Joel Reed’s cult horror classic Bloodsucking Freaks begs it’s audience to gaze upon a carnival of torture performances led by the insatiable sadist Sardu (Seamus O’Brien).

It’s not for the squimish or easily disturbed, but remember this is a movie from the mid 70’s. It’s a movie that has some attempts at social commentary tucked away in a low budget exploitation gore film.

This film is probably most appreciated from an artist perspective or general fanatic of classic low budget horror. To everyone else it may just come off as complete filth. Even today, Lloyd Kaufman will say so himself.

“Back then we didn’t even think twice about releasing it, if Michael Herz and I came across Bloodsucking Freaks today we’d probably think it was a bit too much”.

There’s sadism and misogyny involved, and lot’s of it. As tasteless as the movie comes off in many scenes, there’s a lot of artistic use of light and sound as well as horror through suggestion which gives this movie an element of class over the modern torture films like Saw (2004) and Hostel (2005). This film is probably one of the few that will polarize audiences more today than it did when it first came out. You will either love it or hate it and that has a lot to do with what makes this movie one of the greats.


Bloody Rundown

The story takes place in New York’s Soho district where the master of ceremonies Sardu runs the Theater of the Macabre. This stage production specializes in acts where people are tortured and dismembered. The audiences think that what their watching is simply acting, but what they are watching is real. Behind the curtains, Sardu and his dwarf minion Ralphus like to torture and mutilate women for their own pleasure. They also sell girls they have abducted into what they refer to as white slavery. When the critic Creasy Silo dismisses the show as crap, Sardu has him abducted and tortured. At the same time, Sardu also abducts the ballerina Natasha Di Natalie and determines to break her into submission so that she agrees to perform in his new show.


Plot Mutilator

bloodsucking freaks brain shake

Freshly-drilled brain shake!

Bloodsucking Freaks is a movie that is so low-budget, so sleazy, so depraved, that the entire length of the film is spent trying to push the boundaries. Despite being outrageous and attempting for some satire, the movie is pretty ridiculous and can’t be taken seriously for a single minute. That said, the movie still retains entertainment value especially in the areas for creative use of low-budget effects and suggestive camera work to help simulate real gore even if that head with a drill bit digging in is just a melon with a wig on it.

bloodsucking freaks ralphus

I just love torturing women for my master!

bloodsucking freaks ballerina

“I’d like to torture you. Want to be in my next production?”

The opening sequence shows a couple thug caricatures combing the dirty streets of New York’s Soho area, driving around in a dirty van with implications that they’ve been scooping up female victims for an underground “white slavery” operation to deliver to the sadistic thespian Sardu, played by Seamus O’Brien. Sardu and his trusty sidekick minion Ralphus, played by Luis De Jesus, take the victims into their dungeon/theatre house and recondition them through torture into obedient submissives that will allow them to inflict more torture on stage and even death for display to the audience. Yes, this is basically a sexploitation, S&M, gore film.

Sardu and Ralphus entice the audience with the promises of their darkest fantasies played out and then deliver by torturing young naked girls to death on stage. While explaining that the performances are not faked, the audience remains skeptical of the horrors they’ve witnessed as being real and pay tribute to the talent of the actors.

One person who doesn’t like what Sardu has to offer is a snide critic, played by Alan Dellay, who he himself gets abducted and tortured as Sardu reveals his master plan to abduct the immensely popular ballerina Natasha D’Natalie played by Viju Krem and put her in his own death ballet.

"Don't you ruin my dinner!"

“Don’t you ruin my dinner!”

bloodsucking freaks sardu nice guy

“I’m really not such a bad guy.”

Natasha is abducted and her football hero boyfriend, Tom Maverick, played by Niles McMaster, tries to save her with the help of a dirty officer Sgt. John Tucci, played by Dan Fauci, who demands money to get the case rolling.

Joel M. Reed takes a stab at satire with the abduction, torture and more importantly, the humiliation of the shows critic, Dellay. The taunting is especially important in these scenes. Dellay insists that he will never be able to pull off  the sick production. Yet Sardu has Natalia kidnapped and reconditions her as an obedient slave willing to kill and be killed in his greatest production.

Sardu really just wants to be respected and admired by his peers and take his seat beside the greatest of greats. He’s just misunderstood and he himself likes to be tortured for how bad his is.

The movie is silly and does a great job with the minimal effects and camera work and sound design that helps the viewers’ brain fill in all the blanks just enough to be grossed out.

If you’ve got an hour and a half to throw away, this is a good film to do it with.


Deadly Details

Director ∞ Joel M. Reed
Written by ∞ Joel M. Reed
Release Date ∞ 1976
Running time ∞ 91 minutes
Country ∞ United States
Language ∞ English
Cast ∞ In order of appearance
Seamus O’Brien as Sardu
Luis De Jesus as Ralphus
Viju Krem as Natasha Di Natalie
Niles McMaster as Tome Maverick
Alan Dellay as Creasy Silo
Dan Fauci as Sgt. John Tucci