This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.
“Mardi Gras Massacre” is interesting as it’s one of the very few of the 72 banned movies to never re-submit itself for a BBFC classification. Now, this is probably down to the distributors going bankrupt or something, but “Mardi Gras Massacre” has never been seen legally by anyone in the UK. That is a damn shame, because with a bold display of rank incompetence, bizarre plot choices and gore so mild as to be almost charming, it’s shot right to the top of my B-list of video nasties (obviously, there’s an A-list, which is stuff like “Driller Killer”, “Tenebrae”, “The Evil Dead”, and “Possession”).
I hope you enjoy this review, anyway, even if you don’t track it down (although you definitely should). “John”, a sharp-dressed Englishman with a huge chin dimple walks into a sleazy New Orleans bar and asks around for the most evil prostitute in there. A helpful pair of ladies points him in the direction of someone the credits refer to as “Shirley Anderson the Evil Prostitute”, and he has one of the odder conversations I’ve ever witnessed. The line that seals the deal is Shirley saying “I could win first place in any evil contest”, so off they go to John’s place, a little apartment with a very unusual soundproofed bedroom.
It’s about now when B-movie aficionados will notice the similarities to a great gore classic, 1963’s “Blood Feast”. Both movies are about the ritual murder of women for an ancient god, although “Blood Feast” is an Egyptian god and just random women; this one is a Latin American god and specifically prostitutes. Anyway, John gets to work, tying up the women and then slicing hands and feet before cutting open their chest and removing the heart, which is a decent effect for a low-budget late 70s movie, even if it’s barely enough to get it banned. Now, John kills three women during the course of things, and those three murders are pretty much identical – he goes, finds a prostitute, takes her to his bedroom, ties her up and cuts out her heart. They’re shot pretty much the same way too, so I might suggest director Jack Weis (who clearly thought he’d given the world his masterwork, as he never directed anything again) was more interested in showing gore than he was in making things visually appealing.
Time to talk about the cops. We’ve got personality and brains to discuss! Our main man is Sergeant Frank Herbert, a former vice cop who’s now working homicide. After talking to Sherry the friendly prostitute about the death of her friend, he decides to take her to dinner – I thought it was to do with getting more information, but no, Frank and Sherry start up a relationship, and we’re treated to a substantial montage of their week of bliss together. Hey, Frank, someone’s murdering prostitutes and you’re supposed to be investigating it! Their relationship is treated at least initially as perfectly normal, but surely it must be a bit weird for a cop to date a hooker? Even in late 70s New Orleans? Of course, when he’s bored of her, he calls her a whore and slaps her about a bit, only at the end for her to apologise to him! Wow! I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but I’m kind of on the side of the murderer, who at least has a moral code.
The “brains” part of the above is the investigation itself. The murderer is a well-dressed Englishman with a distinctive facial feature (a huge chin-dimple) and goes into places with a weird request – to purchase the services of the most evil prostitute there. The first killing takes place weeks before Mardi Gras, so it’s not like New Orleans will be heaving with millions of tourists, and you’d have to think he’d stand out a bit. But he’s able to carry on killing, no-one bothers warning anyone to be on the lookout, no-one comments on anything other than a weird ring he wears, and the police don’t seem to do anything other than the most perfunctory investigation. And there’s one moment where Sherry sees the killer and doesn’t recognise him! Surely you’d at least notice the accent? What the hell? Although if we’re talking baffling choices, the bit when John picks up a woman who he thinks is evil because she’s wearing devil horns and red body paint is my favourite.
On top of the weird plotting, we get a real flavour of New Orleans in the late 70s. This movie was filmed in dirty back alleys and dive bars and is, I imagine, much more “authentic” than the traditional tourist-style videos we normally see. There’s also footage from Mardi Gras itself, which must have been miserable that year as everyone is in thick coats and hats…it’s surprisingly interesting visually, if not for the reasons that anyone intended at the time. It’s also heavy with disco fever, to the extent of (with the exception of 15 seconds near the end) the entire soundtrack being disco, even though New Orleans is the jazz capital of the world. Even seeing the real patrons of the bars (not a paid extra in sight) is a fascinating look at another time and place – there’s a fight on one dancefloor which is witnessed by a chap dressed as Frank N Furter, for example. The camera really captures the grime, and the cheap nature of the film used helps in that regard. It’s got a great grindhouse look to it.
The ending is pretty strange, which fits with the rest of the movie. John tries to kill three hookers at once (including Sherry) but finally the police decide to do their damn jobs for a second and find out where he lives – although, they’re tipped off and decide to go to a bar, have a drink and wait for backup! Anyway, John escapes and at that point the actor just disappears from the movie – we’re treated to a car chase and some extreme long shots of someone dressed the same as John driving a car into the ocean and disappearing. Low-budget movies always find weird and wonderful new ways to do things!
While it’s often dull (those murders go on forever and are all the damn same) and treats women absolutely appallingly, it’s entertaining enough to give a go to. I wouldn’t even worry about the gore, it’s hardly worse than the opening of the average episode of “Bones”. The decision to ban it seems sort of stupid, giving it notoriety it never deserved, although it’s not like they’ve ever tried to capitalise on it by re-releasing it over here. It’s an anti-classic!
Rating: thumbs up