Home Video Hovel: Revenge of the Blood Beast, by David Bax
With a name like Revenge of the Blood Beast (also known as She Beast, Il Lago di Satana and about a dozen other titles), you feel like you know what you’re going to get. And, for the first half or so of Michael Reeves 1966 movie, out now on Blu-ray from Raro Video, you get exactly that. The prologue especially, in which an 18th century witch is brutally, ritualistically tortured to death by rabid, terrorized townsfolk, is gory and over the top, complete with repulsive monster make-up and fake blood the color of cherry Starburst spit. But that’s all before the movie becomes a goofy caper/political satire for a huge chunk of its back end, eventually returning to form in the final minutes. It’s weird, jarring and inexplicable. Yet still, especially with this lovely Blu-ray, it’s worth your time.
Ian Ogilvy and the great Barbara Steele are a young couple traveling through southeastern Europe. In the Transylvania region, they stop in at a little motor inn run by a vulgar thug and meet an idiosyncratic local who bears the name Von Helsing and regales them with tales of the sinister, supernatural forces that exist in the area. Well, before you know it, one thing leads to another and Steele’s Veronica has swapped places with the spirit of that murderous witch killed 200 years prior, who is understandably angry.
Steele is best known for her role in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday, in which she was also the victim of a body switch perpetrated by a malevolent, immortal being. Blood Beast, though, has little of the classical grace of Bava’s breakout. Instead, it presents us with a large dose of exploitation. Naked women, violent sex and unlikely amounts of blood abound.
Something changes, though, after one of the beast’s kills. She’s just slashed a man to ribbons with a sickle when she tosses the instrument aside and the camera catches it skittering across the floor and coming to rest at an angle atop a hammer. The resulting communist symbol is far too conspicuous to ignore and suddenly things begin to fall into place. The brutish motel owner is not just a creep, he’s a stand-in for morally hypocritical loyalists of the state who believe that fealty is more important than decency. The frenzied townsfolk are the mob whose numbers increase their strength but not their intelligence. Ogilvy and Steele, then, represent the more sophisticated, cosmopolitan capitalists (the movie is as anti-provincial as it is anti-communist). When the military gets involved, they are alternately bumbling, Keystone Kops types or hilariously committed to protocol above all else. When one officer asks a soldier about a victim, “Can he talk?” and the soldier answers, “No, he’s already dead,” the officer’s response is, “Then he’s obstructing justice!”
It’s weird, to be sure, to find this kind of comedy amidst a schlocky Euro-horror flick. But it’s never less than engrossing, largely because of the absolutely gorgeous transfer. Sharp and brilliant, the pustules on the beast’s wretched face are as vibrant as the rolling countryside. Unfortunately, the audio is a bit of a deterrent. It’s unfathomably quiet, to the extent that it seems like a mistake.
Special features include a making-of featurette and a booklet with a critical analysis of the film.