Revenge of the Blood Beast (Il Lago Di Satana)
Studio: Raro Video
Jan 17, 2017 Web Exclusive
British director and screenwriter Michael Reeves made only four movies before dying of an accidental prescription drug overdose at the age of 25, never having risen to his full potential as a filmmaker. Best known for his cult final feature, Witchfinder General, starring Vincent Price, by all accounts he sounds like quite a character. A reputed film obsessive, particularly of golden age horror films, the young auteur fit a lot of filmmaking into his cut-short career, making movies which also starred Christopher Lee and Boris Karloff. Revenge of the Blood Beast (or, under it’s more fitting title: The She Beast) was Reeves’ second film: a weird mélange of ‘50s creature features from the United States and the Hammer horror flicks of ‘60s Britain, with some flashes of the ultra-bright colors that might suggest it was one of the many precursors to the hyper-stylized Italian horror flicks that came later.
The film opens in 18th Century Transylvania – a place I’m assuming was just chock full of vampires and other ghouls in that era – as children are disappearing from a tiny village and the locals (correctly, it turns out) are pointing the blame at a hideous witch. A lynch mob forms at the local chapel, and they chase the old hag out of her cave on the side of a hill. This is your traditional, monsterish witch: not an ounce of beauty about her, but a shrieking beast with skin like black, melted wax, a waggling tongue and bleeding eyes. She manages to kill a few of her attackers with a rusty scythe before she’s tackled, bound, and dragged down to the lake to be executed. As she’s crucified and tied to an obscure, witch-drowning contraption, she belts out one final curse upon the village – that she will return to have her revenge on their descendants.
After this tense, well-made opening, Revenge of the Blood Beast goes a little bonkers. We skip to the 1960s, where we're introduced to British newlyweds Philip (Ian Ogilvy) and Veronica (the great Barbara Steele) as they’re cruising across Europe in their Volkswagen Beetle. They, of course, spend a night in the small accursed town on the very anniversary of the witch’s death, where a pervy innkeeper (Mel Welles) watches them make love through a crack in their window. On their way out the next morning, Philip loses control of their bug and steers it into the lake; he survives, but Veronica is missing. The only other body recovered from the wreck, it happens, is the withered old body of the witch, who wakes up ready and rearing for revenge. Philip’s only hope is to seek the help of an old drunk named Van Helsing – yes, he’s related to that Van Helsing – to exorcise the witch and save his beautiful wife.
Although she received top billing, Reeves was only able to hire Barbara Steele for a single day of work, shooting all of her scenes in just one 18-hour span. (She still manages to appear in a surprising percentage of the film’s runtime – and, trust me, you can tell they rushed through these scenes.) Tone, however, is where the film runs into problems. Blood Beast is all over the place – scenes of horror and violence are often undercut by sudden, slapstick humor. (The final showdown isn’t an exorcism with the nefarious witch, like you’d expect, but a long, goofy chase sequence with a trio of bumbling police that looks and feels like a Benny Hill Show sketch.) This weird juxtaposition, however, is the most intriguing element of Blood Beast, and one that b-movie fans will probably get their kicks from – just don’t come expecting any real amount of horror.
Raro’s new HD transfer looks gorgeous, with the colors really popping from the screen and very little damage noticeable. Bonus materials include a nice, long interview with actress Barbara Steele concentrating heavily on the beginning to middle of her career, as well as a booklet essay which talks about Reeves’ life and work. It receives our recommendation to Barbara Steele fans, or those interested in more obscure pieces of Euro horror.
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