DAY 19. VIDEO STORE DAY: This is the big one. Watch something physically rented or bought from a video store. If you live in a place that is unfortunate enough not to have one of thee archival treasures then watch a movie with a video store scene in it at least. #vivaphysicalmedia
I grew up in a small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. Despite being a dying mill town of around 8,000 people, we still had three unique video stores to serve our movie needs — although eventually even the Uni-Mart and 7-11 would expand to have movies (the only ones I can remember getting from either are Death Bed and Gotcha!).
College Hill Video was a satellite store of the larger location in Beaver Falls, located on three spinner racks in a Giant Eagle grocery store. Their horror section was mostly new releases, nearly all mainstream.
Hollywood Video offered more video game rentals but didn’t have much selection. I can barely remember ever renting a movie there.
But Prime Time Video?
I haunted the horror section there, alternatively afraid of the lurid clamshell foreign horror and obsessed by their contents. They promised such foul delights! And of all the VHS boxes there, one cover promised the absolute bottom of the barrel. Somehow, in a small town where you had to verbally ask for adult films after looking through a gigantic binder of their covers, the forced embarrassment keeping you from every seeing something that filthy, this piece of sheer exploitation junk somehow ended up in my 16-year-old hands.
There’s really only one mom and pop rental place left that I can think of in Pittsburgh — Jack’s Discount Videos in Millvale — and three Family Videos which are located well out of the city in Moon Township, Lower Burrell and Greensburgh. Outside of Redboxes, we are sadly out of luck. So I’ve gone back to my childhood to look back at a movie I probably shouldn’t have been watching.
This is not the video store of my youth, only my dreams. Scarecrow Video in Seattle.
Bloodsucking Freaks is the kind of movie that — if it wasn’t so ineptly made — would make you think that anyone who watched it more than once certainly a maniac. And maybe I was back at that age, obsessed with Fangoria and heavy metal and trying to always find something heavier, louder and grosser.
Well, I found it.
This movie became the torture test for anyone that wanted to watch movies with my friends. We became fascinated with it, taking its villains into our roke playing games, drawing photos of the gore scenes and endlessly discussing how a movie like this could have ever been made.
We didn’t know that it ripped off Herschell Gordon Lewis.
We didn’t know that it was junk.
All we knew was that we had to watch it again.
While it was shot under the title Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins, it was retitled The Incredible Torture Show during its original run through grindhouses and drive-ins. By the time it made its way to the mom and pop video stores, it’d been purchased by Troma and retitled Bloodsucking Freaks.
We didn’t have an internet to teach us what this movie was about or spoilers to warn us of the content we were about to be barraged with. We just had ourselves.
What unspooled was a movie all about Master Sardu (Seamus O’Brien, a one and done actor who died shortly after making this movie, a victim of a burglar’s knife), who runs a Grand Guignol-style theatre with Ralphus, his demented little person. He’s played by Luis De Jesus, who was famous in Times Square for a loop he’d shot entitled The Anal Dwarf.
Yeah look — if you’re going to get offended easily, perhaps skip to our next review.
This is the kind of actor who just randomly would decide to gather all the other principals and stage an orgy. While he continued to act in adult films until the 1980’s — he’s Mr. Big in Let My Puppets Come, which Vinegar Syndrome just re-released, as well as appearing in movies like Fantasex Island, where he played Pu-Pu in an obvious send-up of Herve Villechaize’s famous role as Tattoo — he also tried to break into the mainstream, playing in Under the Rainbow and as an Ewok in Return of the Jedi. Yet in the very next year after he appeared in a Teddy Ruxpin video, he was back in adult before dying two years later.
Basically, just like Wizard of Gore, Sardu and Ralphus torture people for real on stage in front of an audience that thinks that what they are seeing is art. Then, they sell their victims into slavery.
The film unfolds in a loose collection of scenes, such as the two wiping out theater critic Creasy Silo — based on critic Clive Barnes — who made the mistake of giving them a bad review. I kind of love that the same actor who plays Creasy, Alan Dellay, also shows up as a judge in one of the junkiest mainstream films of all time, the utterly reprehensible — and fully awesome — Amityville II: The Possession.
Then, our evil duo abducts the ballerina Natasha Di Natalie and seek to break her will. She was played by Viju Krem, who is also in the aforementioned Let My Puppets Come, as well as Eros Perversion, a softcore send-up of Shakespeare, and an adult ripoff of M*A*S*H* where she appeared alongside Annie Sprinkle. Adding to the strange history of this film, she’d die young too, a victim of a hunting accident in 1983.
Football hero Tom Maverick (Niles McMaster, yes, the father from Alice, Sweet Alice) is seeking to save her before it’s too late. Speaking of that film, Alphonso DeNoble — who so memorably played the obese neighbor Mr. Alphonso in it — shows up here as a white slaver.
There are also a fair number of New York City-based adult actors of the era cast as female victims, such as Jenny Baxter, Ellen Faison (who is also in the British video nasty Dawn of the Mummy), Juliet Graham (who dated the previously mentioned Mr. Gillis) and Arlana Blue.
Basically, all of them are tortured, whether by being turned into a human dart board or being attacked with a vice, bone saws, thumb screws, meat cleavers, forced dental surgery, a drill, a guilotine and so much more. It’s still the only film I’ve ever seen where someone uses a straw to sip blood out of a person’s skull or throw darts at a naked woman’s rear.
Director Joel M. Reed — who would make Blood Bath the same year — didn’t want to make this movie. He had another script about a rock star haunted by a groupie, but he never got the money to make that one. He’d also make 1981’s Night of the Zombies, starred gonzo pioneer Jamie Gillis as CIA special agent Nick Monroe.
With good reason, this film was decried by Women Against Pornography. None of its female victims are named and they only show up to be maimed and decimated. Is there art and humor under the surface? Sure, but man, you need to crawl through an ocean of scum to get there.
I’ve always wondered how today’s internet-plugged in generation will handle life, as they’re not held back from adult materials at any time. They can basically jump right into the deep end when all we had was random issues of Playboy thrown into the woods. Then I remember that somehow, in the middle of comparatively chaste slashers, Bloodsucking Freaks was on the shelves of the mom and pop video store in my cozy and safe hometown. It made it’s way from the fecund streets of 1976 end of the world New York City to the same VCR we watched birthday parties and cartoons on. And we all watched it, over and over again.
The absurdity of it all amuses me to no end.