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Plot: kickboxer avenges the death of his brother.

At one point in the mid-nineties Albert Pyun was the go-to guy for cheapo kickboxing movies. Sure, he was no Cirio H. Santiago, but who is? Santiago was the master of topless kickboxing with TNT Jackson (1974), the self-proclaimed “first erotic kung fu classicNaked Fist (1981) (with Jillian Kessner), and the relative unknown Angelfist (1993) (with Cat Sassoon and Melissa Moore). Pyun was the man behind the first sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme action classic Kickboxer (1989) and if there’s one thing that can be counted upon, it’s that Pyun never will let an opportunity go to waste. Before he made the cyberpunk slogfest Heatseeker (1995) (with Keith Cooke and Tina Cote) there was Bloodmatch. An expert in stretching budgets and resources (as his Nemesis series attests to) Bloodmatch was filmed back-to-back with Kickboxer 2: The Road Back (1991) and shared much of the same production crew and cast. It answers that question that has haunted Sidaris fans for years: what exactly did Hope Marie Carlton do after Savage Beach (1989) and her exit from the Andy-verse?

Well, for a while at least it looked as if hottie Hope was going to carve out a decent career as supporting actress for herself. Before her last outing with Sidaris she already had a bit part (where she showed quite a bit) in Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988). She could be seen in the Huey Lewis and the News music video for ‘Give Me the Keys (And I'll Drive You Crazy)’ in 1989 as well as Ghoulies III: Ghoulies Go to College (1990) and the Roger Corman produced Slumber Party Massacre III (1990), more often than not in roles wherein some nudity was required.

To top things off Carlton also made an appearance as Stiletto in the 1994 Electronic Arts point-and-click adventure game Noctropolis. And the other big name (although that is, admittedly, very relative) is Thom Mathews. Mathews had starred in The Return of the Living Dead (1985), and Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986) but by the following decade would become an Albert Pyun regular with roles in, among others, Nemesis (1992), Heatseeker (1995), Blast (1997), and Mean Guns (1997). Michel Qissi played a small role in Bloodsport (1988) and perhaps is best known as the villain Tong Po in Kickboxer (1989). Sadly, Qissi has done little of interest since. He’d feel right at home in Ben Combes’ long-awaited Commando Ninja (2018) sequel.

Brick Bardo (Thom Mathews) plans to exact revenge on everyone involved in the disappearance (and apparent death) of his brother Wood Wilson. After chasing and subsequently torturing Davey O’Brien (Michel Qissi) on a stretch of concrete in the baking sun he learns a few things. First, Wilson was involved in illegal price fighting and this transgression led to his exile from the sport and was key to his apparent suicide.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, O’Brien (whether Davey is related to Chance or China is, unfortunately, never revealed) spills the names of the parties involved in the scheme: current middleweight champion Brent Caldwell (Dale Jacoby), kickboxer turned janitor Billy Muñoz (Benny Urquidez), fighter Mike Johnson (Thunderwolf, as Thunder Wolf), and promoter Connie Angel (Hope Marie Carlton). Bardo and his assistant Max Manduke (Marianne Taylor) travel crosscountry to pick up their targets, and if they don’t cooperate the duo simply drug, coerce (either by having Max bed them, or kidnap their families), or knock them about into doing their bidding. For the occasion the duo have rented the Las Vegas Arena to enact their own Bloodmatch.

The American martial arts movie is a strange beast. On the one hand there are the early Jean-Claude Van Damme classics who do the genre justice, and then there’s everything else. Bloodmatch, obviously, falls into the latter category but acquits itself at least partly with the presence of Benny Urquidez (who also was responsible for all the action choreography) and Dale Jacoby. The arena fights are heavily edited and artificially intensified by making ample use of fast cuts and constant repeats of the same punches and kicks. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and an effective one when used sparingly. Not so here since none (except maybe Urquidez and Jacoby) were actual fighters and preparation for the fights was probably minimal. Of the vintage Sidaris bikini babes Hope Marie Carlton was always the only who could reasonably act. She does so here too, and for once the role doesn’t require of her to get naked. Who does get naked is Marianne Taylor. Taylor bears some resemblance to Nemesis (1992) star Deborah Shelton, and Pyun doesn’t shy away from shooting her from a few very flattering angles. Like Tinto Brass, Pyun too seems to like junk in the trunk. The remainder of the cast are complete nonentities, and not worth discussing as such.

As always director of photography George Mooradian at least makes whatever Pyun shoots look good. The same goes for long-time composer Anthony Riparetti who provides a suitable score for what, for all intents and purposes, is a boring slogfest. Heatseeker (1995) and Mean Guns (1997) (both not Pyun’s finest hour either) were not only marginally more interesting visually, but they actually had a pulse. Bloodmatch was apparently shot on autopilot and none of that keen visual flair and deft action direction that made Nemesis (1992) a minor action hit is accounted for here. The screenplay is functional in its minimalism and was written by Pyun under the nom de plume of K. Hannah (an apparent portmanteau of Kitty Chalmers and Hannah Blue, two pen names old Al frequently used around this time). It’s not often that it happens but Bloodmatch makes Angelfist (1993) and Heatseeker (1995) looks like works of art in comparison. That Bloodmatch would fail as a thriller was all but a given and it makes the critical error of having stilted and slow kickboxing routines. Nobody expects the American martial arts movie to match, let alone surpass, its agile Far East counterparts – but even by lowly American standards Bloodmatch is terminally rote in every sense of the word.

Plot: four comely women and their chaperon strand in the Carpathians 

In The Wolfman vs the Vampire Woman (1971) Barbara Capell's Genevieve Bennett jokingly mused, “Perhaps Count Dracula will appear and he will invite us to spend the night in his castle.” Two years later and with a fresh batch of willing and able Eurobabes the Spanish Lon Chaney, Jr. Paul Naschy did indeed made good on that promise. Shot back-to-back with The Hunchback of the Rue Morgue and using many of the same talent in front, and behind, the camera Count Dracula’s Great Love is a throwback to the costume period horror pieces from Britain’s horror factory Hammer Film. With little in the way of innovation and an abundance of heaving bosoms, Count Dracula’s Great Love is a glacially paced exercise with enough idiosyncrasies of its own to keep it interesting for the gothic horror fanatic.

1973 proved a fertile year for the gothic horror throwback following the success of Hammer Film's Karnstein trilogy of Vampire Lovers (1970), Lust For A Vampire (1971), and Twins Of Evil (1971) as well as Jesús Franco's Vampyros Lesbos (1971), Jean Rollin's The Nude Vampire (1970), and features like The Night Of the Damned (1971). Among others that year saw the release of The Devil's Wedding Night (with Rosalba Neri), The Dracula Saga (with Helga Liné and Narciso Ibáñez Menta), Black Magic Rites (with Rita Calderoni), and Female Vampire (with Lina Romay). Nude For Satan (1974) and Vampyres (1974) arrived early enough to benefit from the wave. The granddaddy of them all was, of course, Emilio Vieyra's blood-and-boobs spectacular Blood Of the Virgins (1967) (with Susana Beltrán). With interest in erotic gothic horror and vampires at an all-time high Paul Naschy couldn’t possibly stay behind. He penned his own peculiar take on the Dracula legend with assistance from director Javier Aguirre, and Alberto S. Insúa. Almost two decades after Lamberto Bava’s I, Vampiri (1954) Paul Naschy embodied a sullen King of Vampires in what can be considered an unicum in his filmography.

En route from Biarritz to the Carpathians via the Borgo Pass Imre Polvi (Víctor Barrera, as Vic Winner) and his four comely lady friends Senta (Rosanna Yanni, as Rossana Yanny), Karen (Haydée Politoff), Elke (Mirta Miller), and Marlene (Ingrid Garbo) discuss the significance of the Carpathians, its relation to the Dracula legend, and its roots in the historical accounts of Vlad Tepes, the warlord of Wallachia. Accounts that they, for all intents and purposes, couldn’t possibly be aware of considering it is only 1870. When their carriage loses a wheel, and their coachman is critically injured in the process, they are forced to seek refuge in the isolated residence of Dr. Wendell Marlowe (Jacinto Molina Álvarez, as Paul Naschy), who lives in a opulent castle, a renovated sanitarium of one Dr. Kargos, a portmanteau of famous Dracula actors Boris Karloff and Béla Lugosi. Their gracious host is delighted by the company of the delectable aristocrat ladies and welcomes them into his abode. From there on out the ladies and their chaperon soon discover that Marlowe is not quite who he pretends to be.

Upon settling in their rooms for the night the five travellers are soon witness to the strange going-ons in and around the castle. Shadowy figures stalk the darkened hallways, and Dr. Marlowe’s nocturnal behavior soon reveals that he is actually the Prince of Darkness himself, the fabled Count Dracula. In quick succession the bra-busting Senta, Elke (who everybody calls “elle-key”), and Marlene fall victim to the Count’s diabolical charms and are turned into his Brides. To the virginal Karen, with whom Dracula is smitten from the moment she sets foot in his castle, he entrusts that he seeks a woman of pure blood that loves him, as a means to resurrect his daughter Rahdna. "The Prince of Darkness will not acquire the true potential of his bewitching power until he encounters a true virgin that will fall in love with the vampire in a natural way... giving herself to him without the need of his diabolical powers", as he puts it himself. Alternately, Dracula sees Karen as his true love, and as the ideal sacrifice to facilitate the resurrection of his long-dormant daughter. The plotpoint is quickly discarded in favor of a tragically romantic subplot as Count Dracula wants to spent eternity with Karen, an idea she isn’t very comfortable with. It is then that the dejected Dracula commits suicide by pushing a stake through his own heart.

What little there is of actual plot and character development is compensated by the ladies’ lovely costumes. The second act is awash with several scenes of blood drinking, whipping, torture, and lesbian groping. To their credit Yanni, Miller and Garbo (in one of her last roles) all have extended nude scenes in the international market versions. In an interesting twist of convention Imre Polvi, the chaperon to the four aristocratic ladies, is victimised by one of the castle-dwelling grave diggers from the prolog that were turned by Dracula. Imre in turn vampirizes half of the ladies before Dracula sinks his teeth into the remaining few. Senta, Elke, and Marlene become the Brides of Dracula, while the virginal Karen wards off her exanimate companions. In an unexpected twist of chivalry, an undead Imre defends Karen from the clutches of Dracula in the second act. The tragic love story would make a return in Francis Ford Coppola’s big-budget retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) with Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves, and Winona Ryder.

Director Javier Aguirre had just directed The Hunchback of the Rue Morgue, another classic movie monster project by the prolific Paul Naschy with Rosanna Yanni and Víctor Barrera in the principal cast. French actress Haydée Politoff debuted in the Éric Rohmer film La Collectionneuse (1967) but from 1970 became an erotic exploitation - and horror cinema regular. She retired from acting after her last film in 1981. Rosanna Yanni had worked earlier with Paul Naschy in The Mark of the Wolfman (1968), and played one the barmaids in Amando de Ossorio’s Fangs Of the Living Dead (1969), for which she also acted as producer. Next to playing in Count Dracula’s Great Love in 1973 Yanni also appeared in The Amazons by former Bond director Terence Young. Naschy before, and after, would return to his lycanthrope nobleman Waldemar Daninsky in the years after. Interestingly, Count Dracula’s Great Love was the only time that Paul Naschy would portray the immortally condemned Count Dracula.

Even for 1970 standards Count Dracula’s Great Love is charmingly stuffy. The lush costumes, the interiors full of shadowy corridors, and torchlit mausoleums, and fog-filled exteriors are all the work of production designer José Luis Galicia. The rustic cinematography by Raúl Pérez Cubero and majestic score by Carmelo A. Bernaola greatly add to the atmosphere of a land frozen in time. All are testament to the fact that Count Dracula’s Great Love has it roots in Dracula adaptations of the 1950/60s. Naschy’s Dracula isn’t a hulking mortal threat that wields inconceivable power and commands arcane forces far beyond the ken of man. In Count Dracula’s Great Love the Count rather is a mousy character not that different from his mortal house guests, consumed by the very same frailties and weaknesses. It is this what makes Count Dracula’s Great Love interesting beyond the appeal of its more obvious exploitation elements such as rampant nudity and bloodletting.