Thursday, October 29, 2009

Movie Review: Bloody Pit of Horror (1965)

Massimo Pupillo
Written By:
Romano Migliorini & Roberto Natale
Mickey Hargitay
Walter Brandi
Luisa Baratto
Rita Klein

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That must be the most archetypal exploitation film title of all time: it promises so much, and yet gives away almost nothing about the movie itself. And Bloody Pit of Horror is the archetypal psychotronic exploitation film - an old castle, torture chambers, a gaggle of partially-clad models, a bad guy complete with his own supervillain costume, whips, screaming women, lurid colours, homoeroticism, blood, bodybuilding, a basso-sleazy 60s soundtrack and a clean-cut, square-jawed hero - it's all here folks!

Bloody Pit of Horror starts out with a pre-credits sequence showing the buff and dreaded Crimson Executioner being led into a dungeon by a pair of medieval soldiers. A voice over - presumably, and ironically, that of a Spanish Inquisitor - condemns him to death for torturing and killing innocents in an obsessive quest to destroy moral and physical imperfections in others, and informs him that he is to be killed by one of his own instruments of torture. That's proper tabloid newspaper justice, right there. They were, however, kind enough to let him wear his favourite bright red costume and cape for the big day, and so he goes to his grave looking like a criminal mastermind from an old Batman and Robin TV episode. Which is what he'd have wanted, I'm sure. Anyhoo, he swears revenge, yadda-yadda-yadda, and Crimson Executioner is killed by iron maiden (the torture device, not a surprise cameo by Bruce Dickinson et al) and the castle is sealed up for centuries.

Jump forward to the swinging Sixties and a gang of photographers, models and a sleazy old man (who I guess is a publisher or some such thing) show up at the marvellously preserved castle and break in to shoot cover photos for some lurid pulp novels. They soon discover that the building is not abandoned as it first appeared, but home to a wealthy recluse, played by former Mr Universe Mickey Hargitay, and his camp male servants who wear stripey sailor suits (!). Initially reluctant, the owner eventually relents and allows them to carry out their photoshoot in the dungeon. Cue montage with funny music and footage of scantily-clad models cavorting around in front of the camera with suits of armour and torture devices, plenty of Carry On-style near-nudity and the immortal exchange:

Photographer: Now Nancy, honey, give me the feeling of a cat... you know what I mean? ROWR!
Model: *meow*
Photographer: NO, Nancy! That's too domesticated!!

Before long, one of the group is bumped off in an "accident", another pair are caught making out by the Crimson Executioner and are iron maidened to death. From here, the movie takes the viewer on non-stop tour of numerous execution and torture methods, ranging from the gruesome (a "drawing"wheel that stretches its victim to death) to the imaginative (a man is shot in the neck with an arrow while trying to escape in a car and the vehicle is left to drive in an endless circle) to the ludicrously convoluted (a mechanical "spider" device that poisons its victim unless the hero can navigate a treacherous web of cables that, if tripped, causes a hail of arrows to be unleashed!). If this all sounds very morbid and disturbing, rest assured the film is actually surprisingly low on gore and the torture scenes are served up with a massive side-order of high camp that renders them more comedic than sickening. While the format certainly pre-empts the modern wave of Hostel-esque torture-thrillers, the melodrama, formulaic plot, masked villain, and camp murder mystery elements mean the film has more in common, thematically, with Scooby Doo than it does with Saw.

It was hilarious to see the heroine take time out at the finale to explain in detail the madness and wicked machinations of the Executioner to both her companion and the viewing public. The characters are all cartoons, but for a crowd of bimbos and himbos they are not as irritating as you might expect, and their absurd dialogue and general naivete lends them a certain endearing quality. I won't go as far as to say I actually cared about any of them, but it's at least enough to make things vaguely interesting when their lives are in peril.

Solitary A-lister Mickey Hargitay (AKA. Mr Jayne Mansfield) enjoys himself far too much in the dual roles of Crimson Executioner and Travis Anderson, the castle's owner. He spends the majority of his screen time prancing around in a pair of red leggings and a mask, flexing his muscles for the camera, and going off on rants about physical perfection at every opportunity. He is a lot of fun to watch, and you really can't help but wonder about this misogynistic character who did a bunk on his attractive fiancé to live in an isolated castle filled with whips, chains and torture devices with only his his hunky sailor-suited servants to keep him company...

Production-wise, the film looks... decent. The copy I reviewed was, unfortunately, an old washed-out VHS cut, but there are some pretty shot compositions and a cheery day-glo production design that nicely offsets the horrors on display. It's no Suspiria though; sometimes things do look a little flat and stagey, but that's mostly down to the budget and, to be fair, it supplies a lot of the movie's charm.

There's not a lot more to talk about - it's just a fun, hokey old Euro-horror film that was neither original enough, nor bad enough, to generate a wide cult following. It's a little sad, because it is an amusing and entertaining camp exploitation film. It won't blow your socks off but it ticks all the boxes with panache, Bloody Pit of Horror is certainly worth a watch and would fit nicely into any camp horror marathon.


It now seems ludicrous that Bloody Pit of Horror was actually banned when it was first submitted to the BBFC for a cinema classification. Granted much of the film deals with torture and murder but, while mildly ghoulish, there is nothing distressing or disturbing about the way the violence is presented. This is all "James Bond having a laser aimed at his nads"-type stuff. Since then, to my knowledge, the movie has never been given a legitimate release in the United Kingdom.

In the US, Bloody Pit of Horror had a fairly successful run at the drive-ins and early grindhouse fleapits before itself falling into the Bloody Pit of Forgotten Eurotrash Exploitationers. In the 80s, the only version available was an awful VHS print by Vidimax (AKA. The Macabre Video Underground) a sleazy mail order outfit, specialising in fetish-oriented, zero-budget horror quickies, who operated out of ads in the back of horror magazines. Vidimax actually marketed this picture as one of its sleazy pseudo-pornographic titles despite the fact that it's really quite an innocent little exploitationer. Happily, the movie was rescued in the early-1990s by Something Weird Video, who came out with a video release and, subsequently, a nicely remastered DVD edition. Both are available from their website.

On the other hand, if you're feeling cheap, then you'll be happy to hear that Bloody Pit of Horror has, in the decades since it's release, fallen into the public domain. Therefore, I have uploaded the entire uncopyrighted version of the film onto YouTube for your viewing pleasure. Consider it a Halloween present:

Click here to fire up the playlist

Do note that this is not the pretty-looking Something Weird DVD version (that particular edition has been remastered and is now copyrighted by Something Weird), but seems to be an old VHS rip of the muddy Vidimax release. I've tried to fix the picture as much as possible, and it's perfectly watchable but the colours are a little faded a image is still a bit fuzzy in places - but it's free and legal, so don't moan. :P

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