For a while, it seemed like the rumors would turn out to be true. Months of speculation had concluded that Troma, the independent titan responsible for such memorable cult classics as The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet was on the verge of closing its doors forever. The production company, now largely in the business of distributing films produced outside their umbrella, had sunk all its cash into the demented zombie comedy Poultrygeist, and the lack of legitimate support from theater owners was driving founder Lloyd Kaufman and crew to the point of bankruptcy. There were even stories that inventory was being sold off and the main offices moved to the more “financially friendly” confines of New Jersey, the last desperate gasp of a business barely afloat.
Well, apparently, the gossip got it wrong. Sure, Troma left its Manhattan digs to travel over to the shores of its notorious neighbor, but this was done out of bold face necessity. Landlords raised their rent by a ridiculous amount, and there was no way the company could compete under such lend/lease larceny. Similarly, the lack of available product had nothing to do with a frantic fire sale. Instead, the business model mandated the push for Poultrygeist before unleashing another slew of digital delights. This past April saw the label finally return from the DVD dead, offering up the ganja goof Pot Zombies, and just last month, two more treats were unleashed on unsuspecting audiences everywhere. And just like other items in the cockeyed catalog, Bloodspit and Belcebu: Diablos Lesbos prove why, when it comes to sensational schlock, no one tops Troma.
Oddly enough, both movies come from outside the US. Australia is the setting for the story of a long dead vampire, back from the dead and desperate to retrieve a magical coat of arms. With the brand, the aging neckbiter can return to the land of mirrors (otherwise known as “Mirrorland”) and rejuvenate. While waiting to reclaim his birthright, he spends his off hours sexing it up with the hired help. Of course, his main nemesis, the wheelchair bound Dr. Ludvic, has discovered the power inherent in the tacky talisman, and the mad medico intends to use it to destroy the crafty Count Blaughspich (aka “Bloodspit”) once and for all - that is, if the demon’s wantonly wicked sister doesn’t stop him beforehand.
Spain is our next exotic location, and outside Madrid we meet up with a band of unhappy hookers. When heroin addict Mani gets involved in a robbery turned fatal, she spends time in prison. Upon release, she returns to her sex for sale ways. Meanwhile, her former boyfriend, a rocker named Toni, has magically transformed into Belcebu - a death metal menace whose unwieldy popularity has led to fan suicides and public censure. Hoping to find the sister - and sense of purpose - she left with the musician, Mani reconnects with him. Of course, by this time, Belcebu has successfully sold himself to the Devil. In return, he must make an annual sacrifice to the mangoat, and his ex may be the ritual’s main stage star.
As is typical with Troma, both of these movies are under the radar remnants of a DIY ethos that has long since stopped being practical within the artform. Sure, the current technology allows almost anyone to make their own damn movie (and even better, distribute it in a professional manner), yet when you watch either effort offered here, you get the distinct feeling of the personal passion the filmmakers had for their project more than any major moneymaking ideal. This is clearly the case with Bloodspit, which seems to be celebrating every outrageous horror spoof made in the last 20 years. Director Duke Hendrix, who co-wrote the wacky wayback weirdness with partner Leon Fish, fashions a kind of John Waters look at European exploitation, a movie with as much atmosphere as comic anarchy - and twice the tasteless tawdriness.
Drawing on sources as surreal as The Addams Family, Nosferatu, the typical Dracula dynamic and what appears to be the films of Chris Seaver, Hendrix and Fish proffer nonstop laughs, some wonderfully ridiculous characters, and more than a little unnatural skin. The ladies hired by the duo to do their flesh flashing dirty work give a new meaning to the word ‘dive bar’, yet they fit in perfectly with the pair’s aesthetic. Certainly, the level of toilet humor and dirty double entendre will remind one of the LBP universe. There are trips to the toilet bowl and graphic descriptions of human (and monster) genitalia, the whole thing reeking of middle schoolers mocking each others physical inadequacies. Hendrix and Fish also love accents. Between the Scots, the Brits, the Slavic and the just plain undecipherable, we are treated to a literal UN of vocal lunacy.
And yet thanks to the directorial style implied, an odd angle approach that utilizes the language of film as much as the dialogue of debauchery to get its point across, Bloodspit becomes a minor masterwork. Sure, it looses its bearings halfway through, demanding that the actors actually lift the narrative back on track, and if you’ve seen one Aussie stripper in her skivvies, reminding everyone that personal grooming and nutrition are actually GOOD things, but for the most part, this movie is terrifically entertaining. You can tell that Hendrix and Fish know their local lore. Peter Jackson and his pre-Rings gross out glory spews from every psycho shock sequence, and thanks to the ultra-low budget, imagination takes the place of production value. With pitch perfect performances from everyone involved, and a gamey grindhouse ideal at work, this is one incredibly infectious entertainment.
As silly as Bloodspit is, Belcebu is the exact opposite. This is a foreign film than takes itself far more seriously. Sure, there is a slightly satiric tone to the material, a Rosemary’s Baby like look at how the Devil controls all aspects of business and popular culture, but the real message behind Sergio Blasco’s self styled vanity project is that a life devoted to sex, drugs, and rock and roll can only lead to misery, addiction, and death. Starting off as a complicated character study before careening wildly over into pornography and a last act orgy of desecration and dismemberment, the writer/director/star accomplishes something quite rare. He makes us believe in the freakish and unfathomable while staying true to the blasphemous nature of the beliefs he is channeling. This is not your typical Satanic romp. Blasco really delves deep into the entire Black Mass basics.
Of course, we have to wade through Mani’s initial fall from grace, and there are times when Belcebu seems more interested in the life of a low rent hooker than dealing with its literal demons. The rock star storyline is frequently shuttled to the back so we can see our heroine shooting up, strung out, or slagging off. There are even moments reminiscent of Mamma Roma, when the local prostitutes hang out and trade secrets and safety tips. Blasco creates a real sense of community for his Spanish skanks, and it helps establish a tone of authenticity that supports the slam dunk surrealism to come. Indeed, once the professional cameraman Angel arrives on the scene, his oddball reaction to sex signifying that something is wrong with his supposedly straight machismo, we sense Belcebu beginning its turn. Sure enough, within seconds, Mani is a memory and its all soft core shuck and underworld jive.
Blasco looks the part of a long haired metal head, delivering his doom and gloom bombast in a manner that reflects every outsider rock act endlessly touring the club concert circuit. He lends his movie a real sense of scope. Similarly, the F/X work is very effective, gory and gruesome in that always welcome return to the practical and physical side of splatter. There are some sensational kills here, including a Cannibal Holocaust homage where a female victim is literally skewered from crotch to cranium, the massive pole then used as a statue for the rest of the dark ritual. There’s even a little winged imp that adds some crazy comic relief amongst all the arterial spray. Some may feel that Belcebu takes too long to get to its blood soaked climax, and many will find the street walker sequences to be dour and depressing. But the end result is something unique and totally of its own accord - a true indicator of what Troma tries to bring to all of its releases.
As for the DVDs themselves, nothing much has changed. The tech specs are uniformly good, the audio and video neither horribly misguided nor reference quality. It’s always a treat to see Kaufman do his patented proto-pervert act during his pre-feature introductions, and here he provides two classic examples of his extremism. For Bloodspit, the Tro-man is ensconced on the throne, doing his ‘duty’ to support the film. For Belcebu, it’s a Spanish language send-up complete with very un-PC pronouncements from his female co-hosts. As for extras, there are interviews with Hendrix and Fish, some outtakes, and a Behind the Scenes discussion with Blasco that, sadly, is not subtitled. In addition, there are lots of corporate come-ons to keep you spending those hard earned dollars in the distributor’s direction.
But the most important part about the release of Bloodspit and Belcebu: Diablos Lesbos is that the creature feature carnival barker known as Troma is back in business. In another few weeks, two more titles will be featured, and long in development projects like the proposed Giuseppe Andrews box set may now actually see the light of day. And considering how amazing Poultrygeist actually is (read the review here), it’s clear that the company wasn’t merely spinning its excess cash wheels. For anyone wondering what happened to the formidable B-movie madhouse, the return to DVD distribution indicates that everything is fine in the feverish land of Tromaville. It’s a welcome return for devotees desperate for the diseased and the dopey