Ivy and Violet, her sister, go to a bar and drink shots to mourn their father. The bar is owned by a criminal who has previously been involved with both sisters, and who's currently blackmailing Ivy. Which makes it a perfect location for their mourning. A third friend who joined them is murdered, along with her boyfriend, later that night. The friend is apparently suffocated, but then appears in a pick-up scene in which she spends a long time tied up with no top on, as the killer slowly tortures her and plays a recorded message from a CD player.
Ivy's boyfriend, who was allegedly away at the time of her dad's assassination, and is thus a prime suspect, is next to be dispatched. Before he's killed, the killer breaks into Ivy's house and knocks her unconscious, but doesn't kill her. The police detective brilliantly theorises that Ivy's not being murdered was deliberate (and not some bizarre administrative oversight) on the part of the killer. The detective then talks to three acquaintances of Ivy and Violet, each of whom reveal that the sisters had a long-running feud. One of the three, Lloyd Kaufman playing a hammy lawyer who helped Ivy cut Violet out of her father's will, also reveals that Violet was adopted. Two of the three people the detective interviews are then murdered.
Ivy then remembers that a barman who works for the blackmailing gangster once tried to rape her, leading to even more questions as to why she went to that bar after her father died. Finally, a suspect! think the police (although anyone who's read that previous paragraph may already have a suspect in mind). The police raid the barman's house and find evidence linking him to the murders. He then turns up at Ivy's house, murdering the armed policeman who's guarding her, but acts hurt and confused when she tries to run away from him and keeps stabbing him (he obviously acts physically hurt because of this, but he seems emotionally hurt too). He's shot by the detective as he looms over Ivy, who's opted for a bizarrely-timed comic pratfall by tripping over a rake. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief, and Ivy is saved.
Except she's not; the real mastermind is-shock, horror-her evil adopted sister. They engage in a charmingly ineffective fight, and the detective, who decided that the barman didn't actually have enough of a motive to be behind the murders (he did though) turns up briefly, before being killed as he explains his deductive reasonings. The sisterly combat resumes, and Violet casts doubt on the adoption theory by showing that physical comedy is also in her DNA, as she trips dramatically on that same old rake and stabs herself. Ivy finishes her off, and the torture is over.
Everything in the film has a dead atmosphere. The acting, lighting and staging shoulders much of the responsibility for this, as does the cheapness of the digital format on which it was shot. One of the main culprits, though, is the editing. If every shot in the film was trimmed by half a second at its beginning and end, it would play much better. Ted Moehring, in common with many low budget auteurs, seems to think that allowing a shot to drag on way past the point at which the actors have left the frame adds a kind of weight to proceedings. Doing this can, on occasion, generate some weight of meaning, which is why you'll see occasional scenes in Hollywood films linger on empty frames at their conclusion. The power achieved by such editing, though, comes from the change of rhythm, the very fact that the shot lingers whereas previous scenes have concluded quicker. When every scene, and many shots within the scene, concludes in the same manner, this impact is lost. The kill scenes also have odd pacing; whereas in most films the editing and style in general would amp up, here we're treated to extra-lengthy shots of people pushing gently against each other.
This editing deficiency also applies to the film's dialogue; almost every exchange takes place between isolated talking heads, badly-acting back and forth in close ups which always show the person who's speaking. The rhythm is way off almost every time, with a beat too long elapsing between one person finishing talking and the other replying. Again, this can be fixed in editing. The editing of big budget films tends to be invisible (unless it is expressive, as a stylistic choice) designed to facilitate the progression of the film without drawing attention to itself, or, indeed, to the fact that we're watching a film. This seems easy to achieve when you watch those films (totally unaware of the editing), but rendering something invisible is easier said than done, and there is a lot of skill involved. And editing is just one link of the filmmaking chain; the best editor in the world can only work with what he's given. If you gave him or her the rushes of this film, they'd throw the tapes back in your face and run off (taking care to watch out for errant rakes).
One final point on the editing-there are many instances of old-fashioned cutting, where a wide shot cuts to a medium or close up from the exact same angle. This is something you'll see in John Ford westerns (and early gialli like The Embalmer), but in very few modern day films.Whether it's a stylistic choice or a byproduct of ignorance, I'll decline to speculate.
Framing is another area where cheap films routinely fall down (as does this film). Professionally-shot films generally use camera angles which present the events on screen in the best, or most appropriate, light, so to speak (they also have good lighting, which low budget films do not). Low budget films, due to time, skill and location constraints, often have acres of dead space in frames, and lose eyeline matches etc. The jerky, awkward pans in Bloodbath are another black mark. It's admirable of Moehring to try to liven up proceedings with some camera movement, unfortunately the movement has all the grace of one of the sisters running through a garden.
Another recurring sin is the cropping of heads. You'll see this in some older films which have been shot in 4:3 ratio and released on DVD in widescreen without proper care and attention paid to the framing of the release (sometimes the care and attention was lacking in the initial framing, cf Andy Milligan films). In Bloodbath, characters regularly stand up out of the frame, or enter a scene with only their shoulders down on show. If the killer's preferred mode of dispatch was the guillotine you could make a case for this being as clever directorial touch. It wasn't though. The best I can offer is that the tallest actor, who's the most affected by this, is also credited as the boom operator, so he might have been multitasking.
Many of the recent gialli, including my own effort, have been shot digitally. High-end digital video can these days emulate film almost to the point of being indistinguishable. For those of us at the lower end of the spectrum, we have a choice. Do we embrace the cheap digital look for what it is, or do we try to disguise the limitations and ape the rich film look as best we can? Actually, it's not really a choice, as every single filmmaker plumps for the latter. The hyper-real quality of cheap digital video could theoretically be used to interrogate the 'reality' of what we see on screen, and the filmmaking process itself (which is something I'll be attempting in a project next year), but viewers of a gialli don't want any meta nonsense intruding on the film (unless you're a fan of Cattet and Forzani for some reason). Thus the only real choice is to try and make the film in the classical style, hoping that the lack of resources won't be too much of a turn-off. In the case of Bloodbath, the low budget oozes from every pore of the film. The lighting, staging and set design never rises above rank-amateur (I've never seen a film so willing to use marker-on-paper in place of actual signs).
And, finally, we come to the events of the film. It's a fairly by-the-book giallo, involving an old-school inheritance wrangle, as well as the romantic entanglements beloved of 70s entries in the canon. These entanglements happen off-screen (before the events of the film begin), with the only nudity occurring during the murder scenes. The second such scene, in particular, betrays a modern influence, with the torturing of the topless woman continuing for a long, long time. The torture in classic gialli was of a psychological nature, as the victim tried in vain to escape the ever-encroaching tendrils of the killer. Here, we just watch someone stick metal bars through wads of latex for five minutes.
The mystery element doesn't really work, especially as the end twist basically amounts to no more than 'the two most obvious suspects were, in fact, guilty'. Too much information is leaked about Violet for her involvement to be a surprise-we know that she's been cut out of Ivy's will, and that Ivy and her spent years at loggerheads, stealing each other's boyfriends. Given all this, it almost makes sense that she'd be the one trying to torment Ivy. What makes less sense is why all these other people have to die; why didn't she just kill Ivy and frame the lunk-headed barman? She does manage to frame the barman, but only then, after he's killed, does she try to kill Ivy. And if she's successful she'll unframe the barman! Back to the drawing board, Violent Violet.
The twist, whereby the barman is revealed to have been no more than a stooge, would have been more surprising if his demise didn't occur almost twenty minutes before the film's conclusion. I'm not sure if it's actually fair to take this fact into consideration-DVD and Blu ray players allow us to access information re: running times which would be denied us in the cinemas, which arguably should not be taken into account when viewing a film. (However, it's not as if Bloodbath was likely to ever get a cinema release.) Saying all that, part of me was hoping that the film was indeed over, and that Ted Moehring was one of those guys who like to pad out films with interminable end credits (I'm looking at you, Onettis). He certainly padded it out enough with the lackadaisical editing.
I don't want to be too harsh on him, and the film, though. It's clearly a labour of love, and I know only too well the attendant heartache which comes with low, low budget production. There is evidence of an intelligence behind the camera ('volition' and 'paramour' are not words which grace many sub-$1000 films), and the passion shines through. It's also mercifully free of homages (although a question-'Do you know Edgar Wallace'-initially seemed to me to be the most bizarre non-sequitur of all time before I copped that it was the name of a character who'd just been murdered). I first viewed it a couple of days after rewatching Rob Zombie's debut, House of 1000 Corpses. It occurrs to me that they have a lot in common: films made by extremely passionate neophytes with a deep love of the genre who, sadly, didn't have a huge grasp on what they were doing.
Cool title though.