Friday, July 31, 2009


All work and no play makes Samuel a dull boy, so I've taken a brief break from my current preoccupation with The Canon to look for something a bit more wild. It didn't take long to find that something. What I found was this trippy bit of hippie horror from a then-still-rare female director, and what kept me watching was an obvious directorial enthusiasm that transcended and nearly made a virtue of the film's budgetary limitations -- and a relentless tide of female nudity.

One detail that gives Blood Sabbath a bit of historical interest, for historians of trash pop culture, is the star turn by Tony Geary, later to be daytime television's most popular rapist. Here he's David, a young man with a guitar wandering the countryside. He's a classic American loner and isolato, so much an outsider that hippies pick on him. Does he want a beer, they ask him from their hippie van, only to spray the can in his face and flash boobs at him as they drive away.

Those damn hippies. A body can't sleep in the forest without them making noise with their wild parties and all that loud nudity. They won't even leave a man alone! Four naked women pounce upon the reposing David; his response is, basically: "What the hell? Ow! Leave me alone!" Now, many reviewers on IMDB have questioned why this young man should recoil so when presented with such a bounty, but I have to say that the critics are absolutely right. But we can't stop David from running away like it was Sadie Hawkins Day, tripping on a rock, and falling into a river. "Is he dead?" the hippie girls ask, but they lose interest before reaching a decision.

David (Tony Geary) fights his way free of a nubile wall of flesh in Blood Sabbath. Idiot.

David comes to on the riverbank and finds another woman, a clothed woman, bending over him. This he likes, whether because she's clothed or because there's just one of her. Indeed, he's smitten and wants her to keep him company. She'd like to, she says, but she can't stay, and into the water she goes. The next thing Dave knows, he's looking into the grizzled face of Lonzo, a local codger, who asks our hero where he's from. "I'm from Vietnam," David answers. So we know that he has issues. Indeed, these issues will manifest themselves a few times more later in the film. So he's a troubled Vietnam vet, but that's okay, because the clothed girl, Yyala, happens to be a water-nymph. So what we have shaping up here, in high-concept terms, is something like Jacob's Ladder meets Splash.

So she's a nymph. You could do worse. There are witches in the vicinity you see, and you know David wouldn't like them because those evil, attractive young women go about butt naked most of the time. But hanging with the nymph has its own complications.

Yyala: You are of the land, and I am of the sea. You have a soul, David, and I do not. I may not love anyone who has a soul.

David: I can't just give up my soul....Even if I wanted to get rid of my soul I wouldn't know how. But you must know a way!

Yyala: The danger is too great.

Dave's determination to be rid of his soul (you know, the better to love somebody) grows stronger with time, but advice is hard to come by. "Don't ask me about souls!" an irate Lonzo protests, "What do I know about souls?" "Well, who else can I ask?" David complains. Well, what makes him think Lonzo would know anything about the subject. Might it be that Lonzo annually collects a girl child from his village and leaves it up on the mountain for the witches to collect? And what has that to do with Dave's flashback to 'Nam, where he apparently killed a child?

As Blood Sabbath shows, one of the reasons the U.S. lost in Vietnam was because brave warriors like David often had to fight without any visible support. The war effort probably had hardly more budget than this movie did.

During a visit to the village festival, Dave plays a hunch and strikes up a conversation with the local Padre. "You know all about souls, don't you, and how to save them?" he inquires, "Would you know how to go about losing one?" The Padre (I capitalize it because this is all the name he gets in the movie) replies wisely, "Has the tequila gone to your head?" When David persists, the man of God has himself a little conniption fit, calling our hero a freak (well?) and driving him out of the cantina. Like he has a right to be righteous. It turns out that he has some sort of modus vivendi with Alotta, Queen of Witches. There's something about Dyanne Thorne, I guess, that makes a mere name inadequate. She needs a good epithet like "Queen of Witches" or "Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks." She has naked witches on call to entertain the Padre, but he's not in the mood tonight. "Are you resuming the BLOOD SACRIFICE!?" he challenges.

Alotta, Queen of Witches (Dyanne Thorne) knows how to treat guests, but one of the peculiarities of Blood Sabbath is the fact that no one, apparently, likes to be surrounded by horny, naked women.

You see, this sacrifice thing normally isn't as bad as it may have first sounded. As Lonzo finally explains it to David, he leaves the girl on the mountain, the witches pick her up, remove her soul, and raise her to be one of them. Where's the harm --but let's backtrack a moment. "Remove her soul?" Why, I think that's a little light bulb buzzing to life above our hero's head. Why couldn't he take the place of this year's little girl and get a free soul-ectomy. Then he and Yyala could be together forever and ever and ever and ever.

By normal standards, Dave, being a grown man and all, isn't exactly junior witch material. But Alotta (Q.O.W.) takes the offer anyway, though she doesn't care for the whole running-off-with-the-water-nymph idea. "Yyala is inconstant and short-loving," she warns, while I guess she or any of her subordinates would love him long time. Whatever. Dave will work out the contradictions later. For now, his mighty word is, "Yes, take my soul, damn you!"

It's time for a solemn ritual of the witches: the soul-ectomy. You can tell it's a serious occasion because the witches dress for the occasion in bikini bottoms. So clad, they warm things up with some sacred hoochie-koochie dancing before Alotta brings David to the altar. He is laid out, albeit with a discreet covering over the crotch, and the ladies love him up to the point where his double-exposure self (uncovered) up and leaves the room. From this point, David is "free," as he proves by romping around in the woods until the procession of witches, a bit more clad this time, catches up with him. Now we're really serious, for this is the BLOOD SACRIFICE that the Padre fretted about. It's the turn of one of the witches to be laid out on the altar, but there's no loving up for her (and the lack of witch-on-witch action is a grave omission from this film; the closest we get is another witch straddling the victim on the altar and screaming); only a dagger in the throat. Blood fills a ceremonial goblet for Dave to drink from. Feeling quite soulless now, he dashes off to Yyala. Soulless herself, she is nevertheless quite repulsed by the sight of Dave's bloodstained mouth, and just like any bourgeois square water-nymph she runs away in terror.

Once again our hero needs advice. He turns to Alotta this time, and her advice is that he should kill her enemy the Padre and bring the man's head to her. Then Yyala will be his! This request seems odd because earlier we had seen Alotta cursing the Padre and stabbing at a Padre voodoo doll. For all we knew that had accomplished something, but apparently not. He's in his bedroom staring into space as Dave arrives, and the next thing we know Alotta is the proud owner of a fresh head.

"I knew him, Lonzo, a fellow of...Actually, his jest was pretty damn finite."

Things get just a little complicated from this point. For starters, Dave is in a seriously deranged state in which he can't tell Yyala and Alotta apart. In addition, Lonzo finds out about the head and chastises Alotta about it, only to be told by her that Yyala killed the Padre. Alotta wouldn't lie, of course, so the wrathful Lonzo heads out to kill her. Fortunately, Dave intervenes, and Lonzo turns his pointed attentions his way. Fortunately for Dave, Yyala intervenes and stabs Lonzo in the back. For two soulless people our lovers are rather remorseful about this. Yyala in particular bawls over the deed, while David has another flashback.

At a certain point, there's nothing for a flashback-riddled vet to do but kill the villain. But he can't do it without Alotta getting off a final curse; "I call upon your own people to come and kill you!" At which point comes one final flashback in which Soldier Dave radios HQ to tell them that their planes are bombing "your own people." I foolishly had the idea that we were going to get some kind of Nam zombie climax, but by "your own people" the Queen of Witches meant that the instrument of her revenge would be that van full of hippies from the start of the picture. But will her revenge really be that bad for Dave?...

Brianne Murphy, the director of Blood Sabbath, helmed only one other film, spending most of her career as a cinematographer for television. The other film, To Die, To Sleep, was made 22 years later and sounds about as opposite to Blood Sabbath as you can get, but I guess a lot of people grew out of that period in their lives. Still, on the strength of this movie the fact that Murphy didn't work more in the Seventies is regrettable. She knew how to keep a cheap film looking busy with frantic activity and regular outbursts of mass female nudity. As the story gets nuttier, she rose to the occasion in portraying David's delirium. For this she had Tony Geary to thank for bringing the enthusiasm of youth to his role. Like many of the actors, he tends to shout his lines, but this is the sort of film that needs to be hysterical, so there was no point holding him back. Had he more craft at this point in his career, the film would probably have been less entertaining. The only performer who really drops the ball in this regard is Susan Damante, making her movie debut as Yyala. It didn't exactly shock me to learn that she went on to star in the Wilderness Family movies, since those sound better suited to her. For an exotic creature, she was much too mundane, though according to the film's odd logic that seemed to be what attracted David to her. I suppose your traditional woodland sprites or pixies really couldn't compete with hippies for pure exoticism in those days. It's ironic that we regard hippies themselves today as little more than simple woodland creatures. Actually, that makes the combination of hippies and nymphs and witches a better fit than it may have seemed at the time.

I can't really comment on the cinematography because I saw a crappy print, but where this film really punches above its weight is on the musical side. IMDB informs me that the "BAX" to whom the score is credited is none other than Les Baxter of AIP fame, and he nails the notes to match the stark yet wacky imagery throughout the film, from hippie ballads to psycho-syntho trip music. I'd almost say that the film is more worth a listen than a viewing, except that the lavish nudity, quasi-supernatural violence and over-the-top acting, at the very least, makes it very watchable for citizens of the wild world of cinema.

Blood Sabbath can be viewed online on membership sites like Movieflix or Veoh, and can probably be found pretty cheaply otherwise. The only clip I could find on YouTube is dubbed into Spanish, so my poor captures will have to suffice as hints of the naked weirdness on display in this charmingly twisted little film.


Rev. Phantom said...

I love hippie horror flicks! I'm somewhat surprised that I haven't heard of this one. Excellent review.

Sam Juliano said...

I don't know whether I can take this, but hey, I could do a lor worse. We do have Hershall Lewis and Lucio Fulci, but this is a little different I know. you really put a lot of work into this review.

Samuel Wilson said...

Rev., what I like about it is that it looks like it might have been made by an actual hippie.

Sam, it takes all kinds to make a wild world of cinema. My object in blogging is to bring the worlds of fandom together so that folks who might dig Blood Sabbath might also consider Sansho the Bailiff, or vice versa. I make no guarantees, but I'll have succeeded if I just get people thinking about it.