Oct 7, 2019


Bordello of Blood is bad bad bad. There's no getting around it.

The anthological nature of HBO's Tales from the Crypt series allowed a rare leg-up over its television show colleagues: besides maintaining a basic skeleton design for the show (and I don't mean the Cryptkeeper! heeee haaaa haaa haaa haaa haaa!!), every episode was allowed to start from the ground up, building a brand new story with a brand new cast every week, while also inviting different writers and directors with different sensibilities to make the show as varied as possible. Looking to EC Comics' 1950s run for inspiration, the stories were either faithfully or loosely adapted, but all maintained the tongue-in-cheek nature, the macabre set-pieces, and the ironic but predictable twist. Because of this, some episodes of the show turned out much, much better than others. 

And that's okay! The show was designed to appeal to as wide of a horror-loving audience as possible, and just like any other audience types, they all have their preferences. Some prefer an approach of the horrific, others more cheeky and campy, while sometimes it's a combination of both. Tying it together, always, was a touch of seedy erotica and a nasty/funny conclusion that usually saw the main hero/heroine (aka the villain) receive their just desserts, either poetically or literally. Much like the comic books that preceded it, the television series were morality tales. Sometimes the heroes escaped unscathed and sometimes they didn't; meanwhile, the villainous almost always suffered, and that was part of the joy. If someone were flat-out unlikable, it was only a matter of time before they were taxidermied and mounted on a wall, or cut exactly in half with a chainsaw.

Which brings us to the abysmal failure that is Bordello of Blood - one of those "bad episodes" of Tales from the Crypt - and not because the story's design wasn't fully in line with the Tales from the Crypt aesthetic. It did, after all, feature unscrupulous characters, sexiness, bodily explosions, monsters, and cheeky humor. No, it fails because there are very few likable people in the cast. Let's start with Dennis Miller, who apparently rewrote all of his dialogue (which made several scenes incomprehensible, considering that the other actors against whom he was acting were forced to recite their dialogue as originally written), and who tries to make every single thing that spews out of his mouth funny or sarcastic in some way. And not just in-general, every-day funny, but Dennis-Miller funny, which equates to overbearing, exhausting, and not at all funny. 

In Miller's defense, so little about Bordello of Blood works that he's just one more body adding to the huge pile of not-working. Corey Feldman is on screen long enough for you to dislike his human version, and then flat-out abhor his vampire version, which is so over the top and stupid that I'm mystified he's mystified he couldn't find work for five years following Bordello of Blood's release. Erika Eleniak gets by with a marginally acceptable performance, but at times her disdain for the material definitely shows through. Angie Everhart, who gave what's become a legendarily terrible performance in her first acting role, does seem to be trying, but ooh boy, so little of what she does actually translates well to the screen. Tales from the Crypt often relied on hot and handsome actors and Bordello of Blood is no different, but sometimes those hot and handsome actors could act. Everhart could not, and maybe she still can't. (Apparently she was really, really nice on set, and that's all that matters.) 

The only one in the cast doing anything worth watching is Chris Sarandon, slumming in what would be one of his final theatrical film appearances. The enthusiasm and energy he injects into his Reverend Current is utterly wasted, and deserving of a much better film. The sequence during which he kills a room full of vampire prostitutes with a holy water super-soaker, causing them to explode into guts, bones, and fire, also deserves to be in something far more deserving. The fact that it's Chris Sarandon doing it makes it ten times as awesome.

Likely due to the production's necessary reshoots, the editing of Bordello of Blood is extremely awkward at times, suggesting the film were being stapled together rather than fluidly designed. Not helping this theory is the unsubtle distinction between Eleniak's real hair and the obvious wig she's forced to use during certain sequences. For a film born out of mistreatment of the Tales from the Crypt brand (story writer Robert Zemeckis basically blackmailed Universal into buying this script), it's no surprise that the final product is a chore to sit through.

Universal Studios had originally intended on creating a Tales from the Crypt-based film trilogy, beginning with the very successful Demon Knight (almost continuing with the Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration From Dusk Till Dawn before Tarantino asked for too much money), and ultimately concluding one film early with Bordello of Blood, a film that even its star, Dennis Miller, ordered his audience to avoid while it was in theaters. That it was a box office bomb assured further tales spun by the Cryptkeeper would be relegated back to television screens, which is a shame, because the brand has carried a lot of weight since the comic book's introduction back in the 1950s and has been sitting dormant way too long.

And it's all your fault, Bordello of Blood. Thanks for nothing.

Bordello of Blood is atrocious. Even those who like the film have to admit it ain't at all that good. Fun and gory violence and a story that really does smack of that ol' EC Comics aesthetic aside, so little of it works that it's almost amazing it ever saw the light of day - and from a major studio, no less.   

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