"Drifter of the Heart" Peter Carpenter gets caught up in BLOOD MANIA and pushed to the POINT OF TERROR in Vinegar Syndrome's limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo three-disc Crown International double feature.
A Las Vegas dancer who made his feature debut as a Mountie in Russ Meyer's VIXEN, Peter Carpenter then headlined the sexploitation film LOVE ME LIKE I DO with Dyanne Thorne (ILSA, SHE WOLF OF THE SS) and Maria De Aragon (THE CREMATORS) and then teamed up with producer Chris Marconi to mount this pair of star vehicles. In BLOOD MANIA, Dr. Ridgeley Waterman (Eric Allison, SCHLOCK) lies bedridden in his mansion with only the company of his detested daughter Victoria (De Aragon) and wise-cracking Nurse Turner (Leslie Simms, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN) to keep him company. He resents that 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, HOUSE OF TERROR) 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 is not enough. Victoria gets proactive when Craig warns her that sniffing too much amyl nitrate is dangerous (“especially for people with heart conditions”) and gets rid of her father. After Waterman’s death – which Cooper diagnoses as a stroke – Waterman's 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, Victoria is less than pleased. When Craig stars making a play for Gail, Victoria goes off the deep end and endeavors to justify the film’s title.
Director Robert Vincent O’Neil (WONDER WOMEN) had already set down some of stylistic touches (gel lighting, distorted wide angles, nightmare montages) seen here in his earlier film THE PSYCHO LOVER in which a psychiatrist brainwashes a patient into committing murder. 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. Maxwell had to leave the production for another obligation, and the remainder of the film was photographed by Gary Graver (DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN), and the difference in styles is quite evident with the latter's work looking flatter in lighting and composition. Carpenter does not make for a very sympathetic protagonist, but he gives a committed performance as a film noir protagonist who becomes implicated in the crimes of an unstable woman. 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. 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 and Blanton give the better performances, with her wise-cracking nurse breathes some humor into the film and his smooth blackmailer underwritten but effectively menacing. Also good is Dalya (who also appeared in LOVE ME LIKE I DO) 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). Grabbed shots at a Renaissance faire as part of the falling-in-love montage pad the film to feature-length. 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 (SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS), who also filled that position on O’Neil’s THE PSYCHO LOVER along with a number of interesting seventies genre productions like THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN CORPSES.
Previously released on VHS in the early 1980s by VCI, BLOOD MANIA first came to DVD through Rhino Home Video in an old fullscreen master in 2000 and then in one of their HORRIBLE HORRORS eight film Crown International sets in 2004. When Mill Creek licensed the Crown library, they released the film in two of their DRIVE-IN CULT CLASSICS sets in an anamorphic widescreen transfer before sublicensing the title to Code Red in 2012 as part of their "Maria's B-Movie Mayhem" series in a double feature with LAND OF THE MINOTAUR. The DVD featured a nice anamorphic widescreen transfer as well as an informative audio commentary with director O'Neil and actress Simms. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer is derived from a 2K scan of the original camera negative sports more vibrant colors and healthier skin tones while also revealing slivers more information on all four sides of the frame, making the earlier transfer look slightly zoomed in (although the new transfer may be showing additional information that would have been cut off in projection).
A short introduction by director O'Neil (0:19) is excerpted from the included interview, but the main extra is a new audio commentary by O'Neil and actresses Leslie Simms and Vicky Peters. O'Neil reveals that he was brought on a week before shooting when the original director took ill and was unable to change some aspects of the script, costumes, and production design that he would have preferred. He expresses admiration for Maxwell's photography and points out the differences between Maxwell's and Graver's work throughout, as well as his compositional choices (having worked as a portrait photographer before becoming a prop man on a series of films for director Richard Rush and cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs). Simms reveals that she and Carpenter attended acting classes together, and Simms coached Carpenter in an advanced course that paired more experienced actors with newbies (Carpenter wrote the role of Nurse Turner especially for her). She is able to tell us something more of Carpenter's background but is unable to shed any more light on his death (having learned of it through someone else after losing touch with him). She also speaks highly of Blanton and Rocco. Peters comments intermittently, recalling her first role, how she did not get along with prima donna De Aragon (O'Neil dated her after the film and described her as a "wild tiger" and that he had nothing to do with her being cast in WONDER WOMEN), and her friendship with the late Reid "Chip" Smith (DINAH EAST) who plays a pool boy here.
O'Neil also appears in a new video interview (8:20) in which he discusses his first film LIKE MOTHER, LIKE DAUGHTER (shot in 35mm for $35,000) and how the six months he spent trying to cut it together shaped how he would edit films in his head while shooting. He recalls how his work on second film THE PSYCHO LOVER lead to him getting hired for BLOOD MANIA and how he initially was not involved in its post-production until Crown brought him back to re-sequence the film as he intended. Simms also appears in a new interview (14:04) in which she discusses her beginnings in radio in Toronto before moving to Los Angeles with her traveling musician father where she took acting classes under Francis Lederer (THE RETURN OF DRACULA). She recalls meeting Carpenter and his kindness to her (he arranged with Marconi to pay her salary for BLOOD MANIA in advance so she and her husband could pay their property taxes). She also reveals that gave acting classes to Carpenter's stripper girlfriend and her friends when they decided that they wanted to break into acting (earning her prime seating at one of their performances). The film's theatrical trailer (1:07), two TV Spots (0:30 + 0:20), and a promotional gallery (2:56) are also included.
In POINT OF TERROR, Carpenter is singer Tony Trelos who performs a Tom Jones-esque act (with songs provided by Motown Records) nightly at the wharf-side Lobster House. When he catches the attention of Andrea Hilliard (Thorne) – wife of wheelchair-bound record producer Martin (Joel Marston, HEAVEN CAN WAIT) – she offers him a record contract even though his voice is of less interest to her than his body. By no means naïve, Tony is willing to be used and to use Andrea out of his deep-seated need "to be somebody" despite the warnings of pining girlfriend Sally (Paula Mitchell, BLUE MONEY). Andrea's girlfriend Fran (Simms) similarly warns her of getting too hung up on Tony at the risk of losing everything Martin has given her, but Andrea assures her that she and Martin need each other to hate (his suspicions of her infidelity having been the cause of the accident that paralyzed him). When Martin catches Andrea with Tony, he threatens to divorce her and ruin Tony's career; whereupon Andrea – who brutally murdered Martin's first wife when she would not divorce him – tips Martin's wheelchair into the swimming pool. Although widowed Andrea must now split her husband's business empire and fortune with her fresh-from-private-school stepdaughter Helayne (Lory Hansen), she is ready to enjoy life as a free woman and has no plans to let Tony marry her for her money (threatening to implicate him as an accomplice if he tells the police that she murdered Martin). When Andrea flits off on vacation, Tony makes a play for Helayne and falls in love with her for real but soon finds himself with more than one woman scorned.
Directed by Alex Nichol (THE SCREAMING SKULL) and scripted by BLOOD MANIA screenwriter Tony Crechales – would also script the similar "California gothic noir" HOUSE OF TERROR (also with Blanton) along with Reginald Le Borg's PSYCHO SISTERS, Curtis Harrington's THE KILLING KIND, William Grefe's IMPULSE, and George Edwards' THE ATTIC – POINT OF TERROR shares a lot of similarities with the first film but is the less effective of the two. Carpenter is no more likable here for his ambition and apparent blamelessness as another noir-ish protagonist who becomes embroiled in murder and madness. His lip-syching is not as bad as the cheesiness of his dance moves and his flared costumes (a seemingly unlikely act for a seaside restaurant). Carpenter shows more skin here (Simms mentions that he was more bashful in BLOOD MANIA), but Thorne gets the standout role here in and out of some godawful 1970s fashions and big hairdos. Besides the murder-for-money plotting of the earlier film, there is also the younger woman, a lengthy "falling in love montage" right out of a backlit 1970s cigarette ad, and a hysterically abrupt ending. Robert Maxwell's photography is less atmospheric here, favoring candy-colored gels (relegated to the nightmare sequences in BLOOD MANIA) over sculpted shadows. Later Bob Chinn DP Ken Gibb (DRIVE-IN MASSACRE) served here as assistant camera.
When POINT OF TERROR came to home video through VCI's United Home Video, it turned out to be the film's padded TV version (see below). The film was also released in the 1980s by Neon Video but we are not certain which version is on that release. Rhino released the film in a fullscreen transfer of the R-rated theatrical version on one of their HORRIBLE HORRORS volumes in 2004. In 2010, the film was released in an anamorphic transfer on Mill Creek's multi-film PURE TERROR set as well as a solo release from Scorpion Releasing in a problematic encode with dot crawl during the credits, soft edges, and soft definition. Vinegar Syndrome's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen transfer of a 2K scan of the original camera negative is brighter with healthier skintones, crisper detail, and also reveals additional slivers of information on all four sides of the frame. The only extras are the film's theatrical trailer (2:23), two TV spots (0:30 + 0:20), and a promotional gallery (1:12).
This 3,000 copy limited edition includes a third disc, a DVD containing the much sought-after television versions of both films. While big studios often swept up footage from the cutting room floor to pad out TV versions of their films, lower budget films like these often did not have a wealth of deleted material (due as much to the cost of film stock) so Crown International commissioned additional scenes to be shot for both films to pad them to feature-length after the removal of sex and violence for television. The TV version of BLOOD MANIA runs 90:29 compared to the theatrical version's 80:30, but the alterations are quite extensive. With the removal of many nude scenes, sex scenes, and some bloody murder, the television version brought back Simms and Blanton (named Larry in the additional scenes) to appear in new statically-photographed scenes revealing them to be in cahoots. A long introductory scene shows Larry on the other end of the phone with Craig long before his introduction in the theatrical cut. Larry and Nurse Turner (called Millie in these scenes) discuss their relationship and his plans for the money they plan to get out of Craig. After Larry leaves, Millie confesses her insecurities about Craig to her roommate Allison (who does not appear at all in the theatrical version). Throughout the rest of the film, Millie calls up Larry to inform him about the goings-on in the house and her suspicion that Victoria murdered her father. Carpenter also comes back for scenes late in the film where he drives a body out to the beach and buries it (which would then require another character to dig the body up and bring it back to the house for the final scene).
POINT OF TERROR's television version runs 91:24 compared to the theatrical's 87:38, snipping nudity while adding a near ten-minute flashback to Tony's youth in which an unknown actor plays teenage Tony shining shoes (in the theatrical version he says his father was a shoeshiner) and then being chased by a bully who steals his cigar box of money. The credits for the TV version of BLOOD MANIA include an additional card ascribing additional music to Don Hulette (Crown's HORROR HIGH and DEATH MACHINES) and another one citing additional post-production by Paragon Productions. Both are new progressive fullscreen transfers of presumably 16mm TV prints, looking faded and softer, and sounding tinnier in their Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks. As with the theatrical versions, English SDH subtitles have been included. (Eric Cotenas)
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