Monday, January 20, 2020

"No Good Comes Out of That Lake. Except the Fish I Catch" - Blood Sabbath (1972) - Film #170

One highly entertaining cinematic genre is the metaphysical allegory titled to suggest it is an intense horror film. Blood Sabbath is one of the strongest of this small but high-quality genre.

Reviewer coventry writes, "Not one sequence in the entire movie makes the slightest bit of sense and everything looks so poor it almost becomes pitiful." Reviewer DigitalRevenantX7 writes, "The special effects, when they do appear, are so poor that you end up groaning in disappointment." And reviewer BA_Harrison writes, "it proves to be rather incoherent, and very tedious."

These reviewers are clearly uninterested in subtlety and allegorical meaning. Read on for a more balanced look at 1972's Blood Sabbath...

The film begins with a drifter, played by Anthony Geary, carrying a guitar and a rucksack, walking through the forest and admiring a lake. A van painted with flowers pulls up and he approaches, assuming they will give him a ride, but a young woman sprays him with beer and exposes her breasts as she leans out the passenger side window. The van drives away, leaving Mr. Geary to walk along the lake.

At night, as his campfire dies down, Mr. Geary hears the women from the van frolicking naked nearby, and taking Polaroids of each other. As bands of nude women tend to do, they try to steal his money and pull off his pants, but he runs away.

Mr. Geary falls down spontaneously and knocks himself out. When he wakes up, a young woman wearing a white dress kneels over him.

She promises she will see him again tomorrow, then she walks into the lake and swims away.

Mr. Geary wakes up again, but now and unattractive bearded man wearing a crucifix is kneeling over him.

The bearded man, introduced in a shot where the sun haloes his unkempt hair, takes Mr. Geary to a cabin in the forest. Mr. Geary tries to explain. “Something very strange happened.”

In a characteristically stilted way, the bearded man says, “First we will eat something. Then I will take you and show you to the nearest village.”

“There was a girl.”

“Always,” the man, Lonzo, says. “Always there is a girl in a man’s dream.”

Mr. Geary asks where the lake is.

“No good comes of that lake. Except the fish I catch.”

Later, Mr. Geary walks through the forest again, looking for the lake. We hear his inner monologue: “She said...tomorrow. That was yesterday. Or was it? Vietnam...was that yesterday too?”

He walks along the edge of the lake. We see that the girl is in the water, following him, but he does not turn his head the few inches that would be required to notice her.

After he goes back to Lonzo’s cabin, he returns to the forest and finds the woman sitting in the grass.

“You are real,” he says.

“Do you think I am?”

“I want you to be.”

“Then I am.”

They walk away together. She tells him her name is Yyala as she leads him to a cave, where she says she hides from angry spirits. They kiss, but they are observed by a woman in red who wears a crown—Alotta, the queen of the witches, played by Dyanne Thorne.

As they kiss, Mr. Geary confesses, “Yyala, I’ve never known before what it is to really want someone.”

Queen Dyanne Thorne visits Lonzo and tells him she wants the boy (presumably referring to Mr. Geary). Lonzo won’t give up the boy, though he says he will bring her a child as he has done every year.

Later, Lonzo prepares food (his occupation 90% of the time). Mr. Geary walks to the cabin and kicks over Lonzo’s pot of water, whining, “I want her so much!”

Lonzo tells him, “There is a legend of a water nymph who lives in the cove. They say she is very dangerous and has mysterious powers. But it is only a legend.”

At night, topless Queen Dyanne Thorne performs a black magic ceremony with a goat and some candles. Speaking in Yoda-like fashion, she intones, “No rest shall he know until beside me he lies.” (Contrary to this curse, Mr. Geary sleeps quite a bit throughout the film.)

The next day, Mr. Geary finds Yyala again, and she explains she has no soul, and she cannot fall in love with someone who has a soul. Sensibly, he asks how he can get rid of his soul, but she refuses to tell him. He returns to Lonzo’s cabin, where a drunk Lonzo is preparing to go into the village, where he hasn’t been for a whole year. “How’s my hair?” he asks.

He takes Mr. Geary to the nearest village, which consists entirely of a Mexican cantina. After the cantina crowd starts to dwindle, Lonzo approaches the local priest. “Am I not welcome?” Lonzo asks.

“The villagers say you are.”

“And you?”

“Will you be going to the mountain again this year?”

“I will go.”

“And another child will be sacrificed?”

“Before I brought a child to the mountain, there was no harvest.”

“It is God who provides the harvest, not the witches. You cannot pay homage to both.”

Disturbingly, Mr. Geary has a flashback to Vietnam, which looks surprisingly similar to the forest he was walking in previously—and where Mr. Geary shot and killed two innocent Vietnamese children.

Later, Mr. Geary sits with the priest. “Do you know how somebody would go about losing his soul?”

The priest laughs, then gets extremely angry. Apparently, Mr. Geary’s ridiculous request was the straw that broke the camel’s back. “Go! Eat! Drink! Go have your harvest! Damn you, all of you! I say no more! No more! Go! Go!”

The priest wanders through the town until he comes upon what appears to be a gothic castle, its entryway festooned with burning torches and skeletons. He confronts Queen Dyanne Thorne. “Do not think that you can trick or fool me.”

The queen of the witches gives him some wine and offers him one of her nude witches. “I came here for other reasons,” he says. So she offers him four more completely nude young women but he is only slightly tempted. “I remember why I came here. I must warn you, Alotta. All this must stop. No more children, no more souls.”

But one of the young women tells him that if he goes, the witches will sacrifice her. “Are you resuming the blood sacrifice?” he screams. Then he threatens to destroy Alotta’s cult before he simply walks away, after which the queen sticks pins in a voodoo doll dressed like a priest. (Although the voodoo doll has no apparent effect, the priest will come to a more violent, though less supernatural end.)

The next day, Lonzo begins the sacrifice, as a Mexican couple hand him their five-year-old daughter. He looks wistfully up at the mountain (perhaps better described as a rock outcrop on a hill). Mr. Geary tries to stop Lonzo, but he explains that the sacrifice must be made, which will result in the girl losing her soul and becoming one of Dyanne Thorne’s witch cult.

Mr. Geary hits on a perfect solution. “They want a soul, right? I don’t want mine.“

Lonzo agrees, but he warns him that Queen Dyanne Thorne is treacherous. Mr. Geary walks up the hill. A group of topless witches teases him while he looks for Ms. Thorne. Finally, she finds him and sends her witches away. He offers her his soul.

As Ms. Thorne considers his offer, the filmmakers show us something rarely seen in film: a nude witch dance party inside a circle of dirt.

Ms. Thorne strips Mr. Geary and he lies on a table in the middle of the forest. She tells him if Yyala leaves him, then he must return to be with her. “Yes!” he cries. “Take my soul, damn you!”

The witches remove his soul by rubbing his chest.

“On the eve of the next full moon,” Ms. Thorne intones, “he will return here on the Blood Sabbath.”

Mr. Geary screams from the severe pain that can only be caused by having topless young women rub his body. Then his soul/ghost rises out of his body and walks away, fading into the darkness.

“I’m free! I’m free, Yyala, free! You can love me now!” He stumbles into the woods in search of Yyala. When he finds her, they walk through a meadow and make love out in nature. Later, he slips and falls near the lake, and he laughs like a soulless maniac.

On the eve of the next full moon (the next day, apparently), Mr. Geary witnesses the sacrifice of a young topless woman—and he must participate in this Blood Sabbath by holding the chalice that collects her blood. Then he drinks the blood.

When Yyala sees the blood on his lips, she runs away from Mr. Geary, prompting him to lie in a bed of straw and grin at the camera.

As movies of this vintage must, the film moves on to a psychedelic love scene between Anthony Geary and Dyanne Thorne, with the participation (most likely illusory) of Yyala as well.

Yyala (the non-illusory one) runs to Lonzo to get help. He advises her to leave Mr. Geary, but she refuses.

At night, Queen Dyanne Thorne tells Mr. Geary he must behead the priest for her, which he does offscreen.

When Lonzo discovers the murder of the priest, he confronts Ms. Thorne, but she tells him it is Yyala’s fault—and she hands him a butter knife. He runs off, clutching the butter knife and screaming Yyala’s name. He sneaks into the cave where Mr. Geary and Yyala are about to make love, and winds up stabbed in the back with the butter knife by Yyala (which I believe is one possible solution in your universe’s version of the board game Clue).

“He was after me,” Yyala says, “and he was right. It was me. I’m to blame for everything.” (She certainly wouldn’t want to blame the innocent young man who gave away his own soul and beheaded a priest.)

Frankly, I am not certain I understand what happens next. Dyanne Thorne loses her cult of witches, Yyala runs away, and Mr. Geary kills the witch queen with the butter knife. And he realizes he died in Vietnam, though not before he is chased by a hippie minibus.

The End

Blood Sabbath is clearly an allegory about good and evil, reality and fantasy. Anthony Geary is torn between good (the kind old hermit Lonzo, introduced onscreen with the sun haloing his head, whose primary job is to sacrifice young girls to the witch cult) and evil (the witch queen Dyanne Thorne, who likes to seduce men while having nude girls dance around her). In order to be with his love, Mr. Geary chooses evil and gives away his soul, after which he (probably) realizes he already died in Vietnam--a story point later repeated (probably) in Jacob's Ladder (1990). This realization is the culmination of the film's questioning of reality and fantasy, as its characters constantly ask each other if they are real or not, though it is curious that the end of the film never definitively answers whether everything is real or simply a death-induced fantasy a la "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

Whether the events of the film actually occur or not matters little when one considers the quality of the acting, particularly of Anthony Geary as the hero and Dyanne Thorne as the witch queen, two acting titans who bring everything they had in the early 1970s to their roles. At the time of Blood Sabbath, Mr. Geary had just done the short-lived TV show Bright Promise and was guest-starring in a dizzying array of TV shows, from Room 222 and All in the Family to The Partridge Family and Project UFO. Ms. Thorne was fresh from Point of Terror (1971) and only a few years before she would portray Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS in 1975. Their conflict in Blood Sabbath--not to mention their attraction--is the result of years of character acting between the two of them, and it clearly shows. In the end, it is a tragedy that Mr. Geary must stab Ms. Thorne with a butter knife and end their classic interactions, but it is a blessing that world cinema will always have Blood Sabbath.