Torture Show

by Tom Baker 2 months ago in vintage

A review of "Bloodsucking Freaks" (1976)

Torture Show
RIP: The late Joel M. Reed, director of the grindhouse classic Bloodsucking Freaks.

One of the foulest pieces of cinematic offal ever to be shat into the void of cultural degeneration is the 1976 exploitation/grind house, uh, "classic" The Incredible Torture Show...but better known, to all and sundry, as Bloodsucking Freaks.

A vile and sickening, yet somehow still oddly endearing and comic satire on the sexual mores of the average serial rapist cum psycho killer, Freaks was shot for about two dollars and fifty cents, back in an era when orgies, porno, bed-hopping and hitchhiking all provided the future Ted Bundys of the world an eager bevvy of young, attractive Jane and sometimes John Does. Of course, we still have all of those twisted societal tendrils, and we have wireless internet, too. That's progress, one supposes.

Freaks is an odious nosedive into the darkest, most wildest subconscious jungles of naked, ape-like male lust, violence, and aggression toward the female of the species. Alternately, it could all be simple, grotesque satire. Or both. Or neither. Let's just see, okay? Let's just FUCKING see.

Directed by Joel M. Reed, who directed another movie masterpiece, G.I. Executioner, for the redoubtable Troma Studios, those garbage can auteurs responsible for such movies as The Toxic Avenger and Fertilize the Blaspheming Bombshell, (they've made a decades-long career out of offering up the unwatchable to the unwashed), Freaks is a tour-de-force of claustrophobic, sophomoric satirical sadism, a deep-dive into depravity few films can equal. On the surface, it's simply a rip-off of an older movie by splatter pioneer H.G. Lewis, The Wizard of Gore, about a demented magician named "Montag" (Monday?), whose gory magic act actually kills people. (In, albeit, completely phony ways.)

But the methods of murder in Freaks are even more phony, the gore and disgust being, not, quite, the point. This isn't your simple, family-friendly splatter movie: this is kinky, S/M and TORTURE with electric car batteries, whips, chains, leather thongs, thumbscrews, caning, guillotines...real medieval shit, dog. Sade would be proud as a pervert in a pussy patch.

And there's cannibalismo, and necro love doll worship. But, I'm getting ahead (head?) of myself, rambling around the damn movie (which was cursed, by the way), instead of just plunging on in, and grinding hard.

Sardu (actor Seamus O'Brien, who was murdered in 1977) operates the "Theater of the Macabre" a not-so-grand Guignol which seems to have folding chairs instead of proper seats. Here, he stages torture and terror shows of skinny, naked, screaming porno actresses, who are tormented by his afro-wearing dwarf manservant "Ralphus"(porn actor Louis de Jesus, who died tragically after playing an Ewok in Return of the Jedi). The sexual dynamic between Sardu and Ralphus is ambiguous to say the least (at one point, moving a key symbolically from one side of his pants to another, Sardu causes Ralphus to smile and observe that Sardu has been "A very bad boy today."

Brain Apetit! A demented doctor drlls deep in Bloodsucking Freaks!

Be that as it may, the show refuses to amuse snobby theater critic Creasy Silo, played by Trading Places actor Allan Dellay (whom Eli Roth incorrectly confuses with morbidly obese Alice, Sweet Alice actor, Alphonso DeNoble--who, incidentally, is in this picture as a "white slaver"-- in an audio track for an old DVD release of Freaks [1]). Silo is rude and says nasty things to Sardu, and even knocks a donation plate out of his hands at the end of the show. "If I were to review your so-called show, I'm afraid someone might come, just out of curiosity...I don't want to be responsible for keeping your theater open one minute longer!" So says Creasy Silo.

Dancer Natasha Di Natalie (model Viju Krem, who died in a weird "hunting accident") and professional football-playing boyfriend Tom Maverick (ancient soap opera actor Niles McMaster) are also at the show, and both, surprisingly, thought it was a real riot, man. They congratulate Sardu and split. But they turn up again real soon.

Sardu has a subterranean dungeon in the basement of his theater, with a tricked-out bachelor pad that has expensive furnishings and rare books, and looks as if it was borrowed from the comic book lair of Dr. Strange. Here, he and Ralphus can indulge in such pastimes as using girls' asses as dart boards, their fingers and toes as backgammon pieces. "I'll bet arm and a leg!" is one of the comic quips at the end of the game. And, no, none of this is tongue-in-cheek at all.

The rest of the basement lair, the claustrophobic hell wherein transpire the set-piece bondage and kink tortures that make up the main body of Freaks, is dark, festooned with rusted chains, racks, guillotines, car-battery torture tables (this torture is done by attaching electrodes to a woman's nipples), and other homey and utterly comfortable furnishings. There's a cage with feral, naked porn actresses kept in it, ala the "pit gals" in Pink Flamingos; but none of these gals do anything but lope around comically, their hands set into claws, screeching and grunting. (Oh, at one point they do kill and eat a guy, while smearing blood and organs on their naked breasts and buttocks.)

"Maybe it's the future, sex and sadism. How should I know?"

The above is asked by Tom Maverick of Detective Tucci (TV cop show veteran Dan Fauci), after girlfriend Natasha disappears and is "found," later, to be working for Sardu. But, more on that in a moment.

Plot: Sardu, angry at Silo, kidnaps him, in a scene wherein one of his tall, skinny black servant girls (they are the only women allowed to whip Sardu, the evil white slave master, in a comic and ironic sub-textual twist; and, no, none of this is satire) appears in an art gallery, dressed like a flasher. She reveals herself with a banana tied around her waist like a penis, right before Ralphus shoots Silo with a dart from a blow gun.

Silo, chained in the dungeon beneath Sardu's theater, is now taunted by the evil slave master, who really is killing these women at his "show," and Silo is even "fed one of my trainees who didn't quite work out." The performance of Dellay is weird, oily and comic; O'Brien's is Shakespearean (he was, indeed, a Shakespearean actor at one point), English and somewhat regal. De Jesus is cute and plucky and weirdly endearing as the demented dwarf. As you might have already guessed, this picture was never the recipient of any prestigious awards.

Sardu decides to stage a ballet (starring Natasha, and so kidnaps her too), and Tom gets the dubious help of Tucci, the corrupt, ugly, 70s cop show cop, to roust her from Sardu's lair. Along the way, girls are caned, beheaded, hoisted on chains, nailed into crates, have their legs amputated, used as human benches...and Ralphus eats an eyeball stew. All of this is fake to the point of being virtually representational, instead of actual gory special effects. Bloodsucking Freaks is a horror cartoon. However, it will still leave you feeling queasy, maybe even dirty, after watching it.

Natasha gets brainwashed. The ballet is staged. She kills Creasy Silo in front of an audience, with some ballet-fu. Tucci and Tom Maverick go down into Sardu's dungeons, chasing Natasha. The dwarf gets it. Sardu gets it (while making sweet love to Silo's amazingly realistic-looking corpse). At the end, the cannibal women in the cage feed, one of them eating a cold penis sandwich on a bun. While dancing, no less. The End.

Good, Friendly, Violent Fun: Sardu (Seamus O'Brien) and Ralphus yuk it up, in Bloodsucking Freaks.

Girls, Girls, Girls

What does one say about such a cinematic fecal-stain? That it's art? Erotica? Horror? Exploitation? It does, in fact, seem to have carried with it its own curse.

Actor Seamus O'Brien, forever immortalized in this wretched movie as the sinister Sardu, was murdered the following year of its release, stabbed to death trying to apprehend a man that had broken in to burglarize his apartment. He was forty-five. (His only other movie role was apparently in The Happy Hooker in 1975.)

Viju "Natasha" Krem, who had a promising career at one point as a fashion model, was killed in a strange "hunting accident." The Internet Movie Database does not list her date of birth. It gives her death as 1983.

Actor Louis de Jesus, the adorable, if yet severely psychotic Ralphus, who began his career starring in such Times Square porno theater sex loops as "The Anal Dwarf "(and who was known for not only staging actual orgies on the set of Freaks, but for the undeniably freakish size of his endowment, for such a small man), died of a heart attack shortly after completing his final role, battling the Galactic Empire on Planet Endor. He was 36.

Director Joel M. Reed, who also directed straight porn under a different name, made a few more exploitation flicks such as Night of the Zombies (1981), and wrote an anti-Trump book nobody read, died last month (April 12th), reportedly of Covid-19. (However, since the man WAS 86 years old, we might say that attributing this to some movie "curse" is a bit of a stretch.)

Freaks reportedly lead to protests from women's groups upon release, which failed to see the humor in all the misogyny and murder. Also, they failed to realize the full extent of the FREE PUBLICITY they gave to a movie that would have, otherwise, been shat, like a particularly noxious turd, down the toilet bowl of time, most likely to have been lost and completely forgotten.

As it is, Freaks is a rare cultural artifact, a movie odious beyond belief; a dark, ugly, depressing and, as we already stated, weirdly confining film, with threadbare production values, laughable plot twists, and really, really phony blood and gore. And lots of sexy women getting whipped. And a dwarf getting a blow job from a severed head. Among other rare amusements.

Is it art? Porn? Comedy?

You decide.

Me? I'm gonna go and take a bath now. I feel dirtier than a pompous theater critic eating the warmed-over flesh of a dead ballerina. Or some such.

Tom Baker
Tom Baker
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Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis , Indiana Ghost Folklore, , Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest :

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