Cauldron of Blood

Cauldron of Blood (Santos Alcocer, 1967)


Travel writer Claude Marchand (Jean-Pierre Aumont of Truffaut’s DAY FOR NIGHT, dubbing himself in the English version) gets assigned to interview reclusive sculptor Franz Badulescu (Boris Karloff) who resides in a Spanish artists’ colony. Arriving in the picturesque under-touristed area, Marchand immediately strikes a deal with restaurant owner Shanghai (Milo Quesada, BLACK SABBATH) to buy up the beachfront property and promote the town to tourists. Through artist Valerie (Ingrid Pitt look-a-like Rosenda Monteros), Claude meets Badulescu and his imperious wife Tanya (the always delightful Viveca Lindfors – next to her turns in CREEPSHOW and BELL FROM HELL, this is my favorite performance of hers) who controls all dealings with her blind and crippled husband; who himself is unaware that the skeletons used as armatures for his famous sculptures are locals picked off by an unseen strangler rather than being illegally obtained through arrangements with cemeteries in the neighboring villages as he has been told by his wife. The killings go largely unnoticed by our jet-setting main characters until perpetually-sunbathing Elga (Dianik Zurakowska of RETURN OF THE ZOMBIS) disappears after spending the night at Tanya’s and Claude finally listens to the superstitious mutterings of the Queen of the Gypsies (Mercedes Rojo) who predicts more deaths to come including someone close to Claude.

The summary doesn’t even begin to cover everything that happens in this sun-bleached, leisurely-paced Spanish-American co-production. There are subplots involving Tanya’s mute maid, a waiter at Shanghai’s (Manuel de Blas) who stalks and rapes her, the village’s gypsies, the disappearance of hunchbacked umbrella vendor Majo, village children doing some 400 BLOWS-type running around the town seen overhead, and Marchand’s drunk playboy friend Pablo (Ruben Rojo). It’s not really a mystery. Its one of those laidback thrillers that you put on when you’re in the mood for a pleasant diversion. While we do not know who the killer is until the end, we know why he’s killing. We also learn early on that Karloff does not know that the skeletons used in his statues are murder victims so he’s not really as sinister a figure as the film wants to portray him. I suppose it could be described as a jet-set thriller even though none of the fun-loving characters are particularly wealthy but they spend a lot of time sunbathing, drinking, partying at the local dive, painting, modeling, and taking aerial photographs. There are some surreal touches such as the subplot involving Tanya’s leather fetish giving way to a nightmare in which a little blonde girl is terrorized by a woman with a whip, a woman in a Nazi uniform, and a model of Karloff’s head that melts away into a skull.

Aumont (father of Eurocult goddess Tina Aumont) makes for an amusing hero, Monteros a feisty damsel-in-distress, and Zurakowska is great window-dressing here (she wears bathing suits most of the time and reveals varying degrees of skin in her bubble bath and death scenes depending on the version you see) but the film belongs to Lindfors who steals every scene. Karloff is given little to do but doesn’t phone in the performance. There’s a jazzy trumpet-heavy sixties score that glosses over some of the clunkier scenes (including Aumont’s fisticuffs with the strangler which is the usual getting-thrown-across-the-room, breaking-everything-in-their-path knockabout with foley-ed punches). Cinematographer Francisco Sempere (Jorge Grau’s LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE) captures some arresting compositions that can only be appreciated in the widescreen versions. French company Thierry-Pathe contribute the film’s extensive optical effects including title sequence animation in which Zurakowska’s sunbathing figure turns into a skeleton whose bones form the title in the English version (the Spanish version omits this footage and superimposes the title in regular lettering) and the various superimpositions in the title sequence and dream sequence, and other opticals later in the film.

CAULDRON OF BLOOD has had a rather complicated history on video. There were two tape releases in the US, one from NTA Entertainment (subsequently reissued by Republic Pictures Home Video) that was a cropped print of the TV version (which still reveals one darkened shot of Zurakowska’s bare breast) and a reissue version from VidAmerica called BLIND MAN’S BLUFF which had another instance of brief nudity during the bubble bath sequence but was still incomplete. The OOP budget DVD release in the UK (whose artwork mistakenly includes part of the artwork from its underrated co-feature CRUCIBLE OF HORROR) is believed to be this same version even though the pre-cert Vampix release turned out to be the uncut export version which not only included the above-mentioned nude scenes, but an additional shot during Elga’s death scene as the strangler rips her nightgown away and some additional footage of Lindfors smoking while watching the attack (the US version only shows her drinking). The Spanish DVD release from Divisa is of course the covered Spanish version but the differences are much more complex than just the censoring of nudity. The Spanish DVD is letterboxed at 1.66:1 (in the fullscreen versions, you cannot see Elga at the edge of the frame overhearing Pablo call her a “cheap tramp” to Claude early in the film) and looks better than the UK tape and features Spanish mono and 5.1 tracks and only text extras. The differences I’ve noted are (previously posted at Latarnia) – SPOILERS AHEAD:

– Spanish version does not have the pre-credits sequence in which Claude gets off a plane in Paris, learns he has an assignment from an overly emphatic airline rep, and gets onto another plane.

– The Spanish version is also missing the shot of Elga reclining back and turning into the animated skeleton whose bones form the English title. The Spanish version just fades in on the cauldron with the Spanish title in the same font as the rest of the credits but it does feature the shot of the animated skeleton turning back into Elga who is once again sunbathing but in a different place (she seems to only sunbathe and pose nude throughout).

– The English credits cite director Santos Alcocer as “realizador” and end with “a film by Edward Mann.” Mann is not a pseudonym for Alcocer. According to Tim Lucas, Mann “was known to make arrangements with friends and acquaintences to add his name to scripts he had nothing to do with, as in the case of Oliver Stone’s SEIZURE” ( see his blog review on the film at this link )

– The next difference takes place during Tanya’s nightmare. The English version has a shots of a mannequin of Karloff’s head melting and revealing a skull underneath. The Spanish version cuts from Karloff’s face intact to the skeletal hand on the child’s shoulder.

– The next difference is during Pilar’s rape by Shanghai’s busboy. In the Spanish version, he grabs her, they struggle, and there’s a cut to the night sky followed by the aftermath of Pilar with her clothes ripped, getting up and walking away followed by a scene in Valerie’s house where Elga upon hearing the lightning realizes that she has left the windows open and leaves. In the English version, the busboy grabs Pilar and their struggle slows down into slow motion and then a freeze frame followed by a cut to a lightning strike and the scene in Valerie’s house. After Elga leaves, we get a shot of her running along the beach and then a cut to the aftermath of Pilar’s rape where she walks away followed by the sequence of Elga being stalked.

– Elga’s bath is the next variation. In the uncut English version (the Republic tape is the US TV version), there is a shot of her nipple through the bubbles when she dumps her glass of wine back into her bath and then a topless shot when she gets up in the bath to pull the towel from the nude bust. She says to the head of the statue, “I’m just as pretty as you.” The Spanish version cuts to a stormy exterior as she dumps her wine into the bath to cover up the nudity and then cuts away in the second nude shot as she reaches for the towel.

– When Elga is struggling with the strangler, there are shots of her robe being ripped away, shots of Tanya smoking, and shots of a nude statue no in the TV version or the Spanish cut.

– When the strangler carries Elga’s body towards Tanya, a brief topless shot is scene as Tanya pulls aside the curtain in the TV version and the English version. This is substituted with a slightly different angle in the Spanish version.

– An optical effect is missing from the Spanish version (and the Republic tape I think) at the beginning of the scene with Claude taking photographs of Franz and his artwork. It is a black screen with two animated circles that turn out to be Franz’s glasses.

– After Claude knocks over the sculpture of the hands and Valerie discovers Elga’s scarf, the Spanish version is missing the shot of Valerie putting the scarf in her hat and saying “I’ll give it back to her.”

– The next difference comes when Claude is called over to talk to the queen of the gypsies. In the English version, two guys in cloaks and masks come over and one of them dons his mask to translate for the gypsy to Claude. Since everyone speaks Spanish in the Spanish version, no translation is required so other than the shot of the two men joining the circle, the other shots of the man translating are missing and the sequence is resultingly shorter.

– When Tanya’s hand is plunged into the acid, she screams in close-up and then lifts her hand out of the acid in the Spanish version. In the English version, her scream freeze-frames and there is a cut to the nightmare image of the little girl screaming at the skeletal hand on her shoulder which cuts back to Tanya’s face and resumes the action.

– The English version cuts to a shot of Valerie and Claude embracing upstairs followed by Karloff finding his cane and heading upstairs. The Spanish version does not cutaway after Tanya dies. Karloff immediately goes looking for his cane and heads upstairs followed by Claude and Valerie walking away.

– The last difference is the end credits. The English version fades to black and has a cast listing and some other technical credits. The Spanish version has the FIN credit on the shot of the water with no further end credits.

(Eric Cotenas)