Saturday, July 30, 2016


The long and convoluted history of Blood Bath has always intrigued and fascinated me, ever since reading about it in the early days of Video Watchdog magazine, in which editor Tim Lucas delivered a remarkable three-part article titled ‘The Trouble With TITIAN’ that detailed the complex history of the film and its many varied incarnations. The article was a defining moment in the early history of Video Watchdog, and helped set the template and precedent for the type of in-depth examination which the digest magazine became best known for.

Blood Bath started off its life in 1963 as Operation Titian, a moody and very atmospheric B&W Euro-thriller that was filmed in the Yugoslavian seaside town of Dubrovnik and centered around a plot to steal a valuable Titian painting. Directed by Rados Novakovic, the film was co-produced by Roger Corman, who not only sent stars William Campbell (Dementia 13, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte) and Patrick Magee (later of A Clockwork Orange and Asylum) over to Europe to appear in it, but a young Francis Ford Coppola (coming off directing Dementia 13), whose job it was to oversee the production.

When Operation Titian was completed, Corman found the film to be unsuitable for release to the US market, so he recruited a young female assistant, Stephanie Rothman, to film some new sequences to insert into the movie, which was then recut and released directly to television in 1965 as Portrait in Terror. Portrait in Terror was the first incarnation of this film that I ever managed to see, when it showed up as the late late movie in Australia in the early-90s, the one and only occasion I can recall it getting a television airing in this country. I almost wore out my VHS recording of the film over the ensuing months, as I re-watched it endlessly, drawn in by its baroque atmosphere, arty camera set-ups (in particular, lots of low angles in tight, cramped locales), exotic Dubrovnik locations and clear nods to Orson Welles in its style and sensibilities.

Not satisfied with the way in which Portrait in Terror turned-out – or perhaps just eager to get more mileage out of the original Operation Titian footage – Corman recruited another young up-and-coming filmmaker by the name of Jack Hill to recut the film and shoot more additional footage with a number on new actors (including Sid Haig), which was originally intended to be more a juvenile delinquency/gang noir drama that also paid homage to Corman’s 1959 low-rent classic A Bucket of Blood. To convolute the story even further, Hill departed the project before it was completed (to work on his cult favourite Spider Baby) and was replaced by Stephanie Rothman, who did a full 180 with the material and turned it into a vampire film called Blood Bath, which was doubled with Curtis Harrington's Queen of Blood and released theatrically in 1966 (and featured a double directing credit of Hill/Rothman on the posters and opening titles, something of a rarity for the time).

When Blood Bath was sold to television, its meager running time of 69 minutes required some additional padding in order to fill out a TV time slot, so Rothman was once again brought in to recut the film and shoot some new footage – including a five minute sequence of a girl (standing in for actress Linda/Lori Saunders) dancing along the beach – and the resultant film was then sold to television as Track of the Vampire (Rothman later went on to helm some 70s exploitation and horror favorites like The Velvet Vampire and Terminal Island).

With so many variations of the same film floating around on late-night American television for years, it’s likely that some insomniacs started questioning their own state of mind as they watched multiple movies featuring much of the same footage, redubbed and re-edited into different points in each film. It's the kind of movie jigsaw that many film buffs love. So which incarnation of the movie is best? Well, they all have their pluses and minuses. While Operation Titian does have atmosphere, it also has a lot of travelogue footage that stops the film in its tracks. You can clearly see why Corman felt it was unreleasable in the US as is. Blood Bath/Track of the Vampire takes the plot way over the top and also has some nice moments of evocative surrealism in some of the newly-shot footage, but for me Portrait in Terror will always be the definitive and most enjoyable version of this film - I love it's style and plot, and it's the film in which I think Patrick Magee comes across as his villainous best. His voice is so rich and he has a terrific screen charisma and is effectively menacing. William Campbell also makes for an interesting male lead, his character (with implied impotence) always looks so on edge and anxious, like a comic book character drawn by the great Steve Ditko during his 1960s work in comic books like Dr. Strange and Creepy.

Blood Bath has been released on VHS by various public domain and bootleg labels over the years, as well as a limited DVD release by MGM in 2011, while Portrait in Terror received a 2005 DVD release on the budget Alpha label (in a grainy and badly cropped print). Track of the Vampire also received a DVD release in 2014, on the obscure Mutant Sorority Pictures label, but it's fair to say that the new Blood Bath package from Arrow Video renders all previous releases of the film(s) obsolete to all but completist collectors. As usual, Arrow have done a superb job with this release, spreading out all four versions of the film over two Blu-ray discs, with the second disc contain a nice range of supplementary material, including interview featurettes with Jack Hill and Sid Haig and, best of all, a revised and updated version of Tim Lucas’ Video Watchdog article, which Lucas himself narrates over a collection of stills and footage. Running at 80 minutes, this ‘visual essay’ is almost as good as a proper making-of documentary, and well worth the price of admission alone. Adding extra value for money, Arrow also throw in a 40-page booklet containing essays on the films and its stars, as well as a fold-out double sided poster (one side featuring newly-commissioned art, the other the original Blood Bath one-sheet art) and reversible sleeve art on the clamshell case. The disc, booklet and poster are all contained within a slipcase that features the same new artwork as the poster.

Definitely one of the Blu-ray packages of the year, and something I would not have ever dreamed possible or likely when digesting that Video Watchdog article while watching that TV recorded VHS of Portrait in Terror over and over again in my bedroom back in 1992. Took nearly a quarter of a century but it was well worth the wait.

Friday, July 29, 2016


Went and caught a theatrical screening of the new DC animated movie, Batman: The Killing Joke last weekend, ahead of its local Blu-ray/DVD release next month. The original 1988 graphic novel one-shot, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland, is certainly one of the seminal works in the 70+ year history of Batman and his universe, and one of the most potent things about it is that it was short and packed such a powerful punch in a page count not much more than... a single issue of a regular comic (unlike the multi-issue arcs of other classic Batman stories from the same period, like The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One).

To help pad out the running time of the animated adaptation of The Killing Joke, director Sam Liu and screenwriter Brian Azzarello start the film with a 15 minute prologue which focuses on Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and her relationship with Batman. Violent and strongly sexual in parts, the prologue is an addition to the story which is sure to anger and divide a lot of fans (it certainly changes the established dynamic and relationship between the two characters in a major way), but the rest of the film follows the graphic novel very closely (save for the now de ri|gueur teaser sequence placed mid-way through the end credits).

Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are as great as ever as the voices of Batman and the Joker respectively, and the animation has a look and feel to it that provides a nice throwback to the Batman cartoons produced in the late-sixties by Hal Sutherland and his Filmation studios. The Killing Joke is violent and even a little sexually perverse. It has some amazing strong visual moments - most of which are lifted straight out of the graphic novel - but Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1997) still stands as the Dark Knight's finest animated moment.

The preview screening was preceded by a nice little featurette on Mark Hamill and his memories on how he landed the role of the Joker and the ways in which he approached voicing the character over 20-plus years now.


Another strong contender for Blu-ray release of the year. Full review coming soon.


Melbourne born, now LA based, independent filmmaker Mark Savage delivers a very solid effort with his latest feature as a co-writer and director, Stressed to Kill. A thriller with a darkly comic edge, the film stars Daytime Emmy winner Bill Oberst Jr. as a highly strung everyman who, after suffering a serious heart attack, takes his doctor's advice to eliminate the stressors in his life a bit too literally (hasn't every film buff wanted to murder an inconsiderate cinemagoer who refuses to stop talking or gawking at their mobile phone during a movie?). 

Oberst Jr. really delivers a great performance, and has very unique looks that make him appear like a cross between Peter Weller and Reggie Nalder, and he gets strong support from the great Armand Assante, as a cop who harbors some pretty dark and twisted impulses of his own.

Not all of Stressed to Kill works, but the odd bumps in its road are more than compensated for by its high points and overall impact. Savage composes some great shots, and the film delivers a couple of truly amazing sequences during its second half - one when Assante reveals the true nature of his character and psyche, and a climax inside a small cluttered apartment that is terrifically staged and played out, and unlike so many modern films it wraps itself up very nicely and satisfyingly.

Thursday, July 14, 2016


Huge kudos to local boutique label Ex Film for the simply outstanding job they have done with their new release of the notorious 1974 exploitation film Act of Vengeance, directed by Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream and the two Count Yorga films). Perhaps better known under the more contentious title of Rape Squad, this was one of the more infamous films to be released on VHS in Australia by Palace Explosive in the early 1980s (as well as being one of the most valuable and sought after by collectors).

Ex Film's DVD release of Act of Vengeance comes with a reversible sleeve that pays homage to the Palace Explosive Rape Squad cover, and includes a 48 page full-color booklet featuring informative essays by Dean Brandum, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas  (author of Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study) and Ex Films honcho Leon O'Regan, and is filed to the brim with rare photos, ad mats, poster and lobby card art, and lots of other visual ephemera. The DVD itself also comes loaded with great extras, including trailers, an interview with star Jennifer Lee, and audio commentary by Heller-Nicholas and local film buff and programmer (and knowledgeable exploitation fan) Zak Hepburn.

Ex Film have also released the movie in a VHS edition, limited to 100 copies and also featuring a reversible sleeve and a collection of trailers from every Palace Explosive VHS release from the day (a roster that includes such memorable titles as I Spit On Your Grave, Bloodsucking Freaks, Squirm, Night of the Zombies, Cannibal Apocalypse and more). 

Definitely a strong contender for DVD release of the year so far. For details on ordering the special VHS/DVD bundle edition click here: