Filmmaker Jean-Louis van Belle hasn’t attained any significant following unlike fellow countryman Jean Rollin, and he probably never will. A maverick of the usual low budget variety, van Belle dabbled in an array of eccentricity with a catalog of exploitation films dealing with horror, sex, comedy, mondo and the like. Unmarketable in this country, none of van Belle’s features saw any kind of Stateside release, but posters boasting a curly-haired menace with plastic fangs from his THE SADIST WITH RED TEETH (Le sadique aux dents rouges) turned up in hardcovers such as The Seal of Dracula (1975), creating a decades-old curiosity for English speaking horror buffs. Mondo Macabro, the foremost purveyor of bizarre cinema from around the globe, is the ideal outlet to introduce us to the world of Jean-Louis van Belle, and they do so with a double disc set featuring a duo of features presented on home video for the first time anywhere.
THE SADIST WITH RED TEETH (Disc 1) concerns Daniel (Albert Simono, DRACULA AND SON), a 30 year-old graphic artist recently in an automobile accident that claimed the life of his best friend. Released from a mental clinic, Daniel suffers intense emotional trauma, with delusions that he’s become a vampire. His doctor and his twitching assistant seemingly want to help him, but are intent on propelling his vampire obsession for experimental reasons. With the medication and drugs the doctor gives him, Daniel constantly sees the world in a nightmarish, hallucinatory state and at one point grabs the neck of a woman in a dark theater, who luckily doesn’t get hurt from the stunt. But Daniel takes his obsession to the point of paying a “vampire” to bite him in a blood initiation, and hypnosis to enhance his bloodsucker tendencies proves to be the point of no return. After his assault on a joke shop clerk, he becomes a wanted man and a darling of the media, given the nickname “Red Teeth.” His doting girlfriend Jane (Jane Clayton) is in denial of his guiltiness, but a career-minded police lieutenant, a young reporter and circus lion tamer are all interested in apprehending Daniel, something they're counting on happening during a fancy dress ball.
Although THE SADIST WITH RED TEETH might have followed Jean Rollin’s example of pumping new blood into France’s vampire cinema, the film has little resemblance to Rollin’s sexy gothic romps. This once lost film is a unique take on the vampire legend, with a lead character in a mental breakdown that has him convinced he’s one of the undead (some years before George Romero’s MARTIN). The film commences with a female-crooned torch/pop song with double exposed images (something that turns up periodically later), so you know you’re in for something unusual. Using the modern (early 1970s) streets of Paris as a backdrop, the film sustains an unusual avant-garde style prone to inserting black & white footage of various catastrophes and destruction, a flash forward/flashback technique of editing to carry out several key scenes, an atypical and rather loony music score, and such odd sights as pedestrians walking backwards and insects superimposed over a pair of eyes and a mouth to suggest Daniel’s severe psychological state.
Colorful, surprisingly well shot and at times using the hand-held camera documentary style, SADIST doesn’t necessarily have any groundbreaking or highly memorable vampire film moments, but there are a few kooky instances to be had when the fangs come out and the red stuff pours. There is some light comedy (the doctor and his assistant are somewhat reminiscent of the determined, unethical team of Victor Spinetti and Roy Kinnear in Richard Lester’s HELP!) and a several nude scenes (two stripped-down models pose in softcore mode for a photo shoot, as Daniel envisions their bare breasts doused in blood). British actress Jane Clayton (who does a brief nude scene as well) is a real beauty, despite her limited acting abilities and it’s quite uncanny how Simono, when in eye shadow and pale facepaint, resembles British rock star Marc Bolan (of T. Rex) during a mid 1970s period where he performed on television with a short-lived look which touted him as a new Valentino!
Disc 2’s FORBIDDEN PARIS (Paris interdit) (1969) basically follows the pattern of the Italian mondo style documentaries which began in 1962 with MONDO CANE. The film jumps from one strange scenario to the next, including a woman who goes publicly nude on a bet, a family man wearing an anti-radiation suit in fear of the end of the world, a orgy-indulging cult with a kissing fetish, a role-reversal wedding of performing transvestites, a middle-aged man who gives striptease lessons to housewives, a self-absorbed loner who believes he’s a vampire, a ritualistic funeral procession involving the burning of a mannequin, a mass swimming pool baptism, etc.
Like with a lot of these mondo films, it’s believed that some of the frivolities are fudged and that occasionally real actors are involved. Obviously not faked and likely to make you cringe is the appearance of a Ben-Ghou-Bey, a fakir who sticks long needles into and through various parts of his body as a group of women (in bikinis!) watch on and get involved as they toss darts at his stomach, aiming for the navel (ouch!). Probably the most fascinatingly grotesque bit, which at the same time is strangely touching, is when a woman has her beloved deceased medium sized dog stuffed by a pipe-smoking taxidermist (shown in graphic detail) and installed with an electronic barking device! The most tasteless (an likely put-upon) sequence showcases a group of Hitler-worshiping modern Nazis (like Moe Howard, the men like to paint on little Chaplin mustaches and act like the mad Führer) who burn a baby doll and later paint a woman with swastikas and spit on her in a degrading initiation ceremony.
Not to diminish anything that Mondo Macabro had done in the past, because they’ve put out some great DVDs over the years, but these films represent some of their best transfers to date. You would think such obscure titles would bring on troublesome transfers, but that’s not the case as both films look absolutely terrific. Transferred from the original negatives, both films are presented widescreen (approximately 1.66:1) and anamorphic, and they carry vibrant colors and rich detail. The mono French language audio tracks are accompanied by newly created English subtitles, and although FORBIDDEN PARIS’ track may have some occasional scratchiness, the audio on both is solid overall.
Extras include a 30-minute documentary, “So Who is Jean Louis van Belle” by Peter van Lyris. Jean Louis van Belle proves to be a curious subject, as he introduces himself to a French audience in the third person (claiming that he’s not in fact van Belle, but that he’s worked closely with him) as the camera crops out his head for most of the running time. Towards the end, a camera zooms out to reveal van Belle’s face, sitting in front of a monitor, as he’s asked by an interviewer to respond to what others have just said about him. Actually, colleagues mostly have complimentary things to say about him (an actor describes him fondly as “crazy as a fox”), while journalist and van Belle champion Christopher Bier (who also penned the production notes found as a supplement on the disc) states it’s difficult to get accurate information out of the director, though van Belle certainly can talk, even if he might be more of a storyteller than anything. Also included are brief on-camera introductions to each film by van Belle (he actually says Roger Corman inspired him to make SADIST), and the Mondo Macabro preview reel, which lasts over seven minutes. (George R. Reis)
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