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Bordello of Blood (1996)



At turns both exemplifying what is to be cherished in late twentieth century horror films and what is to be hated, Bordello of Blood's positive side wins out more often than not, but the result is an excellent film that has one too many scenes that might make you cringe for all the wrong reasons.

The prolouge is part of what Bordello of Blood does right. It is grand in scope-it begins like an adventure film, and shortly becomes creepy, as our adventurers quickly enter a part of the jungle decorated with skeletons. They're after a treasure, but only the leader of the group-the others' employer, it turns out-knows what the treasure is. It turns out to be more of a treasure in a Carl Laemelle, Jr. kind of way (Laemelle was the Universal honcho in the classic monster era of the 1930s, in case you're wondering). This not only supplies the myth that the rest of Bordello of Blood is based on, but it supplies a nice bit of gore, too.

Since this is a "Tales from the Crypt' film, the next cut is to the Cryptkeeper, who does his wacky horror host thing-a veritable Zacherley puppet, with an equally goofy sense of humor. Some folks might cite the Cryptkeeper segment as a flaw with the film, but off-kilter emcees have a long history in the genre, and many of us love them. It's nice to see a modern extension of this tradition, since late night hosted horror shows have unfortunately gone the way of the Commodore 64, even if the Cryptkeeper himself isn't around much any more. The Cryptkeeper segment isn't scary, of course, but he was never meant to be. Rather, he sets the mood of gory, eerie camp that "Tales from the Crypt" is about.

From here, the film proper begins. In a nice move by director Gilbert Adler and the scriptwriting committee (including Robert Zemeckis), we think at first that the prologue was more of a bonus short that will have nothing to do with the rest of the film. We're introduced to Katherine Verdoux, a Christian laser show ministry co-conspirator and her brother Caleb (Corey Feldman), who seems to be a future Hell's Angel. Yes, they're stereotypes, but remember folks, "Tales from the Crypt" is meant to be camp, not Steinbeck. And as camp horror, so far everything has worked excellently.

Caleb and a friend end up at a brothel, which is housed in a nice and creepy funeral home. When they disappear, Katherine calls in Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller), a private investigator with, well, a Dennis Miller attitude.

Through this point I felt that Bordello of Blood was on track to perfection. However, shortly after Miller's character appears, so do a few problems. Miller himself isn't a problem, even though I don't always admire his schtick. He's actually very funny in this film. Many of his lines were obviously improvised, and almost all of them work. It's not typical humor for a horror film, but in an Abbott and Costello meet Dracula kind of way, it has its own charm.

Rather, Adler seems to lose his bearings quite a few times after Miller's entrance. Too often the eerie atmosphere that he'd worked so hard to establish simply disappears -a problem that recurs almost until the end of the film. Adler's director gigs have been mostly in television, and even though he's done great television, feature films often don't work when they seem made-for-tv. When Bordello of Blood's atmosphere evaporates, that description is apt. And when the atmosphere goes, Bordello of Blood often loses its pacing and much of the tension with it.

The above is problematic enough to cause me to lop off a couple points, but fortunately it doesn't kill the film. There are a couple other borderline problems, namely a couple script convolutions and Feldman's over-the-top performance, but given "Tales from the Crypt's" camp nature, I don't think script convolutions are negative necessarily, and as far as Feldman goes, well, what else do we expect him to do? Some of us like that about Corey - he's a goofy, guilty pleasure. For others, he's one of the things that might make you cringe in the wrong way.

The odd thing about the camp, though, is that Bordello of Blood could have easily excised it and instead reveled in From Dusk Till Dawn-like anarchy. It resembles From Dusk Till Dawn in some respects, and the effects are almost as good. That's not to say that campy films are inherently less worthy, and now that I think about it, I suppose that From Dusk till Dawn was campy in its own way, but Bordello of Blood occasionally seems to not have its mind made up as to what it wants to be.

Overall, though, there is much to praise here. The story is very entertaining and the prologue melds nicely with the rest of the film. When Adler remembers that he's shooting a feature, Bordello of Blood is creepy. There's also a lot of tension, which is just as much fueled by clever direction as by special effects and make-up. And the bright, colorful gore sequences are exquisite.

Add to that incredible nude females (the nudity is gratuitous in a way, but hey-it's essential to the plot, too!), the Sponseller award for best use of "Ballroom Blitz" in a film, an odd cast of characters turning in pleasantly odd performances and the remarkably smooth and funny incorporation of Dennis Miller, and you've got a film worth watching-if you just don't expect Macbeth.