Friday, March 21, 2008

The Flesh and Blood Show (1972): or, The Phantom of the Sexy Place

I know it (probably) didn't happen like this, but I like to imagine that after his enjoyable but incredibly misleadingly-titled 1971 thriller Die Screaming, Marianne, director Pete Walker got a lot of complaints. I picture pile upon pile of postcards and letters flooding his office a la the courtroom scene in Miracle on 34th Street, with irate moviegoers threatening boycott if Walker did not, in his next film, deliver everything that the title promised in spades.

Duly chastised, Walker started work on the next script sitting on his desk. That script (in my imaginary scene) was a variation on the old Phantom of the Opera story, with a group of groovy, attractive young actors rehearsing a play that could be their big break, all the while stalked by a faceless, murderous shadow. The title, printed in block capitals across a coffee-stained title page, was THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW.

In my mind, Pete Walker smiles. This, he thinks, I can deliver.

The movie opens on a foggy oceanscape, while a bit of pre-credits text informs us that, at a certain "easily recognisable" section near the climax of the movie to follow, we should all don our manager-provided 3-D glasses so that we can "experience the pleasures of three dimensions!" As a dvd viewer of the 21st century, I was already a bit disheartened. Where were MY glasses? How would I experience these promised pleasures? If only I could magically whisk myself back to the early 70s in London, I could don those papery glasses and ogle the miniskirted birds and their go-go boots to my heart's content. Ah well, many of us are born well past the era we were made for...

Shaking off my disappointment, I tried my best to throw myself into the images on screen, which wasn't hard as Walker immediately gives us a scream and some blood! The red stuff flows into the tide under a boardwalk/pier theatre, eerily reminiscent of the salt lake pleasure palace of Carnival of Souls. Before we can get too creeped out, however, Walker sets to work fulfilling the other half of the requirements, as a pair of sleeping Anglohotties are awakened in the middle of the night by a pounding at their door. One of them, bodacious blonde Carol (Luan Peters), rushes to answer the call--completely in the buff! The delights continue when she opens the door--NUDE--to find gangly colleague John (David Howey) clutching a bloody knife embedded in his abdomen! He stumbles in and expires, only to leap up a moment later revealing it was all a gag--but not before Walker gives us more than an eye-full of Luan's wonderfully jiggling talents.

Flesh--check. Blood--check. Now we can get on with the show!

Carol prefers the sheepskin.

As it turns out, joker John and eventually-clothed Carol are both actors, recently cast in a theatrical production called (wait for it!) The Flesh and Blood Show, along with Carol's roommate Jane. (Meta-fiction, anyone? Ooh, I'll have some, thanks!) Before you can say 'ow's yer father? the three are on their way to the seaside resort from the opening credits.

Once there they check out the theatre, which has been abandoned since a mysterious incident during the war (cue ominous music). There they find their director Mike and a few of the other cast members--one of them a buxom Eurobabe asleep in the auditorium, inexplicably topless! There's also another "fake death" thrown in just for laffs, making the audience start to wonder if they can ever trust what the director is showing them.

The production is to be a cutting-edge theatrical experience with no set script, entirely improvised by the actors. This means pretty much anything goes when the actors are "performing," and in the first improvisational scene we find them screeching and dancing around the stage in caveman outfits, with plenty of cleavage and wigging out. The impoverished actors decide to bed down in the theatre itself to save money during rehearsals, and Carol immediately drags Aussie castmate Tony into one of the old dressing rooms for a bit of slap and tickle, while the topless sleeper Angela puts lesbonic moves on Jane, with John watching frustrated from the sidelines. 20 mins in, and the flesh requirement for this and three more flicks like it is more than satisfied!

Unga Bunga.

But we're not done! After a creepy interlude in which the Phantom of the Theatre breathes heavily over the sleeping forms of the exhausted actors, John the Joker and Angela the lesbian thespian turn up missing. The cast does a quick search under the stage, discovering a giant evil jester's head, creepy realistic mannequins, and a working guillotine! Working too well, as it turns out, when Mike discovers Angela's head sitting on a shelf in the basement! Not wanting to panic his actors, Mike goes for the police himself and returns to find the head is missing and John is back and accounted for. Is this another one of the gruesome practical jokes we've come to expect? Is John the sinister shadow? Is something more dastardly going on here?

Next the final member of the cast shows up, up-and-coming movie star Julia Dawson (Jenny Hanley). She bunks down with Carol and Tony, and the Aussie's roving eyes while Julia strips down in the dressing room get his blonde bunkmate's Irish up. (I have to note that Hanley makes use of a glaringly obvious body-double here, whose breasts are easily two cup sizes larger than the actress's--not that I'm complaining.) Mike finds a note from Angela saying she's quitting the play, and while the cast goes out for breakfast (and putting each other through even MORE practical jokes, such as the time-honored severed-hand sandwich), we are treated to some hair-raising crazy-laughter from the Phantom under the sage, very reminiscent of similar noises from the unknown maniac in Bob Clark's Black Christmas. And that's a very, very good thing.

It quickly becomes apparent that the laughs are on the cast though, as after Angela's SMOKIN' HAWT replacement Sarah shows up (Oh Candace Glendenning, oh won't you be mine?) the Phantom kicks it into high gear and starts offing actors left and right. Julia and Mike practice amateur psychology and professional hanky-panky, Carol is attacked by an extremely creepy Innsmouth-esque hobo, John disappears, the management behind the play proves suspiciously elusive, and a pair of dessicated corpses under the stage point toward a terrifying secret long buried that their play has brought bubbling to the surface.

"May I hang up that shirt for you, Ms. Glendenning?"

There's a lot more to this movie--several twists and turns, condescending cops and kindly old ladies, and a 3-D sepia-toned flashback that goes on for ten minutes and as far as I could tell only twice makes use of the 3-D effects (unless perhaps the full-frontal nudity in this section--both male and female--made use of it...I couldn't tell)--but it all leads up to a fairly well-telegraphed reveal and a satisfying, scenery chewing crazy speech of the kind I love so much. And if that weren't enough, we get an extra five minutes of the surviving cast members sitting around on stage explaining what just happened and why, though it's not at all clear how they arrived at their intricate knowledge of events that occurred well before their own births. After laying out the audacious explanation, one of the actors exclaims, "It could almost make a movie script!" Oh, Pete, you sly devil. Say no more.

For me, this movie is one big hunk of steaming joy. Copious, absolutely gratuitous nudity? A slavering maniac? Meta posturing? Crazy 70s muttonchops? Sex, sex, and more sex? Occasional perversity and bloodletting? Intermittent effective creepiness? Shakespeare? SIGN ME UP.

Though in the final analysis it's a little bit light on the "blood," the "flesh" side of the equation delivers more than you could possibly hope for. The women are gob-smackingly gorgeous (particularly Ms. Glendenning, who gets a very memorable exit), the acting's enthusiastic and compelling, the set and Phantom are suitably creepy, and it's just batshit insane enough to keep you smiling even through the somewhat slow-moving flashback sequence.

"Robin Williams in Richard III? NOOOOOOOOO!"

3+ thumbs for this exploitative almost-meta proto-slasher boob-fest. See it soon.

And Pete--I'll never doubt your word again. :)

Thanks once more to Karswell for providing the pixels. You rock!


Karswell said...

I thought you'd like this one... I like it alot too but believe it or not though it's my least favorite Pete Walker film!

And you stay away from Candace Glendenning, she's all miiiiine!

The Vicar of VHS said...

Well, flipping through the three or four other PW films you flung at me a couple of weeks ago, I'm definitely looking forward to giving them a look!

So you like Die Screaming, Marianne better than this? Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed DSM, but this just seems over and above and beyond it in so many ways...

Karswell said...

I guess I sort of like Die Screaming Marianne about the same... I love Susan George though so maybe that's why it gets a better tip. Although! If I were standing in a room with her and Candace Glendenning and the choice was given to me to take either one back home for some free, no holes barred playtime I think I'd appreciate Flesh and Blood Show better as a movie. If you get my meaning...

PS: Did you get your fishing horror post I left for you this morning? ha ha

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