Wednesday, February 10, 2021

BLOOD CEREMONY (1973) (Mondo Macabro Blu-ray Review)


Label: Mondo Macabro 
Region Code: Region-Free
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 89 Minutes (Spanish Version), 90 Minutes (International Version)
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (1.66:1)
Audio: Spanish and English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with Optional English Subtitles 
Director: Jorge Grau
Cast: Lucia Bosè, Espartaco Santoni, Ewa Aulin, Ana Farra

Blood Ceremony (1973) AKA The Legend of Blood Castle comes to us from director Jorge Grau, best known to me as the director of the fantastic zombie flick The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (1974) AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.  Set somewhere in19th century Europe the film tells the tale of the noble-blooded Marquise Erzsebet Báthory (Lucia Bose, Moon Child), who is a descendant of and named after the notorious Erzebeth Báthory. 

Báthory is an aging beauty who is desperate to maintain her youth and to keep her husband Karl (Espartaco Santoni, Lisa and the Devil) attentions, but he has his sights set on Marina (Ewa Aulin, Death Laid An Egg), the gorgeous redheaded daughter of an innkeeper. One day a youthful servant girl attending to Báthory develops a nosebleed which drips onto her hand of her mistress, the Countess notices that the area where the blood dripped onto her skin has miraculously been rejuvenated. Bolstered by an old crone of a chambermaid named Camilla (Lola Gaos, Panic Beats) who speaks of her her lady's blood-bathing ancestor who maintained her youth unnaturally, she develops a lust for blood; not for drinking but for bathing in to restore her beauty and vitality.   

The Countess bloodletting starts of small, first by "accidentally" cutting a young girl visiting the castle with a shard of glass, and then later her husband convinces one of the chambermaids to allow him drain off a bit of her blood into a goblet. Eventually though she craves more of the red stuff, and to that end both Karl and Carmilla work to satiate her growing bloodlust with a steady supply of disposable, nubile young women. They devise out an elaborate routine by which Karl young seduces women in an attic space located directly above the Countess's bath chamber. After seducing the women he slits their throats so that their virginal blood is drained into a collection bowl that is funneled in a manner that directs the freshly spilled blood down upon Báthory who waits in her bathtub below. 

Meanwhile, in the background we have seen that the village where Báthory resides are a supernatural lot, the whole community is hysterical with vampire fear, the local court seems to routinely hold court over disinterred corpses that they fear are undead bloodsuckers. To this end Karl fakes his own death to cover-up the disappearance of young women he has murdered, but despite his wife's new youthful appearance he proves unable to keep away from the gorgeous Marina, which proves to be his ultimate undoing. 

This is a well-told tale of twisted nobility that is extremely well-crafted, and manages to tackle the Báthory mythos from a unique perspective that is not payed to death. I love the little touches like local superstitions based around vampires that are peppered throughout the film, as well as some sadomasochistic elements, and I thought that the surreal haunting of Báthory by her victims were well handled. Even at this early stage director Jorge Grau had an eye for Gothic Euro-horror, with lavish period set decoration and attractive looking Spanish locations. The cinematography is gorgeous, perfectly complimenting the film's slow-burning pace, which might be a tad slow for some, but thankfully it builds to a wonderful crescendo that wraps things up quite nicely. 

Audio/Video: Blood Ceremony (1973) arrives on region-free Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro who present both the uncensored international version of the film and the alternate Spanish version in 1080p HD and framed in 1.66:1 widescreen, sourced from a new 4K scan of the original negative. Note to viewer's, the Spanish version is a clothed version with no nudity, the international version is uncensored and uncut, and that is my preferred version. It's a gorgeous restoration with a thin sheen of film grain, the source is near spotless with no print damage whatsoever, aside from what looks to be some slightly inferior insert footage that appears not to have been sourced from the OCN. These scenes probably come from a theatrical print and do show a drop in quality and clarity, but otherwise this is a terrific looking presentation. Colors looks fantastic with the reds, lavender and purples having a solid showing. The fine detail is excellent throughout, the close-ups of skin reveal pores and fine hair while the period fabrics and clothing showcase plenty of detail. The black levels are also pleasing with nice layering that reveals plenty of shadow detail in the darker scenes. 

Audio comes by way of both Spanish and English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles. The international version gets both English and Spanish, while the Spanish cut gets Spanish audio only, both cuts include optional English subtitles. I found both audio options were clean and free of distortion, dialogue was not hard to discern and the score from Carlo Savina (The House of Exorcism) sounded terrific. 

Extras kick-off with a pair of audio commentaries, the first by way of another solid Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson team-up, the guys get into the Bathory legend and how Grau approached the mythos from a different angle, and how this came during a time when vampires were a big part of pop culture. As usual it is well-humored, informative and well worth a listen, I learned a lot. We also get a commentary from Robert Monell and Rod Barnett who talk quite a bit about leading lady Lucia Bose, who passed away earlier this year. The pair also get into the filmography of Jorge Grau, and Spanish
censorship under the rule of Franco, as well as touching on other notable cast.

Mondo Macabro also offer up a pair of archival interviews with the director, he first one runs about fifteen-minutes and covers Grau's early career, working as an actor and then moving onto directing theatre and documentaries before taking on feature filmmaking. The second interview runs twenty-six minutes and is more focused on the making of Blood Ceremony, with the the director covering how he researched and approached the Bathory legend, the shooting locations, and of how he once pitched the idea to Hammer Films years earlier, with the studio passing on it, only for Hammer to turn around and make Countess Dracula (1971)! 

We also get a selection of TV spots and trailers of varying quality utilizing the titles The Legend Of Blood Castle, Blood Ceremony and even the The Female Butcher title, these vary in quality from quite good to VHS video sources. The disc is buttoned-up with a cool two-minute pressbook image gallery and a wild fourteen-minute Mondo Macabro preview. The single-disc release arrives in a standard keepcase with a one-sided sleeve of artwork featuring a fantastic illustration by artist Justin Coffee. 

Special Features:
- Brand new 4k transfer from the original negative.
- Fully uncut International version and alternate Spanish version.
- Jordi Grau: Getting Started - Archive interview with director Jorge Grau (15 min) 
- Jordi Grau On Blood Ceremony - Archive interview with director Jorge Grau (26 min) 
- Trailers (8 min) 
- Audio commentary from Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson.
- Audio commentary from Robert Monell and Rod Barnett.
- Image Gallery (2 min) 
- Mondo Macabro Previews (14 min) 

Jorge Grau gets a lot of love for his surreal undead entry The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue (1974), and I hope this new Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro turns a few more people onto his atmospheric take on the Báthory mythos, a film which relies more on atmosphere and Gothic trappings than gore and shock, but it still has plenty of nudity, immorality and bloodletting. 

More screenshots from the Blu-ray: