Sunday, 5 October 2014

Halloween 31 For 31: The Sadist With Red Teeth (1970)


Dir. Jean Louis Van Belle

Whether the film in question is great or merely fascinating on the first viewing, the fact remains that, when you have a movie that is at least different, it'll never be a dull viewing experience. With DVD label Mondo Macabro, while importing their stock is going to be the only way to access their back catalogue, (though they did released DVDs for the UK once), the likelihood is for myself, as for others, every disc will introduce a new side of cinema I would never know of before, in this case the work of director Jean Louis Van Belle. After a tragic car crash, a comic book artist suffers from mental trauma where he is under the belief he is a vampire. Unfortunately rather than curing him of this, his psychiatrist is a mad one, desiring to push his psychosis to the point he becomes an actual blood drinker of the night. All it takes is a push, some hypnosis and him finding novelty vampire teeth in a joke shop. The Sadist With Red Teeth, excuse the pun, is a batty film. It's a movie that plays around its plot rather than be progressed along by it, deliberately absurd in its tone.

The film is quick to undercut its narrative with various forms of experimentation that goes on in-between the campy narrative of a man turning into a vampire. Opening credits, featuring scenes from later in the film, done in negative. Spiders superimposed in blood red over pieces of black card placed on the main actor's eyes or in his mouth in non-plot related sequences. Most curious of all is the use of stock black-and-white footage of a tornado hitting a town, of buildings being demolished and other footage to represent the protagonist's detachment from reality; it evokes the improvised feel of Bruce Conner's A Movie (1958), of putting various types of stock footage together, than for a conventional symbolic touch. The film is incredibly delirious, not taking itself seriously at all. Actors suddenly appear with faces painted in various colours in a scene set in a butcher's shop, the more odd for its matter-of-face nature as the main character shrugs off the hallucinations of his mind calmly. There is a comparison between cops and chickens as said character with his girlfriend encounters the later and asks for handcuffs when he buys one. The content is general is very exaggerated. Despite its narrative - as the psychiatrist, with his assistant with a continuous facial tick, continually check up on their patient and help him on his way to vampirism, leading to people dying of neck trauma - the farcical tone the movie takes is to the point, using the visual experimentation and odd sequences, that it is much more the playful game of viewing the film rather than the plot which is of importance.

The film's bright sixties aesthetic against the grey, urban streets, in the cusp of one decade with its own cinema into the next, emphasises this. It becomes obvious that, in material with him talking about his career, included in the only existing DVD release of The Sadist With Red Teeth, that director Jean Louis Van Belle is a very self deprecating man who likes to undercut perceptions, so it makes natural sense that there is a jokey, self humoured to the film even if it's still played "straight" without any irony. The vampirism is depicted as ludicrous when the protagonist is pushed towards becoming an actual vampire. It eventually leads to a rampage at a costume party where everyone - the police, his girlfriend, the doctor and his assistant, and a boastful, loud mouthed former lion tamer planning to claim a reward for the vampire's capture - give chase after him like a Benny Hill sketch with the fast forwarding or silly music. The only serious vampirism until the exact end is the protagonist's transformation, meeting an older man who will bite his neck and turn him. It's serious because the older man is from the director's 1969 mondo documentary Forbidden Paris, the last vampire who is seen getting his freshly prepared blood from a slaughter house, the reality leading to this fictional tale and, admirably, nodding back in respect to the real man and treating him with respect by making him the being who bequests the protagonist into his world. As for the protagonist, it only when the film ends on a supernatural note that his vampirism is taken seriously, the rest not mocking the idea but depicting it's story as a lark. One that skirts Euro horror tropes - like a nude photo shot with two women involving hallucinations of paint red blood over bared torsos - but always inserts a winking nod to its absurdity. It's not really the film I was expecting to see in tone, to be honest, so this was an unexpected surprise to have to adapt to. Rather than a narrative, as usually the case is, of a wannabe vampire stalking various people, a Euro horror film with blood, maybe some sex, the melding of the Gothic with the then-contemporary, the vampire threat is kept to the last quarter, the rest of the eighty minutes beforehand a lark that completely goes against this perception.

Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
If one was to remove Jean Louis Van Belle's playful tone and the experimentation, then the result wouldn't be The Sadist With Red Teeth. It's a film that is quirky, not in a lame, jokey way, but one that likes having fun with its material, playing with the format, but not in an intellectual dissertation, instead having a jest in its story, as it pushes it to the side in favour of moments for the sake of the images being created. As already suggested, it's very much a lark in its attitude to itself, the result coming off as very different from many European films, even from unconventional directors like Jean Rollin, that would've taken this premise down the route of erotic/gothic jolts.

A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
While 'Personal Opinion' is not being used to close this particular set of reviews, this is the case where writing about the film really creates position attitude where I like the movie in question more so having thought about it. Maybe I liked Forbidden Paris from the two disc set this film is on, I can't say for certain yet. This film does tie into the question set for these Halloween reviews that, yes, this counts as part of the blog, not just getting onto the key list, but because you don't get a film like The Sadist With Red Teeth more often, especially now. I am grateful for Mondo Macabro making the film available, letting people know the existence of Jean Louis Van Belle's work, but it would've required them to have done their digging for films like this, in many ways the same mentality I have for my blog here, but for distributing obscure films from around the world, trying to find the least conventional of cinema, having a definition for what that means that is as widely encompassing and all embracing as they can with it. I can only hope the kindness of someone's massive heart releases more of the director's directorial efforts. If not Mondo Macabro, then any other DVD distributor.

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