From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
If you're looking for an example of Early 70's Exploitation that gets almost everything on the essentials checklist, from nudity that's usually presented in an artistic or at least confident style (it was about expression, man!), pre-TV stardom leads, heavy handed symbolism (the nice Water Nymph is clothed for one thing...), Nam references, 70's TV show lettering in the credits, an obviously tacked-on title bit, and a history of being not noticed before the VHS era, this is a good one. The only bad news is that there might never be an serious DVD presentation, fully restored and all, but those who have not seen it yet should not let that stop them from watching it.
The Early 70's were a classic era for low-budget Occult themed Independent/Skin-dependent films as well as flicks that were supposed to be a part of a then-new-Era of the Independents which in the end went nowhere but either a few theaters or, worse yet, in the vaults sometimes becoming worm food or having the luck to have someone in the world of VHS to dig out a print and put it on tape hoping to have an audience who will rent it. While the Hippie era was the first time American culture took Witchcraft into a trend, it took “The Permissive 70's” (as many trailers will call it for a reason to show all kinds of Adult Grindhouse Goodness) for it to be a really exploitable subject and stories that went into The Occult allowed for things to get arty and experimental as well as over-acted and messed up while keeping the audience in mind with the usual and welcome sights of naked women, resulting in a dark Post-Hippie film genre. Sadly, one of the more interesting examples of Early 70's Occult Exploitation was hardly Distributed in it's time, if it was even officially released theatrically at all, and it took a video release capitalizing on Geary's popularity for it to be noticed, but Blood Sabbath is seriously among those to watch at least once as a slightly different example of these films, and it is interesting to watch a Soap Opera star before his rise to fame in a low-budget flick and the Directing work of a future TV Cinematographer before her long line of success and groundbreaking who already had a lot of experience in the Low Budget world, some with one-time husband Jerry Warren through the Late 50's to Early 60's.
Blood Sabbath has a lot of good looking naked erotic witches (some familiar sights in Adult films), Dyanne Thorne as Alotta (Which could have been her second most popular character if this was better known), a Pre-General Hospital Tony Geary as a Vietnam Vet with a Sensitive Side (as well as a lot of hilarious quotable lines...”Take me soul, damn you!!!” will be remembered forever), a beautiful but usually clothed Water Nymph (Susan Damante), a cameo by Uschi Digard, a Feminist Hippie van that seriously dates it in the Early 70's, and a few laugh-inducing special effects. Exploitation film fans will also love it for being a rare film that was saved by a VHS release, although the lack of one-sheets and promo material will be a slightly irritating for those wanting to write about something about it without relying solely on screencaps from cheap DVDs (Although I do wonder if the credited stills by a co-producer still exist). Sadly, the film is only available in the Straight from Video transfers, and will possibly never have a true fully restored release, but at least there is some kind of release of a film that's great to recommend to students of 70's Exploitation as well as those interested in checking out the Directorial style of Brianne Murphy, who's experience in low budget film making dates back to working with Jerry Warren through the Late 50's to Early 60's and including a few films for companies such as Crown International was perfect for Directing a film right in the middle of America's Exploitation wars, although it took a long wait into the next decade for many to see the interesting results after a history that's still very interesting today..
The story surrounds Folkie Nam Vet David (Geary, 22 at the time of filming) wandering around the woods with acoustic guitar and sandals looking for all the world like any anonymous singer of the time ready to go on the John Denver bandwagon (thankfully, he does not sing), who's harassed by a group of noisy naked Hippies, including Uschi who shows off her well known trademark breasts for a few seconds, and then (through clumsy editing) bangs his head/trips on a rock by the river, resulting in a dream of meeting the Water Nymph Yyalah, who's almost always in clothes (and a slightly ill-fitting wig). After being woken up by a local resident, Lonzo (Sam Gilman), the Vet befriends him but after a while starts to find out a little more than what he should about where he's at, although of course the viewer may start wondering if the bump on the rock was really the start of a feature-length dream or if he was really dead and on the way to his post-life experience (of course, that's if the viewer really gave a damn about him at all). Wanting Yyalah, and knowing that he has to sacrifice his soul, goes on a quest to find out how to do it, and in one memorable scene he gets the Padre (Steve Graves) angry after asking him at the local cantina (Thorne) also wants David, resulting in the good old Good Vs. Evil clash of the spirits, with room for plenty of naked witchery and showing the Priest off as a not-so-holy man that has a preferred witch of his own within the Coven.
Back at the Witch's Den, the Priest discusses with Alotta that the soul sacrifices of children in order to be part of the coven in their lives have to stop. As expected, Alotta decides to put a voodoo curse on him, resulting in both the hilarious and cheesy “red ooze from the voodoo doll” sequence with Thorne still commanding a classy evil presence (She is Ilsa, after all!). David soon finds out a mystery surrounding the village - Lonzo is the one who brings the children to the coven, but the Vet decides to offer himself instead in order to be with Yyalah with one painful memory influencing his decision to stop the child soul sacrifice for at least one year. Being The 70's, there has to be the Depressing Nam Flashback Moment, here served well through David killing children in the war (Cue low-budget cut away from a close up of the vet to a close up featuring non-convincing Catchup on the Kids special effects). Although they do take his soul (Damn them!), Alotta finds a way to make things a little complicated for the Vet as she tries to find a way to win him over to her side, as part of the deal involves joining the Coven if Yyalah decides not to be with him, and with plenty of good looking witches of many kinds around, it should be easy, but this is not an Ilsa flick, so it's a little different this time, although of course you do get to see a lot of naked hippie witches moving around in a circle.
Through the last half, Alotta messes with David's head trying to capture him including a blood drinking initiation and ordering him to decapitate the head of the priest, which results in the infamous “Talking to a wax head” scene which Thorne still pulls off very well. To further the complication, she also does a seductive dance that switches identities from the Witch to Yyalah in a standout scene. After all of this, David still has his love for the Water Nymph in full and decides to kill off Alotta although she has one more curse for him to be killed by his own people. Cue one more cheaply-made Nam Flashback, this time featuring Geary yelling out “Change your heading, damn you! You're bombing your own people!!!,” and the return of the annoying Hippie Van ready to squash him to his Heaven, and the Happily Ever After sequence of David and Yyalah swimming off in the river forever and ever with fittingly sappy Folk music sending them on their way and the viewer to the Stop button of the remote.
The Late 60's and Early 70's had their share of allegory-ridden flicks that leave the viewer to decide what happened, trying to aim for something artistic but not really reaching the heights of the classics, although most of them are still watchable for other reasons than plot. Given that this was a Vietnam-era production that mixed the sexual and serious, I can guess that the “Twist Ending” hinted at some kind of Anti-War statement and my personal verdict is that the innocence-seeking David was on a journey down to his post-life destination, with his nature symbolized by loving the usually-clothed Yyalah and screaming like a wimp at the naked hippie chicks (OK, maybe he was one of the few who actually payed attention to the VD reels The Army showed as well...NAH! This is a Serious Erotic Hippie Occult flick, you have to have the heavy handed symbolism). OK, the ending was a bit of a downer, and maybe something that may not have set in very well with a few people (This is a Nam Vet who had to kill his soul for his love), but then again that's a part of it's charm of being different. Sadly, however, it's fate never gave it a chance to see if that kind of being different would work on audiences even with plenty of exploitable moments within, but I'm sure that an Exploitation film with an obvious serious angle may have not been comfortable with an audience that just wanted to be entertained while serious film audiences may have called it just a Nudie flick.
Apart from the Folk music by Chuck Cowan that starts and ends the film (Was this a single?!!! I'd love to have a copy as a fan of this flick alone! Discogs has no mention, but maybe there could have been Promo singles...), the music by Les Baxter, here known as Lex, fits in very good complete with trippy effects and a few slightly Jazzy moments that might make a killer album on their own. Sadly, what lets the film down in places is in some of the editing - For every good scene like the Dance of Alotta there's at least a couple that were sloppy such as David's fall at the beginning - and parts where it gets a little too light or dark. Still when all's said and done, it winds up a fascinating flick.
I still wonder about the film's production and release. My guess was that the film was made at least in Late 1969/Early 1970, going by Geary's memories of being 22 at the time of filming in an 1981 interview with Soap Opera Digest, and it was possibly was not shopped around much or maybe not given that much of a chance to be, and maybe it was played a few times by the time of it's Copyright in 1972. In a way, if this filmed then, it can be also easy to assume that such a film would have been hard to move by 1972 when the quickly-changing market was going very violent or Hardcore and such symbolism-ridden erotically charged films would not have been easy to sell as they might have been in '69-'70 - Made when it was fresh, put on the market past by the sell-by date, perhaps. There were reports of the prints being destroyed in a fire in a book on Bax's music, although the video existence at least shows that there were possibly a couple of prints that survived or at least were around before they too were possibly lost. The first known release of this film was with it's VHS tape in the Early 80's, with a built in audience ready to see what Tony Geary did in his Pre-stardom years as well as a cult audience for Dyanne Thorne wanting to watch other films she appeared in beyond Ilsa. Maybe we will get the full story soon.
For those into 70's Occult Exploitation, low-budget faults and all, this is one of the essentials, and a mention in Nightmare USA gives it an ultimate endorsement.
Reviewed by Screen 13