BOOTLEG FILES 229: “Bloody Pit of Horror” (1965 Italian horror turkey starring Mickey Hargitay).

LAST SEEN: Available online at several sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: No official release, but widely available in public domain dupes.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: No copyright protection.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: The original Italian-language version is unavailable in the U.S., so maybe someday that will turn up on DVD.

If you’re in the mood for a bad film, I have a great recommendation: the 1965 Italian import “Bloody Pit of Horror.” This is vintage so-bad-it’s-good material.

Though I should point out we’re analyzing the dubbed American version, since the original Italian-language version is not available in the U.S. But while the American soundtrack obviously complicated the film’s attempt at genuine chills and thrills, the original inept concept and its cheapjack production value would probably be egregious in any language.

“Bloody Pit of Horror” takes place in a gloomy, isolated European castle that was once the home of the Crimson Executioner, a 17th century lunatic who dished out vigilante justice in his private torture chamber. The film opens with a historic flashback as two soldiers (dressed like the Vatican’s Swiss Guards) escort the deranged Crimson Executioner (wearing his red hood, black mask and red tights – but no shirt) into his torture chamber. The Crimson Executioner is chained into his Iron Maiden torture device and killed, and the contraption is sealed by the soldiers.

Fast forward three centuries. A group of automobiles drive up to the castle gate and their occupants come out to look around. These people are part of a photo shoot for the publisher of a series of crummy horror novels, and they are trying to find adequate locations to use for their next round of gothic book cover art. Most of this group consists of curvaceous models, plus one hunky male model, along with a photographer, the head of the publishing company, and a few other folks whose exact job duties are not specified.

The castle initially appears to be deserted and the people make their way inside. Alas, it is not vacant – the owner of the castle is a reclusive American actor who used to pose and flex in musclemen epics before retreating from the world. He’s played by Mickey Hargitay, the former Mr. Universe (obviously an inspired bit of casting). This character employs a pair of beefy bodyguards who wear identical outfits (striped shirts and khaki slacks). Reluctantly, they agree to allow the intruders to stay and stage their photo shoot in the castle.

However, things start to go terribly wrong. When the group’s token male model is posing on a supposedly rope-secured torture device, the rope breaks and he’s sliced to death. Later, one of the pretty gal models is found in the Iron Maiden device that killed the Crimson Executioner three centuries earlier.

It appears the castle’s owner believes he’s the reincarnation of the Crimson Executioner. Donning a costume identical to the one worn by the infamous madman of centuries past, he imprisons the photographic party in his dungeon. From there, it’s a wacky torture fest complete with knives, ice water, boiling oil, a spin on the rack, and other various indignities.

On the surface, “Bloody Pit of Horror” is a nasty film, but that’s no surprise since it falls into the giallo genre Italian horror nastiness. However, the film turns into an unintentional comedy. A great deal of the mirth is borne on Mickey Hargitay’s broad shoulders, who presents the Crimson Executioner as one of the daffiest villains of all time.

Hargitay’s character is clearly obsessed with physical perfection, and he spends a great deal of time oiling his Mr. Universe upper torso while admiring himself in a mirror. However, he is forced to spout such inane lines as “Mankind is made up of inferior creatures, spiritually and physically deformed, who would have corrupted the harmony of my perfect body.” Hargitay’s voice performance is dubbed, but the uncredited actor who carried that dialogue went wildly overboard, resulting in camp rather than chills.

Indeed, the dubbing nearly kills the movie with more effectiveness than any torture contraption. Americanized voices don’t match the Italian actors’ appearances, while synchronization is rarely achieved. Lips keep moving long after words have stopped, and in a few cases words just float without finding a home on anyone’s lips.

But even if there was perfect dubbing, it would be impossible to overlook the ridiculous nature of the torture devices. The film’s most famous scene has a model trussed up in a spread-eagle position on a giant spider web made from rope. A large rag doll that is supposed to be a poison spider floats over her on a shiny string. The model’s colleagues are unable to reach her because the room is booby-trapped with a maze of ropes attached to bows and arrows, and anyone who trips a rope gets an arrow in the head. Of course, none of this is scary – it seems more like the TV version of “Batman,” with elaborately ridiculous contraptions designed to exact slow death from the imprisoned Caped Crusaders.

It gets progressively worse in the torture chamber finale, when Mickey Hargitay pours “boiling oil” on the bare back of a screaming model (the oil looks like chocolate syrup and the screams sound like a faked orgasm) while a man in an iron cage is incinerated over a fiery pit (the flames are clearly superimposed over the actor). The violence is so lame and unconvincing that one could easily allow children to watch “Bloody Pit of Horror” without fear of corruptive influences.

“Bloody Pit of Horror” was picked up for U.S. theatrical release in 1966 by Pacemaker Pictures, a small company specializing in the import of cheap horror flicks. Thirteen minutes were cut from the original release in order to accommodate its place on a double feature (the deleted footage, despite popular rumors, did not possess graphic violence or gore). Pacemaker also messed with the film’s credits, giving Anglicized names to the Italian cast and crew (the distributor didn’t want audiences to think they were seeing a foreign movie). The distributor also insisted the film was based on the writing of the Marquis de Sade (yeah, the marquis wrote about musclemen chasing models in an Italian castle!).

The film probably would’ve been ignored without Mickey Hargitay’s starring presence. Although hardly a movie star in his own right (he was best known as Jayne Mansfield’s husband), he had enough name recognition to warrant a wide release. In fact, the film’s success enabled Hargitay to stay in Italy for most of the late 1960s, where he starred in a no-budget horror and action films that cashed in on his B-list fame.

“Bloody Pit of Horror” was a staple of grindhouse theaters for some time. It kept coming back over the years, often under new titles. Today, it will never go away, simply because it is a public domain title. Cheap and badly faded bootleg dupes have proliferated for some time, and the entire film can be found easily on the Internet.

Seriously, if you need to feed your bad movie fix, come to “Bloody Pit of Horror” – you’ll be happily tortured by its wonderful insanity.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free s***s and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure

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