Bloody Pit of Horror / Crimson Executioner / The Scarlet Executioner / The Scarlet Hangman / The Red Hangman / Virgins for the Hangman / Some Virgins for the Hangman / A Tale of Torture / The Castle of Artena / Il Castello di Artena / Il Boia Scarlatto (1965) -****
With a title like Bloody Pit of Horror, you just know you’re in for a wild ride. To those who are wise in the ways of exploitation movies, a title like that says, “this flick is so incredibly fucking stupid that the only way we could think of to sell it was to give it the crassest, tackiest, most hyperbolic title imaginable, and hope that somewhere there existed a few thousand people naive enough to take the bait.” So, yeah— of course I took the bait. And my reward for doing so? Only one of the craziest movies I’ve seen in a long, long time, complete with torture dungeons, displaced personalities, a whole lot of mid-60’s Italian lasciviousness, and one of Jayne Mansfield’s husbands rubbing himself down with baby oil in front of a full-length mirror while going on insanely about “the purity of [his] perfect body.”
It’s also got one of those setups that could never happen in the real world— the kind that was obviously written hastily as an attempt to justify a highly improbable set of circumstances that were nevertheless necessary if the story were going to work. Max Parks (Alfredo Rizzo, from The Playgirls and the Vampire and SS Hell Camp), an agent for some company or other that publishes giallo novels, is out roaming the Italian countryside with one of his authors (his name is Rick, and he’s played by Walter Brandi, of Five Graves for a Medium and The Slaughter of the Vampires), his secretary Edith (Superargo’s Luisa Baratto), a photographer named Dermid (Ralph Zucker), and a whole bevy of models, on a quest for good locations in which to shoot cover art for the author’s books. They end up going to an old castle one of Max’s friends told him about, and when no one comes to answer Max’s knock at the front gate, Raul, the brawnier of the two male models, climbs up the ivy-encrusted outer wall, crawls in an open window, and lets the whole crew in from the inside.
You can see why a man in Max’s position would want to shoot cover photos in a place like this— the ambience is just perfect for scenes in which men dressed as skeletons menace shapely young women in wildly impractical cheesecake getups. But there are two small problems with Max’s plan. First, despite all appearances to the contrary, the castle isn’t abandoned after all, and its mysterious owner (Mickey Hargitay, from Lady Frankenstein and The Reincarnation of Isabel, who had just ceased being Mr. Jayne Mansfield the year before) really doesn’t want Max and his crew around. But just after the master of the house orders his beefy, sailor-suited servants to throw the unwanted visitors out, something changes his mind, and he agrees both to let Max’s people stay the night and to permit Dermid to take his pictures. The only constraint is that no one may go down into the old dungeon under any circumstances, and that brings us around to the second problem with the castle as a filming location. You see, back in the Middle Ages, the place belonged to a man identified only as the Crimson Executioner, who appears to have fancied himself something of an amateur Torquemada. The dungeon downstairs was where he did his bloody work, and when the authorities finally caught up to him, it was there, too, that the Crimson Executioner was shut up in an iron maiden to die. That iron maiden, with the Crimson Executioner’s mummified body inside it, is still down in the dungeon, and chances are it’s packing the curse that came standard with such things in Italian horror movies of this vintage.
It isn’t much of a shock then, is it, when something goes lethally wrong not long after Max and company disregard their host’s instructions and set up shop in the dungeon, using the Crimson Executioner’s old toys as props for the photo shoot. Perry, the male model who isn’t Raul, is killed in what seems to be an accident involving a torture device that lowers a spiked panel onto a table where its victim’s body is bound; the rope holding the panel snaps the moment Dermid sets up a shot of Perry lying beneath it. Now if you or I found ourselves in this situation, I’m quite certain we’d take that as our cue to drop whatever it was we were doing, call an ambulance for Perry, and then get the hell out of the castle. You and I aren’t characters in an Italian horror movie, though. Instead of doing any of those sensible things I just suggested, Max tells everyone to take a break, after which they will continue right along with their business. Hey, the owner of the castle wants them gone the next morning, and they’ve got work to do!
Of course, there’s a distinct advantage to doing things the sensible way, rather than the Italian horror movie way: the Italian horror movie way is far more likely to get you killed. While everyone is taking their break, Dermid uses the downtime to make contact prints of some of his photos, and he notices something strange about the picture he took of Perry in the seconds before his death. It’s hard to tell in the grainy contact print, but it sure looks like there’s a masked man hiding beside the pulley supporting the rope on the torture machine. And sure enough, closer examination proves that the rope was deliberately cut. Meanwhile, Raul and his model girlfriend, Suzie (Barbara Nelli), who had snuck away to a particularly isolated section of the dungeon so as to maximize their enjoyment of the break declared by their boss, are having a little run-in with the person who did the cutting. The shirtless, heavily muscled man who breaks Raul’s back and stuffs Suzie into a familiar-looking iron maiden is indeed wearing a mask— depending on your mood, it’s either an executioner’s hood or a Lucha Libre wrestling mask— and the nut-hugger tights he’s sporting from the waist down are a shade of red that could certainly be described as crimson.
I think you know what that means. Oh, yes— it’s body count time! Max and his people are done away with one by one until only Rick, Edith, and one of the models (Nancy [Ape Man of the Jungle’s Rita Klein]? Annie [Femi Benusi, of A Hatchet for the Honeymoon and Strip Nude for Your Killer]? They all look the same to me...) remain. It then falls to Rick to rescue the women from the owner of the castle (he turns out to be a washed up actor named Travis Anderson, and one of Edith’s ex-boyfriends), who has somehow gotten it into his head that he is the reincarnation of the Crimson Executioner.
This is one of those movies that will have you staring into your glass looking for the residue of an acid blotter. Absolutely everything about it defies explanation, from the methods of murder to the actresses’ costumes to the characterization of the killer himself. You’ve got to wonder what was going through Mickey Hargitay’s head while he was performing all of the scenes in which he does things like oil himself up and admire his own (admittedly quite impressive) physique in the nearest reflective surface, babbling all the while about how the Crimson Executioner was killed because of the jealously lesser men felt for his physical perfection— this kind of thing takes the idea of autoeroticism in directions hitherto scarcely imagined! There are also a number of indescribably bizarre death scenes, most notably the one in which the model Kinojo (The Wild, Wild Planet’s Moa Tahi) is abducted from a gathering of her cohorts and trussed up in a giant orb web while a surreally shitty mechanical spider descends on a wire to inject her with poison— a scene which takes place in a chamber rigged with literally dozens of tripwire-activated crossbows, no less. The craziest thing of all about this scene is that it unfolds in such a way as to suggest that Anderson somehow sets up this whole psychotically elaborate deathtrap in perhaps 40 seconds! I’ve mostly given up even trying to guess how movies like Bloody Pit of Horror ever got made, but I’ll tell you this: I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for anything else with director Massimo Pupillo’s name on it in the future, no two ways about it.