Color, 1973, 98m.
Directed by Renato Polselli
Starring Mickey Hargitay, Rita Calderoni, Christa Barrymore, Raul Lovecchio
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Redemption (US R0 NTSC, UK R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), / Image (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1)

Black Magic Rites One of the wildest and most experimental films from the Italian horror boom of the early '70s, this once-obscure offering from director Renato Polselli (Delirium, The Vampire and the Ballerina) languished unseen for years after its Italian play dates under the title Riti, magie nere e segrete orge nel trecento... ("Rites, Black Magic and Secret OrgieThe Blood Beast Terrors in the Fourteenth Century"). A nearly plotless blast of ooga-booga satanism, rampant nudity, and eyeball-searing colors, it returned to find a far more appreciative audience at the dawn of the DVD era as one of the format's first releases from Image Entertainment and Redemption Films under the title The Reincarnation of Isabel, though apparently some prints have also floating around under the title The Ghastly Orgies of Count Dracula. Then the title was shortened by Redemption to the one we have now, but whatever it's called, this is still one seriously crazy slice of sex and violence with a strong surrealist bent.

The story, what there is of it, manages to repeatedly skip back and forth over the centuries as a cult of devil worshippers in a castle rounds up women to harvest as a blood offering. Their purpose is to bring back their supernatural founder, Isabella (Nude for Satan's Calderoni), who was tied up and burned alive by angry villagers (for reasons never made entirely clear, but apparently she was a sorceress of some kind). The castle's owner (Hargitay) brings his stepdaughter, Laureen (also Calderoni), to pThe Blood Beast Terrorarty down with some of her friends, and the stage is set for a rampage of red-cloaked orgies filled with ample flesh, blood drinking, and big holes punched in people's chests.

Most of the cast from the already extreme Delirium reunite with Polselli here, apparently trying to push the boundaries of narrative horror filmmaking as far as it can go without breaking. (And some might argue that not only does it break, but Polselli and company grab all the shattered pieces, fling them in the air, and do a jig on top of them.) The entire thing is amazing to watch, sort of like what might happen in Mario Bava and Kenneth Anger dropped acid together in a castle. On top of that you get cultists running around iThe Blood Beast Terrorn makeup and red tights, which might be some kind of homage to Hargitay's beloved turn in Bloody Pit of Horror. (The ex-husband of Jayne Mansfield has quite the exploitation track record, to put it mildly.) On top of that there's some bug-eyed comic relief, a truly nutty music score that skips genres every five minutes or so, and that aforementioned dual role for the gorgeous Calderoni, whose career began with A Quiet Place in the Country and lasted barely over a decade. As for Polselli, he had at least one more outrageous shocker up his sleeve later the same year with the mondo/porn/horror hybrid Rivelazioni di uno psichiatra sul mondo perverso del sesso, but that one proved too extreme for a release by any English-language distributor; hopefully someone will get around to that one eventually. In the meantime, we now have a gorgeous HD version of this bonkers cult classic; as long as you don't expect it to all make much sense at all, just sit back and enjoy all the mayhem.

The flat letterboxed version released by Image was fine for its time, with Redemption eventually issuing it under their own banner in a solid anamorphic upgrade. However, you can easily set those aside in the wake of their HD version released from Kino Lorber, which easily fits the definition of eye candy. The color scheme for this film has always been a bit insane, but the Blu-Ray version pushes it into overdrive with a visual assault of hellish reds, purples, blues, yellows, and everything in between. The negative has been kept in fine condition over the years (not surprising considering how few prints were actually made), and while there are some little white specks here and there, it's in nice shape with as much detail as the film stock will allow. As usual for Kino/Redemption titles, this has been left essentially untouched without any digital smoothing or noise clean up; the photography is intentionally a little soft at times, but this looks like an accurate and very pleasing presentation. The mono Italian track (an English one was apparently never created) is presented with optional English subtitles. Extras include the long Italian theatrical trailer ("La psicosi del terrore crea il terrore che uccide!") and bonus ones for Hatchet for the Honeymoon (which looks great in HD!), Lisa and the Devil, The Nude Vampire, and Shiver of the Vampires.

Reviewed on August 10, 2012.