The Sadist With Red Teeth / Forbidden Paris (Mondo Macabro)
Who is Jean-Louis van Belle? I confess, I’d never heard of this indie French/Belgian director who worked in the fringes of exploitation cinema from the sixties through the nineties (apparently many of his films aren’t even listed on the IMDb) until I dropped The Sadist With Red Teeth, into my DVD player. All I knew going in was that was from Mondo Macabro, the archeologists of cult cinema who specialize in bringing strange and surreal films to DVD that even most film buffs and movie historians have never heard of but should.
Call this 1971 French oddity a post New Wave vampire film. Daniel (Albert Simono) leaves the hospital after recovering from a car wreck that killed his buddy. A doctor reads his case history in voice over as he leaves and ends with the observation that Daniel is under the delusion that he’s becoming a vampire. “I’ll make sure he is,” he concludes, which is all the motivation we’ll get for his deranged experiment beyond the enigmatic statement: “He’s our last hope.” For what? I have no clue, but he’s very determined to complete the transformation and keeps the subject under constant surveillance, periodically calling in observations with a “portable phone” he pulls out of nowhere. A hypnotist keeps working on him (“You are Red Tooth!”) and a dentist continues vague experiments that apparently make his red blood cells devour his white blood cells. Just another piece of exposition that arrives out of nowhere and disappears just as quickly.
In between abstracted scenes of nude models and Daniel’s own trippy hallucinations (spiders, snakes, blood, the mushroom cloud of an atomic bomb), often presented in cut-rate double exposures or negative film reversals, Daniel starts to act out, first throttling a woman in a movie theater (it was just a joke, he swears) and then chomping the neck of a saleswoman at a joke shop with a set of plastic teeth she just sold him. Soon the cops, the doctors, the press, a lion tamer and his worried American girlfriend (Jane Clayton) all have him under surveillance, then take a break to swap stories over martinis in a hospital waiting room (with a nurse helpfully serving up the drinks) before heading off to a costume party where the ringers outnumber the actual guests and Daniel, now sporting arguably the strangest looking set of fangs in the history of vampire cinema, stages his vampire coming out.
Shot in an arch, abrupt manner, with stiff performances and editing that accentuates the plastic qualities of the film over the “realistic,” this is as strange, fascinating and obtuse a horror film as I’ve ever seen. The narrative is practically abstract, van Belle’s effects are crude and in your face, his make-up heavy and obvious, more like stage than cinema make-up. B&W stock footage is cut in for effect and the film appears to be entirely post-synched, which adds just another layer of disconnection to everything on the screen. And, of course, the film is sprinkled liberally with fake blood, just drops at first but soon streams and splotches and pools of it, all looking like red paint. In the words of Godard, when asked about the liberal use of blood in one of his movies, it’s “not blood, red.”
I’m hard pressed to call it good, but it’s such a singular piece and a mesmerizing film: you just can’t believe what you’re seeing. Mondo Macabro releases it in a two-disc set with his earlier Mondo-style documentary Forbidden Paris (aka Paris interdit, 1969) and a new half-hour documentary Who Is JCVB? with footage of van Belle (shot from the neck down) talking about himself in third person at a retrospective of his films interspersed with clips from his films and interviews with collaborators. All in French with English subtitles. The films, all making their DVD debuts, are nicely mastered .