Blood Bath (Jack Hill/Stephanie Rothman, 1966)
Conceived as a European espionage thriller that was deemed ‘un-releasable’ (even with Francis Ford Coppola acting as script supervisor!) before mutating – with desperate producer Roger Corman bringing on board Jack (Spider Baby) Hill to revamp the whole thing and shoot additional scenes – into a beatnik-flavored perverse number (the story moved to Venice, California) about a madman artist named Sordi (William Campbell) kidnapping and killing hot local female model-types, immortalizing them as art sculptures, lowering their fresh corpses by fish net into the bubbling molten wax beneath his rickety studio floorboards – with the still unsatisfied Corman then giving this Frankenstein’s Monster of a film its final injection from that rare female filmmaker from the Corman exploitation fold, Stephanie (The Velvet Vampire) Rothman, who re-shuffled it all about and added scenes of a whole new subplot, with the tormented Sordi now harboring within him the reincarnated soul of his vampiric ancestor Erno, forever haunted by Erno’s vengeful ex-love, the beautiful witch Melizza (Lori Saunders)…. with the angry witch from beyond also happening to look a lot like the girl Sordi’s been serenading on the beach each day Dorian (also played by Saunder, naturally), who the artist is resisting consummating with, trying to protect her from his murderous impulses, Blood Bath is a crazy stitched-together patchwork of a film from a whole different time in filmmaking.
Sid Haig in the middle
It may not have been the kind of troubled production from which studios are almost single-handedly destroyed (it’s not Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate or Ishtar), but what it is another of those highly enjoyable (and admirable) tales of creative resourcefulness and shameless huckster-ish determination with which indie maverick Roger Corman cemented his legendary (and very long) career, making damn sure no film he ever invested even ten cents into wouldn’t at least turn some kind of profit, even if meant throwing a few (and I stress few) extra sheckles of production effort into a dismal turd to turn it into a passable screen-filler and second feature of a double-bill on the drive-in circuit…. which is exactly what Blood Bath turned out to be. And that’s just one of the reasons to love it.
Surprisingly coherent for all its production craziness, the two talented Corman acolytes each bring Blood Bath lots of value. Hill’s amusingly stereotypical trouble-making beatnik reprobates, constantly returning to them lazing about with no money in their Venice dive (including that standout wild man and Hill regular Sid Haig, later a Rob Zombie favorite as well, being a welcome face in a lot of deplorable cinematic Zombie dreck) interspersed with his intriguingly crafted and effective murder scenes (the pool and the ‘hacking’ ones are particular stand-outs, long and sustained, quite intense for their time) create a kind of moody, perverse and cruel Venice Beach version, in black & white, of Mario Bava’s seminal color-drenched Blood and Black Lace.
Rothman certainly was relishing in her go at the supernatural additions (something she’d delve into further with her cult favorite The Velvet Vampire, a film still on my radar to see), making the scenes between the anguished Sordi and his reincarnated image of desire, Dorian (looking delectable skipping about in her scanty two piece bathing suit), nicely creepy; merged with the images of the witch Melizza haunting Sordi, both through the mirror in his lair as he murders his latest victim and in sparse nightmare-ish sequences, some really inspired stuff. And having Campbell suddenly changing into an entirely different actor when his ‘vampiric possession’ hits is, all in one, a wonderfully wonky, creative and highly amusing way for the thinking-on-her-toes filmmaker to use the previous footage. And have to mention the wonderfully absurd yet crazily apropos conclusion, with revenge coming straight from the dead and foreshadowing the wrap-ups of an entire decades worth of memorable, even sleazier 80’s slashers to come, everything from Don’t Go in the House to Maniac.
It seems more than appropriate that the just over 60-minute Blood Bath (man, did they manage to cram in a lot into that short running time!) would have been paired on the circuit with another Corman effort with an epically discombobulated production history, namely, Queen of Blood, a film which I wrote about in my last post. In fact, the otherworldly scifi experience of watching the decidedly avant garde (whether they meant it to be or not!) “Queen” was so enjoyable, it led me to right away give its Corman-paired sanguinated sister Blood Bath a whirl… and while nowhere near the tripped-out stimulating affair that was “Queen”, “Bath” is a
worthy, creepy little affair in its own right.