Color, 1973, 97 mins 9 secs.
Directed by Eloy de la Iglesia
Starring Sue Lyon, Chris Mitchum, Jean Sorel, Ramón Pons
Cauldron Films (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9), Pagan Films (DVD) (UK R0 PAL) / WS (2.35:1)
A major name in the history of '70s Spanish suspense and horror before he veered into more socially conscious psychodramas, writer-director Eloy de la Iglesia made his biggest big for international recognition with the 1973 sci-fi / thriller hybrid Una gota de sangre para morir amando, or "A Drop of Blood to Die Loving." Thanks to its censored U.K. VHS release as Clockwork Terror and an early scene showing a family sitting down to watch Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, the film has often been perceived as an imitation of that scandalous cult classic. However, the two really don't have much in common apart from a home invasion scene and the idea of criminals being brutally rehabilitated by science; instead it's a wild Euro shocker that went on to be championed on the 1999 U.K. Eurotika! TV series and has since earned something of a reputation for its wild cast and violent plot twists.
In a futuristic city dominated by pop culture from films and comics, a string of vicious murders attributed to a serial killer are being breathlessly covered on the news. Meanwhile nurse Ana (Lolita's Lyon) is having a weirdly chaste relationship with Victor (A Lizard in a Woman's Skin's Sorel), a doctor at her hospital who's performing extreme experiments on violent criminals to make them productive members of society. David (Faceless' Mitchum) is part of a whip-wielding gang in bike helmets who get their kicks breaking into homes and assaulting families, but he starts to have a change of heart coinciding with his stumbling on Ana's favorite nocturnal hobby: picking up men, stabbing them in the heart, and disposing of their bodies. Now it's just a matter of time before all three storylines collide with fatal results.
Loaded with surprises, this is definitely the director's handiwork from start to finish including a lot of gender-bending quirks like Lyon infiltrating an opera-blasting gay bar in drag and one of the gang members having his way with a hapless husband. In a sense this is the concluding chapter of a remarkable four-film stretch of thrillers by Iglesia in a two-year period along with The Glass Ceiling, Cannibal Man, and No One Heard the Scream, once again returning to the idea of transference of guilt but pushing it into especially delirious territory during the crazed finale. Fans of Sorel and Mitchum won't really get to see him do a whole lot here, as this is really Lyon's show most of the time as she gets to slip into a variety of different disguises and even participates in a jokey nod to her most famous film. It's also fun for its fusion of Spanish '70s elements (including a short but prominent role for Blood Ceremony pretty boy Ramón Pons) and the influence of the French financing, particularly the wacko music score by Georges Garvarentz.
After its modest theatrical run in the 1970s in Europe, the U.S., and the U.K., the film popped up on VHS in a handful of incarnations. The most interesting of them was probably the U.K. Clockwork Terror VHS, which was censored for violence (including a lot of the final scene) but contained two extra scenes with a slightly more in-depth look at the gang's plot to take out David. In 1999, Pagan premiered the film on DVD with a U.K. release timed closely to that Eurotika! episode. The non-anamorphic transfer of the English-language version features some additional lengthy logos at the beginning that make it technically the longest version out there (98m40s), though it's missing the alternate snippets from the prior VHS.
In 2022, Cauldron Films bowed the film on Blu-ray featuring a gorgeous 2K scan of the Spanish producer's cut, with Spanish credits and a representation of what is presumably the preferred version sent out of distribution. All the violence is intact here, of course, and you get both the English and Spanish tracks with optional English translated or English SDH subtitles. The Spanish track is better engineered and reflects what virtually the entire supporting cast was speaking, and it's in much better condition as well. The English track matches Lyon and Mitchum's performances though, so that makes it worth a look, too; however, that track has always sounded worse with a heavy amount of sibilance at times. A new audio commentary by Kat Ellinger tackles the issue of perceived plagiarism on the film's part in Spain, the release history, the evolution of the story, her personal definition of a giallo, the depictions of violence against men, and the use of futurist imagery. "Chris Mitchum: International Man of Cinema" (20m26s) is a new cut of an interview conducted with the star in 2008 about his path through cult cinema around the world, starting with Summertime Killer and bouncing through Italy, France, and various Asian countries in some truly outrageous titles. He also touches on some of his other experiences in Hollywood including the fallout from being associated with John Wayne in the early '70s. "Dubbing in a Blue World" (12m28s) is an overview of his time working in Spain (while he was dating Ava Gardner) for some of the country's biggest names, his work for Sid Pink, the "grunts and groans" stage of dubbing, his English tracks for many Paul Naschy films (using Jack Taylor for the star's voice), and his memory of this film's rocky premiere in Madrid. A video essay by Manchester Metropolitan University's Dr. Xavier Aldana Reyes (15m23s) is a useful appraisal of the film within the director's larger body of work, the meaning behind its Kubrick references, and its ties to Spanish culture at large. A robust 3-minute image gallery features an assortment of posters, video sleeves, and stills, and the Clockwork Terror U.K. VHS version is presented here in SD converted to proper film speed and running 96m44s-- censored for violence but featuring those two extra brief alternate scenes. Also included in the set (which comes with a limited slipcase) is a 24-page booklet featuring an insightful new essay by Kimberly Lindbergs, "Reinventing Lolita in a Blue World," looking further at the film's upending of Lyon's Kubrick role here and the pop culture commentary going on just under the surface.
Reviewed on July 3, 2022.