A modern-day Grand Guignol theatre run by Master Sardu and his dwarf assistant Ralphus perform shows of sadism and torture for a sold out audience. Ironically, what the patrons of this twisted art show don’t realize is that the atrocities that they are ogling couldn’t be more real.
An all-time favorite of mine, I’ve been trumpeting the virtues of Joel M. Reed’s Bloodsucking Freaks to anybody who would listen for years. The film is an admirable homage to the H.G. Lewis gore films of the 60s (The Wizard of Gore in particular) and yet manages to stand on its own two (severed) legs in its own right. Many detractors try and label Bloodsucking Freaks as a horror-comedy, which in this day and age evokes visions of Sam Raimi-directed garbage like Drag Me to Hell or Army of Darkness. However, Reed’s masterpiece (yeah, I said it) is fortunately nowhere near that comical or retarded. Instead what is presented here to those astute enough to appreciate it is a sordid circus of misogyny that still manages to surprise and outrage to this day. Needless to say, Reed’s vision here is all about shock value and offending his audience while self-indulgently exploring a myriad of taboos and the bowels of poor taste. Conceptually the film is very effective in this endeavor, but the execution does require a little patience and even some suspension of disbelief at times. But let’s be honest – you’re here to see a dancing dwarf torture and mutilate naked sluts, not to use the film as source material for your dissertation on the downfall of western civilization.
The film tells the story of Sardu’s Theatre of the Macabre where kidnapped women are put on display and are then tortured, dismembered, and killed in front of a live audience. When a famous critic working for the local newspaper brashly heckles Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) during one of the performances, Sardu decides to kidnap him in an effort to force him to give the show a positive review. Meanwhile, the maiming and killing continues with the lovable antics of Ralphus the dancing dwarf (Luis de Jesus; The Anal Dwarf, Star Wars episode VI: the Return of the Jedi); Sardu’s assistant and right-hand man. It’s not particularly heavy on character development or plot twists, but have you ever seen a dwarf mimic fucking the severed head of a girl who was forced to cut her own head off in a guillotine? I didn’t think so. Magical moments like these are what make Bloodsucking Freaks so special and dear to my heart.
Be forewarned: the visuals are often terrible, the acting even worse. If you’re the sort to pick apart a film based on technical aptitude, this is not going to be your cup of tea. Indeed, the performances in this are absolutely dreadful save for Seamus O’Brian who plays Sardu and spends most of his screen time flouncing about like some kind of deviant Vincent Price. O’Brian is an absolute joy to watch in this, delivering his lines with such conviction one wonders if he’s even acting at all. Sadly he was taken from this wretched earth far too soon, stabbed to death by a burglar in his apartment in 1977. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that he would have gone on to become a genre favorite had he been allowed to continue practicing his craft. On the other hand, Luis De Jesus’ performance in Bloodsucking Freaks is mind-numbingly atrocious – but he was nothing if not tremendously entertaining. De Jesus was quite well known at the time for a short (no pun intended) stint in porn; notably a stag loop entitled “The Anal Dwarf” that was a regular attraction at 42nd street peepshows in New York.
The effects will require the viewer to be very forgiving at times, but the subject matter here is where the film really pleases the mental palate. Enslaved women are tortured via thumb screws, dismemberment, a head vice, electrocution; the list goes on and on. In addition to physical torture, the film explores many themes of humiliation via women being used as a human table, footstool, and dart board. The dialogue is equally horrendous but the film is so ridiculously quotable (including the infamous line where Sardu quips: ‘When you’re finished your ride, Ralphus, put her to work in the toilet. Her mouth will make an interesting urinal”). Clearly, Bloodsucking Freaks plumbs the depths of depravity and taste in ways that have rarely been equaled – and for good reason.
Not for the squeamish or easily offended, Bloodsucking Freaks pushes boundaries that many won’t realize they even had. Its reputation speaks for itself, but needs to be experienced to be truly appreciated.
Official COSDS Nunspank Rating:
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Duane co-founded The Church of Splatter-Day Saints in 2005. When not immersed in film he's enjoying good whiskey, smoking meat in the backyard or thinking about sluts. He makes a damn fine habanero fire sauce.