CAULDRON OF BLOOD (1970)

* This is the fourth installment in the series “Karloff’s Bizarre and Final Six Pack.”

Santos Alcocer’s Cauldron of Blood (1970) (AKA Blind Man’s Bluff) was filmed in 1967, but languished on the shelf until its release three years later (to little fanfare, despite its potential marketing as one of horror icon ‘s last films). Where Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) was a low-rent knock off of Black Sunday (1960), Cauldron is an equally low-rent rip of Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) and House of Wax (1953).

Karloff co-stars with veteran Viveca Lindfors (who is possibly best know as the queen who aroused Errol Flynn in 1948’s The Adventures of Don Juan). Cauldron was shot almost entirely in Spain, and is remembered only as an accidental idiosyncrasy from late in Karloff’s career.

Cauldron of Blood is not a good film, but it is a queer film, quite unlike anything else in the Karloff cannon, which may be explained by the fact that Karloff was not even the preferred choice for the role of the blind sculptor Badulescu. Producer Robert D. Weinbach had wanted Claude Rains, but Karloff was brought into the project after Rains was found to be terminally ill (Rains died during the pre-production stage of the film). Karloff is not even top-billed, which was an extreme and curious rarity.

The opening title sequence is a stylish hoot. A blonde bathing beauty is transformed into an animated skeleton, which then breaks up, forming the title (as in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein). This is followed by the bizarre jazz score of Ray Ellis (a sax player and prolific television composer) and psychedelic graphics, which lead into a beachside murder. The killer, wearing overcoat and gloves, erotically stalks his prey, making Cauldron of Blood a clear example of the giallo pulp genre films so influential during the period.

French sex symbol Jean-Pierre Aumont, as Claude, is in Spain to do a photo shoot of the famous blind sculptor Badulescu (Karloff, doing most of his scenes under a blanket, stuck in a wheelchair, wearing opaque goggles). Badulescu is cared for by his wife, Tania (Lindfors). Badulescu’s sculptures utilize the skeletons of animals as armatures, or so he believes. Actually, Tania and one of her male lovers are supplying the skeletons of young girls, which comes as no surprise at all to the viewer. Karloff makes the most of his brief screen time, judiciously delivering his sarcastic dialogue to his sadistic wife: “‘Till death do us part, I suppose.” Lindfors, as the crazed, bisexual S & M murderess, puts her ham meter into overdrive, stealing everything but the kitchen sink.

Still from Cauldron of Blood (1970)Spliced into this rehash of the wax museum plots are swinging party vignettes, unconvincing red herrings, and pop culture references galore. It’s much more subdued, and consequently duller, than it sounds. However, an out-of-synch diversion comes in the way of a surreal nightmare vignette with Lindfors haunted by psychedelic images of her hubby transformed into a shrunken head (replete with equally psychedelic scoring). Tania undergoes a transformation herself, as a whip-cracking femme Nazi leering after and stalking female victims. Among Tania’s obsessions is Claude’s gal pal Elga (Euro sex kitten Dyanik Zurakowska), and her stalking concludes with a near fatal encounter with a vat of acid (Lindfors and Zurakowska standing in for Lionel Atwill/Fay Wray.)

A masked ball (don’t ask) leads to exposure and a 60s fight scene straight out of Adam West’s “Batman” (only lacking a KA-POW!) The inevitable full-moon showdown between Boris and Viveca is anti-climatic.

Despite an overly familiar plot and noticeably low budget, Cauldron of Blood nearly shows potential through sheer style alone, and as a period curio with weird performances by Lindfors and Karloff. Inevitably, it’s too much of a mess to hit the mark, but it gets some credit for an honest attempt to create its own flavor. It is certainly preferable to some of the recent big budget, assembly-line Hollywood garbage (e.g. Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance).

Cauldron Of Blood is out of print and has never been released on DVD in Region 1. It is available on a Region 0 DVD (buy) if you have a PAL or multisystem DVD player.

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