PURE TERROR MONTH: Blood Sabbath (1972)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An American living in London, Jennifer Upton is a freelance writer for International publishers Story Terrace and others. In addition, she has a blog where she frequently writes about horror and sci-fi called Womanycom.

Blood Sabbath’s Internet Movie Database list of Plot Keywords includes: acoustic guitar, public nudity, walking naked in the woods, bare breasts, foot chase, selling soul and goat. If these ingredients were put together in the right way, it would make an entertaining film. Blood Sabbath (1972) is not that film. It is ambitious but also boring. 

Every director has to start somewhere. Brianne Murphy’s story is more interesting than the film itself. After moving with her family to America, she studied acting in New York. She joined the circus as a trick horse rider and eventually landed in Hollywood where she married low-budget filmmakers Jerry Warren (The Wild Wild World of Batwoman) and Ralph Brooke (Bloodlust!) successively. She eclipsed them both in talent and went on to become an Emmy-award-winning cinematographer on the ‘70s TV shows Wonder Woman, Little House on The Prairie, and Highway to Heaven. In 1980 she became the first female director of photography on a major studio film, Fatso starring Dom DeLouise, directed by Ann Bancroft. 

In 1982 Murphy won the Academy Award for Scientific and Engineering Plaque for the co-design and manufacturing of the MISI Camera Insert Car and Process Trailer. A camera rig that allows driving scenes to be filmed with a towing apparatus – a standard piece of equipment in today’s higher-budget productions. Blood Sabbath (1972) was Brianne Murphy’s only foray into directing. 

The film stars Tony Geary (Luke Spencer of TV’s General Hospital) as a whiney recently discharged (or was he?) Vietnam Vet named David. The film opens with David wandering through the woods of Mexico with nothing but a sleeping bag and acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder. While camping under a tree, he is assaulted by a band of naked American hippie chicks. For most cis-gender heterosexual males, this would be cause for celebration but David inexplicably screams, “Hey! What is this?” and “Christ! Get away from me!” as they tear his pants off. 

After running away from the women and fainting next to a small lake, David is revived by a beautiful water nymph named Yyala (Susan Damante) who speaks to him softly until he passes out again. This time, he is aided by a grizzled old guy name Lonzo (Sam Gilman) who lives in a shack in the woods and survives off the fish in Yyala’s lake. The closest neighbor is a coven of witches who live on a nearby mountain. They are led by Alotta, Queen of the Witches played by Dyanne Thorne. She does indeed have a lotta.

One day, Alotta spies on Yyala and David making out and decides she’d like to have David for herself. She performs candle Magick and tries to cast a love spell on David, to no avail. He is smitten with Yala. Sadly, they can never consummate their love for each other because he is “of the land” with a soul and she is “from the sea” without one. Perhaps the script was written to be filmed by the sea and all the location scout could find was a tiny lake? It’s just one of several inconsistencies throughout the film. 

Now desperate to be rid of his soul, David accompanies Lonzo to the local village’s annual harvest celebration. Their fruitful bounty is not because they’re good farmers. Once a year, the villagers choose a female child to be brought by Lonzo to the witches on the mountain. Alotta, takes the little girl’s soul and inducts her into the coven to grow and up and live among them. In return, Alotta casts a spell to ensure healthy crops for the farmers. 

David stops Lonzo and trades places with this year’s chosen child. Then he can be with Yyala for all eternity. David makes a deal with Alotta that he can be with Yyala with one caveat. If Yyala should ever tire of David and leave him, he must return to Alotta and be her lover instead.

The soul removal ceremony is a success and David and Yyala enjoy a montage of happiness frolicking through the fields over shots of flowers, and groovy flute and synth music. At the next full moon Alotta tricks David into participating in a blood sacrifice and seduces him by appearing to him as Yyala. Then, she plays Yyala, David and Lonzo against each other by telling them each a different story of the evening’s events, causing all manner of mistrust, murder and mayhem.

The film concludes on an interesting albeit confusing note. David vengefully stabs Alotta (not before she takes her clothes off to the sound of cats growling.) As she lay dying, she places her final curse on him that he be killed by his own people. He staggers off into a field, has a ‘Nam flashback and is killed after being run over in a field by the hippies from the beginning of the film. Was David dead all along, killed in Vietnam? It seems so. In the final shot, his spirit swims off into the sunset with Yyala. A happy ending of sorts that likely takes inspiration from the same award-winning 1962 French short film An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The same film that Jacob’s Ladder (1990) drew from 18 years later. An ambitious idea let down in Blood Sabbath by a slow plot, poor dialogue and bad acting. A good effort, but overall a letdown. Fortunately, Brianne Murphy’s career was no bogged down by the film.

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