Color, 1978, 93m.
Directed by Jack Weis
Starring William Metzo, Curt Dawson, Gwen Arment, Ronald Tanet, Laura Misch
Code Red (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
Filmed the same year as Halloween but a lot more like Blood Feast on a cocaine bender, this is one of the strangest intersections between the fledgling slasher film and the roughie subgenre. The soundtrack pulses with a great library disco score, naked women get sliced up on an alter in a room filled with red drapes, and people sit around in ratty New Orleans restaurants and bars talking about terrible everything is.
A psycho Aztec priest named John (Metzo) is stalking the streets of the Big Easy just before Mardi Gras looking for the most corrupt women he can find as offerings to his god. His victim selection is pretty simple, consisting of wandering into bars and asking who's the most evil woman in the room. Then he ties the women down nude and spread-eagled on an altar in his red-lined sacrificial room and slices them up to appease his deity. When bodies start piling up all over town, it's up to two schlubby cops (Dawson and Tanet) to stop before he clears through all the hookers and starts picking off the tourists.
Released unrated (and with very good reason) several years later and fairly popular on VHS alongside other slicker sickies like Maniac, this is one seriously filthy number from the guys who made Crypt of Dark Secrets and Quadroon. Not surprisingly, it also wound up on the final list of the UK's Video Nasties list and got slapped with an X rating by the MPAA, which the distributor dodged by refusing a rating entirely. There's really no filmmaking finesse to be found here from the New Orleans production team, sticking to static compositions straight out of the TV drama playbook. Fortunately that doesn't matter at all given the seedy characters (all of the women are treated like garbage but the men are far sleazier, including the obligatory cop-hooker romantic subplot), aforementioned soundtrack, and truly extreme levels of gore, with lots of fake guts, latex, and stage blood at regular intervals.
Code Red first brought this to DVD in 2012 with a disclaimer about the fact that only a one-inch master in the VCX vaults was available for the disc, but it actually looks pretty strong under the circumstances with better detail and color separation than the VHS version. (That ancient tape provided the source for the insultingly overpriced bootleg disc from Jef Films/Televista, which should be avoided at all costs.) A 12-minute interview with Metzo is the only really substantial extra, but it's a doozy; he talks about getting the job on the spot without auditioning, shooting around Jackson Square, working with scantily clad actresses on the sacrifice scenes in freezing conditions, and pulling that car out of the Mississippi River. As extra icing you also get trailers for Blood Mania, The Hearse, and The Babysitter.
In 2016, the label revisited the film for a Blu-ray release sold via its online store and Diabolik. This seemed like a film that might never get a fresh new transfer, but here we are with this grubby slasher looking like... well, maybe not a million bucks, but at least several thousand more than it has before. Detail sharpens up and improves dramatically, those frequent heavy reds are now perfectly resolved, and the framing seems more balanced (while also revealing some amusing, protracted goofs with those latex appliances). The DTS-HD MA English mono tracks also sounds much more impressive, delivering some nice bass during those disco interludes and dialogue coming through with extra clarity. Both the Maria hosting bits and the Metzo interview have been carried over, while the theatrical trailer (4x3 letterboxed) has been added on as well.