Sergio Bergonzellis’ aptly titled Blood Delirium (aka Delirio di sangue) is the kind of film that defies easy synopsis, and suffice it to say that if you feel the need to know all of the details about its indescribably peculiar narrative prior to watching it, then it probably isn’t the film for you. Some things are better experienced than they are understood. Of course, some things still can’t be understood even after experiencing them, and Blood Delirium definitely falls into that camp. The Italian horror genre has offered some wild rides over the decades, but Blood Delirium makes some of the wildest look positively tame in comparison.
Bergonzelli’s story, such as it is, involves the mad painter Saint Simon (John Phillip Law), his even madder assistant Hermann (Gordon Mitchell), a dead wife (Brigitte Christensen), her doppelgänger (Christensen again), her doppelgänger’s husband (Marco Di Stefano), and… well, a whole lot of perversion, supernatural shenanigans, and psychedelic imagery ensues. Law and Mitchell threw themselves into their roles with reckless abandon, and the deranged interplay between the two of them is one of the highlights of the film. Mitchell plays Hermann like Otto in Flesh for Frankenstein, although his own performance is really like Arno Jürging on steroids. Actually, the whole antagonistic relationship between Saint Simon and Hermann is also quite similar to the one between the Baron and Otto in Frankenstein: Saint Simon wants to achieve his grand vision using any means at his disposal, and Hermann just wants to get laid, in any way possible.
Bergonzelli made Blood Delirium at the twilight of his career, after having spent much of the Eighties working in hardcore pornography. (It would prove to be his penultimate film.) It was also the twilight of the Italian horror boom of the Seventies and Eighties, and the beginning of the direct-to-video era. Blood Delirium did get a very limited theatrical release, but it primarily went straight to video. Yet despite the limited resources at his disposal, and the fact that Gothic horror wasn’t really his forte, Bergonzelli wasn’t just going through the motions while making the film. He treated all of the absurdity quite earnestly, and crafted some memorable visuals in the process. There’s nothing else quite like it in Italian horror, save perhaps for Bergonzelli’s own equally lunatic giallo-on-steroids In the Folds of the Flesh.
Bergonzelli’s manner didn’t work equally well for all of the actors on the set, but he seemed to have had a positive impact on Law. Filmmaker and historian Howard Berger, who served on a Fantafestival jury with Bergonzelli in 1995, ran into Law years later while he was shooting a Q&A with Dennis Hopper for a screening of The Last Movie. Berger told Law how about how fond that Bergonzelli was of him, and an emotional Law responded, “I loved Sergio! What a wild film! So much fun!” Whether or not Blood Delirium will be equally fun for all viewers is a matter of perspective, but there’s no doubt that it’s a wild film, a wild ride, and an experience like no other.
Cinematographer Raffaele Mertes shot Blood Delirium on 35 mm film using spherical lenses, framed at 1:66:1 for its extremely limited theatrical release. This version features a new restoration based on a 2K scan from the original uncut camera negative. The resulting image is extremely grainy, especially during low-light scenes, but there’s no noise or other artifacts to interfere with it. There’s some light speckling visible, as well as a few fleeting scratches that pass by quickly—they’re more noticeable when freeze-framing than they are in motion. There’s also one unstable shot starting at 53:44 (when Mitchell adds some salt to his grisly meal), but that appears to have been an issue with the camera setup, so it’s likely present on the negative and can’t be fixed. Otherwise, the color balance looks natural, and while skin tones do occasionally appear a bit more bronzed than they do in the rest of the film, that’s more due to the lighting for those scenes than it is to the timing of this transfer. Minor flaws aside, it’s an amazing upgrade for a film that’s been missing-in-action on home video for far too long, and the fact that it’s finally uncut is a huge bonus.
Audio is offered in English and Italian 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio, with optional English SDH subtitles for the former, and removable standard English subtitles for the latter. Like many Italian productions intended for the international market, there are enough English-speaking actors in the film that the English language version is preferable to the Italian. Either way, most of the audio was clearly post-synced, and it doesn’t always integrate well into the soundstage—Law’s booming voice sounds particularly unnatural. There are some harsh sibilants on the English track, especially with female voices, while the Italian does sound tamer, with a slightly rolled-off high end. Your mileage may vary, but the English version still has the edge despite those deficiencies.
Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release of Blood Delirium includes a reversible insert with two different variants of the poster artwork on each side. There’s also an embossed and spot gloss slipcover available directly from Vinegar Syndrome, limited to the first 5,000 units, that was designed by Robert Sammelin. The following extras are included, all of them in HD:
Film historian and extras producer/director Eugenio Ercolani is joined by author and film historian Troy Howarth for this commentary track, which is really more of a freewheeling dialogue between two fans of Italian genre cinema than it is a traditional screen-specific commentary. They do talk about what’s happening onscreen occasionally, but they mostly provide a wide-ranging examination of the chaotically changing state of Italian genre films in that era. Directors were trying to find their place in that changing market, and often dealing with genres with which they had no previous experience. Much of that involved pushing the boundaries of taste while moving to new levels of extremity, a category that certainly describes Blood Delirium. It’s a story about an artist pushing extremities, directed by an artist who was doing the same thing. Howarth admits that it’s a very strange film, and describes the interplay between Law and Mitchell as not being unlike Gene Wilder and Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein. In that regard, they both agree that the humor like that in Blood Delirium wasn’t intentional. There’s some information here about the cast and crew, with an emphasis on where Law was personally at that stage of his career, but it’s still a commentary that focuses more on the general than the specific.
The rest of the extras consist primarily of three different interviews. Gerard’s Delirium features Marco Di Stefano, who certainly had some interesting experiences prior to making Blood Delirium, including stilt-walking and jumping from high towers. Di Stefano was married to Brigitte Christensen, and he tells some curious stories about being constantly put in harm’s way by Bergonzelli due to the fact that the director was attracted to his wife. Killer’s Muse features Christensen providing an overview of her career, explaining why she ended up as a film actor despite the fact that her real love was the theatre. She covers a few of the genre films that she made, but focuses primarily on her experiences making Blood Delirium. However extreme that the behavior may have been onscreen, she says that Law and Mitchell were both gentlemanly to her on set. Finally, Once Upon a Time in the Italian Eighties is an interview with assistant director Corrado Colombo, who gives a synopsis of his own career, including his period working with Bergonzelli, and also goes into the making of Blood Delirium. He’s a little contemptuous of genre filmmaking in general, but even he has to admit that the film is captivating and elusive in its madness.
Aside from the trailer, the only other extra is the Alternate Italian Front and End Titles. Since there’s no seamless branching on the disc, the English titles will still play when selecting the Italian audio, so the original Italian titles are offered here as an extra.
Blood Delirium is the kind of film that needs to be seen in order to be believed. Those who caught it on VHS in the Eighties might even question their own memories about it, but never fear, it’s every bit as batshit crazy as those fuzzy recollections would indicate. The good news is that it’s now been rescued from bad memories of fuzzy, low-resolution VHS video, thanks to Vinegar Syndrome’s fine transfer from the original film elements. Needless to say, Blood Delirium won’t be for all tastes, but fans of the wildest reaches of Italian genre cinema should be thrilled with this set.
– Stephen Bjork
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