Orgy of the Dead

Color, 1983, 86 mins. 42 secs.
Directed by Fabrice A. Zaphiratos
Starring Helen Benton, Terry Brown, Dana Day, James Fitzgibbons, Claudia Peyton, Peter Spelson, Franck Miley
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC)

The Blood Beatworld's most notable Blood BeatChristmas samurai possession film is one of the many VHS oddities that populated mom and pop video store shelves for years, offering few clues about their origins or about the contents that might await inside. Anyone who took a chance on Blood Beast was confronted with a confounding, irrational, and unexpectedly arty tale about one of the worst family holiday get togethers imaginable, with a final twenty minutes complete with blasting Carl Orff music that truly defies description.

Out in the American heartland, neurotic painter Cathy (Benton) and her deer hunter husband, Gary (Brown), get ready to settle in for some awkward yuletide cheer with the arrival of their two children, Ted (Fitzgibbons) and Dolly (Day). Cathy immediately gets a strange vibe from Ted's new girlfriend, Sarah (Peyton), and the feeling is mutual. Soon dead bodies are popping up all over the countryside, Sarah develops a strange connection with a bunch of samurai gear found in a trunk, and Cathy goes into bizarre fugue states while she's painting. What does it all mean, and how does it all connect to the glowing, growling samurai in the vicinity? You'll find out... or maybe not.

A regional horror oddity if Blood Beatthere ever was one, Blood Beat is the kind of film that will elicit either seething hatred or utter fascination depending on your mood and the audience. If you're up for a weird ride, things certainly Blood Beatpay off once the samurai starts skulking around and the screen gets suffused with cheap glowing effects every couple of minutes, coupled with a dreamy electronic score that makes it all feel like some kind of ramshackle ode to Walerian Borowczyk at times but with 5% of the sex. (Yes, there is a bit.)

Shuffled off to VHS in 1985 by Trans World Entertainment without the benefit of a real theatrical release (for reasons that should become very obvious when you see it), Blood Beat is exactly the kind of crackpot oddity that would get unearthed by Vinegar Syndrome to proudly stand beside such titles as Runaway Nightmare and Horror House on Highway 5. They don't disappoint with the dual-format Blu-ray and DVD release, featuring a shockingly (and at times hilariously) clear transfer that truly makes this feel like a different (but still nonsensical) film. An opening disclaimer notes that the original negative was badly damaged by mold, some of which could not be alleviated; this is mostly evident during the climax with Blood Beatsome little green flecks on the screen, though oddly enough, it sort of fits the aesthetic with all the other lo-fi effects on display. The end titles weren't attached to the negative and apparently don't seem to exist as a film source, so they've been pulled from a standard def video copy here. The DTS-HD MA English mono audio sounds clear Blood Beatand accurate to the original sound mix, with optional English SDH subtitles provided.

One-shot director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos appears for a French-language audio commentary, a fleeting video intro to the feature, and a video interview (18m4s), which certainly give you an insight into his artistic aspirations and influences, as well as his background (born in Vietnam and raised in France) and ravenous movie-watching youth. His comments also reinforce the largely free associative nature of the film's creation, which was largely driven by the presences of the non-actor cast as well. Also included is an interview with cinematographer Vladimir Van Maule (18m44s), who chats about getting his first feature gig here as a 25-year-old kid and luxuriating in being able to shoot on 35mm, with recollections including the challenge of filming the deer hunting scenes and the situation of the cast and crew living together three miles away from the location. Finally the disc rounds out with an odd, dialog-free "Nervous Curtains and Horror Remix" version of the film (28m8s), basically turning this into the avant-garde project it seemed to already be at heart, a still gallery, and a fun little Twilight Zone-style short film by the director's son, William Zaphiratos, called "L.U.N.C.H." (13m54s), about some highly unusual military maneuvers.

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Reviewed on October 29, 2017.