Blood Freaks (2021)

Upon discovering the streaming one-sheets for this experimental art-horror film on Tubi, I assumed I stumbled into a new Asian extreme horror film. Just look at the images for yourself: The first films the VHS centers of my celluloid cortex loaded was the J-Horror static of Takashi Miike’s Audition and Gozu, Bigas Luna’s narrative corkscrews of Anguish and Reborn, Fruit Chan’s testament to man’s sexual obsession with youth and beauty in Dumplings, and Alejandro Jodoroswky’s unholy trio of El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre. But, as I learned Blood Freaks was an arthouse-import from Mexico, I soon understood the one-of-kind voice behind the film is a student of the supernatural phantasmagoria of José Mojica Marins with his Coffin Joe romps At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul and This Night I’ll Possess Your Corpse.

As Blood Freaks (aka La Puta Es Ciega, aka The Whore is Blind)—a homage to those forbidden, lurid clamshell and plastic-trayed Big-Box VHS/SOV bottom-of-the-barrel delights from our ‘80s youth—unspooled, I began to realize that writer and director Omar Jacobo is one of us: a freaky denizen who, when turning 18, delighted at being allowed to fan through the adult film section’s gigantic binders; who gleefully frolicked amid the horror-section shelves for the Fangoria-inept and the Famous Monsters-obscure. As one of the copy taglines for the film reads: “sleaze, gore, and more,” which is exactly what we wanted. We wanted mind-bending. We wanted backstreet scuzzy. We wanted our characters to be eclectic-crossed-with-freaky and a soupçon of crazy.

In the apartments of a low-rent Mexican walk-up, its misfit tenants are just that: They’re Andy Warhol perverse; they’re David Lynch oneiric; they’re John Waters hyperbolic. They’d fit right into the plotting of Flesh for Frankenstein, The Elephant Man, and Pink Flamingos: for I have no doubt that Omar Jacobo is a student of those films, and of the French New Wave impressionism of Claude Chabrol with La Femme infidel, Jean-Luc Godard with Breathless, and Francois Truffaut with The 400 Blows.

However, somewhere along the way, Jacobo’s celluloid schooling in the art of French-inspired subjectivity, ambiguity, and existentialism careened off the rails, drunkenly swaggering down a seedy, Mexican backstreet with a ratty, washed-out VHS rental of Bloodsucking Freaks in his hands—not realizing it wasn’t a product of the SOV ‘80s, but a low-rent and long-forgotten, inept drive-in homage to France’s Grand Guignol theater; a scuz-fest that sloshed the fecund streets of New York City’s grindhouse circuit in 1976, only for its asinine jawbone to be dislodged from the La Brea Celluloid Tar Pits onto home video store shelves for multiple-additional, muddy washouts from its perpetual rental-play. What was damaged to-the-point-of-blue-screen-of-death tape wasn’t artistic license: it was consumer-rabid wear-and-tear mistaken as artistic license.

Blood Freaks is a Dante’s Inferno of a retro-horror fantasy with a narrative structure created through an inventive use of music, camera work, and occasional still-image jump-cutting to imply movement through the dark underside of Mexico. It’s there that we meet the lives of the physically grotesque and spiritually sordid, violent tenants of a dingy apartment building: a blind, schoolgirl-clad lesbian prostitute who entices Janes/girlfriends (and if an unwanted John happens to attack her; well, just watch out for what she’s packing in the shaft of her cane) for her once overweight, cooking-obsessed Madam-girlfriend, and that Madam’s lesbian-dominatrix sister—and the “girlfriends” end up being her (temporary) submissives. Together, with the dominatrix’s male-dwarf partner (not forgetting Ralphus, the demented dwarf from Bloodsucking Freaks, and Jodorowsky’s dwarfs in his unholy trio), the sisters run a bathroom-based taxidermy and black market organ lab supplied with their girlfriend-subs. Their milkman-neighbor also has his kink: he’s a pornographer that tapes the sister’s sex-slave exploits to sell on the black market. Additional monies are made with the skins of the Janes: the dwarf treats the epidermal hides for use on his mannequin sculptures. Oh, as for the obsession with cooking: the ingredient-drugged foods are fed to the Janes who end up in the makeshift taxidermy-cum-art studio. Eventually, the sisters tire of their milkman-porn partner—and make him the bathlab’s newest specimen; he returns as an out-for-revenge zombie.

And cue the music for the Happiness of the Katakuris-inspired punk-rock house party. . . .

As the credits rolled on Blood Freaks—a surreal delight of incoherent symbolism, philosophy and weirdness just like Jodorowsky and Marins used to make—the feature film debut of writer-director Omar Jacobo shot on an $80,000 shoestring, I sighed; filled with the same adulation the first time I watched the opening 16-mm celluloid salvos of Robert Rodriquez with El Mariachi and Kevin Smith with Clerks. For Jacobo’s debut is a film of erudition: while a more commercial horror consumer, at first, may see “inept” filmmaking afoot with Jacobo’s arthouse-centric style, he is not part of the new, iPhone-shot digital ignorance proliferating the digital corners of Amazon Prime and Tubi, a net-realm where any John, Dick, or Jane—packing a handheld-device and a modicum of an idea—are (not) making movies.

At first glance, it’s easy to slag Jacobo’s homage to ’80s SOV horror (that analog genre of VHS-taped films, such as John Howard’s Spine and Christopher Lewis’s Blood Cult, which we hold in high regard amid the B&S About Movies cubicle farm) as an unfocused and incoherent, amateur film school project. (I worked as an actor on film school projects: I know incoherent amateurism: Jacobo is far from it.) Unlike many of those ‘80s Big Box SOV purveyors of old (we love you, Don Dohler, but still) and more so with the iPhone digitalmongers of the new, Jacobo comes to his chosen profession with a clear skillset. He, while in an admittedly unconventional way, understands the concepts of framing, shot composition, and editing. And he also understands (as does Jake Thomas with his absolutely stunning, just released film, Shedding) that dialog is the death of narrative; that images and an actor’s non-verbal language can carry a film. Jacobo also understands (as does Matthew Diebler and Jacob Gillman with their also recently-released and equally amazing The Invisible Mother) that film is a visual medium and that the devil—quite literally with Blood Freaks—is in the ambiguity-open-to-your-interpretation details: an enigma of pet chickens picking among the skins of peeled potatoes on the floor and five-minute dream-steria shots of a sordid, lesbian Madam making drug-filled meatballs and soups, a dwarf taxidermist who enjoys sculpting mannequins, and a dominatrix who specializes in baking jelly-centered drugged cookies.

Yeah, I love this movie, just in case if you’re wondering.

Then again, I ballyhooed from the rooftops for Michael Reich’s equally VHS-centric She’s Allergic to Cats, David Fowler’s modern psych-giallo Welcome to the Circle, and David Robert Mitchell’s ambiguity stunner Under the Silver Lake (well, Sam ballyhooed that one for the site) to deaf ear and blind eye; for I’m the guy who likes-everyone-hates the low-rent scuzziness of duBeat-e-o by Alan Sacks and Marc Sheffler. So what do I know? I’m just some guy writing film reviews in a cubicle farm somewhere in the backwaters of Allegheny County, where the vast majority of the world—as Sam, my boss, always points out—hates most of the films we love. And while that world flocks to Wonder Woman 1984 and fawns over Patty Jenkins, we, the B&S minions, flock to films like Blood Freaks and filmmakers like Omar Jacobo—who has the common sense to not use a timeline-skewed Cro-Mags shirt in his movie two years before the album it promotes was released.

And life couldn’t be any more sweeter for it: Blood Freaks is the type of film that makes me glad to wake up and write film reviews. You know, for the chicks. And for the fun. But mostly for the chicks.

You can learn more about Blood Freaks and Madre Foca! Producciones on Facebook. You can also visit distributor Rising Sun Media on Facebook and stream their catalog of Mexican-bred, full-length indie films on their Vimeo channel. After making a low-key, U.S.-streaming debut on Vimeo Online in May 2020, Blood Freaks is now widely available as of January 2021 as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi. The trailer is on You Tube.

Be sure to surf by B&S About Movies, daily—from Sunday, January 17 to Saturday, January 23—as we’ll feature the classics of Mexican action and horror cinema all this week.

Disclaimer: We did not receive a review request or screener from the film’s director, producer, or P.R firm. We discovered this film all on our own and truly enjoyed the movie.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies and publish music reviews and short stories on Medium.

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