Home Video Hovel- The Flesh and Blood Show, by Tyler Smith
Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show begins with two women lying in bed together. They’re not lesbians; just friends. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from sleeping in the nude. They are awakened by somebody pounding on their door and they quickly go to see who it is. And it goes without saying that they are simply in too much of a rush to put any clothes on. They open the door to find their friend stabbed in the stomach and bleeding. He stumbles inside, only to reveal that the knife is fake and he is fine.
I feel like this sequence neatly sums up everything that is great about this film. As it is an exploitation film, there is plenty of blood and gore, interrupted by explicit nudity. This is to be expected. However, the film also regularly undercuts these expectations by telling a story that is, at its heart, all about what it is to work within the exploitation genre. The film is both wholly itself, as well as a commentary on itself. It’s really marvelous.
The story is about a bunch of young theatre actors called to take part in a mysterious play. They arrive at an abandoned theatre in a small seaside town, only to find that they are alone. No writer, no director, no producer. They make do as best they can, taking up residence in the theatre and improvising scenes in order to keep themselves sharp. Of course, this being the freewheeling theatre world, they’re also having sex and prancing around naked. But, as they start to be murdered one by one, they have to figure out exactly who is killing them and why.
The film is beautiful to look at, with a camera that often seems to be crouched in a corner, spying on the proceedings. This creates a sense of paranoia, made all the more potent by the macabre theatre costumes and props littering the edges of the frame, gathering dust. The jagged shadows seem to swirl and stretch, as if reaching out for the young actors. This, I think, puts The Flesh and Blood Show a bit above your average exploitation film, as there seems to be real effort put into the way the film looks and feels.
Added to which is the intriguing exploration of the genre itself. Here we have a bunch of eager young actors agreeing- at the insistence of their agents and managers- to be a part of something that isn’t completely legitimate. They are soon targeted by a deranged madman obsessed with their bodies and sexuality.
Looking at that description, am I talking about the play within the film, or the film itself? Hard to say, really. In the midst of the usual silliness, Pete Walker seems to be meditating on the unfortunate position in which many artists often find themselves. Naive and inexperienced, they’re willing to jump at any chance to work, even if it’s in a sleazy project that couldn’t care less about their artistic expression. And, in the end, the film condemns those that would seek to exploit these poor souls, while doing exactly that. This isn’t done in a hypocritical way, but rather with a wink and a nod.
The Flesh and Blood Show is a lot of fun to watch and experience, and is as silly as it needs to be. Its self awareness only adds to the enjoyment, as the characters themselves assess their situation and conclude that it would actually make a pretty good movie. Such an observation may illustrate just how little they understand about the danger they’re in, but it is also accurate. This is indeed a good movie, and one that deserves to be remembered by those that enjoy the exploitation genre.