Early 1970’s exploitation is alive and well in Blood of the Tribades (GenreBlast 2016), which was shown at the inaugural GenreBlast Film Festival in Culpeper, Virginia the weekend of 2016 August 19-21. Co-writers/co-directors Sophia Cacciola and Michael J. Epstein have put together a low-budget horror piece that feels as if it could be a “lost film” of exploitation legend JesÃºs “Jess” Franco. Whether or not that is a good thing depends upon how one feels about Franco’s particular oeuvre. Vampire society is split into two factions – men versus women – and they have been at war for the past 2000 years. Now, there are signs that the society’s founder, Bathor, may be returning, and the war is coming to a head. Filmed with shades of Hammer (gothic locations, Victoria garb) and of Franco (ample nudity, sadomasochism, lesbian vampires), the film exudes an early 1970’s aura, with varying success. Buried in this battle of the vampire sexes is social commentary on the destructive nature of the things that divide us – religion, gender, etc.. Unfortunately, the film is hampered by less-than-stellar acting, though this may be an intentional nod to the acting style/quality of the films which it is emulating.
It has been over 2000 years since the Vampire Bathor set up a vampire society and then left for the stars. Unfortunately, after Bathor left, a schism occurred amongst the vampires and the culture split into two populations, one exclusively male and one exclusively female. While the war has been mostly at a smolder, the men have recently begun to escalate the conflict with increasing attacks upon the women. This brings out from hiding a renegade group of female warriors who had been banished centuries before, but now they have returned to help defend the other women from the attacks by the men. The big question, though, is are these events heralding the return of Bathor, and what will that mean for the two factions if it occurs?
Blood of the Tribades aims for the style of early-1970’s gothic horror and exploitation films. Nods to Hammer and Amicus films of the era are ever present. The opening credits are rendered in a font and style one would expect to see in these older gothic tales, and the wardrobe of most of the female characters also look as if it came right out of one of Hammer’s period pieces. Towards the end of the film, one sequence in particular even seems to be a direct homage to Twins of Evil. The locations used are gorgeous and would fit well in any of the older gothic films. While later Hammer films did not shy away from nudity, the sheer volume and variety of exposed flesh present in Blood of the Tribades puts it more in line with the exploitation films of JesÃºs “Jess” Franco. Male and female nudity is equally on display, with lingering shots of breasts and genitalia featured more than a few times. Franco’s penchant for BDSM is also represented; the central icon of the men’s society is actual a St. Andrew’s Cross, and its use is demonstrated on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, the film is not consistent in its representation of early-1970’s exploitation. The period feeling is stronger in the scenes of the female society. When the film switches to the group of males, its style becomes less focused, pulling the audience out of the illusion of watching some 40 year old exploitation classic. Perhaps this is a stylistic choice designed to emphasize the split between the two societies, but I found the shift in styles distracting.
Most of the female cast members do a relatively good job of capturing the more theatrical acting style of the older gothic films. Their actions are exaggerated just enough to fit within that era. The male actors, on the other hand, play their parts far too broadly. One almost expects them to snicker and twirl their moustaches Ã la Snidely Whiplash. Their stilted delivery makes it hard to enjoy their scenes. While acting in the older exploitation films can be a bit broad, I am not sure that is a feature that it is wise to emulate. As with the shooting style and staging, perhaps this difference in acting styles is intentional so as to emphasize the divide between the two populations, but it hinders the audience’s enjoyment of the film.
At first glance, Blood of the Tribades would appear to be a simple retro-style film about the battle of the sexes. It does not take long to realize that the filmmakers are more intent on making a statement regarding religious extremism and other things that divide us. It is clear that the division between the sexes is more akin to a religious schism than gender differences. The more peaceful and pastoral female society worships the memory of Bathor, but it is a quiet worship. The male society, on the other hand, is a more fundamentalist sect, bathing in “The Blood of Bathor,” practicing extreme (and often forced) “penance” using rose thorn whips, and seeking to destroy those they consider heretics (the women). The use of “2000 years” and the prophesied second coming of Bathor are pretty blatant religious references; subtle, this is not. By the end of the film, a central character even spells things out for the audience, chastising the extremists for the schism and for perverting the unified society initially set up by Bathor. The symbolism and message are bit heavy handed. Keeping the theme more understated would have worked better with the tone of the film.
Blood of the Tribades aims to be a retro-style homage to gothic horror and exploitation films of the early 1970’s, while also including a theme about the destructive nature of those things that divide society, such as religious extremism. While parts of the film look and feel very close to their intended era, other portions of it simply do not. The inconsistent tone, overly-broad acting, and heavy handed symbolism keep Blood of the Tribades from being fully successful. Fans of high camp and early 1970’s exploitation aficionados may find more to like here, though other would do better to look elsewhere.
Blood of the Tribades (1.8 / 5)