Monday, September 5, 2011

Robert Vincent O'Neill's Blood Mania (1970)

A flawed but oddly compelling work from director Robert Vincent O'Neill, Blood Mania (1970) is one of the most tripped-out and uber-odd works I have encountered in a long time. An delightfully sleazy film distinguished by O'Neill's undeniable skill with composition and framing, Blood Mania is both an exciting and sluggish experience fuelled by an extremely strange, but unforgettable, performance by future Star Wars cult-figure Maria De Aragon.

Years before he hit exploitation pay-dirt with Angel (1984), Robert Vincent O'Neill got his start in the film industry working in the art-department for two of the great Richard Rush's undervalued works, Psych-Out and The Savage-Seven (both 1968). O'Neill's work on those two seminal films would lead to a spot as property master on Dennis Hopper's monumental Easy Rider (1969). O'Neill would also write and direct his first feature in 1969, the low-budget sexploitation work Like Mother Like Daughter (Sins of the Daughter). While that first film failed to show-off too much of O'Neill's talents behind the camera, his next work, The Psycho Lover (1970), did just that as it showcased O'Neill's considerable ability at approaching sleaze and violence with a striking art-house sensibility. The budget's were tight but with each of his early films you can sense an absolute deliberateness and a certain precision with every shot.

Blood Mania would be the third film from Robert Vincent O'Neill and its a nearly great work but its rather weak script works against it at every turn. Blood Mania is so great in certain moments, particularly the scenes with De Aragon, that it's ashame that perhaps O'Neill didn't have money or time to really bring it home as the storyline, concerning a rather tired tale of a daughter and her lover looking to kill off her dying father for his inheritance, finally makes the film feel more pedestrian than it actually is.

While Blood Mania features several fascinating performances, from the likes of Peter Carpenter, Vicki Peters, Reagan Wilson and a young Alex Rocco, the film belongs to the tall and very striking Maria De Aragon, who gives a performance that should be a cult favorite today. Best known for her uncredited performance as the bounty hunter Greedo in George Lucas' once-magical Star Wars (1977), the Canadian born De Aragon had been making films and turning heads since the early sixties. A distinctive beauty, and a good actress, De Aragon proved memorable in all of her early films, which included John Derek's Nightmare in the Sun (1965) and especially Jean Van Hearn's Love Me Like I Do (a striking work which featured two of De Aragon's Blood Mania co-stars, Carpenter and Jacqueline Dalya). As good as she proved in those earlier works, De Aragon really comes into her own in Blood Mania with performance that is absolutely thrilling to watch. She sadly wouldn't work much after the film's release though and would only appear in a handful of films throughout the seventies, including Wonder Women (O'Neill's disappointing 1973 work).

Along with De Aragon's go-for-broke performance and O'Neill's stylish direction, perhaps the best-thing about Blood Mania is its Wurlitzer driven score from Don Vincent, a composer with only a small number of film credits to his name. His score keeps things interesting even in the moments where Blood Mania drags.
Two more names to contend with on the credits of Blood Mania are absolutely Gary Graver and Robert Maxwell, two cinematographers whose credits include many of the best adult and exploitation works of the seventies. Graver has had an especially wild career that has seen him work as cinematographer and director on well over 200 films! As a director of photography, these include everything from Orson Welles The Other Side of the Wind (1972) to the original Toolbox Murders (1978). Most of his credits as a director are in the adult-field with the best being terrific Veronica Hart vehicle Amanda by Night (1981) and Suzie Superstar (1983), a film that gave the late Shauna Grant one of her most iconic roles.

Robert Maxwell's career was tragically cut short by his untimely passing in 1978 but he did manage to photograph a few of the seventies most noteworthy low-budget works, including Melvin Van Peeble's masterful Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) and Guerdon Trueblood's disturbing The Candy Snatchers (1973). Blood Mania benefits greatly from both Graver and Maxwell's work, specifically in its tripped-out fantasy sequences that both date it as a work coming out of the late sixties and yet keeps it fresh looking in 2011.

The great Crown International Pictures released Blood Mania just before Halloween in 1970. It did pretty well on its own initially and was released later again in the later seventies on a double-bill with Blood Lust (1977). In Europe it was rechristened with the goofball moniker Pornomania! The IMDB lists the original running time being 88 minutes, but my copy (which can be found via a very nice print on the cheapie Gore-House Greats Collection) only runs 81 minutes.

Any information on whether the DVD version is actually cut would be greatly appreciated.


Al Bruno III said...

BLOOD MANIA is a crazy and interesting film but I think of the two Peter Carpenter starring films I've seen POINT OF TERROR is my favorite just for its sheer loopiness.

Have you seen it?

Dusty McGowan said...

This will be my impetus to watch this it in the stack. I did see a trailer for it, and thought it looked much more "arty" than I would have suspected. I love trashy movies with artistic ambitions. Nice entry, I look forward to seeing it.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Al,
I haven't seen POINT OF TERROR yet but I will track down a copy. Thanks for the tip!

Thanks Dusty, I hope you enjoy the film!

Thomas Vaultonburg said...

There are conflicting reports that Peter Carpenter died in December 1971 in Malibu, according to IMDB, but co-star Leslie Simms says she remembers he was living until he died from pneumonia in the late 70's or early 80's. Any idea which is closer to true?