Plot: some siblings scheme, others kill for their inheritance...
Just like you don’t need to go to Texas for a good chainsaw massacre, likewise you don’t need to go to Argentina or Mexico to have something resembling a 90-minute pilot to a very deranged unproduced telenovella. Blood Mania (released in Belgium as Pornomania for one reason or another) does not concern itself with the horror aspect all that much. In essence it’s a somewhat daft crime noir enlivened by sudden dashes of completely gratuitous nudity. Blood Mania (a title that should be read symbolically rather than literally) was the absolute sole vision of just one man and that should count for something. In other words, Blood Mania is sleaze of the highest order and the sort of drive-in swill that used to be plentiful. It might not have been Die Screaming Marianne (1971) or possess the garish arthouse style of an early giallo, what it was more than anything was an unpleasant reminder of a very polarizing time in recent American history.
At the dawn of the 1970s North American and British was engulfed by a deluge of British terror and suspense films that weren’t mere thrillers yet not fully horror. It was a decade of great social – and political upheaval. The Beatles had broken up, the US made an embarrassing retreat from Vietnam, and disco was on the rise. While it was a decade of unprecedented technological and scientific advances The Great Inflation (that lasted from 1971 to, say, 1983) saw many unemployed or under employed. The abject poverty naturally led to a surge in crime. In many ways the prestige of the United States on the international stage was severely eroding. Dirty Harry (1971) and Death Wish (1974) made the loose cannon vigilante cop the hero of the day. While many marginalized groups (minorities, women, gays, et al) fought for equality the New Right rose in response as a populist pushback in defense of political conservatism and traditional gender roles.
In 1973 the Supreme Court legalized a woman’s right to an abortion nationwide in the case that would be known as Roe v. Wade. It was upheld until June 2022 when it was overturned on constitutional grounds. The political, social, and racial unrest and tension translated into deluge of North American and British terror and suspense films such as, among others, Women and Bloody Terror (1970), Die Screaming Marianne (1971), The Roommates (1973), Wicked, Wicked (1973), House of Whipcord (1974), and Nightmare Honeymoon (1974) that blurred the line between the thriller and full-blown horror. Blood Mania might very well be one of the earlier examples of that nigh decade-long evolution. The cycle culminated and eventually concluded with John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978). The template of that masterclass in suspense was adopted by less discerning directors and producers who gravely misunderstood its many subtleties and nuances. This in turn led to the birthing and codifying of the American slasher that would come to dominate the cineplexes.
The man behind Blood Mania is Peter Carpenter. He forged an alliance with producer Chris Marconi for two drive-in features that he would co-write, star, and produce. Both would be filmed in California and pool talent from his production company Jude Productions. As the first of the two Blood Mania was shot over a brisk 12 days in and around Bela Lugosi’s former lakeshore property in Lake Elsinore. Carpenter and Marconi hired director of photography Robert Maxwell and an unspecified director. At the last minute the director had to be replaced and Robert Vincent O’Neill was brought in. Maxwell had worked with Ted V. Mikels on his Girl in Gold Boots (1968) and The Astro-Zombies (1968) as well as Edward D. Wood, Jr. protégé Stephen C. Apostolof and exploitation grandmaster Lee Frost. O’Neill had worked in the art department on Psych-Out (1968) and The Savage Seven (1968) and as prop master on Dennis Hopper’s biker countercultural juggernaut Easy Rider (1969). He had cut his teeth with exploitation romps Like Mother Like Daughter (1969), and The Psycho Lover (1970). However, for whatever reason Maxwell was let go about midway through production and replaced by the always reliable Gary Graver. He, of course, was the husband of Jullian Kesner from Starhops (1978), Naked Fist (1981), Raw Force (1982), and Evil Town (1985). O’Neill would associate produce Bonnie’s Kids (1972) and direct, among many others, supreme sleaze as Angel (1983), and Avenging Angel (1985). Maxwell would go on to photograph grindhouse bona fides as The Candy Snatchers (1973) and the proto-slasher The Centerfold Girls (1974). The cast were a bunch of regulars orbiting around the Carpenter sphere and a nominal star.
Dr. Craig Cooper (Peter Carpenter) is a private physician who’s both professionally and personally successful. He’s the foremost practitioner at a highly respected California medical practice and has a hot-to-trot redhead girlfriend in Cheryl (Reagan Wilson). Under his care is the senior-aged director of the practice dr. Ridgeley Waterman (Eric Sinclair, as Eric Allison), a cranky and high maintenance malcontent who at home is looked after by nurse Turner (Leslie Simms) and his flirtatious auburn-haired daughter Victoria (Maria De Aragon). Victoria’s mental and emotional condition can charitably be described as unstable. She’s a nymphomaniac and her insatiable hunger for sex and rampant promiscuity lead her to ravage their hapless pool boy (Reid Smith). Victoria has set her designs on Cooper and will stop at nothing to get in his good graces. Cooper has his own problems. He’s being blackmailed for $50K by his former associate Larry Mills (Arell Blanton) who threatens to expose the illegal abortion service Cooper ran while he was in med school. The whole sordid situation stimulates Victoria’s latent wicked and deviant instincts. She lets Craig know that she has worked out the perfect scheme for him to get his money and satisfy the debt. With her ailing father heading towards infirmity and decrepitude the inheritance is hers for the taking.
As the family patriarch Ridgeley has always had an unbecoming interest in his youngest daughter. Things do not bode well for him as one day Victoria – a character of low moral fiber and unburdened by either a conscious or any scruples – flirts with her father and feels impelled to slip him an ampule of amyl nitrite to hasten his passing. The funeral service prompts the return of Victoria’s estranged sister Gail (Vicki Peters) who has been living in New York with middle-aged blonde Kate (Jacqueline Dalya). When after reading the will the family lawyer (Alex Rocco) names Gail as the primary beneficiary of the estate while awarding Victoria only with the ancestral house and a small living allowance. This engenders an adverse reaction in her and she becomes bedridden. Being the equal opportunity philanderer that he is Cooper starts to seduce Gail. Unable to stand the thought of losing both her inheritance and the man she loves to her older sister once recovered Victoria vows to settle the score, once and for all.
Arguably in a cast of nobodies Maria De Aragon, Alex Rocco, and Eric Sinclair are nominally the biggest (or most marketable) names here. Contrary to what her last name might have you believe De Aragon wasn’t Spanish or Latin American but Québecois. She had starred in Love Me Like I Do (1970) (that co-starred Peter Carpenter, Jacqueline Dalya, and Dyanne Thorne). Eric Sinclair had starred in War of the Satellites (1958) whereas De Aragon would later star in The Cremators (1972) (that co-starred Sinclair). Alex Rocco would land the role of Moe Greene in The Godfather (1972) which apparently wasn’t enough to lift him out of exploitation as his later credits include, among others, Bonnie’s Kids (1972), and blaxploitation crime epics Three the Hard Way (1974) and Detroit 9000 (1973). De Aragon would act as a stand-in for C3P0 in George Lucas’ space opera Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) but Lucas offered her the role of Greedo after filming with Paul Blake hadn’t worked out the way he had intended. Surprisingly Star Wars didn’t do much to elevate her career (probably because the Greedo costume concealed her identity) the way it had for others and while Maria kept working she never escaped the morass and muck of exploitation. The cast is fleshed out (quite literally in this case) by Playboy Playmates Reagan Wilson (October 1967) and Vicky Peters (April 1972). Neither had much of a career with Peters’ only role of note in the Joe Don Baker drive-in actioner Mitchell (1975). It’s a question for the ages why somebody as versatile as Maria De Aragon never ended up working with Paul Naschy in Spain and/or Armando Bó in Argentina.
To its credit Blood Mania starts with a Mario Bava giallo inspired opening gambit that, despite its creativity, has no real connection to or bearing on the rest of the feature. This is exactly the sort of suburban sleaze kind you’d expect of Doris Wishman, or Joseph W. Sarno, and it’s just as exploitative. As the man behind it all Carpenter helps himself to a clothing-averse ginger, auburn, and blonde – and ensures that he gets to fondle and prod each of them extensively before the whole spiel is over. Since this obviously was aimed at the drive-in Blood Mania is overflowing with nudity and violence. This is a crime noir that adheres by the conventions of a softcore romp and is structured as one. Let’s not forget that Psycho (1960) was only ten years in the past by that point and its profound influence was still reverberating and it wasn’t about to subside any time soon. Blood Mania might not exactly be the most riveting thing around but it knows what buttons to push and when to indulge in the sleaze. Maria De Aragon is by far the best and Alex Rocco is wasted in a small supportive role. You can sort of see how Andy Sidaris got his idea for Stacey! (1973) and Seven (1979) from something like this and how Disconnected (1984) would do roughly the same thing a decade or so later.