Friday, July 29, 2011

The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (1975): or, How to Get A Head (or 3) in the Theater

Nota bene: this movie is set in 1903 Ireland.
Still a great poster though.
Friends, I've seen enough 1970s Italian horror/thrillers by now to know that, just because a movie has a florid, poetic title doesn't necessarily mean said verse has anything at all to do with the film it precedes. So perhaps it was naive of me to expect that Alfredo Rizzo's 1975 Old Dark House thriller The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (La sanguisuga conduce la danza--a straight translation, for once!) would involve dancing, blood, and/or someone sucking it--possibly whilst calling out promenades and do-si-does.

It's the romantic in me.

Sadly it was not to be, but that's not to say there's nothing to enjoy here. We do get slutty actresses in Victorian gear, a rampantly religious butler, lesbonic room service and bi-curious chambermaids, not to mention at least three decapitations and as batshit an ending as you could ask for. Plus voyeurism and Scooby-Doo footprints. So really, one can't complain too much.

Let me show you what I mean.

One thing director Rizzo (a prolific actor when not behind the lens, whose filmography includes in Spirits of the Dead [1968], b-movie staple Bloody Pit of Horror [1965], and an uncredited role in one of Nazisploitation's nasty masterpieces, The Beast in Heat [1977]) really has going for him here is some fantastic sets and locations. Okay, maybe that's two things...anyway, here's an example:

Cobbled As Fuck
"And in this outbuilding--the Orgy Room!"
Okay, that's two examples. I think I need a new abacus.

Our story, such as it is, begins in IRELAND, 1902. While all the natives are dancing jigs, playing the tin whistle, and wondering where (the fuck) all these Italians came from, an all-girl theater troupe has just closed its last performance. The actresses are understandably worried about what they'll do now that their corned-beef-and-Chianti money has dried up. It's never really spelled out what their show entailed, but I'm guessing there was scandalous ankle-baring involved. That's just the kind of sluts they seem to be.

Well, all except Evelyn, played by the lovely and bodaciously endowed Patrizia De Rossi, aka Patrizia Webley, whom Mad Movie fans will remember at first glance from her memorable turn as adulterous bitch-in-law Nais in the mmmmmasterpiece Malabimba, THE MALICIOUS WHORE (1979)--a movie that, unlike this one, DOES live up to its title.

Here Patrizia plays the diametric opposite of that character, as Evelyn is the good girl of the troupe--a widowed singer who spends her days pining for her lost hubby and NOT abusing stage manager-gofer Samuel (Leo Valeriano), as all the other girls never miss an opportunity to do. Luckily Evelyn's girl-next-villa wholesomeness has attracted the attention of mush-mouthed aristocrat Count Richard Marnack (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart), who invites Evelyn and all her gal-pals to his secluded castle for an extended stay. Since no rich guy ever invites a group of loose women out to his country estate with anything but the noblest of intentions, the girls readily accept.

"That's right baby--I'm into the kinky stuff."
Not wanting to be entirely without chaperone (I said she was a good girl), Evelyn insists that sad-sack Samuel come along to protect them. Though exactly what protection they can expect from a milquetoast with bug-eyes and chicken arms whom they constantly berate and insult, and who furthermore looks like a mad-science genetic mash-up of Alan Cumming and Buster Keaton, is anyone's guess.


Out at the castle, the girls are greeted by Ice Queen-cum-Hausfrau Sybil, played with repressed sexual fury by Femi Benussi, whose high collars and ruffled cuffs can barely contain her voluptuousness. (If you'd like to see her a little less restrained--and really, you SHOULD--the Vicar recommends checking her out in Strip Nude for Your Killer [1975] where she...well, absolutely does that. Zang!)

Strip Nude for Your Vicar
Also on staff is butler Jeffrey (Mario De Rosa) an Evangelical Catholic given to calling down curses from the heavens the "LOOSE WOMEN! CREATURES OF THE DEVIL!" under their roof, whilst frantically stroking his King Jimmy. The fact that the troupe's HBIC Cora (Krista Nell, of the recently reviewed mannequin mystery The Red Headed Corpse) likes to get drunk and make sloppy passes at the Count, while lesbian lovers Rosalind and Penny  (Marzia Damon and Lidia Olizzi, like you care) won't even interrupt their frantic rug-brunching when innocent maid Mary (Barbara "Bang Bang" Marzano) comes a-knocking, unsurprisingly make the good Christian crusader blow a gasket.

"So I says to the theater owner, I says, 'If I'm working with a muthahumpin' DONKEY, I'm gonna need a MUCH bigger dressing room! HAW!"

"Dear Lord...please send me a poster for that wall!"

"Hey, I have to WASH those sheets, you know!"
Then again, that last episode does make the wide-eyed washer woman sufficiently curious to convince her coworker/roomate to make the Beast With Four Boobies with her, so maybe the belligerent butler has a point.

"Go on, squeeze 'em. They make squeeky noises."
Meanwhile, the Count has installed Evelyn in The Dragon Room, a suspiciously appointed fuckpad bedroom that just happens to share a door with his boudoir. A door that doesn't lock, and that he doesn't hesitate to rush through at the slightest sound of disturbance--in case Evelyn's having a bad dream, needs warm milk, or help unlacing her corset, I guess.

"If you need anything, madam, just massage the bedside dragon's prostate. I'll be here in a jiff."

To her credit Evie is not altogether on-board with this, even less so when she discovers a portrait of the Count's disappeared-and-presumed-dead wife, who of course (stop me if you've heard this one) looks EXACTLY like Evelyn!

"You've gotta be fuckin' kidding me."
But waitaminnit, you might be saying to yourself--lesbianism and Dragon Rooms are all well and good, but isn't this supposed to be a horror-thriller? Why no bloodshed? No carnage? No bumps in the night? (Besides lady-bumps, natch.) I admit I asked myself the same thing. Sure, there's the weirdness of the missing Countess; the constant abuse of the increasingly frustrated Samuel; the laser-like green beams of jealousy Sybil's eyes shoot at Evelyn every time the Count mutters his affections; the apocalyptic curses of St. Jeffrey whenever one of the girls gives him a hard-on; and the voyeuristic tendencies of brutish stablehand Gregory (Luciano Pigozzi, a familiar face to genre fans). But as fun as that is, Rizzo seems to be spending all his time establishing extremely plausible suspects, and absolutely no time giving us, you know, an ACTUAL CRIME. Which is kind of important in this sort of flick.

"I heard screaming!"
"Damn straight you did, Daddio."

And the set-ups continue for a bit yet. Gregory knows something about Sybil, something sufficiently embarrassing to enable the old codger to blackmail her for sex! Weirder still, she seems kind of into it. Also, turns out the Count's grandfather beheaded his grandmother for adultery...then 20 years later, the Count's father murdered his wife for the same reason before leaping into the sea! And the current Count (that's 3) keeps his father's dagger on display in the drawing room--the very weapon that MURDERED HIS OWN MOTHER. Nope, nuthin' weird about that! Oh, and the current Countess didn't disappear--she took a lover and ran away to the city before Marnack could complete the adultery triple-header!

Counter-intuitively, this makes Evelyn weirdly hot--she finally falls for the marble-chewing aristocrat, leading to a falling-in-love montage and mucho sexy time. And Cora, desperate for cock, beds a stocky fisherman, the son of Gregory. Jeffrey continues to wait for God's wrath to strike them all dead.

Fortunately for him (and us!) the wait is over!

How do ya like THEM apples?

Waiting for the Wig Fairy

"Don't ask me--I'm stumped."
(Spoilers, btw.)

Yes, in rapid succession Cora and the Lesbians (cool band name alert) have been dispatched, all of them beheaded! Is this the spirit of the Count's grandfather, wreaking ghostly vengeance via harlot-disposal? Has the Count himself, traumatized by the loss of his mother AND wife, finally snapped? Or is the snappee Jeffrey? Or Gregory? Or poor old beleaguered Samuel?


Does the fact that Evelyn was in an asylum before she joined the troupe, driven mad by the loss of her villager husband, signify at all? Is she actually the Count's amnesiac wife, returned for her cursed punishment? Or is there something far more sinister and STUPID going on?

"Come play with us, Danny."
Despite the lack of vampire square-dances, The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance is a gorgeous movie, full of sumptuous sets, grand locations, and some really beautiful compositions. Rizzo definitely has an eye for a nice visual, even if his sense of pacing is a bit off. But then he is Italian, so maybe that's genetically unavoidable.

Also in the plus column is the gorgeous cast. Webley and Benussi are a couple of the hotter 2nd-tier Eurobabes of the era for my money, and both are fairly good actresses to boot, at least on the sliding scale of 70s genre cinema. I do think Webley seems more comfortable in the "bitch" role a la Malabimba, and struggles a bit maintaining the innocence and vulnerability the role of Evelyn requires--particularly when she bursts out of her corset and beds the Count, getting down like no good girl should, IYKWIMAITYD. The other actresses are lovely and often nude, offering plenty of eye candy for those viewers to whom such trivial things are important.


It was a dark and horny night.

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall...who's the sluttiest of them all?"
"You are. Totes M'Goats."
"I...couldn't help overhearing."

Plot-wise, as I said, there's an awful lot of set-up for very little pay-off, but the set-up is fun in its own way. As long as you're not too worried about when exactly something will HAPPEN, you can sit back and enjoy Jeffrey's still-timely brand of hateful religiosity, Cora's harlotry, the Count's sometimes indecipherable Tommy Wiseau-esque dubbing, and the usual accumulation of nonsensical gothickry that make these old dark house movies such a joy to me.

And the final "reveal" is wacky even for this genre, including a detective who solves the crime by pulling completely fabricated guesses out of his ASS until he happens on the correct one by sheer luck (again, Italian); a confession that is false, unnecessary, and never explained; a SHOCK REVEAL that actually made me glee-squee a little; and enough nonsensical twists and turns to leave even a seasoned viewer wondering WTF just happened.

In short, a good time. 2.5 thumbs.

Still Yet MORE images from The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance (1975):
You tell me: is there a Volkswagen in this picture?

Buster Keaton in "Steamboat Bill's Night at the Bordello"

"I hate myself."
"I hate you too."

Late Bloomers

Worst. Gravedigger. EVER.

"Why, Johnny? Why? Johnny, why? Why?"


The Duke of DVD said...

What an insanely twisted movie, herr Vicar! It seems to have enough naked Euro-flesh in it to pass the Duke Quality Movie Test(tm). Fantastic review, I guffawed man times, sir.

Stephen Grimes said...

There's also a hardcore export version of this circulating.

Jenn said...

The title ALWAYS belie the goodness therein. I've always been romantic about this the other way around as well. And yes, I do see a Volkswagon in that screen shot.

J. Astro said...

Sounds like a charmer. I was suckered in immediately by the slightly naughty and oh-so-lurid cover.

Samuel Wilson said...

Lesbianism and killing and religious fanatics. That'll do. Thanks for pointing them out and adding another epic to my endless to-see list.

Giovanni Susina said...

Cool review Vicar… It’s nice to read a positive write up that doesn’t dismiss this movie as shit. Even though it was sleazy and nonsensical (nothing wrong with that), I was still intrigued. I enjoyed the mood setting campy synth score and Cora’s amusing and emasculating comments to Samuel.

I always try to understand the ending but it seems to be confusing and twisting just for the hell of it, and I love it. I think the fake confession from Samuel might have been him trying to get his balls back after all the abuse he’s taken.

Emily said...

This review entertained me immensely, and probably immensely more so than watching the film itself. Thank you.

The Vicar of VHS said...

Thanks everybody!

@The Duke--Yes, it definitely passes the Ducal Sniff Test™--which is more than can be said for that gypsy dancer who entertained at your soiree a fortnight ago. Egads!

@Stephen--I had no idea! But it makes sense, actually. I'm sure the hardcore inserts (ba-dump) don't really add much to the plot, however. ;)

@Jenn--I thought so!

@J. Astro--I just love that poster, partly b/c it's a beautiful work of art, but mostly b/c it has absolutely NOTHING to do with the movie. Based on that, you'd think you're in for a James Bond-ripoff spy caper, and instead you get turn-of-the-century Italo-Irish gothickry. Switcheroo!

@Samuel--glad to be of service, as always!

@Giovanni--I would change "Even though it was sleazy and nonsensical" to "BECAUSE it was sleazy and nonsensical"! When it comes to mad movie joy, that's what puts a spring in my step and starch in my monastic robes!

@Emily--you're too kind. But I think the movie is entertaining in its own right, if viewed in the proper frame of mind. And ain't nobody's mind framed like yours! ;)

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