Deadlier than Dracula! Wilder than the Werewolf! More frightening than Frankenstein!
The 1966 Italian horror film Revenge of the Blood Beast — aka She Beast, aka Il Lago di Satana — is eccentric even by the standards of Italian horror. It features a monster that is genuinely disturbing despite its crude execution, then throws in some random broad comedy to dull the possible impact of the horror scenes. It stars Barbara Steele, as iconic as almost any actor in the genre, but then sidelines her for the entire middle of the movie. It is a film full of weird, sometimes bad, choices.
Directed by the gifted young filmmaker Michael Reeves (who would go on to make a true masterpiece with Witchfinder General in 1968 before dying at age 25), Revenge of the Blood Beast opens with the execution of a hideous witch 200 years ago. But because she is not exorcised before she is killed, the witch will continue to return and curse the village — which, as you might guess, is exactly what ends up happening. Jumping ahead to 1965 Transylvania, a pair of newlyweds (Ian Ogilvy and Barbara Steele) are traveling through the countryside and have an accident, crashing their car into a lake. When the husband awakens, he has been rescued by a truck driver and demands to see his wife. Instead of finding her body, though, he finds the body of the witch, who has replaced his wife. The rest of the film finds Ogilvy and the drunken Count Von Helsing (John Karlsen, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) attempting to eradicate the witch — the right way, this time — and bring back Barbara Steele.
Reeves is a talented director but was still very, very young when he made Revenge of the Blood Beast; his compositions are good and the movie is put together well in a lot of spots, but there are long stretches of tedium in which we are stuck with characters we don’t care about explaining things in which we aren’t interested. There’s a car chase midway through the movie that’s accompanied by cartoonish sound effects and broad humor, leaving me to wonder just what kind of film Reeves was trying to make. When he leans all the way into the horror, the movie works pretty well. The stuff with the witch is especially effective because the makeup, while done few favors by high def, is nightmarish and her characterization is violent and almost animalistic. When she attacks, she means business. Moments like this don’t happen by accident and shouldn’t be overlooked, seeing as how many horror movies don’t have any scenes that do anything like it. The fact that the movie works as well as it does at times makes it worthy of at least one viewing.
Even more confusing: the slipcover on the new Raro Video Blu-ray advertises that the feature is in black and white; even the stills on the back cover appear in black and white. But the movie is not in black and white. It’s in color, and pretty splendid color at that. The 1080p HD transfer on the disc cleans the movie up significantly and makes it difficult to tell that it’s 50 years old, but its best feature is just how vivid and bright the movie looks. The lossless 2.0 audio track features the original English dub and is weirdly quiet; I had to turn up my volume more than twice where I would usually have it just to make out the dialogue. Beyond that, it’s pretty flat — listenable, but with no real dynamic range or dimensionality. The only bonus feature is a nearly 30-minute interview (audio only) with Barbara Steele, which is fun and full of reminiscences of her entire career, not just the production of Revenge of the Blood Beast.
I can’t recommend Revenge of the Blood Beast unequivocally because it’s really rough in spots, but between the presence of Barbara Steele, the chance to see Michael Reeves still finding his footing and some really effective scares, there are reasons to like it. Raro Video’s Blu-ray looks great but sounds pretty bad, so take that into consideration before making a blind buy.