In today’s world, we live in a time where violence, fetish sex and political incorrectness are easier to access than a box of popcorn. As a society we have taken sex to the far reaches of orgasmic and climactic reality. But it wasn’t always like this, sure nudie cuties have existed since forever, but little do people know that pornographic films were only legalized in 1988, until then they were prohibited. Somewhere in between conventional and liberated society we can find a guy by the name of Joel M. Reed, who has been walking the fine line for years. A native New Yorker, Joel was born in 1933 and at age thirteen he left home and hitchhiked around the U.S. before his involvement in the war in Korea as a combat photographer. It was upon his arrival back in America that Joel made the natural progression into the film industry via advertising and Broadway. It was Godfather of sleaze Joe Sarno who broke Reed’s cherry as a writer/director by giving him the job to make a softcore sex romp which would eventually become “Sex by Advertisement” (1969), an extremely distasteful satire on sex in society, poking fun at the personals and anything thing else that promotes sex, featuring Reed himself in a disturbing dual role which could leave viewers to wonder whether he was acting or not? This wet the feet of a mind that didn’t only march to the beat of a different drum, but was the different drum. Little would anyone know the impact of the then unknown Joel M. Reed would have on the next decade of film.
Since my first viewing of “Bloodsucking Freaks” (1976) when I was around fifteen, I was always disgusted yet obsessed with who would make such a film. From this obsession grew more intrigue over the cast members such as, Seamus O’Brien (Sardu), Luis De Jesus (Ralphus), Viju Krem (Natalie) and Alan Dellay (Creasy Silo). I discovered three of the cast above have died, Seamus O’Brien was stabbed to death by a burglar in his NYC apartment, Viju Krem was shot accidentally on a hunting trip, Luis De Jesus had heart failure which could be common with his dwarfism and Alan Dellay I am not sure about, except that he went on to a briefly promising bit part career until his last known credit in 1984. I found out that Luis De Jesus was in and out of the porn industry following his little-known performance in eight-minute early seventies, hardcore porno loop known as “The Anal Dwarf” (1971), which became infamous amongst New York peep shows and porno houses. De Jesus then acted in Gerard Damiano’s “Let My Puppets Come” (1976), a puppet sex film in the vein of “Meet the Feebles” (1989). De Jesus’ film credits are very wide spread, “Bloodsucking Freaks” (1976) was released around the same time as “Let My Puppets Come” (1976), then following these films De Jesus went mainstream, playing an ewok in “Return of the Jedi” (1983), only to glide in and out of the porn industry over the duration of his acting career, until his untimely death in 1988. As you can imagine, these underground personalities are a huge basis for intrigue. And the one question I ask is – Did O’Brien, Krem and De Jesus die for their crimes on celluloid? Maybe life imitated art following the villainous release of a film that will leave every film watcher with certain emptiness inside. I am a timorous fan of “Bloodsucking Freaks” (1976) but the film does grow on you after numerous viewings. I admitted to Joel that his film disturbed the s**t out of me to this day, but after all that, told him I admired his work and compared “Bloodsucking Freaks” (1976) composition to the early works of Abel Ferrara. Thus beginning our association.
My initial reaction to “Bloodsucking Freaks” (1976) was a terrible one. Sure I still think the film is f****d up, but I can appreciate what Reed was trying to do, and now the film has a quality that I would once deny and with every viewing the humor shows up more and more and I guess my two separate reactions to the film represent the greater public’s view of it which is why the film was detested by most audiences. People like Sardu really exist, they are sick and love to give pain and get pain back. The reality of sex crimes is a serious one, and I think like John Waters does with his satires; taking an issue and portraying it in the most extreme fashion known to cinema, just to get his point across. Reed has done the same thing, and I would call this an extreme satire on sadomasochists. Sure it is over-the-top, but if it were more subtle, we the viewer would take less notice, and to Reed’s credit, he has taken a little exploitation film, buried it and it has been dug up and now turned into a diamond with its cult following. Aside from Reed’s most known effort, he was at the helm of at least five other feature films and has worked with many then and now famous actors and actresses. Reed is a sophisticated guy with a unique sense of humor who is very well read and well spoken and I think his eccentric yet brilliant mind is what 21st century cinema is crying out for. I am not sure what I was expecting Joel Reed to be like, but what I got was just your average down to earth guy, who has a million great life stories to tell and tries to find the funny side of everything. The quality of Reed’s films are always called in to question from various critics, and rightly so in some technical aspects but one thing he has going is the fact that his writing is always sharp even if the budget constraints did not allow for more on-screen spark. Reed’s attitude has changed dramatically since the 60s and 70s, but his humor remains the same. It would seem that he is seeking redemption from the public who picketed “Bloodsucking Freaks” (1976) and is looking for some mainstream acceptance. The following is an interview conducted by myself with Joel M. Reed.
Get the interview in part two of CESSPOOL CINEMA: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOEL M. REED>>>