Like Karloff's four South-of-the-Border cheapies and the U.S. version of Vernon Sewell's THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR (known here as THE CRIMSON CULT), this is one of the master of horror's final films that was released well after his 1969 passing. Also known as BLIND MAN'S BLUFF, this Spanish/U.S./U.K. co-production is basically a mystery disguised as a horror film, but the presence of one the genre’s greatest icons makes this well worth revisiting, and on Blu-ray to boot!
Flying in to Spain to do a story on an artists’ colony in a coastal village, playboy journalist/photographer Claude Marchand (French cinema idol Jean-Pierre Aumont, who is top-billed here) gains a chance interview with sculptor Franz Badulescu (Karloff) who has been blinded and crippled in one leg after an automobile accident caused by his rather bitchy wife Tania (Viveca Lindfors, A BELL FROM HELL) who he believes is trying to kill him. During Claude’s visit, a handful of murders occur, and it's later discovered that the human and animal bones that Tania obtains for the basis of her husband’s impressive, realistic works of arts are actually from murder victims. Old and rather helpless, Franz is correct in that Tania is plotting to kill him with the help of her lover Shanghai (Milo Quesada, THE BLOODY JUDGE) and their latest would-be victim is Claude’s beautiful lover Valerie (Rosenda Monteros, Hammer's version of SHE).
CAULDRON OF BLOOD has never been a fan favorite, especially those approaching it solely as a Karloff vehicle, but there’s certainly enough to merit another look especially after seeing the film in a new HD transfer, which is very much like seeing it for the first time. Shot in 1967 in scenic Spain, the release date is often given as 1970 and it didn’t play in the U.S. until 1971 when Cannon threw it on the top of a double bill with the underrated Michael Gough British thriller CRUCIBLE OF HORROR (a retitling of THE CORPSE). Produced by American Robert D. Weinbach, the direction on the English language version is credited to co-screenwriter Edward Mann; the two had worked on an exploitation drug culture film shot in Spain a year earlier, HALLUCINATION GENERATION, and years later, they would team up again for producer and writer duties on Jack Cardiff’s British-made THE MUTATIONS. In actuality, Karloff’s role was originally intended for Claude Rains (who fell ill and died in 1967), but Karloff, also quite ill, had been in Spain to film the episode of the Robert Culp/Bill Cosby action series “I Spy” titled “Mainly on the Plains” (which ironically also featured future horror icon Paul Naschy) so it’s assumed he was easily accessible for this feature.
No stranger to fans of Spanish horror films is stunning blonde actress Dyanik Zurakowska who also appeared in FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR, BEYOND THE LIVING DEAD and THE VAMPIRES’ NIGHT ORGY. For the opening credits, we see the image of the actress in a blue bathing suit, transforming into an animated skeleton and then the bones swirling into the letters of the title (ala ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN). The title sequence that follows is quite psychedelic, with images of Karloff’s and Lindfors’ faces, skulls and smoke, all on display with gel lighting and a trippy editing style. Although, a lot of the running time is made up of swingers partying all night and relaxing on the beach, with the various murders tossed in, Karloff is memorable in his limited screen time, wearing dark sunglasses to conceal his character’s blindness (although one horrifying bit has him removing them to reveal the cross-stitched shut eyelids) and if anything, the macabre setting, with its underground cavern lair and acid tub, gave the actor a later-day vehicle in the “mad artist” tradition of HOUSE OF WAX and A BUCKET OF BLOOD. The always memorable Lindfors, in another one of her feisty roles, is the villain of the piece (and a rain-coated killer from the onset). She has S&M nightmares about being whipped as a little pigtailed girl, with the image of herself dressed as a Nazi-like soldier (and when she awakens she tortures the mute housekeeper). The ending almost plays out like a fight scene from the "Batman" TV series (with Quesada dressed in a skeleton costume), and you can bet at least some of the main characters end up in that vat of acid where a lot of skeletal remains float up. Horror fans will recognize Rubèn Rojo from THE BRAINIAC (here as a humorous drunk) as well as Manuel de Blas, who among other things, played the vampire in ASSIGNMENT TERROR. And fans of the 1970s Saturday morning SHAZAM! show (as well as Filmation’s animated 1970s “Star Trek” series) will recognize music cues taken from this very film!
More than ten years ago, CAULDRON OF BLOOD was released on DVD in the U.K. in a PAL transfer which looked not much better or worse than the print that was out on VHS in the States from Republic Home Video. Even though Cannon released the film theatrically in the U.S. and NTA brought it to television in the 1970s, the film ended up in the Republic Pictures library, with Paramount holding the home video rights, and Olive Films licensing it from them for this Blu-ray (it’s also getting a subsequent DVD release). Going back to the original elements for this HD transfer, the film is presented in 1080p in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio and is more than a revelation in terms of quality if you’ve seen past TV and video presentations. Detail and fleshtones are sharp and smooth and colors richly surpass how anyone would expect them to appear, and CAULDRON OF BLOOD is actually a pleasure to look at. Debris on the print source is minor, and the limited amounts of grain on display give it a pleasing filmic look. The mono DTS-HD audio track (English only) sounds fine, with no detectable imperfections. It has been reported that a longer 101-minute version exists, but this is the standard 99-minute version and the back of the packaging even carries the original “GP” rating. There are no extras on the disc. (George R. Reis)
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