Silo.  I think this is one of those things that focus is placed right onto one who rebuffs you and belittles you.  Sardu believes himself to be a true master of his art, but he can’t have that if a well-renown critic will not give him the review he wants.

So, Sardu orders Ralphus to go out and kidnap Silo, and Ralphus gets his dick sucked.

Silo is pretty easily apprehended.  He’s at an art show and he approaches a woman in a long coat to tell her what his thoughts are on a piece as if she fucking cares.  She opens her coat to reveal a giant strap on dildo.  Ralphus hops in and knocks the critic out with a dart.  When Creasy comes to, he’s shown how Sardu and Ralphus make the girls compliant.

A large portion of this middle part of the movie pretty much contains somewhat barely connected segments and scenes.  Sardu isn’t just using these girls for his performances, he’s also selling them overseas.  He reveals his plans to Creasy – he’s putting on a ballet and it will star Natasha di Natalie.  Sardu sends Ralphus out to get Natasha and he’s pretty lucky that he picked the right locker to stash himself it.

Now, Sardu has his ballerina and his critic.  The whole time, Creasy remains adamant that he will not give Sardu what he wants.  Over time, Natasha begins to succumb to the torture and various stimuli Sardu and Ralphus subject her to, but it takes a considerable amount of time for her will to crack.  Meanwhile, Tom is on the outside trying to find help to rescue his girlfriend.

As I alluded to earlier, Natasha is played by Viju Krem.  She was killed in a hunting accident in 1973.  In some regards, I almost feel like this movie is cursed.  Both O’Brien and Krem met pretty violent ends.

There is another character who arrives during this portion of the movie – the doctor.  He helps make sure Sardu doesn’t end up with a whole shitload of dead women.  The doctor checks over the unconscious Natasha and when he suggests some help with his malpractice insurance.  Sardu offers up payment in trade…

He’s given this girl to talk to like a real creep.  He then shaves a portion of her head, drills a hole in it, places a straw into the whole, and sucks the blood and goop and stuff out of her head.  Now…  I’m all for this insanity.  In fact, this movie does carry the distinction that it is meant to be a dark comedy.  However, goddamn.  It’s more silly than it is scary.  It’s definitely pretty fucking gross, but I commend this film in not taking itself seriously.

The doctor doesn’t last long because he’s led into the pit where all the drooling animalistic broads are and they eat the doctor.

Here’s the real problem with this movie.  I can handle the depravity.  It’s not the torture.  It’s not the brain sucking.  The movie really cannot sustain its own runtime.  The movie clocks in at 90 minutes.  There’re really only about an hour of content here.  Because Sardu mostly stays confined to his theater, we don’t get to see him interact with anyone.  He has connections, yes.  I mean, he’s got a whole fuckin’ network to get the girls.  He’s even got a doctor!  Granted, that doctor eats brains, but whatever.

What I’m getting at is there is no real continued thread on the idea of people just eating up his content.  There’s no consequence to anything.  Whole segments are just Sardu playing darts on a woman’s ass, or tearing a woman in two with a torture device.  If he really thought what he was was such hot shit, why wouldn’t he be seen outside the theater?  Like, why not have him force compliance from Natasha enough to be seen with her as if she had a change of heart on her boyfriend and has fallen in love with this weirdo?

Well, that’s not the movie they wanted to make.  They wanted to have these vignettes of various forms of psychological and physical torture.  They wanted to show girls being split in two, cut apart, losing fingers during a game of backgammon, darts in the butt, a guillotine.  It’s said that Reed wrote the script in a day and it’s obvious.  There’s no real congruent story.  It’s not the torture or sexual impropriety that bothers me.  It’s just a solid first 15 or 20 minutes or so and a pretty good final 10 minutes or so.  Everything else in between is just different ways to be mean to people.

Outside, Tom is working with a cop by the name of Tucci.  Tucci is one of New York’s finest.  And by finest I mean he has this kind of face:

That’s a trustworthy police officer man.

Finally, Natasha agrees to dance after a friend of hers in the troupe she normally dances at is captured and Ralphus cut her feet off.  That hits the news and, therefore, Tom is pretty damn sure she is not dancing willingly for Sardu.  Tucci only agrees to go with Tom because Tom will continue to bribe him.  Tom and Tucci go to Sardu and Tom demands to see Natasha.

Despite Sardu refusing the let them see Natasha, Tucci eventually convinces Sardu to bring her out.  Natasha seems to be acting normal and completely bought into Sardu’s “genius”.  Tom and Tucci leaves and Natasha drops her normal facade and then drops to her knees as Sardu blows a whistle.

Tucci knows there’s something off about Sardu’s place and how Natasha was acting.  He admits that he picked up on something because he’s a big fan of dance.  She said that she gets bored dancing The Giselle every night.  Tucci knows she’s never danced that.  So he goes back to Sardu’s and extorts him.  Sardu admits that he’s in white slavery.  Tucci wants $100,000 from Sardu to protect him.

Tucci goes back to Tom to say Sardu is on the up and up.  He also says that Natasha did dance The Giselle some years ago in St. Louis and is booked to dance it again next year.  Tucci returns to the theater and seemingly is in business with Sardu now, but he goes to Tom who is in the audience waiting for the show to begin to say he knows that Natasha is being held and tortured because Sardu runs a white slave trade.

So… I guess Tucci is not working with Sardu?  That was quick.

At the big performance, Natasha does her dance and it seems to be, I dunno, probably well received by the audience.  However, Natasha kind of start to flail a little bit and she takes off her top.  Soon, a man is shown chained to a pillar on stage.  It’s Creasy Silo.  Natasha begins kicking him repeatedly in the face.

After the show, Tucci and Tom go into the theater to get Natasha.  They start finding things like the one girl’s head that got cut off by the guillotine and the dancer whose feet were cut off.  The guys find Natasha and take her while capturing Ralphus and one of Sardu’s tough torturer chicks.  Tucci finds Sardu, and he’s kissing and making love to Creasy Silo’s corpse.  Tucci originally believed he was alive, but a whacked out Natasha confirms she knows she killed Creasy.

Tucci, like a moron, opens the crazy chick’s cage and gets attacked and killed.  Tom wants to leave with Natasha but she resists wanting instead to help her “Master”.  She finds a hammer on the ground and uses it to smash Tom’s head in killing him.  She tastes his blood to her delight.

She returns to her Master, but she only finds the other prisoners naked and dancing around while Sardu and his lackeys have been killed and being eaten by the girls.

Alright.  Oof.  Okay.  So what’s the story with this movie?  Well, I do honestly believe Reed was going for something that would mix sex, violence, and that good old fashioned sadomasochistic torture with a statement on what people find to be objectionable and what is art.  Oh and also something about having really bad people be praised as an artist.  I think that’s what we’re dealing with here.

I have no doubt that Reed liked the idea of there being subservient women being mostly naked, or those who were being punished to be caned on their bare ass, and so on.  Look, I went into detail before we even started the movie about how control fetishes work.  I’m sure in some deepest, darkest corner of his mind, he was pulling from some sort of specific thing that he found kinky and a bit of a turn on and he really went for it.

The main problem, though, is that this is a bit of a mess.  This movie’s best parts are fine.  As I said, the first 20 minutes or so and the last, oh, 15 minutes are fine.  There’s something interesting there.  There’s not enough for me to see how Natasha went from unwilling participant only agreeing to dance so no one else she knows would get hurt to an absolutely willing, completely bonkers out of her head, slave of Sardu’s.  Those scenes are missing from this movie.  I’m not sure if Sardu is interesting or even suave enough to make these women follow him blindly.  Yes, yes, they have their brain bits all scrambled, but still…  We need to see more about how he broke them down.  There’s how you move away from the sort of trashy nature of scene after scene of different girls being tortured to sculpting something that could be someone’s real turn on.

Shit, I wouldn’t even go so far as to say Joel M. Reed was setting out to make a really trashy film just for the sake of a trashy film.  I think this comes from somewhere that gets his motor running.  He just leaned too hard on the gross shit instead of the stuff that has a fighting chance to be sexy.

That wraps up this week’s B-Movie Enema.  Next week, I have a movie whose back of the box that I have for it reads – “She goes undercover as a junkie, uses kung fu, has cat fights, and is backed up by her martial arts fighting cheer squad.  Awesome.”  Motherfuckin’ yeah that sounds awesome!  The movie is Lovely But Deadly.  I’ll see you in just 7 days!

2 thoughts on “Bloodsucking Freaks (1976)

  1. All right! Been waiting for you to review this for a while. One of those movies that really tests your faith in the first amendment. “Yeah, I believe in freedom of speech and all, but yeeesh!” Kinda edgelord before edgelord was a thing, y’know? Another cool, well thought out review. Keep em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

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