POINT OF TERROR
Color, 1971, 87m.
Directed by Alex Nicol
Starring Peter Carpenter, Dyanne Thorne, Lory Hansen, Leslie Simms, Joel Marston
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9),, Scorpion Releasing (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Rhino (US R1 NTSC)
One of the most outrageously dishonest ad campaigns of all time surrounded Blood Mania, a trashy thriller trotted around drive-ins throughout the '70s and even the early '80s to lure in unsuspecting patrons with artwork depicting skeleton hands, vampire-fanged vixens, and of course, lots of blood and cleavage. Granted, you do get some T&A and a little bit of gore at the end, but otherwise this is a "psychological thriller" that plays more like a sleazy Los Angeles riff on those psycho imitations Hammer Films cranked out for a decade.
Victoria (De Aragon) is what you might call an unstable girl, though part of the problem may be the company she keeps. Her lust for beefcake doctor Craig Cooper (Carpenter) gives her the brilliant idea of coaxing along her father to the grave in order to provide him with money to pay off a nasty blackmailer, Larry (Blanton), who's been keeping secrets about Cooper's abortion service during med school. When Victoria's father (who also happens to be Cooper's boss at the hospital) finally dies, the money and the estate pass on to Victoria's sister instead, triggering a deadly chain reaction.
Blood Mania has the basic ingredients for a trashy good time: inept animated opening credits that segue into nightmarish footage of a woman running past colored gel lighting, a labyrinthine plot laced with scuzzy elements like murder and rampant sex, and a slinky female lead whose weird paintings indicate something isn't quite right upstairs. On the other hand, there's a lot of chit chat (at least with the characters in various skimpy or absent outfits at random intervals), which will annoy anyone expecting monsters and knife attacks. That means what you really get here is kitsch value galore, as this is best seen as part of an unholy trinity from star Peter Carpenter, a wildly exhibitionistic actor/producer who captured a certain down-market atmosphere of areas around L.A. in this and its two companion films, Love Me Like I Do and the astonishing Point of Terror (both opposite Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS’s Dyanne Thorne), the latter finally reunited with this film in 2017 courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome. (More on that below.) This is quite the time capsule of locales, outfits, and hairdos from the post-hippie period, complete with tacky swimming pools, diaphanous nightgowns, and highly questionable choices in men's pants. The cast also includes the always colorful Alex Rocco (after his stint with Russ Meyer on Motorpsycho!), and De Aragon, who's marginally compelling in the most dynamic role of the film, was reportedly also the one inside Greedo's costume in the original Star Wars.) For shock value this is pretty much a complete bust, but if you want a surreal dip into prime SoCal trash filmmaking with no artistic value whatsoever, this is pure nirvana.
Blood Mania has been issued many, many times on home video over the years, including a solo release from Rhino in an attractive open matte transfer later rehashed on some Crown International-themed sets including Gorehouse Greats and Drive-In Cult Classics: Volume 3 from Mill Creek. The 2012 Code Red release does them one better with a brand new anamorphic transfer (off the negative as usual, so it still looks great), and the advances since its last telecine pass mean it looks great here with every bit of eye-popping color intact. The opening credits are a particular treat with heavy primary colors washing all over the screen for a psychedelic nightmare sequence that promises something far more macabre than the feature that actually follows. Director Robert Vincent O'Neill (simply credited as Robert O'Neill on this one), who also helmed Wonder Women, The Psycho Lover, and the classic Angel, turns up for a fun audio commentary with Leslie Simms (Carpenter’s real-life acting teacher), who plays the most unglamorous role in the film as Nurse Turner. Moderated by Jeff McKay, it's a humorous conversation covering everything from Carpenter's real name and background, the varying levels of the cast's comfort with doing nudity, the creation of the wacko music score, the filming locations around Los Feliz, the genius of cinematographer Gary Graver, and the ambition of the lighting and production values for an $80,000 budget. Then Peters (who looks great) appears for an on-camera video interview in which she chats for 10 minutes about her love for working with O'Neill, the "creepy but fun" process of dying in a movie and getting stained by fake blood (and its unfortunate hair loss effects), and her memories of her co-stars. The insane theatrical trailer is also included. Packaged as part of the "Maria's B-Movie Mayhem" line, this can be played with hostess and WWE star Maria Kanellis cutting up before and after the feature as well as a second movie, Land of the Minotaur. This is the American edition of The Devil's Men (available in its much raunchier European version with a great rock theme song from Scorpion), so click on that link if you'd like to read more about this odd Greek horror outing with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasence. Even the packaging can't muster up much enthusiasm here ("Same 16x9 version that came out in many previous multi-packs!"), so think of it as a bonus freebie. And yeah, that one's been shuffled around on several sets from BCI and Mill Creek over the years, though at least the compression here is better than some of its more recent incarnations.
The first thing you need to know about the following year’s Peter Carpenter concoction Point of Terror is that, contrary to the title itself and the lurid poster art, it is also not a horror film. The loopy '70s drive-in upstarts at Crown International shuffled this baby around for years on double bills trying to pass it off as an extreme slasher film, but ticked-off viewers were instead confronted with an absurd, campy murder melodrama, bathed in psychedelic lighting and ripe overacting. Imagine the counterculture acid-trip marvel Cult of the Damned smashed together with a soapy Lana Turner thriller like Portrait in Black or The Big Cube, and that might begin to convey the sheer unbridled insanity awaiting in this giant, lovable hunk of celluloid Limburger.
The one element that really puts this over the top from the opening frames is Carpenter, here playing a Tom Jones look alike and exploiting his singularly strange onscreen presence to the max. The fun starts as lounge singer Tony Trelos (Carpenter) belts out a song over the main credits in an eye-searing red fringe outfit, only to wake up on the beach screaming from his own performance. His hysteria is cut short by a passerby, buxom Andrea Hillard (Thorne), wearing the world's first frumpy bikini. Not minding that he's trespassing on her beach, they strike up a rapport that continues when she decides to catch his act at The Lobster House (a real location!) where he charms the crowd with another pop ditty. They begin an affair that leads to a boost in Tony's recording career, but things take a downturn when Andrea decides to bump off her wheelchair-bound recording maven husband (Marston) by chucking him in the swimming pool. Then there's Andrea's sexy young stepdaughter, Helayne (Hansen), who also shares Tony's bed (or couch, or car seat). Naturally, this can only end in screaming and violence.
As long as you know what you're getting into, Point of Terror is one hell of a good time. Rampant fashion violations, loud musical numbers, obscene checkered furniture, violent dream sequences, ratty wigs, equal opportunity nudity, saturated primary color lighting years before Suspiria, and reams of purple, sex-obsessed dialogue will keep even the most seasoned trash fanatic giddy with disbelief. While Blood Mania might be tacky fun, this is definitely Peter Carpenter's bonkers masterpiece. Unfortunately he died a few years after completing his mighty trilogy (the exact year seems to be in dispute), but thankfully this film remains to convince generations of viewers that the '70s were a filmmaking decade truly unlike any other. The scene in which Thorne lures her husband to his death while the soundtrack explodes with bullfighting taunts should be enough to convince any doubters, but then the plot turns, corkscrews, and flips upside down for the final third, and you' really won't believe the last-second twist ending. A lot of credit must also go to director Alex Nichol, busy TV actor who also helmed The Screaming Skull and several television episodes. God knows what he and all four of the writers were smoking when they made this, but it must have been great. Oh yeah, and did you know that it was edited by Verna Fields, who won an Oscar for Jaws four years later?
Point of Terror first appeared on DVD as part of Rhino's Horrible Horrors collection in what was easily the best transfer of the lot, though the open matte presentation exposed a huge amount of extraneous picture information on the top and bottom that constantly threw the compositions out of whack. The 2010 Scorpion special edition version wisely gives the film a spotlight all its own and restores the original widescreen framing, while the image quality is better with stronger color definition. It's really quite a work of hideous beauty, though for some inexplicable reason, some players revealed a heavy crawling dot pattern over the yellow opening credits and occasionally throughout on bright objects. Extras include the very misleading theatrical trailer, a telephone interview with Thorne (who talks about her early career and memories of Carpenter, but it's difficult to make out some of her comments), and a more informative interview with co-star Simms (who plays Thorne's best friend in the film and has another really unflattering hairdo), who covers everything from his real name to her repeated admiration for his physique. She reveals he had no singing experience before the film (which doesn't come as a huge shock) and discusses how she found out about his death as well as his "nice" stripper girlfriend at the time.
Now flash forward to 2017, with both Carpenter films issued as a fascinating double feature by Vinegar Syndrome containing fresh HD transfers of both titles from the typically immaculate Crown negatives (they look staggeringly good with very vibrant but nicely balanced colors) on separate Blu-ray and DVD discs with loads of extras, plus a bonus DVD containing the radically reworked TV versions of both films! VHS collectors in the ‘80s would occasionally stumble on these aberrant cuts that were accidentally issued by a couple of indie companies, but it’s great to finally have them back in circulation for comparison. (Sinister Cinema offered an extended sort-of composite with the TV cut as a 105-minute release if you’re really a completest.) The Blood Mania TV version clocks in 10 minutes (90 mins. now), but since a huge amount of nudity and violence has been excised and been replaced with more added footage, there's actually a lot more added than initially meets the eye with an entire added subplot about the greedy family nurse that pushes the soap opera angle even harder than before (not to mention a completely cracked scene involving a giant dog being fed for what feels like three hours in bed). It's pretty hilarious to see how a doctored still frame is used to get around some tricky censorship issues with the final scene, too. The Point of Terror TV version runs 91 mins. and features a similar scenario with excised material being replaced by entirely new scenes, here including a long and hysterically digressive flashback showing Carpenter's destitute and bullied childhood. The final act is also padded with a long comical(?) scene involving a piggish cop recapping much of the action on the phone while stuffing his mouth and providing an array of nasty sound effects.
As for other extras, Blood Mania features a new audio commentary with O'Neill and Simms, this time joined by Peters and minus a moderator; several new stories trickle through here including lots of recollections about the main house location, the joys of dancing in Las Vegas, and much more. There's a fair amount of dead air here though so be prepared to have your remote handy. O'Neill also appears for a quick video intro and an 8-minute video interview about how he went from theater into filmmaking and "schooled myself" while shooting this film and learned how to shoot and cut scenes together. Also included are a 14-minute video interview with Simms about her entire acting career (including her teaching and her friendship with student Carpenter including a sweet story about having to pay her taxes), very psychedelic theatrical trailers and TV spots for both films, and promotional galleries for both films (3 mins. and 1 min. respectively) including a tons of saucy nude shots from Blood Mania, in case the movie itself didn't deliver enough already.