Pete Walker was the enfant terrible of the British horror movie in the 1970s, but before he upset the likes of Mary Whitehouse, and pearl clutching film critics alike, he made his name with a series of skin flicks and violent crime capers. THE FLESH BLOOD SHOW was Walker's first foray into the horror genre, but it's very much a half way house (and half-hearted one at that) between the nudie and gore movies his name soon became synonymous with.
In a move that would be appropriated by slasher film makers for years to come, THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW gathers a group of young people in one place and bumps them off one-by-one. A gaggle of actors (to whom clothes most seem an outdated concept) are hired to take part in rehearsals for a free-form psychedelic play, taking place in a run down theatre at the end of a seaside pier (which, in the immortal words of Morrissey, is like a seaside town they forgot to tear down).
Little do the thespians know, but back in 1944, during an air raid, famed stage actor Arnold Gates flipped after a particularly hammy rendition of Othello. Whilst on stage at the pier theatre he noticed that his actress wife's bodice is hanging open at the back after she'd had a grope with a fellow hunky board treader. After the theatre is almost empty he bursts in on his wife and her beau, who are making out in front of Gates' young daughter. Knocking them both out he drags them down into the bowels of the theatre, where he ties them up and leaves them to die ...
Now, someone with murder on their mind is back by the seaside. Has Gates returned to cut some more slutty thesps down to size, or his someone else leaving bloody footsteps on the boards?
Firstly, I'd like to point out that I'm quite the fan of Pete Walker's nihilistic, modern gothic proto-slasher flicks - and I'd happily list his English answer to Texas' chain saw massacre, FRIGHTMARE (1974) as in my all-time top ten. Sadly, THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW is very much an abortive first effort to move away from sex comedies and give the public what they wanted (Walker was nothing if not an astute business man). Unfortunately, despite a suitably decrepit SCOOBY DOO'ish setting (the semi-abandoned pier) Walker fails to push the right fear buttons. There are a few standout moments - including one when busty Carol (Luan Peters) is menaced by a seemingly psychotic down-and-out she initially takes pity on, but overall the film never quite ignites like some of his later efforts. This isn't helped by the fact that the climactic scenes are really anything but - perhaps they might have worked better in 3D (the last scene was shot in the third dimension presumably to give it some oomph), but despite some added sleaze I somehow doubt it. Even the killer screaming, "EXCREMENT ... FILTH!" at the startled thesps fails to bring it back from the brink (although it does add some crazy colour to the proceedings). It also doesn't help that all of the murders happen off screen - a world away from the ghoulish glee of the more outlandish set pieces in FRIGHTMARE or the impressive Argento'esque first murder in the COMEBACK (1978).
The cast are variable to say the least. Robin Askwith plays a bland character who just stands around and reacts to the unfurling drama like a guppy fish on tranquilizers (a million miles away from his cheeky chappy persona in the CONFESSIONS films) - he also turned up as more slasher fodder in the more entertaining TOWER OF EVIL from the same year (and gave his best horror turn in the hugely enjoyable (and bonkers!) 70s Brit genre piece, HORROR HOSPITAL (1973)). Jenny Hanley, who plays the rising starlet Julia who has strange recollections of the theatre, is certainly a beauty who I'm surprised didn't go on to to do more. And, like other Brits of my age, it's always odd to hear the dulcet tones of Ray Brooks (here playing the play's director), who provided the voice for one of the shows from way, way back in my childhood, Mr Ben.
Ultimately, THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW delivers on some of its promise. Whilst the blood is in short supply, there's acres of flesh on display (mostly female, although there is some brief full frontal male nudity). However, whilst it is of interest a proto-slasher, its sorely missing the wondrously sinister presence of Sheila Keith (old lady menace extraordinnaire), who added some arch and deliciously dark campness to some of his later movies. So, if you're new to Walker's macabre world I'd suggest you bypass this until you've enjoyed some of his more ghoulishly entertaining tales from the mid-70s.
female:4 / male:2
1) Female found decapitated
2) Female found beaten to death
3) Male found hacked to death
4) Female seen with a dagger in her back
5) Female tied up and left to starve
6) Male tied up and left to starve