You gotta hand it to Roger Corman. The man was certainly resourceful when it came to getting his films made. Today’s film, 1966’s “Blood Bath,” was certainly a troubled production, but to producer Corman, it never became a lost cause. It began life as a Yugoslavian spy film which Corman decided was not fit for US audiences. No problem, he hired director Jack Hill to film some sequences to turn the film into a horror pick about an artist whose preferred art form is murder. But, unhappy with the final product, Corman let the film sit for a few years and then hired director Stephanie Rothman to complete the film. Her new footage took the artist from simply being a killer, to being a shapeshifting vampire as well.
The film is set in Venice, California. This is obvious to the audience (sarcasm alert) by the old world structures, cobblestone streets, and groups of babushka women who wander around…courtesy of the Yugoslavian footage. The artistic community in Venice is all abuzz over the work of the mysterious painter Antonio Sordi (William Campbell). People just love his “Dead Red Nudes,” which are gruesome paintings of murdered nude women. But a beatnik artist named Max (Carl Schanzer) just doesn’t see the appeal of Sordi’s work and discusses it loudly with his girlfriend/model Daisy (Merissa Mathes) and his beatnik pals (among them the great Sid Haig).
After an argument, Daisy walks out on Max and heads out into the night. While looking at some of Sordi’s paintings through a gallery window, she encounters the mysterious artist. The two end up going back to the artist’s castle-like studio where Daisy offers to model for Sordi. As he begins to paint, Sordi is possessed by the spirit of one of his ancestors and transforms into his vampire form. He kills Daisy and dips her body in hot wax.
Now Sordi is not your average vampire. The sunlight is no problem for this dude, which comes in handy since he likes to hang out on shore with his beach bunny girlfriend Dorean (Linda Saunders), who also happens to be a former roommate of Daisy’s. Sordi insists that Dorean not ever come to his studio, as he fears his vampire other-self will certainly kill her.
Meanwhile, Max is wondering what has happened to Daisy. After he sees a Sordi painting that Daisy clearly modeled for, he contacts her sister Donna (Sandra Knight). Donna tells Max the legend of Sordi’s relative, Erno Sordi, who was burned at the stake for “capturing his subject’s souls on canvas.” Donna thinks Sordi may be behind the disappearance, but when she confronts him, he dismisses her quickly. But, he follows her into the night and murders her as well. Now, it’s up to Max and his beatnik buddies to stop Sordi before his evil vampire half has its way with Dorean.
“Blood Bath” certainly has a gruesome sounding title, but it’s tame by today’s standards. Having been cobbled together from what is essentially three different films, it is an understatement to say the film is a mess. A wonderful mess, I would say! It is weird, confusing and incoherent…but that’s not to say it isn’t fun. At one moment it feels like some sort of old world thriller, then it’s a creepy murder story, it even tries to bring in elements of a beach movie. This movie is all over the place! But that’s part of what gives it its charm.
William Campbell is a lot of fun in the lead. It’s a bizarre performance perfectly suited to the bizarre material. But I think my favorite performances of the film come from Sid Haig and his crew of beatnik artists. They inject some unexpected funny moments into the proceedings. These are intentionally funny moments. There are plenty of unintentionally funny moments to enjoy, as well. Among them, the completely out-of-left-field ending that will leave you wondering what the heck you just saw.
Though “Blood Bath” is a complete mess, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s creepy and silly fun and a twisted example of the concoctions that can come from the mind of Roger Corman.