Sunday, February 19, 2012

56. BLOOD BATH (1966)

This American International release -- signed by directors Jack Hill and Stephanie Rothman -- is at the heart of one of the movie mysteries that helped to launch VIDEO WATCHDOG twenty-two years ago.

Here's the background in a nutshell: After making THE YOUNG RACERS in Ireland in 1963, Roger Corman travelled farther east across Europe in search of cheap exploitable product. He was offered a script about to go into production entitled Operacija Ticijan ("Operation: Titian"), a Yugoslavian thriller about art theft to be directed by one Rados Novakovic. The feature had no exploitable stars, so Corman offered to bring a couple of English-speaking actors aboard. Also part of the package was Francis Ford Coppola -- who had parlayed his grunt work as THE YOUNG RACERS' sound man into a pitch that led to his directorial debut with DEMENTIA 13, which he shot in Ireland during Corman's East European jaunt with YOUNG RACERS cast members William Campbell and Luana Anders, as well as local acting talent Patrick Magee; it would be his job to write an English variant of the Yugoslavian script and, in effect, parlay Novakovic's direction to the English-speaking actors. Operacija Ticijan was released abroad to no particular success in 1963, but the Coppola-supervised English version -- despite starring DEMENTIA 13's William Campbell and Patrick Magee -- was considered unreleasable by Corman. It never had a theatrical release and didn't surface until the end of the decade, via TV syndication. This was well after Coppola had made his name with YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW and FINIAN'S RAINBOW, so PORTRAIT IN TERROR (as it came to be called) was finally credited to a whole slew of phony names, topped by director "Michael Road."

Because PORTRAIT IN TERROR was not immediately (or for that matter, ever) profitable, Corman subsequently hired Jack Hill to build a new feature around the Yugoslavian footage AND the Ticijan footage, which had cast William Campbell as a painter named Antonio Sordi. Seeing points of similarity between the scenery of Dubrovnik and Venice, California, Hill proposed BLOOD BATH -- a PSYCHO-like film that would take place amid the Venice, California arts scene, with Campbell now playing a deranged artist who slays his models to create a popular series called "Dyed Dead Reds" -- an idea not far removed, even eponymously, from Corman's own A BUCKET OF BLOOD (1959). Hill lured Campbell back in for reshoots and hired PLAYBOY Playmate Marrisa Mathes (June 1962) to play a female lead who becomes a victim, but despite work that seemed to be turning out well in Hill's estimation, Corman pulled the plug on the project, leaving BLOOD BATH stillborn. Subsequently, Stephanie Rothman was hired to concoct something from the assembled material of Novakovic, Coppola AND Hill, and this -- combined with new footage shot with Campbell, Sandra Knight and Lori Saunders -- became the barely feature-length film theatrically released as BLOOD BATH. In this incarnation, Sordi was not only a psychotic painter but a shape-shifting vampire! To make matters still more confusing, BLOOD BATH was subsequently expanded for television syndication with additional Ticijan and Rothman footage under the title TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE. Even the score by Ronald Stein is assembled from cues from other films, reaching as far back as a callipe cue from THE SHE CREATURE (1958).

I wrote an in-depth account of this history over three early issues of VIDEO WATCHDOG in a series of articles called "The Trouble With Titian" (VW 4, 5 and 7), but I did so without ever seeing the theatrical cut of BLOOD BATH, which is now finally available as an MGM Limited Edition Collection title. I can easily understand what I initially found so fascinating and mysterious about this oddity; it seems to simultaneously coexist somewhere in Europe, maybe Venice, and the California Venice, a conflated Venice of the mind. Hill's satirical scenes of the Venice arts community (featuring SPIDER BABY's Sid Haig and Karl Schanzer) riff on Corman's BUCKET OF BLOOD, much as Rothman's scenes involving Campbell and Lori Saunders as the taunting, witchy Melizza riff on the morbid romances of his Poe pictures. And Hill's scary set pieces -- the death of Mathes and the climax of the wax-encased dead breaking from their shells to have their revenge on the accursed artist -- have real flair, conspicuously from the same mind and eye that hatched SPIDER BABY. If we must assess BLOOD BATH as a whole, it's a piebald piece of junk, cobbled together from ill-fitting bits... but those bits represent the better efforts of a number of talented contributors. In short, it's not likely to interest the average viewer, but for those who can identify directors from their fingerprints should find its mottled complexion a source of endless fascination.

Viewed on Netflix.  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Tim for the FULL MONTY on BLOOD BATH as i didn't know it was out from MGM/WB ARCHIVE collection...

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