So let’s say you’re a kid in the later 1970s, and you’re really into watching scary movies on late night TV. You can’t get away with that very easily at home, but when you visit your grandparents on the weekend, they go to bed early and don’t really care if you stay up and watch TV. When you’re there, you try and see anything marked “-THRILLER” in the TV Guide. On one dark night Saturday night, you stay up late to watch a movie called “Blood Mania”. With a title like that, it’s going to be really scary, you just know it. The opening credits are a weird montage containing slow-motion shots of a woman in a nightgown running from some unidentified horror. This is interrupted by an animated piece where the word “BLOOD” – in large, gruesome red letters – is attacked by a pair of cartoon hands, which claw at the letters until they say “BLOOD MANIA”. There is a terrifying scream that makes your hair stand on end. You don’t realize it yet, but this movie has just shown you everything that is possibly of interest to an 8-year-old monster kid, and it won’t be very long before the TV is turned off and you’re asleep.
This may have been the experience of anybody who happened to watch “Blood Mania” as a child, because it’s one of the talkiest things you could hope to see. The shocks in the film are mostly of the daytime drama variety, so kids would probably check out of this movie very early on. This is probably a good thing too, because during the course of the story we are confronted with situations such as cheating on one’s romantic partner, a hopelessly dysfunctional family of estranged people, a woman who is willing to murder her invalid father for a little bit of money, a ruthless blackmail scheme, the use of amyl nitrate for kicks in bed, and repressed trauma linked to incestuous abuse.
Revisiting it as an adult, however, I appreciated it in a totally different way. Director Robert Vincent O’Neil (Angel, Wonder Women) finds an absolutely glacial pace for this movie, but it is such a visually compelling experience that you don’t seem to mind. Back in the days of turntables, sometimes you might have played one of your 45 rpm records on 33 1/3, just to hear what it would sound like slowed down, and “Blood Mania” is the visual equivalent of just that. I’m a sucker for any movie that emulates Bava’s colored lighting, but the set – a Los Angeles mansion that was once the home of Bela Lugosi – is just as wonderful.
Blood Mania was co-written by lead actor Peter Carpenter, one of two films (Point of Terror is the other) that were created by Carpenter with producer Chris Marconi. Carpenter had been selected by Russ Meyer for a small role in Vixen! after Carpenter’s girlfriend included a photo with him as part of her audition materials. A role alongside Dyanne Thorne in 1970’s softcore drama Love Me Like I Do followed, and this two-film package with Marconi undoubtedly represented a bid for establishing himself as a working actor – a commodity, even. A career never manifested, and Carpenter disappeared. Despite rumors that he vanished because he died, he actually simply left the movie business, although he did pass away at the too-young age of 56.
Carpenter plays a shady doctor named Cooper, who is being blackmailed for providing illegal abortions. The sex-starved daughter of one of his patients offers to help him with his ‘tax problems’, and after he beds down with her to consummate the deal, she kills her father, expecting to inherit his estate. When her younger sister appears for the reading of their father’s will, however, things don’t turn out quite the way Victoria had hoped, and all three of their lives quickly begin to unravel.
Although made in the United States, Blood Mania sure does have the feel of a European film, in part because of its sumptuous look, but also because of its dreamlike atmosphere. Its horror film approach to soap opera material felt like a cheat the first time I saw it, but that’s what actually appealed to me in the long run. Like the Sisters of Mercy doing a Dolly Parton cover version, the result is something a little unexpected and marvelous. Although it does appear on Mill Creek compilations, there is also an incredible 2017 blu ray restoration by Vinegar Syndrome out there that blew my mind when I saw it.