by Steve Habrat
The trashy 1965 Italian giallo/exploitation horror film Bloody Pit of Horror makes a lot of promises with its gruesome title but misses the secret ingredient for a lasting exploitation classic. You’d think that the film, directed by Massimo Pupillo, would posses at least one nasty scene of torture or bloodletting that would back up the misleading title stamped across it. Well folks, Bloody Pit of Horror has no bloody pit of horror to speak of and frankly, not much of the red stuff at all. In fact, Bloody Pit of Horror is an artless work that is eye grabbing with it’s gaudy set pieces but off putting due to its poor dubbing, cheesy acting, and yawn inducing torture sequences. Shaved down to a measly hour and fourteen-minute runtime, the film is brief but that doesn’t make it painless. I can’t honestly say that anything really picks up when the violence erupts but it does become an unintentionally hilarious film set to a wailing jazz score.
Bloody Pit of Horror picks up with a group of sexy models and a photography crew on the prowl for the perfect gothic location to carry out a photo shoot for the covers of some trash horror novels. They stumble upon the secluded gothic castle in the countryside that they believe to be abandoned, deeming it the perfect place to stage their morbid photo shoot. It turns out that the castle belongs to a former actor named Travis Anderson (Played by Mickey Hargitay) who demands that they leave the castle. Just as the group is leaving, Travis recognizes one of the girls, Edith (Played by Luisa Baratto), who happens to be an ex-girlfriend. Upon learning this, he decides to let the uninvited guests stay for one evening and do their work. As the group explores the sprawling castle, one of the male models in the group is gruesomely killed and it seems that the murder was caught on camera. The group slowly learns that the castle is the home of a vengeful spirit known as The Crimson Executioner, who is accidentally unleashed and posses Travis. Travis begins donning the costume of The Crimson Executioner, rounding up members of the group, and placing them in elaborate torture devises.
Bloody Pit of Horror is only notable due to the madcap performance from Hargitay, an ex-Mr. Universe bodybuilder, who is so over-the-top, you have to see it to believe it. It doesn’t start out this way, as Hargitay is fairly controlled in the opening half-hour. Half the time, Bloody Pit of Horror seems like just a vehicle to showcase Hargitay’s tanned physique and juxtaposing it with a handful of gorgeous women known as “The Cover Girls”. This makes Bloody Pit of Horror come off like some bizarre fetish picture rather than a serious horror film (the girls emit orgasmic like sounds as they are tortured, none of their shrieks echoing with terror), which it boldly tries to be. Don’t fret, it’s not scary in the slightest, mostly due to how poorly the film has aged. There are several long, drawn out sequences where Travis babbles on about the importance of his physique as he oils himself up and flexes his pectoral muscles, Mind you, he does this all while he is trying to be menacing and intimidating. I half expected him to pick up some weights and start working out! Go ahead, I’ll wait while you laugh.
There is one scene in Bloody Pit of Horror that is somewhat inspired and memorable. A scene involving one of the models strapped to a giant spider-web as a giant fake spider slowly bobs towards her. The fake spider has venom in its fangs and if it reaches her, the fang will prick her and kill her. The room is guarded with several bow-and arrows that are rigged to shoot anyone who dares venture into the room and tries to aid the poor gal. One of the men attempts to try to navigate the room without triggering the traps to save the shrieking girl from certain death. It’s the only truly tense and arty moment that Bloody Pit of Horror has to offer. The rest of the film just sits stationary while the actors spout off ridiculous dialogue (“Only a CREEP would live here!”) and director Pupillo devises ways to strip the entire female cast of their clothing. He does this by creating elaborate torture devises that slowly rip away bras and cut up the girl’s chests.
Bloody Pit of Horror is a very colorful film, featuring eye-popping reds and greens for the viewer to marvel at (one of the very few things to marvel at, might I add). The cinematography is pretty good for a Z-grade picture, but I wish that the people behind the camera would have taken a few risks and given their work some movement and personality. It’s hard to believe the film operates in the same giallo genre as the work of Dario Argento (a director who wouldn’t emerge of the filmmaking scene until 1970), who danced with the camera every chance he got. Many of the grind house films of the time carried titles that made a lot of promises but never truly delivered on those promises and Bloody Pit of Horror happens to be one of those movies. As far as titles go, Bloody Pit of Horror ranks as one of the best, featuring a title that is infinitely better than the movie itself (The film has carried several titles over the years including The Crimson Executioner, The Scarlet Executioner, and Some Virgins for the Hangman, to name a few). There is one thing going for Bloody Pit of Horror—it acts as a cure for insomnia!
Bloody Pit of Horror is available on DVD.
by Steve Habrat
Italian giallo filmmaker Dario Argento is most known for his collaboration with zombie godfather George Romero on 1978’s Dawn of the Dead and for his eccentric 1977 supernatural horror film Suspiria. While Suspiria may be his most popular work, perhaps his best film is Deep Red, a pulpy and off the wall serial killer thriller that packs somersaulting camera work, gallons of bright red blood, and a scene involving a puppet that would make Saw’s Jigsaw wet his britches. Now, you’re probably wondering what the term “giallo” means. Giallo, which is Italian for yellow, was the nickname for any suspense thriller, crime, or mystery tale that tended to be a bit pulpy. This term could refer to any thriller from any country but in Italy, it really took off and the film critic turned filmmaker Dario Argento was one of its frontrunners. The Italian giallos tended to be operatic, extremely gory, loaded with stylish camerawork, and huge amounts of gratuitous sex and nudity. The term refers to pulp novels that began in 1929 and featured distinctive yellow covers.
Deep Red begins with the murder of pretty German psychic medium named Helga Ulmann (Played by Macha Meril) just hours after she picks up the thoughts of a serial killer. Simultaneously, an English pianist named Marcus Daly (Played by David Hemmings) is chatting with his drunken friend Carlo (Played by Gabriele Lavia) outside the apartment where the murder is taking place. Suddenly, Helga’s body smashes through a window and in all the excitement, Marcus dashes up to the apartment to help Helga out. Once inside the apartment, he begins to realize that something is different about the crime scene. Teaming up with a peppy and self-assured photojournalist named Gianna Brezzi (Played by Daria Nicolodi), Marcus begins investigating the murders and attempting to solve what was different about he crime scene. As the investigation continues, the body count begins to rise and Marcus finds himself the target of the mysterious killer with a fetish for dolls and a spine-chilling children’s song.
Unshakably disturbing and unique, Deep Red is Argento at his absolute finest. Everything from Argento’s camera work, to the performance from David Hemmings, to Goblin’s funky score mesh to create something that still stands out today. It’s a special film that seems like something Alfred Hitchcock would have made while he was under the influence of a psychedelic drug. Deep Red also enjoys getting us in on the action and allowing us to play detective along side Marcus. Argento, however gives us one clue that he doesn’t give to Marcus: an eyeball with caked on eyeliner. Because of this tease, I found myself focusing on the eyes of every single character that wore eyeliner from there on out. But Argento is just toying with us and getting amusement out of our detective work. Every time I spotted the thick eyeliner, I would convince myself that I had figured out the identity of the shadowy menace and when the killer is finally revealed, it was the last person I expected it to be. This clue also gives Deep Red a white-knuckle unpredictability. The killer could be anyone and strike at any moment. It generates a colossal amount of dread throughout the course of its runtime. Argento, you clever cat!
Deep Red’s style doesn’t end with its standout score or Argento’s sumptuous touches. He molds the film into a full-blown opera that brings the chandelier down on the viewer. His camera sophisticatedly dances with the death on screen, making us fidget due to his restlessness. When Argento does remain motionless, he springs a creepy doll on us that sent me about three inches off the couch I was sitting on. Argento doesn’t skimp on filling his tracking shots with opulent colors, flamboyant backdrops, echoes of discreet sexuality, and soft melodrama. The finished product is distinctly European with images that belong in a gaudy gold frame.
David Hemming as the protagonist every-man Marcus is another victory for Deep Red. He certainly is the furthest thing from a masculine protagonist! At times, when we really pay close attention to his reactions to the horror playing out around him, he conveys the scared-for-life terror that an average person would in the situations he finds himself in. He was just a man going about his business when his world came crashing in on him (symbolically and literally). At one moment, the killer stalks him in his own apartment and his trepidation makes your arm hair stiffen. He leaps like a flailing madman at his door to slam it shut. Sure that is what most people would do in a situation like that, but his frozen anticipation is what really plays with us. Did he just hear that creak? Is he really hearing that faint music? Is someone really out there in the hallway? It is moments like this that Deep Red flirts with the supernatural. Ghost stories are whispered, superstitions are discussed, and the killers prolonged stalking of their victims are imperceptibly ghost-like in nature.
Deep Red becomes a classic case of style over substance, but this is not to say that the substance isn’t well done. While the plot is bursting with the spirit of Hitchcock and you will find yourself immersed in the whodunit, its Argento’s approach that overshadows the story. The style sticks in your head long after it has ended. But Argento also seems hellbent on playing with the conventions of a masculine hero, one who is bumbling and imperfect trying to operate in a world that is controlled by strong women (get a load of the arm wrestling scene). Baroque, chic, and glamorous, Deep Red is an undisputed classic among horror films from the heyday of the genre. It stands out because it lacks a gritty approach, which was how most directors were approaching the genre at this time. But Deep Red is polished and squeaky clean, then rolled in a whole bunch of glitter and handed a meat cleaver.
Deep Red is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.