Directors: Robert Vincent O’Neil/Costa Carayiannis
Code Red Releasing

Would-be leading man Peter Carpenter and STAR WARS’ Maria De Aragon get embroiled in a BLOOD MANIA while Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance visit the LAND OF THE MINOTAUR in Code Red’s latest Crown International double bill.

Dr. Ridgeley Waterman (Eric Allison, SCHLOCK) lies bedridden in his mansion with only the company of his detested daughter Victoria (Maria De Aragon, SOMETHING LIKE LOVE) and wise-cracking Nurse Turner (Leslie Simms, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN) to keep him company. He resents that his younger doctor Craig Cooper (Peter Carpenter, VIXEN) has taken over the day-to-day running of his successful clinic; however, Waterman does get some enjoyment out of seeing nympho Victoria constantly strike out with her advances towards Craig. Craig’s life, however, is getting pretty complicated since he is being blackmailed by Larry (Arell Blanton, BLACK GUNN) for the illegal abortions he performed back in medical school, and he may have to accept Victoria’s offer of “help”. Craig’s wife Cheryl (1967 Playmate Reagan Wilson) surrenders her body to the blackmailer, but unfortunately it’s not enough; however, Victoria gets proactive when Craig warns her that sniffing too much amyl nitrate is dangerous (“especially for people with heart conditions”). After Waterman’s death – which Cooper diagnoses as a stroke – his lawyer (Alex Rocco, LADY IN WHITE) informs Victoria that the will cannot be read without the presence of her younger sister Gail (1972 Playmate Vicki Peters), who arrives with her older “friend” Kate (Jacqueline Dalya, ONE MILLION B.C.). When Waterman’s will reveals that Gail has inherited all of the money while Victoria has only inherited boarding, the care and maintenance of the house, and a weekly allowance, Victoria is less than pleased. When Craig stars making a play for Gail, she goes off the deep end and endeavors to justify the film’s title.

BLOOD MANIA was the second of three star vehicles for Carpenter, who had previously appeared as a Canadian Mountie in Russ Meyer’s VIXEN. The first was Jean Van Hearn’s LOVE ME LIKE I DO, which featured both BLOOD MANIA’s De Aragon and Dyanne Thorne (ILSA THE WICKED WARDEN) who would subsequently star in Carpenter’s third vehicle POINT OF TERROR. I haven’t seen LOVE ME LIKE I DO, but BLOOD MANIA is the better of the two Peter Carpenter Crown International pics (both produced by Carpenter and Chris Marconi). Director Robert Vincent O’Neil had already set down some of stylistic touches (gel lighting, distorted wide angles, nightmare montages) you see here in his earlier film THE PSYCHO LOVER in which a psychiatrist brainwashes a patient into committing murder (THE PSYCHO LOVER was released on DVD by Image Entertainment/Something Weird Video in a colorful progressive, open-matte transfer – with the onscreen alternate title THE LOVING TOUCH – but a 16:9 trailer for the film has appeared on Code Red’s DVD of THE BABYSITTER/THE TOPLESS STORY). O’Neil and cinematographer Bob Maxwell were suitably inspired by the mansion setting. The lighting of every one of Maxwell’s shots is dripping with atmosphere, and most of the close-ups are shot from low-angles to emphasize the patterns of the house’s ceilings while long and medium shots also draw as much attention to the architecture as to the actors during expository scenes.

On the commentary track, former TV commercial director O’Neil mentions his fondness for the softening effect of long lenses, and some sequences of the camera exploring environments and lingering on out of focus crystals, the out of focus highlights of the sea during the silhouetted beach scenes, as well as the striking wide angle framing of the mansion’s dark interiors all have a very Jess Franco-like feel to them (albeit with more meticulous lighting and steadier camera movement). Maxwell's (THE SEVERED ARM) job had been taken over by Al Adamson regular Gary Graver (DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN) when he left for another project. Maxwell shot all three of Carpenter’s star vehicles and was a rather busy cinematographer in the exploitation world, having shot THE ASTRO ZOMBIES and THE GIRL IN GOLD BOOTS for Ted V. Mikels, Melvin Van Peebles’ SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG, Lee Frost’s THE SCAVENGERS, THE SEVERED ARM, THE HOUSE OF TERROR (also with Blanton), THE CANDY SNATCHERS and THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS among others. Presumably make-up artist Nora Maxwell is related since she did make-up and wardrobe on a few of these aforementioned films, and she may have left with Bob Maxwell since the film’s other make-up artist Sherri Tilley had worked on Graver’s SANDRA: THE MAKING OF A WOMAN prior to this film. Graver’s framing is flatter and his lighting less moody (O’Neil frequently points out the difference when a Graver shot appears on screen during the commentary). Graver’s later camera assistant R. Michael Stringer – DP on Crown International’s later DOUBLE EXPOSURE – served here as a grip.

The story – conceived by Carpenter and Marconi and scripted by Toby Sacher and Tony Crecheles – shares some plot points with POINT OF TERROR (Crecheles also scripted POINT OF TERROR and would later script the X-rated film 3 A.M. under Carpenter’s POINT OF TERROR character name “Tony Trelos”). In both, a woman murders a wealthy invalid (her father here, her husband in POINT) to benefit herself and her lover (Carpenter) and it all falls apart over his involvement with another woman (her younger stepsister here, her stepdaughter in the latter film). The trailers for both films also try to make the films look more delirious than they actually are. Carpenter isn’t any more sympathetic than he is in POINT OF TERROR, but he’s just as committed to playing a film noir protagonist here as he is an up-and-coming pop singer in the aforementioned film (he’s certainly more dignified without the flares). De Aragon is stiff, but her stilted delivery combined with her French-Canadian accent actually succeed in depicting her casually amoral character as believably numbed by the torment of spending years with her domineering father. O’Neil holds the camera on her and lets her work through her ferocious reaction to learning that her father has left all of his money to her stepsister, and it pays off (on the commentary track, O’Neill says that the more experienced actors were consistently good, while Carpenter and De Aragon got better as the shooting proceeded). De Aragon next went to the Philippines for O’Neil’s WONDER WOMEN and would later appear in THE CREMATORS (which also starred Allison). Peters became a Playboy Playmate two years later and married writer/producer Jeffrey Konvitz (author of the novel and screenplay for Michael Winner’s THE SENTINEL as well as writer/producer of SILENT NIGHT, BLOODY NIGHT) in 1980. Her only other film credit is THE MANSON MASSACRE, an X-rated cash-in that only seems to survive in its German language dub. Simms is one of the better performers, and her wise-cracking nurse breathes some humor into the film. Simms and Carpenter attended acting classes together, and Simms coached Carpenter in an advanced course that paired more experienced actors with newbies. Carpenter reportedly wrote the role of Nurse Turner especially for her, and she (Simms would also appear in POINT OF TERROR in a more affluent role). Also good is Dalya as Gayle’s older lesbian friend, who expresses only friendly concern for her and is hip to Craig’s machinations (some more verbal sparring between her and Carpenter might have livened up the thriller aspect of the story, but she could probably act circles around him). Composer Don Vincent served as orchestrator on POINT OF TERROR, but he would also score the underrated Darren McGavin-directed chiller RUN, STRANGER, RUN. The film’s production manager was actor Gary Kent, who also filled that position on O’Neil’s THE PSYCHO LOVER (as well as Kent’s own star vehicle SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS

Like POINT OF TERROR, BLOOD MANIA’s TV version featured exclusive footage. Whereas the POINT OF TERROR footage was mainly a flashback with none of the film’s cast, BLOOD MANIA’s TV version featured additional footage (this footage was shot after production and was not unused trims) to make up for the subtracted gore and nudity. The TV cut apparently removed roughly twenty minutes of footage, necessitating the shooting of roughly that amount of new footage. According to Simms on the commentary track, this footage was shot in the early 1980s and changed the plot by having her character witness the murders and report them to blackmailer Mills (Blanton was also brought back). Carpenter also appeared in this footage removing and burying a body (Simms – or at least her leg - doubled for the unavailable actress). Not only was continuity disrupted by the switch from Craig’s white Cadillac to a black Mercedes, it also required another character to dig the body up and bring it back in the same amount of time (the body shows up again before Craig gets to drive it away and bury it in the theatrical version). While United Home Video’s vintage POINT OF TERROR tape featured the TV version, I am uncertain as to whether VCI’s BLOOD MANIA cassette featured the TV-exclusive footage. Rhino’s DVD release of BLOOD MANIA – both as an individual disc and in the eight-film HORRIBLE HORRORS VOLUME 2 set – featured the theatrical version, as did BCI’s DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS VOLUME 8 collection and subsequent Crown owner Mill Creek’s 32-film DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS set (POINT OF TEROR has also been available from Rhino and Mill Creek in its original theatrical form, a special edition of which is now available from Scorpion Releasing). It is regrettable that none of the editions of this film have included the TV version as an extra (or at least the exclusive footage).

In LAND OF THE MINOTAUR, Father Roche (Donald Pleasance, FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE) – an Irish priest presiding over a small flock in a remote Greek village – has been growing increasingly concerned about the number of disappearances of young people in the vicinity of a castle purportedly built upon the pagan temple of minotaur worshippers, but local police chief Vendris (Dimitris Bislanis, DEATH KISS) has proved less than helpful. When Chicago youths Beth (Vanna Reville), Tom (Bob Behling, CUJO) and Ian (Nikos Verlekis, the compelling Greek-set BBC miniseries WHO PAYS THE FERRYMAN?) arrive and announce that they intend to explore the ruins, Roche warns them to stay away. The trio take off in the middle of the night and camp out at the ruins. While Beth goes into town to get some groceries and mail a letter from Ian to his girlfriend, Tom and Ian discover a hidden entrance to the temple and run into the Minotaur. In town, Beth meets Carpathian-expat Baron Corofax (Peter Cushing, TALES FROM THE CRYPT) who owns the castle and the surrounding ruins. When Beth cannot find the guys, she goes up to the castle and is nabbed by hooded cultists. Roche is unaware of the fate of his young friends until Ian’s girlfriend Laurie (Luan Peters, TWINS OF EVIL) arrives and inquires as to their whereabouts. Roche and Laurie – with the help of reluctant New York detective Milo (Kostas Karagiorgis, DIAMONDS ON HER NAKED FLESH) investigate and find themselves up against an entire village of minotaur cultists overseen by Corofax (as if there was ever any doubt).

LAND OF THE MINOTAUR is the US PG-rated Crown International cut of the British/Greek co-production THE DEVIL’S MEN. The titular Minotaur is actually a fire-breathing stone statue who commands his cult with a processed voiceover. He’s less of a pagan god than a substitute for the devil since Roche’s relies on crosses and holy water to effectively combat evil. What atmosphere the film does possess is due to the arid scenery and Brian Eno’s electronic score. Cushing is given a pretty thankless role – mainly standing around and looking suspicious – but he’s all class as usual, while Pleasance is his apoplectic self. Peters is cheesecake here while Karagiorgis makes for a pretty useless hero. Behling also starred in Nico Mastorakis’ ISLAND OF DEATH along with Jessica Dublin – who plays a concerned villager here (and also appeared in the former half of Code Red’s VOODOO DOLLS/MADONNA) – and Jane Ryall, who plays Milo’s girlfriend in New York (and had much of her screen time snipped for the US version). Bislanis’ cop is very recognizably dubbed by Robert Rietty, an English actor of Italian heritage who also worked as a dubbing artist and dubbing director (including the English dubs of several Italian horror films starting with THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE). Although there is gore and nudity (including a peek-a-boo of Peters in a bubble bath), it is doled out in such pathetically small quantities – possibly a concession to the British side of the production given how explicit Greek exploitation was at the time – that US distributor Crown International likely decided to go for a general audiences rating and pre-cut every instance of nudity and onscreen bloodshed (including some bits that probably would have made it to TV), as well as roughly nine minutes of expository footage (including Milo’s introductory scene) and the end title vocal which goes on for a few minutes after the credits have finished rolling.

The back cover refers to LAND OF THE MINOTAUR as “Same 16x9 version that came out in many previous multi-packs” and it is indeed the same slightly cropped, horizontally stretched (from 1.66:1) 1.78:1 worn and soft transfer of the US cut previously available on DVD from BCI (an interlaced version paired with Norman J. Warren’s TERROR) as well as in current Crown International library owner Mill Creek’s 12 CREATURE FEATURES, 12-film CULT TERROR CINEMA set, and the 32-movie DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS sets (the ninety-four minute original British cut is available in an superior-looking anamorphic 1.66:1 widescreen transfer from Scorpion Releasing in the double bill THE DEVIL’S MEN/TERROR). LAND OF THE MINOTAUR is pretty disposable as a B-feature for its cut status, image and audio quality, and lack of extras, but its inclusion here may satisfy the curiosity of those who haven’t seen THE DEVIL’S MEN or are curious to see the Crown International cut. BLOOD MANIA, on the other hand, is an attractive new progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Colors are gorgeous and the contrasts of Maxwell’s lighting are well-served throughout. The Dolby Digital mono track is also in very good condition.

LAND OF THE MINOTAUR is barebones (although Scorpion’s DEVIL’S MEN/TERROR set offered no extras for the Carayiannis film), but BLOOD MANIA features an audio commentary with director Robert Vincent O’Neil and actress Leslie Simms (moderated by Jeff McKay), as well as an interview with actress Vicki Peters. On the commentary track, O’Neil reveals that the colorful title sequence and the nightmare sequences were shot in the hills behind the mansion at night using road flares for lighting, and that the Renaissance faire and breach scenes were grabbed without permit. O’Neil points out the scenes shot by Maxwell and those by Graver (with creative use of the foreground and expressionistic lighting distinguishing the former’s contributions, while Graver’s shots are more flatly composed and lit). He reveals that, while he had no control over the final cut of the film, he was called back to do the initial assembly after they ran into problems. Although he had no participation in it, he is very complementary of the film’s sound mix. Simms, who had previously done an interview for Scorpion’s DVD of POINT OF TERROR in which she mentioned some background information about the TV version of BLOOD MANIA, proves more detail about the TV footage (described above). O’Neil mentions that he did not believe the film could play on TV and did not know about the new footage until his wife pointed out a broadcast of the film. McKay also questions O’Neil about his later films. It’s a breezy but informative track, and O’Neil and Simms enjoy the experience of revisiting the film and are pleased with their work. In her interview (9:58), a still quite attractive Peters discusses how she got on with O’Neil and the cast (she was friends with TV actor Reid “Chip” Smith – who plays the poolboy – until his recent death) and the difficult of “playing dead” (and the constant bleaching of her hair because the constantly dried and reapplied fake blood stained it).

Both films can be played individually or together with wrap-around “Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem” segments. Hostess Maria Kanellis futzes some of the details in her introduction (which highlights the presence of Pleasance and Cushing), but returns after the feature to make some good-humored – and quite deserved – jabs at the film (“No minotaurs were harmed in the making of this film, because there were no minotaurs!”) and comment on the film’s fascination with Cushing’s eyes in many a close-up. She then sets herself up for disappointment by buying into BLOOD MANIA’s poster hype that “The last 15 minutes will jolt you right out of your seat!” She’s less than complementary about the film in the closing segment, but incensed viewers should remember that she is doing a bimbo shtick and her complaints actually highlight some of the aspects that make the film memorable. Trailers for THE LAST CHASE, THE BABYSITTER, MARDI-GRAS MASSACRE, THE REDEEMER and NIGHTMARE round out the package. (Eric Cotenas)