Thursday, July 14, 2016

Back Into the BLOOD BATH

Arrow Video cover art by Dan Mumford.
I was taken aback the other day, while updating my Audio Commentaries list on my Facebook page, to discover that I have already - by mid-year - recorded as many commentaries for new Blu-ray and DVD releases as I did in the entirety of last year. Perhaps the most ambitious of my spoken work this year has been my "audio essay" for Arrow Video's BLOOD BATH - a box set of four related feature films that was somewhat inspired by a three-part article that I wrote in the early days of VIDEO WATCHDOG, in Issues 4, 5 and 7. (All three are available digitally.)

That extended feature, which in some ways was the article that defined what VIDEO WATCHDOG was going to be, though my research and final work wasn't completed until nearly a year into publication, was entitled "The Trouble With Titian" and it told, for the first time, the story of how a couple of Late Late Show curiosities, PORTRAIT IN TERROR and TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE, had in fact been spun off of two other features, a Yugoslavian thriller called OPERATION TITIAN and a Jack Hill B-picture called BLOOD BATH (which incorporated footage from TITIAN) - all of them executive produced by a fellow whose name didn't appear on a single one of them: Roger Corman.

Little blind girl meets ominous shadow in OPERATION TITIAN.
Prior to this release, OPERATION TITIAN (which was supervised by a young Francis Ford Coppola) was available only as an imported Serbian DVD, while PORTRAIT IN TERROR and TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE could be found badly cropped on a couple of public domain labels, sourced from 16mm TV prints. BLOOD BATH was finally made available as a DVD-R a couple of years ago. But now all of these inferior copies can be tossed away. The Arrow set, which has been released on both sides of the Atlantic on region-free discs, assembles the best-possible presentations of each title. Taken individually, the four films are okay at best, nothing to write home about (says the man who found a three-part article in them), but taken as a whole, they become a remarkable illustration of feature film economics and how to rework a commercial negative into a positive. This is where my "audio essay" comes into play, explaining what the films themselves cannot.

Patrick Magee, dipped in wax in PORTRAIT IN TERROR.
I've been putting "audio essay" in quotation marks (inverted commas for my UK readers) because, much like my original article, my project got a bit out-of-hand. Other audio essays appearing on Arrow releases, such as Michael Mackenzie's for BLOOD AND BLACK LACE or the Adrian Martin/Cristina Alvarez Lopez piece for THE STRANGE CASE OF DR JEKYLL AND MISS OSBOURNE, have been illuminating and nothing short of superb, yet they have averaged about 15 minutes. Thanks to the indulgent support to disc producer Anthony Nield and the assistance of my editor Ian Froggatt, my history of the four Titian films evolved to feature length; in fact, I'm proud to say it's the second longest feature in the set. As such, I think it would be fair to term it - as some reviewers kindly have - a documentary.

Sid Haig, Jonathan Haze and other beatniks in BLOOD BATH.
To break the four films down to basics: OPERATION TITIAN is a serviceable European thriller with creepy atmosphere and the jarring presence of two familiar English-speaking actors, William Campbell and Patrick Magee (both fresh from DEMENTIA 13, itself the subject of an excellent new Blu-ray restoration by The Film Detective). PORTRAIT IN TERROR is a re-edited version of TITIAN, sold directly to television, with some conspicuous padding in all likelihood supervised by Stephanie Rothman. BLOOD BATH is a 62-minute B-picture, concocted by writer-director Jack Hill to go out on double bills with Curtis Harrington's Soviet mash-up QUEEN OF BLOOD (released last year on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber) - a tongue-in-cheek amalgam of A BUCKET OF BLOOD and TOUCH OF EVIL, you might say, incorporating about three minutes of OPERATION TITIAN. Hill got the assignment to make SPIDER BABY and didn't get to finish BLOOD BATH, which Stephanie Rothman finished for him. And TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE is the extended TV version of BLOOD BATH - and boy, is it ever extended.

The eponymous villain of TRACK OF THE VAMPIRE.
But the story behind the making of these films is an important one, that has always tended to fall between the cracks of Roger Corman's other major successes of the time. (While various of his employees were making these four pictures, Corman himself managed to produce an additional 15 or so pictures, directed 7 or 8, and traveled and worked extensively in England, Ireland, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, as well as in Hollywood.) It is with these four films that Corman's background in engineering seems to come into inspirational play: it was his logical sensibility that understood that OPERATION TITIAN, while not commercially viable on its own terms, could serve as grist for his exploitation mill, facilitating a series of other pictures made with minimal funds that could turn a profit.

Check out my "The Trouble With Titian - Revisited" in the BLOOD BATH box set for the full story.  

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