Color, 1965, 86 mins. 27 secs. / 74 mins.
Directed by Massimo Pupillo
Starring Mickey Hargitay, Walter Brandi, Luisa Baratto, Ralph Zucker, Rita Klein, Barbara Nelly
Severin Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD), Ostalgica (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL), Artus (DVD) (France R2 PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9), Image Entertainment (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)
Originally released in Italy as Il boia scarlatto, this depraved mixture of cheesecake, beefcake, and campy torture devices stunned drive-in patrons in the '60s under the title Bloody Pit of Horror, promoted as a derivation of the writings of the Marquis De Sade. Whatever literary basis this film may have had goes flying out the window in the first scene, which finds a busload of models, writer Rick (The Playgirls and the Vampire's Brandi), and photographer Dermott (producer Zucker) crashing a remote, abandoned castle for a glossy horror novel photo shoot. However, the castle isn't completely empty; an unstable former Hollywood actor named Travis Anderson (Hargitay, husband of the late Jayne Mansfield) reluctantly allows them to stay as long as they don't go into his massive underground dungeon. Driven over the edge by the presence of his former sweetheart among the models, Travis assumes the persona of the Crimson Executioner, a puritanical torturer from the 17th Century and psychopathic male physique model. He then proceeds to subject the infiltrators to a variety of tortures ranging from the rack to his ingenious "spiderweb," and not everyone will make it out alive.
Though he never really became a movie star in his own right, Hargitay is the real show here. His bizarre career in Italian horror, which led to such oddities as Delirium and The Reincarnation of Isabel, really started with his stint here, running around barechested in red tights, rubbing his oiled torso, and gushing endlessly about his perfect physique. The bland starlets pretty much pale in comparison, prancing around in bikinis but failing to stand out as characters. However, scream queen spotters should look for giallo regular Femi Benussi, who later popped up in Hatchet for the Honeymoon and Strip Nude for Your Killer. Though not artfully made, Bloody Pit looks for all the world like a sordid '60s comic sprung to life, its decadent fumetti pages spilling one after the other as scantily clad female forms are transfixed in a variety of fetish-oriented tableux. Add to that a funky, hilariously inappropriate jazz and funk score, and you've got a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience guaranteed to liven any party.
Though it was widely circulated on the public domain market, Bloody Pit of Horror shot up a few notches in Euro horror awareness in 1993 when Something Weird unearthed a longer alternate English-language print entitled A Tale of Torture, prepared before Pacemaker removed ten minutes of dialogue from the familiar drive-in version. The image quality was adequate at best, but it was a nice recovery all the same. Something Weird's DVD (one of its earliest out of the gate in 2000 through Image Entertainment) offers a stunningly colorful print of the familiar 74-minute cut of Bloody Pit of Horror, letterboxed (but not anamorphic) and in marvelous condition, with the extra trims and alternate credits (25m14s) included as a supplement. The sound on this film has never been outstanding, but its flaws may be more readily apparent on DVD with some age very apparent at times. The disc also includes as astounding little mondo excerpt called "Cover Girl Slaughter" (25m14s) which features several models forced into increasingly outrageous violent poses for book covers, culminating in an unforgettable, Bava-like tracking shot from one setup to the other. Also included are a segment from Primitive Love (25m14s), a mondo comedy with Hargitay and Mansfield also on DVD, as well as the U.S. theatrical trailer ("My vengeance needs blood!") and a wild compendium of exploitation promotional art accompanied by lurid radio spots.
A pretty nice transfer popped up on French DVD in 2012 from notoriously English-phobic label Artus under the title Vierges pour le bourreau, but it only features the French dub or the Italian track with French subtitles; that release features scholar Alain Petit in a lengthy 28m4s assessment of Pupillo's career, in French only, plus a 1m54s gallery. As with other European releases, it runs faster (82m50s) due to PAL speed-up. Germany got its own release in 2015 from Ostalgica as a two-disc set, which seemed like a great deal until people actually laid eyes on the complete disaster it contained. The film features the German, Italian, and English tracks with optional English subtitles, but the film itself is rendered useless thanks to inept format conversion presented at 50i and the fact that both the English and German tracks are extremely out of sync. Extras include the German, U.S., and French trailers, two galleries, a 13m15s chuck of alternate edits from the U.S. version, the German main titles, the two English main titles, the Super 8 (14m35s) and B&W silent 16mm (3m59s) edits for home consumption, and the entire U.S. version with German and English audio.
After that fans of the film had to wait quite a while for a really worthwhile edition, but that day finally came in 2021 with a Blu-ray from Severin Films featuring an eye-popping, completely uncut presentation (complete with some quick peekaboo topless nudity if you don't blink). The quality easily blows away anything we've had before on home video, with that pivotal crimson costume now looking vivid and detailed without any NTSC or PAL issues causing it to glow or smear. Detail is pin-sharp throughout, and flesh tones finally look convincing. The source here is the Italian negative so it naturally has the Italian title card, but you can watch the film with the English or Italian tracks with translated or SDH English subtitles. It's a toss up which version is preferable; virtually everyone besides Hargitay was speaking Italian, so that's how it syncs up for most of the running time. However, the English sub is so outrageously pulpy it's almost hard to watch the film without it. Hargitay was speaking some kind of English dialogue on set, but his dialogue was clearly rewritten during the dubbing process as it very rarely comes remotely close to matching up. Extras here are pretty sparse, but you do get a new audio commentary by David DeCoteau and David Del Valle who focus a lot on Mickey Hargitay and the celebrity mystique around him as well as their memories of '60s drive-in movies, Italian Gothics, muscleman movies, etc. Also included are the U.S. trailer (complete with Something Weird bug) and the two English-language title sequences (4m33s) as Bloody Pit of Horror and A Tale of Torture, but fans will want to hang on to their old DVDs since it also has that extra Marquis De Sade bit at the beginning. Though it didn't make it in time to be included on the disc, Severin also has a great 24m59s interview with Pupillo by Roberto Curti that you can view here.
Updated review on November 25, 2021.