BR: Blood Bath (1966)

September 13, 2016 | By

BloodBath1966Film: Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Near-Perfect

Label:  Arrow Video / MVD Visual

Region: A, B

Released:  May 30, 2016

Genre:  Suspense / Horror

Synopsis: A stolen painting unleashes 1) a theft ring; 2) a maniacle painter; 3) a vampirical painter who returns from the dead through his modern day descendent; 4) a bit of 1 + 2 +3.

Special Features: Disc 1: Operation Titian +  Portrait in Terror + Disc 2: Blood Bath + Track of the Vampire / Docu-visual essay: “The Trouble with Titian Revisited” with film historian Tim Lucas (81 mins.) / 2016 Interviews: “Bathing in Blood with Sid Haig” (4:35) / Archival Interview with producer-director Jack Hill (3:04) / Stills Gallery / 40-page booklet featuring writings by Peter Stanfield, Anthony Nield, Vic Pratt and Cullen Gallagher / Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artworks / Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford / Limited Edition.

 


 

Review:

It really takes one man’s obsession to decipher the crazy history of a film few knew existed, or would initially care, but the strange history of how three films were linked to a little-seen Yugoslavian suspense thriller produced by Roger Corman is remarkable.

Esteemed film historian Tim Lucas – author of the mega-Mario Bava biography All the Colors of the Dark – became fascinated with this odd blip in film history when he noticed another film seemed to share similar shots, cast members, and locations. Lucas would eventually track down whatever info he could before penning a three-part examination of Blood Bath’s history in his Video Watchdog series, but it took Arrow Video to devote considerable time and assets to restore not one, but four films to their best presentation, even though some might argue the endeavour seems insane.

To an extent, it is, but what Arrow’s set beholds is a very tactile snapshot of life in the Corman factory where the producer-director was involved in directing his own work as well as producing material for his own company, and buying up films abandoned in labs to exploit their wares as stock footage for future films, and entrusting others to produce movies for the American and international market.

What was pitched to Corman as a horror film by Yugoslavian filmmakers ended up as a Euro krimi film Operation Titian / Operacija Ticijan (1963), interweaving stolen art with murder and some mayhem. Corman felt Titian was unsellable to U.S. audiences in spite of the cast headed by William Campbell and Patrick Magee, both having recently appeared in Corman’s The Young Racers (1963), so the film was recut, radically reducing the screen time of its Yugoslavian actors, and new material was shot with not-quite-lookalikes to beef up the running time.

Branded Portrait in Terror (1965), the film proved less interesting and featured new Anglicized cast & crew credits that bore little relation to the original Yugoslavian team. Moreover, Bojan Adamic’s score was replaced with material cribbed from The Last Woman on Earth (1960) and Dementia 13 (1963) by Ronald Stein (credited as “Music Supervisor”).

When that mess proved a dud, Corman asked former film school grad Jack Hill to create a proper horror film from the Titian footage. Hill created a thriller about a mad painter, then left the production to make Spider Baby (ultimately released in 1967) after completing a rough cut.

Corman aide Stephanie Rothman was assigned to reshoot further material, but unknown to Hill was the transformation of the story from a murderous painter to a vampire film. When Blood Bath was sold to TV, it was rechristened Track of the Vampire with even weirder padding material.

With hindsight and four completed films, it certainly begs the question: At what point do you give up and leave the project alone, call it a day, and have a beer?

From a psychological stance, Blood Bath represents Corman the businessman in full gear, making use of every element under his ownership to exploit and re-exploit a product to ensure as much of its cost is recovered. As Lucas explains in the exhaustive media essay that supports this amazing set, when Corman spotted an opportunity, he nabbed it and played it out to the end.

Be it Soviet sci-fi epics (see end) or Euro-krimis, it was normal for Corman to repurpose footage and assign promising film school grads to create something new yet commercial, providing (intentionally or not) a unique training opportunity to ex-film students.

Hill was one of the Corman school’s beneficiaries, directing several productions – The Big Doll House (1971), The Big Bird Cage (1972), Coffy (1973), and Foxy Brown (1974) – after proving his versatility in ‘saving’ Titian from a blunder.

Rothman also benefitted – The Student Nurses (1970) – but she’s been given short-shift for ostensibly mucking up Hill’s original horror tale and pushing it into the realm of the ridiculous. That Rothman and Hill share directorial and writing credits remained a thorn in Hill’s spine, and from Lucas’ visual essay, it seems Hill’s avoided looking at the final mess since leaving the rough cut in Corman’s hands.

The question for the curious (and potential buyers of this set) is whether Blood Bath is worth adding to the personal archive, given you’ll have to watch four films sharing a mixed array of footage shot by three directors: Titian’s Yugoslavian helmer Rados Novakovoc, Bath’s Hill, and Track’s Rothman.

The answer is Yes, but it really depends on where you stand as a Corman completist, a Hill connoisseur, and / or a student of sixties exploitation cinema. And maybe krimi fans wanting to explore the Yugoslavian take on the largely German genre in which mystery, greed, and murder were wrapped up in little black & white shockers.

Titian is a perfectly fine film featuring stellar locations in Dubrovnic, a locale whose coastal beauty was similarly exploited by Radley Metzger in his classic film version of Score (1974) by the Dalmatian Coast. Novakovic evokes more than a bit of Orson Welles with his stark lighting, baroque angles, and fluid visual movements, yet the English language distillation of the original script is maybe too moody for the exploitation market; certain aspects unfold like nods to potential American tourists, and the dialogue is really quite terrible.

On the plus side, Magee has fun playing an Italian art thief / hired killer, and Campbell is quite snug playing an American expat living in Dubrovnic who believes he’s the descendent of a regal local painter. The Yugoslavian cast is generally quite strong, and co-star Manja Golec is sultry as the doomed dancer / thief / enterprising art double-crosser.

Adamic’s score is weirdly mixed in the final soundtrack: straightforward orchestral tracks are interrupted by up-tempo jazz bits as though someone on the Yugoslavian production team felt scenes needed to be goosed with hip jazz material that bears little relation to the actual score.

The art theft aspect was still present in the Portrait edit, but two scenes ‘expanding’ the killing of a dancer (Golec) are ludicrous, as is a meandering underwater sequence where divers discover her body. Both the main and end credits are abrupt in Portrait, and what’s lost is a certain moody ambiance that also allowed the locations to breathe onscreen; in Titian, director Novakovic and cinematographer Nenad Jovicic made sure the old city and its masonry, art, and waterfront were supporting characters.

The vampire redos sound crazy, and they only succeed in slight degrees because of distinct, effective sequences and some occasionally clever integration of Venice, CA, locales that match / evoke the Yugoslavian architecture. What survives of Hill’s Blood features eccentric beatnik artists babbling about quantum physics and paint, ‘dead red nudes’ and other oddities; the overtly comedic and satirical sections with Spider Baby actors Karl Schanzer and Sid Haig feel like variations on material from Corman’s own Bucket of Blood (1959) which was much funnier and fun.

Where Hill really stands out are the trippy, nightmarish scenes in which painter Sordi (Campbell, wrangled back by Corman for reshoots 3 years after Titian wrapped, and looking a little heavier), and a great finale in which the waxed victims of the deranged killer ‘come to life’ and claim Sordi.

Rothman’s disruptive elements include an actor representing playing Sordi’s ancestor, a vampire that ‘takes over’ the contemporary Sordi when the hunger for blood becomes unbearable. The actor look nothing like Campbell, and his build, stature, and white hair evoke the terrible reshoots in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) in which Ed Wood, Jr. hired a tall, blond psychiatrist to sub for dead, short, wrinkled Bela Lugosi.

Track, the final edit in this bizarre quartet, is interesting for the way Rothman not only brought back footage from Titian, but redubbed the actors with completely different voices to turn hitman Magee into the jealous hubby of dancer Golec who ultimately confronts Sordi. Their reintegration by Rothman actually helps with the continuity of Magee who’s literally reduced to an unexplained waxed corpse in Blood, but Rothman’s reshoots include a terrible chase scene with actors who look like no one else in the film, and a ridiculous beachside ‘dance’ by Sordi’s flexible girlfriend Dorean (Linda Sanders, who bears a striking resemblance to erotic / horror film actress and Score co-star Lynn Lowry).

As Lucas opines, Hill’s original horror tale of a demented painter would’ve been a fascinating and superior work over Rothman’s – his kill scenes are truly surreal (and were reportedly more graphic) but in its final state, Blood and Track are more than a mess; they’re cinematic curios in the footnotes of Corman’s legendary school in which there was no such thing as a missed opportunity.

Titian is the real gem even though it has its share of slow pacing, bad dialogue, and scenes that redirect the narrative away from the art theft. It’s a fun B-movie whose pulpy elements are augmented by stellar locations, and obvious sequences meant to showcase the beauty of the ancient coastal fortress, including a fishing competition and a Shakespeare festival.

The other three are more archeological discoveries, offering insight into Corman’s mindset as a producer, and an insanely busy decade in which he directed myriad Poe films for AIP, his own company, studios Fox (The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre) and United Artists (The Secret Invasion), and bought those foreign productions for his own repurposing.

What’s remarkable is the devotion that went into this set which undoubtedly shows the richness of material and historical details when a restoration project is done right. Fans can only hope that Arrow will tackle Corman’s redos of Soviet sci-fi classics Planeta Bur 1962), reworked as Voyage to a Prehistoric Planet (1965) and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968) by Peter Bogdanovich; and maybe the two sci-fi flicks interpolated in Curtis Harrington’s Queen of Blood (1966), Mechte navstrechu (1963) and The Sky Calls (1959); and Battle Beyond the Sun (1962) with Francis Ford Coppola reworking the Battle footage.

One can wish, right?

 

 

© 2016 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

External References:
Editor’s Blog — IMDB: Operation Titian & Portrait in Terror / Blood Bath & Track of the Vampire — Composer Filmographies: Bojan Adamic / Ronald Stein
 
Vendor Search Links:
Amazon.ca —  Amazon.com —  Amazon.co.uk

Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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