Bloodsucking Freaks (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jan 10, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Bloodsucking Freaks (4K UHD Review)


Joel M. Reed

Release Date(s)

1976 (November 28, 2023)


Rochelle Films (Vinegar Syndrome)
  • Film/Program Grade: D+
  • Video Grade: B+
  • Audio Grade: B
  • Extras Grade: A-

Bloodsucking Freaks (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


Bloodsucking Freaks (aka The Incredible Torture Show, Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins, and a variety of other titles) was hardly the first film that could be considered “torture porn,” but it definitely took the concept to new heights—or depths, as the case may be. If Herschell Gordon Lewis is the godfather of the genre, then writer/director Joel M. Reed is its wicked Uncle Ernie, fiddling about with things that might have made even Lewis either blush or tip his hat (possibly both). The fact that Reed operated adjacent to the adult film industry certainly helped to put the Porn in torture porn, especially since he borrowed some cast and crew members from that business. It’s all right there in the title(s), just to make sure that you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. To paraphrase the late coach Dennis Green, Bloodsucking Freaks is what you think it is, so be aware of that fact before you take the field. Yes, there are some satirical elements involved, but Reed was careful to deliver all the degradation, abuse, and gore that he could squeeze into 90 minutes, on an all-too literal level.

Reed’s story, such as it is, involves the Theatre of the Macabre in New York’s Soho district, where Sardu (Seamus O’Brien) offers unique entertainments. Assisted by his diminutive assistant Ralphus (Luis De Jesus), Sardu stages shows involving torture, mutilation, and even death. It’s the ultimate in Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol—and just in case any viewer might miss that reference, Reed helpfully added the character of the skeptical theatrical critic Creasy Silo (Alan Dellay) to point out the similarities. Yet unbeknownst to most of Sardu’s patrons, these gruesome displays are all too real. Sardu runs a white slavery ring on the side, and he happily tests out the merchandise on stage. Everything starts to spiral out of control when Sardu’s ambitions result in some disappearances that are increasingly difficult to cover up. Bloodsucking Freaks also stars Viju Krem, Niles McMaster, Dan Fauci, and Ernie Pysher.

In theory, at least, the multilayered show-within-a-show nature of Bloodsucking Freaks offered plenty of opportunity to interrogate the nature of viewing violent imagery as entertainment, but Reed wasn’t particularly interested in having anything to say about that. It’s really just torture for torture’s sake. Yet Reed might have been onto something with the relationship between Sardu and Creasy Silo. Sardu is outraged when Silo questions his talents, but he becomes even more furious when Silo won’t even grant him the courtesy of a negative review. Ironically enough, Silo actually gets what most real-world critics miss: he realizes that reviewing Sardu’s show will only draw more attention to it, so he chooses to ignore it instead. That’s a lesson that the likes of Siskel and Ebert never learned. (Of course, Silo ends up paying the price for not taking Sardu seriously, but that’s something most critics won’t have to worry about.)

Bloodsucking Freaks had to take its own circuitous path to notoriety. Reed originally shot it under the title Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins, but American Film Distributing Corporation released it in 1976 as The Incredible Torture Show, and it ended up sinking without a trace. It might have stayed there, too, but Troma picked it up in 1981 and re-released it as Bloodsucking Freaks. The rest, as they say, was history. Troma got into a bit of hot water with the MPAA by releasing the uncut version as R-rated, which doubtless helped to fuel the controversy over its content. As usual, Lloyd Kaufman ended up laughing all the way to the bank. It quickly became a perennial home video favorite thanks to one of the most important factors during the video store era: an eye-catching cover. That’s where most fans ended up discovering it. Strangely enough, it’s doesn’t seem to have made the Video Nasties list in Great Britain, but it still generated plenty of outrage on both sides of the pond, and that helped to generate plenty of profits. If there’s one truism in life, it’s that the lessons of Creasy Silo are never learned.

Cinematographer Ron Dorfman (aka Gerry Toll and Art Ben) shot Bloodsucking Freaks on 16 mm film using spherical lenses. The finished film was optically blown up to 35 mm for theatrical release, matted to 1.85:1. This version uses a 4K scan of the original 35 mm internegative (using the title Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins), framed at the open-matte 16 mm aspect ratio of 1.37:1, which is how the majority of viewers ended up seeing Bloodsucking Freaks on home video anyway. Most of the compositions don’t look like they’d be too cramped at 1.85:1, and there’s generally plenty of headroom at the top of the frame, but by the same token everything was clearly protected for full frame viewing as well. There’s no information available about whether Dorfman used standard negative or color reversal film stock, so there may or may not have been an extra layer of generational loss to reach the IN stage. Either way, the results look as relatively soft as would be expected, without ever displaying true 4K levels of detail. (Occasional focus issues don’t help, but that’s just how Bloodsucking Freaks was shot.) There are a few scratches and other minor blemishes, but it’s generally pretty clean. The High Dynamic Range grade (only HDR10 is offered on the disc) runs a little hot at times, with highlights that verge on the edge of looking blown out in some shots. Otherwise, the contrast range is strong, even though the generational loss inherent to the source elements means that there’s not much shadow detail visible. It’s not really a spectacular 4K presentation of Bloodsucking Freaks, but it’s the best one possible under the circumstances.

Audio is offered in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles. For good or for ill, it’s a surprisingly clear track. There’s little noise, distortion, or other artifacts, and every scream is rendered perfectly. It’s not particularly dynamic, but that’s to be expected.

Vinegar Syndrome’s 4K Ultra HD release of Bloodsucking Freaks is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film. The insert is reversible, with different artwork on each side. There’s also a double-sided magnetically reversible embossed slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 7000 units. The extras combine new with archival material:


  • Audio Commentary with Eli Roth
  • Audio Commentary with John Szpunar


  • Audio Commentary with John Szpunar
  • Audio Commentary with Eli Roth
  • Freaks Come Out at the Drive-In (HD – 14:31)
  • Live Commentary from a 2009 Screening (Upscaled SD – 93:37)
  • Q&A with Joel M. Reed (HD – 55:09)
  • Random Hotel Room Interview with Joel M. Reed (Upscaled SD – 24:39)
  • Archival Introduction by Lloyd Kaufman (2:36)
  • Archival Cast & Crew Interviews (Upscaled SD – 3:52)
  • Archival Interview with Eli Roth (HD – 20:11)
  • Archival Interview with Chris Jericho (HD – 14:36)
  • Alternate Title Sequence (HD – 1:02)

The new commentary track is by John Szpunar, editor-in-chief of Deep Red magazine and author of Blood Sucking Freaks: The life and Films of the Incredible Joel M. Reed. He’s become good friends with Reed over the years, so he has plenty of juicy stories to share. He covers the real-life inspirations for the story and explains how the film was financed, and tries to untangle its thorny release pattern. Along the way, he identifies most of the cast and crew, including those who came from the adult film business. He also identifies some references that would be otherwise lost to time, like the fact that Creasy Silo was Reed’s satirical take on New York Times dance and theatre critic Clive Barnes. Needless to say, the subject of the gore effects comes up more than once—interestingly enough, Reed told Szpunar that he wasn’t familiar with the works of Herschell Gordon Lewis when he conceived of the film. That’s a bit hard to believe, although certainly it’s possible in those pre-home video days.

The archival commentary with filmmaker Eli Roth was originally recorded for the 1998 Troma Team Video DVD release of Bloodsucking Freaks. Your enjoyment of the commentary will probably depend on how you feel about Roth. He does know plenty about the making of the film, although nowhere near as much as Szpunar does. What’s more of a matter of taste is his sense of humor. His attempts at deadpan outrageousness tend to fall a little flat. Interestingly, there’s a gap in the commentary during the early scene where Sardu pays back Ralphus for offering to kidnap Silo. Troma originally cut that moment out of the film, and while it was eventually restored for their Blu-ray version, the DVD was still missing it.

Freaks Come Out at the Drive-In is a new featurette about a screening of Bloodsucking Freaks that took place at TROMA-THON 2023—at the Mahoning Drive-in, no less. Lloyd Kaufman makes an appearance and offers his own stories about releasing the film. The Live Commentary was taped at a 2009 screening of Bloodsucking Freaks, featuring Joel Reed, Art Ettinger, and Ken Kish. Reed provides an introduction to set the stage, and then everyone sits down Mystery Science Theater 3000 style to watch the film and riff on what’s happening. Unfortunately, the film’s volume was too loud relative to the commentary, and Reed struggled with his microphone, so it’s not always clear what he’s saying. It’s still a valuable document, though. The Q&A with Joel M. Reed is from a different screening of the film, where Reed mingled with fans before sitting down to answer questions. The Random Hotel Room Interview took place at a Cinema Wasteland expo (it’s not clear which one). Reed was pretty relaxed, so he offered some different thoughts on his experiences in life.

The rest of the extras are mostly derived from Troma’s 1998 DVD and 2014 Blu-ray releases of Bloodsucking Freaks. The Introduction by Lloyd Kaufman is as energetic and cheeky as you would expect (he even compares the film to A Clockwork Orange). The Cast & Crew Interviews offers Eli Roth briefly interviewing Arlana Blue, Ernie Pysher, and co-editor Victor Kanefsky. The Interview with Eli Roth has him sitting down for a more extended look back at the film. It’s a big improvement over his commentary track, although he does get bogged down in self-promotion (he spends some time talking about The Green Inferno and Crypt TV). The Interview with Chris Jericho has the then-WWE star offering his own feelings about the film, and explaining how the character of Ralphus inspired the mock bodyguard that he used during his WCW days. Finally, the Alternate Title Sequence is the version with the Blood Sucking Freaks title card. (Presumably the titles with The Incredible Torture Show have been lost to time.)

That’s some substantial new material, mixed with the majority of the previously available content directly regarding Bloodsucking Freaks. Most of the other stuff on older discs was Troma-related, not necessarily Sardu-related. The original Team Troma DVD had a variety of trailers, PSAs, other ads, and interactive material like a Troma tour and a Troma Intelligence Test. Their 2014 Blu-ray added the two unrelated short films Tromaloha! and Sell Your Own Damn Spider. The 2014 Blu-ray from 88 Films in the U.K. did carry forward most of that Troma content, sometimes in reworked form, but none of it has been included here. As always, you’ll probably want to hang onto those older discs, especially if you’re a die-hard Troma fan. Otherwise, this new Vinegar Syndrome release easily trumps them all. It’s far from a perfect 4K presentation, but it’s the best we’ll ever get given the elements that are available. It’s still a major visual step up compared to all of the older releases, and the sound quality is an even bigger improvement. This is as clean and crystal-clear as Bloodsucking Freaks has ever been. Whether or not that’s a good thing is entirely up to you.

- Stephen Bjork

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