• Blood Ceremony (Mondo Macabro) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Mondo Macabro
    Released on: March 9th, 2021.
    Director: Jorge Grau
    Cast: Lucia Bose, Espartaco Santoni, Ewa Aulin, Ana Farra
    Year: 1973
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    Blood Ceremony – Movie Review:

    Directed by Jorge Grau, best known for the excellent Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (one of the finest zombie films to come out of the European horror boom), 1973’s The Legend Of Blood Castle is a pretty solid take on the legend of Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a story that’s been milked in horror cinema time and time again (Hammer’s Countess Dracula standing as a good example).

    The film tells the story of a noblewoman named Marquise Erzsebet Bathory (Lucia Bose) who completely by chance winds up getting the blood of one of her super-hot chamber maid’s on her skin only to find out that it’s got some pretty rad medicinal properties – it seems to preserve it, keeping it young forever. Vein beyond belief, Bathory decides that keeping a steady supply of the blood of foxy young ladies on hand will provide her with the eternal youth that she lusts for. To make this happen, she begins a killing spree with the help of her loyal husband, Karl (Espartaco Santoni).

    To help cover his tracks, Karl decides to fake his own death and ‘resurrect’ himself as a vampire so that the local townsfolk, an uneducated and superstitious lot, will keep a healthy fear about themselves. The thinking here being that they won’t bother he and his wife, but things get complicated when he meets Marina (Ewa Aulin). The daughter of the town’s innkeeper, Marina is just about the hottest thing on two legs, and Karl starts falling for her much to the dismay of his wife. In fact, Bathory would much rather drain her of her blood than see her cavorting with her beau…

    While the film takes a little while to get going, an excellent last half ensures that this one delivers all the thrills and chills you’d expect from a seventies era European vampire picture. Grau directs with a pretty steady hand and paces the movie quite deliberately, building to a wholly satisfying conclusion while still managing to tell a pretty decent story. The cinematography is great, making excellent use of the Spanish locations, and framing the sexualized violence with almost fetishistic glee and attention to detail.

    In terms of the performances, Santoni is a bit wooden in spots but you can easily overlook this when you’ve got the compellingly interesting Lucia Bose to make up for it. She’s got a naturally intense screen presence about her that makes her Bathory a very interesting and watchable character. On top of that, Ewa Aulin, who worked with Tinto Brass on the bizarre Deadly Sweet, is a stunner to look at and the camera loves her, a quality that Grau has no hesitation exploiting.

    So yeah, The Legend Of Blood Castle is a pretty awesome movie. You get all manner of buxom women, some great atmosphere, a bit of bloodshed and some fantastic and stylish cinematography. When the movie was released by Mya Films back in 2009 as the Legend Of Blood Castle, they released the clothed version of the film. This meant that the nudity that was present in export versions of the movie had been replaced with alternate scenes in which the would-be hot naked ladies were now hot clothed ladies. This was a fairly common practice in Spain around the time in which this picture was made and it was done to avoid censorship problems, but it’s certainly an annoyance to those of us who no longer abide by antiquated censorship policies and wish to see the film in its intended uncut version. Thankfully this release from Mondo Macabro includes both the original uncut version as well as the clothed version.

    The shorter Spanish version runs 1:28:55 and in this version, the actresses are all covered – there’s no nudity. The longer international version runs 1:30:05 and in this version, those same scenes feature the actresses thankfully unburdened by their attire, making for a stronger and sexier version of the story. You want details? Of course you do!

    -The scene around the twenty-seven-minute mark where Karl finds the two female servants up in the attic features some topless nudity and some knife play.
    -The corpse at the fifty-one-minute mark is naked.
    -The scene with the young couple at the lake around the fifty-three-minute mark features nudity
    - Erzsebet is topless when bathing in blood around the fifty-four-minute mark, and Karl kisses the naked corpse whose blood Erzsebet is using in this scene.
    -Just before the one hour mark Karl kills a blonde but not before taking off her top and fondling her breasts.
    -When her corpse is discovered two-minutes later, she’s completely nude (though a bed sheet covers her nether regions).
    -In the scene around the seventy-seven-minute mark, where Karl makes out with Marina, he uses his knife to cut her blouse off.

    Some of the murder set pieces are also slightly different between versions. The Spanish version uses the Ceremonia Sangrienta title card and Spanish language credits while the international version uses the Blood Ceremony title card and features English language credits.

    Blood Ceremony – Blu-ray Review:

    Blood Ceremony arrives on region free Blu-ray from Mondo Macabro taken from a new restored 4k scan of the original 35mm negative. The aforementioned Mya release was tape-sourced and framed at 1.78.1 in a non-anamorphic transfer and needless to say, this new version absolutely smokes it. Both versions of the feature share a 50GB disc, the international cut takes up 21.9GBS while the Spanish cut gets 20.4GBs of space and they both look great. Colors are reproduced perfectly and black levels look nice and deep. There’s the expected amount of natural film grain but virtually no print damage here at all, the image is typically pristine regardless of which frame you look at and which version you choose to watch (though there are a few spots where – Mondo Macabro used a print for some of the inserts for which negative materials were not available, and they’ve done a very good job of matching it). There are no issues with any noise reduction or edge enhancement, this always looks nice and film-like, and compression artifacts aren’t particularly problematic here, though very minor ones can be spotted from time to time if you’re really into looking for things like that or need to write an anal retentive review where you point these things out. Skin tones look nice and natural and there’s a pretty huge upgrade in depth and detail when compared to that aforementioned DVD release and all in all, the presentation here is gorgeous.

    Audio options for the International cut are offered up in 24-bit DTS-HD Mono in English and Spanish with subtitles provided that translate the Spanish track, and for the Spanish cut we get a 24-bit DTS-HD Mono in Spanish, again with optional proper English subtitles. Audio is fine, overall. Dialogue is clean and clear and the tracks are properly balanced. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion, and there’s a fair amount of depth to the score.

    Mondo Macabro offers up two commentary tracks are offered up over the longer version of the film, the first with Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson. They talk about how they came to see and know the film and how much better this presentation looks compared to the old VHS releases that made the rounds way back when, as well as the different titles and cuts that exist for the film as well as how and why they came to exist in the first place. They talk about the Bathory mythos and how the film both is and isn’t a historical retelling of the film, they go into details on the different cast and crew members that were involved with the picture, the popularity of vampire films at the time that this film was made and how this film compares to some of those other efforts (Countess Dracula in particular), censorship issues that the film ran into, the use of color in the film, how and when Grau toys with viewer expectations in terms of when he uses nudity in the picture, how the courtroom scene is handled quite efficiently and more. It’s a good track, quite conversational but well-informed and offering up a good mix of trivia and insight into the picture’s effectiveness and origins.

    The second audio commentary from Robert Monell and Rod Barnett is dedicated to leading lady Lucia Bose, who passed away from Covid-19 related complications in March of 2020. They cover her background and career in quite a bit of detail and also discuss the work of Ewa Aulin, they discuss the censorship issues that were common in Spain under the rule of General Franco and they cover Grau's career and the different genres that he worked in, not limiting themselves to his horror output. As the track moves on they cover the use of sexuality in the film, Espartaco Santoni's playboy lifestyle and limited film appearances, the way that superstitions are used in the film particularly with the servant characters, how the film has a bit of a timeless quality rather than a specifically seventies film and plenty more. This is also a very good track, again quite conversational in nature but plenty listenable and packed with the right mix of information and opinion.

    The disc also includes two archive interviews with director Jorge Grau, the first of which is entitled Jordi Grau: Getting Started, which runs fifteen-minutes and opens with a text preface stating that the director preferred the Catalan name Jordi to Jorge. From here, we learn how he got into filmmaking, his work on some genre film classics, how he started as an actor before getting into directing and his background in theater. We also hear about issues he had as an actor, why he made the move to work behind the camera, some early documentary work that he did, how his appreciation of cinema grew over time after joining a film club in Barcelona, working with Sergio Leone, going to film school, directing his first feature (Summer Night) based on his own life experiences, learning to experiment through filmmaking and more.

    The second interview is Jordi Grau On Blood Ceremony and, as you'd guess, this one focuses on the feature attraction contained on this disc. Here, over twenty-six-minutes, Grau discusses first hearing the story of Countess Bathory, researching the real story behind the legend, how many of the themes that the film explores are still valid today, timing the release to cash in on the popularity of horror films at the time, working with the different producers involved in the picture, having Hammer decline the picture after early talks and their then making Countess Dracula, casting the picture, dubbing the film, shooting locations and the complexity of the characters in the film.

    The disc also includes a pressbook gallery, a trailer under The Legend Of Blood Castle title (tape sourced with a SWV bug in the corner of the frame), a trailer using the Blood Ceremony title (film sourced) and a few TV spots – two using The Legend Of Blood Castle title and the other using The Female Butcher as its title. Rounding out the extras on the disc is the ever-expanding Mondo Macabro preview reel, menus and chapter selection.

    Blood Ceremony - The Final Word:

    Mondo Macabro’s Blu-ray release of Jorge Grau’s classic Blood Ceremony is, in a word, excellent. The film looks and sounds great and we get not only the clothed version, but the uncut international version as well, looking better than most would have ever imagined. The disc also contains an excellent selection of supplements that explore the film’s origins and importance. As to the movie itself? It holds up very well as a stylish and engaging slice of gothic horror. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps of the Spanish cut of Blood Ceremony!

    Click on the images below for full sized NSFW Blu-ray screen caps of the International cut of Blood Ceremony!

    Comments 3 Comments
    1. demofob's Avatar
      demofob -
      A little sharpe.
    1. Stephen's Avatar
      Stephen -
      Is the standard version really sold out, or is not out yet...?
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Sold out on the MM site but in stock at Amazon.