THE SADIST WITH RED TEETH Color, 1970, 80m.
Directed by Jean Louis van Bell
Starring Daniel Moosmann, Jane Clayton, Albet Simono
FORBIDDEN PARIS Color, 1969, 82m. Directed by Jean Louis van Bell Starring Ben Ghou Bey, Gene Fenn, The Cyclamen Angel Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
Just when you thought the wildest recesses of vintage French exploitation had been explored, this double bill from Mondo Macabro proves there are plenty of mysterious dark corners still out there awaiting rediscovery. A name known only to die-hard repertory programmers, Jean Louis van Bell began his career as an assistant director on a handful of unassuming titles but went wild when he got to helm his own projects throughout the 1970s. None of his films were widely seen, but a few intriguing titles popped up in reference books. Chief among these is The Sadist with Red Teeth (credited on the print here as Dents Rouges), a fascinating semi-horror oddity that predates Martin and Vampire's Kiss as the first psychological portrayal of an unstable, would-be vampire.
Our tale begins with graphic artist Daniel (My New Partner's Simono) released from an urban mental hospital despite the fact that he's clearly still unbalanced from a car wreck that left a friend dead with blood splashing onto his mouth. Daniel is now convinced he's a vampire, and his doctors have come up with the theory that he should be encouraged in his delusions so that he can "work through it to the other side" and find sanity. Well, you can obviously see how that plan might go a tad awry. Daniel's girlfriend, Jane (Clayton), obviously has some difficulty figuring out what's wrong with him and why he goes out prowling for prey, and things gradually get more feverish until the grand finale which finds Daniel donning some plastic vampire fangs at a costume ball that quickly turns into a nightmare.
On paper, the storyline for Sadist sounds fairly straightforward, but van Bell's execution definitely is not. Trippy music, psychedelic opening credits, and regular interjections of stock footage and free-associative cutaways worthy of Nicolas Roeg make this a constantly disorienting experience, more pop-art mash up than horror film. He does include some of the requisite commercial elements like some topless nudity and occasional splashes of blood, but the execution is going to sit far better with art house devotees than anyone looking for a Hammer-inspired vampire romp.
Incredibly, things get even nuttier with the film's companion feature on the 2010 DVD set, Forbidden Paris, van Bell's debut feature two years earlier. This late entry in the mondo craze is one of the most berserk offerings from this often reviled subgenre, with van Bell distressingly claiming that everything in it is real. Once again the colorful, negative-processed opening credits indicate you're in for something special, and soon the standard mondo structure of a narrator unveiling various eccentric practices in a known metropolish gets turned into something bordering on utterly maniacal. A fakir and his followers jab needles and small blades through various soft areas of their bodies, a group marriage finds all the men and women swapping vows and sloppy kisses with each other, a horse slaughterhouse gets detailed a little too much for comfort, and most horrifically, we get to see a taxidermist specializing in pet preservation tackling his latest project, a cute doggie whose road to immortality is preserved for ten excruciating minutes before its owner sees the finished product and lets out a bark of approval. Ah, and then there's the sequence in which we meet a bunch of Nazi-obsessed fetishists led by an aging Hitler lookalike who induct new members by stripping them and painting their bodies with a yellow Star of David before marching proudly down the Champs-Élysées. A quick look at a real-life Parisian vampire will also look suspiciously familiar to anyone who's seen the first feature, too. Though stylistically more restrained then Sadist, this more than equals it in terms of sheer nerve and shock value.
Mondo Macabro continues its unsurpassed track record with absolutely stunning, mint quality HD-sourced transfers of both features that look remarkably fresh and vivid even on large displays. The 1.66:1 framing looks perfect, and the optional English subtitles are well-written and appear to be accurate. As usual the disc provides plenty of bonus material for context because, frankly, a lot of viewers would just be baffled otherwise. The director provides intros to both features, explaining how they began as commercial projects which morphed to conform to his own artistic sensibilities. His defense of the "realism" of Forbidden Paris basically argues that the actors really did these things on camera, thus making it "genuine," but apart from the two scenes involving animal carcasses, that still qualifies it as staged in most people's book. Also included is a longer documentary about van Bell (30m14s) with various film festival programmers, critics, and co-workers offering an appraisal of this unique director whose body of work is ripe for rediscovery. Here's hoping some of his ten other unavailable films make it out of the gate somewhere down the line. Also included are well-written production notes on disc one and, of course, the obligatory Mondo Macabro promo reel. Highly recommended for anyone with an adventurous streak, this is a DVD release unlike any other.