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Reel Advice from the Video Store Guy

Blood Bath | Shockheaded

By Steve Anderson
July 1st , 2006

Blood Bath
***
DVD
Written by Joel M. Reed
Directed by Joel M. Reed
Starring Harve Presnell, Doris Roberts, P.J. Soles, Sonny Landham
Produced by Anthony Fingleton
83 mins
PG
1975

I'll freely admit that, when I saw this one arrive from Subversive Cinema, I had my concerns.

"Blood Bath"? What kind of a name for a movie is "Blood Bath?" It's not hard to look at this sucker-look at the box, and the little passage on the box that says it comes from the director of "Bloodsucking Freaks"-and think, dammit anyway, yet another exploitation hackjob from the School of Gore for Gore's Sake filmmaking. And it made me wonder, why would Subversive Cinema bother to resurrect this old canard.

But then what I found was something rare and unique. What I found was one of, quite possibly the, first ever anthology horror movies. With no less than a complete wraparound story attached.

I have always been fond of the anthology horror movie-it's like getting three or four (five in this case!) horror movies for the price of just one. They're quick, they're usually fairly decent, and if you don't like one, another one will be coming up shortly, so take heart!

And that's sort of the case here. We've got a nice little irony feast to kick things off as a mad bomber gets a nasty surprise at a diner, followed up with the less-than-stellar story of a dreamer who gets a rude awakening as his dreams of glory in the Napoleonic Wars aren't all they're cracked up to be. We then segue into a nifty little piece about a modern-era Ebenezer Scrooge (I don't think it took place on Christmas, which is sad in its way because it would've been so very fitting) who runs into a surprise visitor from the past at the worst possible time. Finally, we get this spiffy little kung-fu movie with a bizarre ending.

The overarching story, meanwhile, revolves around a dinner party hosted by a horror movie director with a strange home life.

Now, already, we've got a lot to deal with here, and it's got its ups and downs. For instance, all of the stories have surprise endings. Which means you're getting regular surprises-over an eighty minute movie, you're getting roughly five surprises. Do the math and you're averaging one shocking revelation every sixteen minutes. That's better than most movies have to offer, especially from a movie that was filmed better than thirty years ago. Plus, check out the cast! Doris Roberts from "Everybody Loves Raymond" used to do horror. That revelation alone was worth the price of admission. Throw in early appearances from "Predator" and "Halloween" and "Fargo" cast members and it's a seriously mind-blowing moment. Even better, there's almost no blood in this movie at all. If they wrung out all the bloodied clothing they had by the end of the movie, I don't think it would fill a small juice glass. That's frankly amazing given the content.

Which isn't to say it's all sunshine and lollipops. A thirty year old movie has an unmistakable dated feel to it, and "Blood Bath" is no exception. It looks old. Granted, it doesn't get too much in the way of the enjoyment, but you still feel it. And check out the awkward kung fu going on in the last story. Yipes almighty that's awkward. When your formative kung fu viewing involves Jackie Chan as Drunken Master, you get a bit spoiled. But this stuff is worse than "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist" kung fu.

Special features include a making of featurette entitled "Taking A Blood Bath-Making 70s Indies In New York", cast and crew bios, and trailers for "The Candy Snatchers", "Metal Skin", "Blue Murder", "The Gardener", "Blood Bath", and "Funny Man".

All in all, while "Blood Bath" suffered from a dated look and a few awkward moments, it earns serious bonus points as a curiosity. It's one of the first of its kind, and so it's worth a look for that alone. But the constant surprises and twists of the irony knife will also improve its watchability.

Shockheaded
***
DVD
Directed by Eric Thornett
Written by Eric Thornett
Starring Jason Wauer, Pete Smak, Debbie Rochon, Eric Thornett
Produced by Alex Afterman
NR
106 mins
2006

"Shockheaded" is one of those strange sort of films that bends genres into nice big terrifyingly non-Euclidean shapes.

In fact, if I were pressed to go making comparisons, the best thing I could generate for an analogy would be something like "8MM" as done by David Lynch with a script by Joseph Wambaugh.

It was baffling.

So what we have here, and you're probably going to want to be sitting down for this one, is the fantastically complicated story of Noble, a guy who lives alone in a shoddy hotel room. Someone, for reasons that are really never all that explained, is slipping cryptic notes under his door. And, he's been having disturbing dreams about a white mask (with eyes in it, no less!).

That's the David Lynch part.

Noble's been employed by a mysterious figure to track down a girl that appeared on a pirate television station devoted to sexual fetishes including S&M, bondage and vinyl.

That's the "8MM".

To make matters worse, Noble's got to find the girl while evading the forces of two mysterious suit-and-fedora clad gunmen and also while running afoul of the surprisingly well-armed pornographers.

That's the Joseph Wambaugh.

So by the time you've taken one of the weirdest directors to ever walk the earth, throw in a sensationalistic story about porn, and add the detective elements, you wind up with "Shockheaded." And "Shockheaded" will prove to be one of the most complex movies you've probably seen in a good long while.

The first half hour, which throws strange events at you as commonplace as some movies involve characters talking to each other, left me scratching my head. We got ill-explained notes here, and then porn, followed up with weird dreams and a mystery at the local library. All of these together added up to an opening half hour badly weighed down with plot and character development. It's good and necessary to have these things, of course, but a little better distribution might have kept the first half hour from being quite so sluggish.

And yet, the last forty five minutes will make up for this quite well. There is lots of resolution here, along with a huge rolling gun battle through an apartment complex as Noble settles his accounts. There will be a hybrid fist / gun fight that segues into a straight fistfight. It's just an incredible amount of action, and you're likely to get a kick out of it.

Which brings up the issue of balance. An opening half hour top-heavy with plot and character development, and an action-packed-to-the-point-of-overload last forty five minutes? I can't help but think it might have been better if they'd done a little swapping around. Slip some action into the drier sequences to spice things up. Slip some character development into the action to slow things down a bit.

All things considered, though, this really is a minor issue. It might have made a good product even better, but what we've got is still a good product all by itself.

The ending is actually going to be the best part of the last forty five minutes, because as action-packed as they were, the ending's going to have that, lots of resolutions, and even a nice big twist ending on top of it.

The special features include an original short film, "Spider Ghost", deleted scenes, and trailers for "I'll Bury You Tomorrow-Laid To Rest", "Katiebird", "Sacred Flesh", "Last Exit", "London Voodoo", "Shockheaded", "Cold Blood", and "Red Cockroaches". Plus, we get a strange featurette called "Debbie On Piranha", in which Debbie Rochon (who had about all of ten minutes screen time in the whole movie) talks for a minute about her time on "Shockheaded". Why it's there is beyond me.

All in all, despite some pacing issues, some balance issues, and some minor idiosyncracies, "Shockheaded" does an excellent job of trying to be all things to all people, which is a rare achievement, and should be duly commended. It's worth a rental by all means, especially if you're big on detective stories.

Want to receive an expanded version of Reel Advice as an E-Newsletter?? Email to thevideostoreguy@columnist.com with "The Advisor" in the subject line.  Steve Andersen, much to his own chagrin, is a five-plus year veteran of the direct to video market. He has spent an alarming amount of time in video stores and seeks to provide the public with advance information on all the video releases that they may never have heard of...whether they want to hear of them or not. Steve appears in one way or another weekly, biweekly, or monthly on such fine entertainment-related ezines as Film Threat, Dream Forge, Reel Horror, Acid Logic, Chaotic Culture Magazine, Malicious Bitch webzine, and many others. Readers, agents, or editors can email Steve at thevideostoreguy@columnist.com




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