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Seeking a gothic background for a horror photo shoot, five sexy cover girls and a handful of photographers break into what they assume is an uninhabited castle and are soon taking a series of macabre stills in its dungeon. But -- surprise! -- residing in the castle is demented actor Travis Anderson (MICKEY HARGITAY) who thinks he's the reincarnation of The Crimson Executioner, a 17th century madman whose body is entombed in the castle's iron maiden. And when Travis recognizes one of the models (LOUISE BARRETT) as his former fiancée, his already unhinged mind completely snaps. Dressed in a bright red executioner's costume, Travis promptly goes nuts and gleefully subjects the trespassers to a variety of bizarre and elaborately-conceived tortures: "The Crimson Executioner cries out for blood!"
With its cheerful sadism, an abundance of near-nudity, and a wonderfully over-the-top performance by Mr. Hargitay, Bloody Pit of Horror is one of the most beloved kitsch classicks from the Golden Age of Italian Horror. Plus... it's in "Psychovision"!
Hungarian-born bodybuilder and onetime "Mr. Universe," Mickey (Miklos) Hargitay first gained national prominence in the tabloid headlines and overheated gossip columns of 1955. Buxom movie-star-to-be Jayne Mansfield was then appearing on Broadway in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
and decided to see The Mae West Show at the Latin Quarter where Mickey was one of seven musclemen who escorted the legendary diva onto the stage (and whom Miss West introduced as "The Most Perfectly Built Man in the World"). Jayne and Mickey met after the show and began a whirlwind romance which was eagerly chronicled by the press. As expected, Miss West did not look kindly upon one of her employees engaged in a publicity blitz with a significantly younger sex symbol and made life miserable for Mickey, culminating in a press conference in which Hargitay was supposed to renounce his affair with "that girl." Instead, Mickey publicly professed his love for Jayne and was promptly punched in the face by one of Mae's other musclemen! (West then allegedly tried to have Mickey drafted but his citizenship papers hadn't come through yet.)
Officially an item, Mickey and "America's Smartest Dumb Blonde" married in 1958, moved to Hollywood and turned Rudy Vallee's old mansion in Holmbly Hills into the "Pink Palace" (complete with heart-shaped swimming pool). After Mickey played a bit part in Jayne's film version of Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
(1957), he and Mansfield appeared together in a number of exploitation epics: the Italian sword & sandal The Loves of Hercules
(L'amori di Ercole, Hercules vs. The Hydra
, 1960, in which Mickey played Herc opposite good Jayne in a red wig and bad Jayne in a black wig); Jayne's notorious "adults only" nudie Promises! Promises!
(1963); the utterly berserk Italian mondo comedy Primitive Love
(L'amore primitivo, 1964, with comics Franco Franchi & Ciccio Ingrassia); and, as themselves, in the documentary Spree
(1967) and the ghastly Wild Wild World of Jayne Mansfield
(1968) in which a still-grieving Mickey took the audience on a tour of the Pink Palace after Jayne's death by car accident in 1967.
Though never accused of being an actor, Hargitay's celebrity status was nonetheless good enough for Italian cinema where he starred sans-Jayne in a handful of features, primarily spaghetti westerns and horror films, most notably Bloody Pit of Horror
(Il Boia scarlatto, 1965), Lady Frankenstein
(La Figlia di Frankenstein
, 1971), The Reincarnation Of Isabel
(Riti, magie nere a segrete orne nel trecento, 1972), and Delirium
(Delirio caldo, 1972) before his acting career eventually petered out.
Directed by MASSIMO PUPILLO ("Max Hunter"), a former documentary filmmaker who also co-wrote the screenplay for the above-mentioned Primitive Love
, Bloody Pit of Horror
is a breathtaking blend of cheesecake, pop art, and Sadian excess. Looking like a gay icon gone berserk and babbling narcissistic, Nietzschean rants, Hargitay is perfectly cast as Travis, the lunatic actor "who used to be a muscleman in costume films." "Mankind is made up of inferior creatures, spiritually and physically deformed, who have corrupted the harmony of my perfect body!" says a bare-chested Hargitay while wearing red tights, a little red hood, and a slim black mask over his eyes. Flipping out in the torture chamber, running from one victim to the next like one of those old vaudeville artists with the spinning plates, Hargitay's performance is simultaneously out of control and oddly sincere. And since the impetus for the killings is a photo shoot the priggish Travis deems lewd and salacious, he comes across not only as a moralist in the extreme, but something of a Censor from Hell -- interesting since director Pupillo was also a member of the Italian censor board.
Aiding and abetting Mr. Hargitay is cardboard hero WALTER BRANDI ("Walter Brandt"), who enjoyed a brief vogue as an Italian horror movie star via his appearances in The Vampire and the Ballerina
(L'amante del vampiro, 1959), Playgirls and the Vampire
(L'ultima preda del vampiro, 1962), Slaughter of the Vampires
(La Strage dei vampiri, 1962), and Terror-Creatures from the Grave
(5 tombe per un medium, 1965), a moody spook show with Barbara Steele shot back-to-back with Bloody Pit of Horror
and also directed by Pupillo. Among the starlets on display, Yugoslavian FEMI BENUSSI ("Femi Martin") would go on to decorate many an Italian thriller -- like The Bloodsucker Leads the Dance
(La Sanguisuga conduce la danza, 1975), a horror/sex item directed by ALFREDO RIZZO ("Alfred Rice"), the little guy who plays publisher Max Parks. And that mechanical spider that menaces Hawaiian MOA-TAHI in what is easily the film's most bizarre and surreal moment was created by a young CARLO RAMBALDI who, of course, later won an Oscar for E.T. (And, hey, doesn't every medieval castle come with its own giant arrow-shooting spider web?)
Director Pupillo caused film historians no end of confusion by signing his first horror film, Terror Creatures from the Grave
, with the name of its co-producer Ralph Zucker. When Zucker died in 1982, it was reported that Pupillo himself had died. He hadn't. Pupillo's other credits include directing the horror film La vendetta di Lady Morgan (1966, with Gordon Mitchell), Bill il taciturno (1967, a western with George Eastman), and a sex documentary, L'amore, questo sconosciuto (1969). He also co-wrote two more mondos, Taboos of the World
(I Tabu, 1963) and Sweden Heaven and Hell
(Svezia, inferno e paradiso, 1967).
Imported into the U.S. by Pacemaker Pictures (the small independent distributor who also released Horrors of Spider Island / It's Hot in Paradise
), Bloody Pit of Horror
was a grindhouse favorite, first on an official double bill with Terror Creatures from the Grave
and, later, paired with the Japanese sci-fi shocker Body Snatcher from Hell
. I have fond memories of seeing it at the (now extinct) Harris Theatre on 42nd Street where the bloodthirsty crowd wildly cheered Hargitay on, obviously recognizing a role model when they saw one.
And now you too will be punished for your lechery! The Crimson Executioner will torture you till death! You better prepare to die, you sinner! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha... -- Frank Henenlotter
Walter BrandiOther cast:
Louisa Baratto, Alfredo RizzoDirected by:
Massimo Pupillo ("Max Hunter")