Monday, November 17, 2014

Blood Rage (Or Never Pick Up A Stranger)

BLOODRAGE Directed By Joseph Zito, Starring Ian Scott (1979).

by Steve Fenton

Okay, so there’s a reason why I’m reviewing two unrelated movies with the virtually identical title for Theater of Guts, and here it is: I got confused, and originally reviewed the wrong fucking movie (namely BLOOD RAGE – note the subtle difference in the title). After all the months I kept Crankenstein waiting, it turned out I’d reviewed the ‘other’ one by mistake! Which, because I feel like such a idjit, is why I am now rectifying my oversight by covering the ‘right’ one (i.e., the BR which is listed in the Deep Red catalog, in keeping with T.O.G.’s unifying concept). That said, although I was hoping the present BLOODRAGE (1979) under review would at least be somewhat better than BLOOD RAGE (1987), the fact that the former Joseph Zito film has a substantially lower user rating (5.1) at the Internet Movie Database than the latter John Grissmer one (5.7) did make me expect the worse; not that said site’s ratings are always indicative of how entertaining a movie is, by any means. Not sounding too promising, their mini-synopsis sums up the present title’s plot thusly: “A sexually frustrated young man kills hookers”; and, after scanning over a couple of the IMDb’s largely negative user reviews, they didn’t exactly have me primed for a high-quality viewing experience. However, without further ado, I’ll bash on regardless with my humble appraisal of the thing…

Opinions are like assholes . . .

In small town U.S. of A. (somewhere in New York state?), after he kills Beverly, a part-time work-from-home hooker (Judith-Marie Bergan)—this by ‘accidentally’ shoving her head through a window pane, thus causing her jugular to be severed—virginal momma’s boy and all-round social misfit Richie (Ian Scott) thereafter desperately attempts to dispose of the body and cover up all evidence of his unwitting homicide. And with good reason too, as the recently late Bev’s boyfriend is a local uniformed police officer, Ryan (James Johnson), who—in an odd moral twist—also happens to be one of her biggest customers. Considering she had her throat cut, the killer’s initial victim doesn’t bleed very much, and she croaks without barely even twitching, let alone actually going into convulsions, with a single large shard of glass sticking from her neck. While shot in a completely matter-of-fact, non-stylized manner, the death-by-broken-window scene brings to mind similar scenes in more than one Argento movie, but other than for basic content, the presentation styles couldn’t be more dissimilar. In broad daylight, Richie carts off Bev’s fresh corpse (“Goddamn whore!”) in a wheelbarrow for disposal, then goes on the lam in the big city (NYC, to be precise), where he takes a room at a fleabag rooming house in the theater district.

Welcome to New York, now get the fuck outta here!

Deadpan and oftentimes inane narration intermittently conveys the killer’s thought processes (e.g., “I’m tired of people pushin’ me around. I’m gonna start pushin’ back now, only I’m gonna push harder. They won’t fuck with me anymore! I’ll make sure o’ that”). Really overusing the gimmick—which is thankfully abandoned within the first third of the movie—we also get introspective voiceover c/o the dead hooker’s cop beau too. Although ostensibly the hero, this arrogant character is pretty much an authority-abusing a-hole who thinks nothing of overstepping the bounds of legality while attempting to solve the mystery of his missing GF (“my old lady”), even though he is well out of his jurisdiction and acting above the law. For these reasons and more, he makes for a decidedly unsympathetic protagonist. Strangely enough, there are times—albeit few and far between—when we actually sympathize more with Scott’s pitiable Richie character…but then, maybe that was Zito’s express intention.

Wake up, I made you a breakfast knucklesandwich

Following the initial non-sensationally depicted killing, things settle into a long, slow groove  (perhaps rut might be a better word for it!) where next to nothing happens…repeatedly. Well into the 31st minute, Richie randomly abducts and abuses an easy bar pick-up aptly named Lucy (Blair Trigg), who apparently hadn’t seen the controversial then-recent commercial hit LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, and hence didn’t know better than to take strange men home for one-night stands. After he first half-drowns her in her own bathtub (fully-clothed), there then follows some extended verbal abuse, whereupon the sick puppy, evidently just acting on a spontaneous whim, strangles her with a telephone cord. While eking out a meager subsistence via a day job working in an entry level position at a Yoo-Hoo cannery/bottling plant, Richie’s out-of-control obsessive/compulsive disorder subsequently gets the better of him yet again.

Yoo-Hoo employing murderous weirdos since the 60s

When not casually offing ‘immoral’ women (albeit a mere two thus far), Richie’s related hobbies include playing voyeur in people’s windows; allowing for some would-be REAR WINDOW-styled peeping tom scenes. In one such scene, he eyeballs a disrobing chick whose shaggily unkempt ’70s-style bush is clearly visible through her sheer pantyhose. Amusingly enough, a glaring continuity error occurs when this same chick (who looks a bit too much like Ruth Buzzi for my tastes) is shortly shown removing her G-string—even though she obviously wasn’t wearing one in the previous shot! (Although perhaps my eyes might simply have been playing tricks on me due to the fuzziness of the rip of this flick which I viewed on YouTube…but I don’t think so.) During the same overextended sequence—amounting to one of the movie’s few poignant moments—Richie spies an old lady silently and motionlessly regarding him from a window opposite while he is spying on the other tenants like their private lives are his own personal peepshow. Having said that, come to think of it, this supposed ‘old lady’ might just as easily be a young man wearing a hairnet and curlers, for all I know (once again, the fuzzy upload rendered things indistinct).

for all you know, I'm the sexy Ruth Buzzi lady 

In what appears to be her sole screen credit, one Rita Ebenhart plays Candice, a booze-swilling, all-used-up party girl / groupie with pronounced anger management / misandry issues who lives just down the hall from Richie in much the same dive digs as him. All things considered, Ms. Ebenhart performs well in the role; enough to cause you to wonder whether she ever acted again after this (frankly, she’s annoying as hell, but since her character is meant to be, you might say she aced it). In a scene which is sure to displease animal lovers, out of simple vindictiveness Richie first throttles Candice’s pet pooch, then chucks its corpse out a window (i.e., right through the glass); but not to worry, nothing of an overly graphic nature is shown, and a plush doggie toy seems to have subbed for the real deal. Subsequent to this more minor atrocity—which is dispensed with almost offhandedly, rather like an afterthought—the sick fuck then proceeds to murder the dog’s owner Candice, while her player Ebenhart shrieks exactly like an overexcited chimpanzee (I kid you not. Check it out for yourself, if you don’t believe me!). Now that his pathetic excuse for a life has really started going to hell in a hand-basket big time, everything spirals still further out of control and falls apart in short order, the narrative included (not that it had been very together prior to this). After he attacks her, the Ruth Buzzi lookalike stripper/hooker (played by Susan Doukas?) goes at Richie with a knife, whereafter Ryan the revengeful pig appears from out of nowhere to bodily hurl the now mortally wounded Richie through—yes—yet another window! (Oops! Do forgive me for spoiling the ‘surprise twist’ ending. But trust me, you won’t wanna endure this tripe through right to the end anyway, so consider it a favor I be doin’ ya by saving you the trouble.)

The Voluptuous Horror Of Sally Struthers

Nowadays, due to its frequent misappropriation as a handy feminazi catch-all for any sort of male anti-female sentiment whatsoever, however slight, I am a lot more reluctant to use the dreaded m-word (“misogyny”). However, that said, there is definitely a palpable vein of it running through BLOODRAGE, and we get the distinct impression that not just the film’s disturbed protagonist, but possibly its director too, were simultaneously giving vent to their misogynistic tendencies herein.

What Fred the Dunkin Donuts guy does off the clock

Including porno grindhouses, not-so-exotic dancers, pimps and various other forms of street lowlife, the sleaziness and sordidness of downtown New York is well conveyed. There is an oppressively, depressingly seedy air to the proceedings which rather fits the dubious subject matter, and, while performances are far from great—nor even particularly good, for the most part—there is often a naturalism to them which at times give things a tangibly documentary-like feel. What with all the cinéma vérité touches, at times Zito (credited hereon as “Joseph Bigwood” [!] – how’s that for a perfect porno pseudonym?!) seems to be playing at poverty row Altman. Indeed, the ‘narrative’ is virtually formless, with the action meandering aimlessly from scene to scene. Individual scenes, seemingly strung together at random, go on (and on) without rhyme nor reason, making the just over 80-minute runtime seem much longer than it actually is. Zito seems to be making some half-hearted attempts at emulating Polanski with sexual repression and alienation themes à la REPULSION and THE TENANT (at times there is also a bit of a BASKET CASE vibe, speaking strictly in terms of ambience). That said, there is definitely some sort of assured aesthetic sensibility going on here, although it certainly isn’t a very appealing one, but I can only assume BLOODRAGE’s crude, raw approach has its share of admirers, so I’ll resist belittling it too much and try to remain objective in my appraisal.

I'm so inbred, I can't help what I do

As the hangdog, sadsack Richie, facially Scott at times rather reminded me of a weird combination of Dick Bakalyan, John Savage and Andrew Robinson; which is apt, because all those actors are well-known for portraying mentally unstable characters (Robinson is best-remembered as the demented “Scorpio” in Don Siegel’s DIRTY HARRY, and Savage played memorable loons in both Curtis Harrington’s THE KILLING KIND and Michael Cimino’s THE DEER HUNTER. Bakalyan appeared as an assortment of unsavory creeps for much of his career, including a lot of psychotic juvenile delinquents back in the ’50s. He had a knack for instilling pathos into even the most hateful characters, allowing for more audience empathy. In BLOODRAGE, Scott at times engenders similar emotions in us; if not enough to make us really give much of a shit about what happens to him, though).
Can I interest you in a business hug Mr. Tierney? 

About the only genuine point of interest here is a ‘guest’ appearance by the late, great Lawrence Tierney as Malone, a bulky, heavily balding plainclothes NYPD detective (“Awright, lock this bastard up!”). He only appears in a handful of throwaway incidental scenes, but, if nothing else, his gruff, gravel-voiced delivery and overall imposing presence at least reminds us of far, far better films than this one (such as Robert Wise’s exquisitely nasty 1947 noir BORN TO KILL, for example; at this low point in Tierney’s career, his ‘rediscovery’ in Tarantino’s RESERVOIR DOGS was still more than a decade on down the pike).

I hate to say it (no I don’t!), but if I was forced to choose between watching either Zito’s BLOODRAGE or Grissmer’s BLOOD RAGE again, I’d take the latter…even if I’d rather not take either, ideally. That other movie may have been bad and boring, but, other than for the odd more memorable moment, this one really takes the cake on both counts! In summation, the one motif which most stuck with me from this less-than-scintillating cinematic experience was how much producer/director Zito seems to have a ‘thing’ for windows. That may not be much to take from this, but it’s the best I can do, I’m afraid.


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