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Spanish Blood Bath (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Spanish Blood Bath (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: March 26th, 2024.
    Director: Jess Franco, Jorge Grau, Pedro L. Ramírez
    Cast: Alberto Dalbés, Evelyne Scott, Fernando Rey, Marisa Mell, Wal Davis, Norma Kastel
    Year: 1974
    Purchase From Amazon

    Spanish Blood Bath – Movie Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome brings a triple feature of Spanish horror films of the in this new three-disc Blu-ray boxed set. Here’s what lies inside…

    Night Of The Skull:

    Essentially an ‘old dark house’ story, albeit one told by the inimitable Jess Franco, 1974’s Night Of The Skull takes place in Louisiana sometime in the 1800's where a wealthy man named Lord Archibald Marion (Ángel Menéndez) is assaulted and then buried alive by someone in a skull mask during a torrential downpour. He's found later that night by his wife, Cecilia (Maribel Hidalgo), and Inspector Victor Bore (Vicente Roca), a good friend of Marion's, is called to investigate.

    As the story progresses, multiple suspects are introduced, not the least of whom is Cecilia herself, as she was fooling around behind her late husband's back. The deceased's daughter, Rita Derian (Lina Romay), born out of wedlock when her father had an affair with a maid, and abused in her younger days by her father, is also on the list. And then, of course, there are the weird servants, Deborah Potts (Yelena Samarina) and her even weirder husband Rufus (Luis Barboo), and the Lord's cousin, Simon Tobias (William Berger) and his wife Marta (Evelyne Scott). All involved, even Bore, are named in the will,

    A short time later, Bore is working with Scotland Yard's Major Oliver Brooks (Alberto Dalbés) and as their inspection continues, they discover a second will tying into Marion's cousin Albert Pagan (Daniel van Husen), his wife Mariu (Susan Swan) and the randy Lord's legitimate son Alfred (Antonio Mayans)! No one is allowed to leave the estate until the crime is solved, but that doesn't stop various parties from turning on each other all while the killer in the skull mask continues to skulk about.

    Based on the work of Edgar Allan Poe and Edgar Wallace (according to the opening credits, at least!) and known in its Spanish homeland as La noche de los asesinos, Night Of The Skull doesn’t offer up much in the way of the sexual obsessions, rampant nudity or quirky violence that the director’s filmography is (let’s be honest) best known for but it’s an interesting whodunit with a good cast and solid production values. The estate where the mystery plays out is beautiful and nicely captured in the film’s cinematography and the scenes involving the skull mask wearing killer are simultaneously eerie and kitschy in equal doses.

    The movie goes at a decent pace and while the plot is occasionally a bit muddy, it all sorts itself out in the end. The cast do pretty decent work all around, with Lina Romay looking fantastic here while also creating a sympathetic character out of Rita. Maribel Hidalgo is quite good as her less than trustworthy stepmother while supporting work from Dalbés, Mayans and Roca rounds out the cast pretty effectively, though William Berger isn’t given all that much to do in his role.

    Violent Blood Bath:

    Directed by Jorge Grau, who co-wrote with Juan Tébar and based on a novel by 19th century French author Guy de Maupassant, 1974's Violent Blood Bath introduces us to Judge Oscar Bataille (Fernando Rey), a notoriously harsh judge with an affinity for capital punishment. Bataille seems to show no mercy in this regard, having had a hand in executing scores of men over his years in office, quite a few of whom may not have actually deserved it.

    When he goes on vacation, at the insistence of his doctor, with his much younger wife, Patricia (Marisa Mell), he becomes involved in trying to sort out a series of murders that bear some striking similarities to that were conducted by a man he had executed some time ago.

    Meanwhile, Patricia is in the midst of rekindling her romance with her ex-husband, Wilson (Espartaco Santoni), who is busy preparing a book intended to expose Bataille's work. As the killings continue, Bataille begins to wonder if he's being targeted in a revenge plot or if there's something else entirely going on here.

    A genuinely clever and through provoking film, Violent Blood Bath toys with some giallo tropes and manages to build a decent amount of suspense during its running time as it builds to a truly bleak ending that you probably won’t see coming. Directed with plenty of obvious skill by Grau and featuring some really nice cinematography and a solid score, the movie benefits from decent pacing and good production values – just don’t go into this expecting an actual blood bath, as there’s very little gore on display here despite the sensationalist and attention grabbing title.

    The acting is quite good as well. An aging Fernando Ray proves to be a good to play the stalwart judge, he comes across as appropriately rigid and unflinching in his world view and he handles the role well. Marissa Mell is slinky and seductive here, alluring and with an intriguing screen presence that keeps you guessing as to her character’s motivations, while Espartaco Santoni handles his part pretty effectively as well.

    The Fish With The Eyes Of Gold:

    Pedro L. Ramírez's 1974 film, The Fish With The Eyes Of Gold, opens on a secluded beach in Spain where a comely blonde woman, a Belgian tourist named Hildegard Aaron (Susana Taber), prepares for a swim only to be murdered by a man in a wetsuit. A man in a nearby boat sees it happen and gives chase, but the killer escapes.

    In the nearby town, an English drifter named Derek (Wal Davis) shows up in town hoping to reconnect with his old friend, Zachary Kendall (Ricardo Vázquez), who lives in town with his wife, Virginia (Norma Kastel), and just so happens to be the man who witnessed the killing. As Derek makes his way to their house, he sees a local man named Marco (Rex Martín) in a heated argument with girlfriend Mónica (Montserrat Prous). As she drives off, she sees him walking and picks him up and soon enough, they're in bed together at her place. The next morning, when Derek wakes up, he finds Mónica, whose father (Victor Israel) runs the aquarium in town, stabbed to death next to him in bed and, not surprisingly, the local cops, led by the Comisario (Barta Barri), figure Derek is the killer and that his motives connect to an unusual fish medallion that Mónica was wearing.

    Derek insists that he’s innocent but the cops aren’t having it, assuming him to responsible for both murders but Derek will do what he needs to do to prove that he isn’t the murderer.

    An obscure but effective giallo-esque thriller, The Fish With The Eyes Of Gold is a pretty solid mystery with some good performances and a great coastal setting that is very effectively exploited in the film. The plot moves at a nice clip and keeps us intrigued throughout, with some decent murder set pieces and a few interesting twists, turns and red herrings thrown in to keep thing surprising for its brisk running time.

    As far as the acting goes, Wal Davis handles his role just fine. He’s got an interesting, quirky screen presence and a unique look that makes him a good choice for that part, and he has a decent chemistry with lovely Montserrat Prous even if they, and pretty much everyone else in the movie, could have used a bit more depth to their characters. Victor Israel proves sorely underused and steals the few scenes that he’s in, while Barta Barri does really solid work as the cop tasked with figuring all of this out. The rest of the cast are fine, if not especially remarkable, but the leads all do a pretty good job in their respective roles.

    Spanish Blood Bath – Blu-ray Review:

    Each of the three movies in Spanish Blood Bath come to region free Blu-ray “newly scanned & restored in 4k from their original 35mm negatives” each on their own 50GB disc. The three features are framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and offered up in AVC encoded 1080p high definition. There are some small white specks visible now and again, and some tiny scratches that pop up here and there, but generally speaking, the transfers for each of the three features are pretty clean and show strong detail and depth. Colors are reproduced pretty nicely, they look quite natural, and we get good black levels as well. There’s loads of natural film grain here and everything always looks properly organic, showing no obvious issues at all with any noise reduction, edge enhancement or compression artifacts.

    Each of the features gets 24-bit DTS-HD 1.0 Mono tracks available in Spanish with optional subtitles in English only, though Violent Blood Bath also includes an English dubbed option. For the most part the audio quality is strong. Range is a bit limited and some scenes sound a tad flat but the quality is solid and tracks are clean, clear and properly balanced.

    Extra for Night Of The Skull include a thirteen minute interview with actor Antonio Mayans which is quite amusing as it incorporates the skull mask seen in the movie (or at least a mask that is very close to it, if not the actual one). He talks here about how he came to appear in the movie, meeting and working with Franco, getting paid to make one movie after the next with the director, Franco's unusual directing style, getting along with Lina Romay and other memories from the shoot.

    Additionally, the disc incudes an interview with Sitges Festival director Ángel Sala running ten minutes covering where Franco's career was at this point, how the film was a return to his earlier gothic style, connections to Poe and the Krimi books, the influence of Agatha Christie, thoughts on the performances, the importance of Romay’s presence in the movie and more.

    On the Violent Blood Bath disc we get a twenty minutes interview with Carlos Grau, son of director Jorge Grau. It covers how his father got into filmmaking after painting for years, his work as a writer and in the theater, his friendship with Fellini, how he always knew what he wanted while making his films, influences from art, film and literature that worked their way into his father's work, how this and some of his other films were received and other details related to his father's life and work.

    An interview with actor José Lifante runs eleven minutes and goes over his background as a stage actor, how he got into film, what the Spanish film industry was like at this time, how much he enjoyed working with his co-stars and with Grau, shooting on location, striving for accuracy, working with Grau on other films after this one was completed and other Spanish genre projects he's been involved with.

    This disc also features an interview with Sitges Festival director Ángel Sala running ten minutes. This covers where Grau's career was when he made this movie, his work in genre cinema and its impact, the importance of getting Fernando Ray and Marissa Mell in the film, the influence of Italian directors on the picture, the themes that the movie explores, how the movie was received upon release and how until this release is was quite a difficult movie to see.

    On the last disc, we get another interview with Ángel Sala running fourteen minutes that covers the film’s history, Ramírez's work in the industry and how he tended to wear many hats, cast and crew details, what set is work apart from other Spanish directors, the influence of Argento's giallo films, what makes the film uniquely Spanish while still being a knock off of the Italian giallo trends, Wal Davis' life and times and other details. Sala also shows up again in a quick two minute piece where he recommends five separate giallo films.

    If purchased through the Vinegar Syndrome website, the first 5,000 copies of the release will come with a nice limited edition embossed slipcover designed by JJ Harrison. This release also comes with some great reversible cover sleeve art.

    Spanish Blood Bath - The Final Word:

    Spanish Blood Bath brings together three less known but perfectly entertaining Spanish horror entries and brings them to Blu-ray in very nice presentations and with some decent extra features covering their history. Recommended.

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    Ian Jane
    Last edited by Ian Jane; 04-18-2024, 08:18 AM.

    • Gary Banks
      Gary Banks
      Senior Member
      Gary Banks commented
      Editing a comment
      I picked up a copy from Hamilton that was under $15. Thankfully, no slip cover. ( I do like the cover art for this set).
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