Sunday, 20 April 2008

Blood Sabbath (1972)

The title and the extraordinarily lurid cover of Blood Sabbath might lead you to believe you’re in for a rather sleazy slice of satansploitation. Actually, it’s not really that type of movie at all. What it is in fact is a very strange brew indeed. It’s partly a fairy tale love story, about a Vietnam veteran named David who falls in love with a water nymph. Water nymphs don’t have souls, so although she loves him they can’t be together as long as he has a soul. He decides that love is something that is worth giving up your soul for. It’s also a movie about witchcraft. A village in Mexico (which is where the movie takes place) has made an agreement with a local coven of witches; each year they will give up a child to the witches and in return the witches will guarantee a good harvest. The witches also have the power to take a person’s soul, and since David doesn’t want his soul he is happy to come to an agreement with them. This sounds like familiar horror movie territory, but again Blood Sabbath defies expectations. The horror content of this movie is minimal. It’s much closer in feel to a couple of British movies made at about the same time, The Wicker Man and the criminally underrated Eye of the Devil, in that it attempts to deal seriously with paganism as an alternative religion. It’s actually more sympathetic to the pagans than either of the British films however. Extremely surprising indeed for a 1972 American horror movie. I suspect that the reason Blood Sabbath is such an odd movie is that it was, very unusually for that time, directed by a woman. Like Stephanie Rothman’s 1971 The Velvet Vampire it’s very different from horror movies of that time directed by men. There is a positively astonishing amount of nudity in Blood Sabbath, but it’s done in a very matter-of-fact and casual manner, in marked contrast to the way nudity is handled in, for example, Hammer movies at that time, where it’s done as if it’s something naughty and furtive. The witches in Blood Sabbath run around the woods naked because they’re witches. That’s what witches do (at least that’s what most people in 1972 would have imagined that real witches do. There’s a scene where the witches try to seduce the village priest, and it becomes very clear that the conflict between the church and the witches in this movie is all about sex, and more specifically it’s all about female sexuality. The nudity is not only justifiable, it’s essential to the film. It’s also significant that these women are shown very clearly to be completely in charge of their own sexuality, and that they are never depicted as sexual victims. In its own way it’s a rather subversive little flick!

It has to be admitted that it does have some problems. Tony Geary is very bland as David, and Susan Damante isn’t much better as the nymph Yyalah. The mix of genres is sometimes a little uneasy, and the pacing drags a bit early on. And the transfer on the Region 4 DVD release is very poor. On the plus side Dyanne Thorne (yes, the notorious Ilsa herself) is great fun as the queen of the witches. And it’s an offbeat and original movie, and I think it’s worth giving it a chance.

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